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This piece was originally published on Defector on May 26, 2021.
Last night, I went to my first baseball game since the fall of 2019. The game was a pitcher’s duel and extremely slow-paced. But I was thrilled. I had my little scorebook and my big beer and my seat in the shade, breathing the fresh air, listening to that nice crisp smack of the bat hitting the ball. Things were different. The Washington Nationals’ stadium doesn’t return to full capacity until June, and it was a Tuesday night game so it was pretty empty. That’s nice. I like that. I put my feet on the seat in front of me. But there were other things that were not so nice. No bags are allowed, so I had to carry my scorebook in my hand like a dweeb. Also, there was the hot dog situation.
I love a hot dog. To me, it is important to consume no fewer than 30 hot dogs or summer never happened. Last year, for example, there was no summer. But this year, I am determined. It is the end of May and I had already eaten eight hot dogs going into last night. And where, I ask you, is a better place to eat a hot dog than in a baseball stadium’s folding chair? Nowhere. The constant distraction makes your dog taste better. My friend Hannah went with me, and she obtained the first round of hot dogs. Another important belief I have is that hot dogs should be consumed in rounds, as a treat.
When Hannah came back with the hot dogs, she warned me: “There was no relish.” AWFUL! But things became worse. My mustard was all clumped in one spot. This was inconvenient but I am really brave, so I simply used my finger to move my mustard around a little bit. But where was the relish? I like a hot dog to have many things on it. Where were the unevenly diced onions that fall from the mouth of the onion crank too quickly? There were none.
In the fifth inning, I went to obtain the second round of hot dogs. I asked the nice women behind the counter what was up with the relish. They didn’t know, but they pointed me to the condiment island. In case you have never had a day of fun in your life and are unfamiliar with the condiment island, it is a place that is historically home to giant gallon pumps of condiments. You put your hot dog under the spout and press the lever and the condiment comes out. This makes intuitive sense. Everyone likes it. The condiments are all separate.
But this island had been ruined, redeveloped by people who didn’t understand its culture. The jugs of delicious condiments had been replaced by two shiny machines that looked like espresso makers. I did not understand how these worked, so I stood at a distance until someone else came up and used them so I could learn how. They work like this: You put your hot dog underneath the single spout. Then three hand signals light up. You place your hand (Without touching! No touching!) over the one that you want, and the machine glugs out the condiment. You cannot control when it stops. You cannot control the pace. The condiments were limited to the runny ones: ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, honey mustard, dijon mustard. No relish. No mayo. No onion crank!!
This was awful. The condiment island had fallen victim to the dopey hygiene theater that sports teams have been deploying throughout the pandemic, and continue to insist upon even though we all know now that the coronavirus doesn’t do much spreading via surfaces. The gluggy jugs were fine! They were good, even. I liked using them!! This all felt especially ridiculous since the signage at the stadium indicated that people who were vaccinated did not have to wear masks. So many people were walking around without masks and then being forced to use this terrible robot. Last night, because the crowd was small, it wasn’t a huge problem, but I imagine the line is going to be much longer and angrier once the crowd is at full capacity.
I asked the poor man whose job is it to watch people try to use these robots and help them understand them if there was any relish. “No,” he told me. “Everybody is asking me that.”
“It seems like these things suck,” I said, motioning to the robots.
He laughed. “They make everything harder. Nobody likes ’em.”
At the Washington Spirit game a few weeks ago (at which I also, obviously, ate a hot dog), they gave me the condiments in those tiny packages. This worked. I still did not have my onion machine, but at least I had relish, and I could apply the condiments in a STRAIGHT LINE.
Any easy solution, you might think, would be to bring my own little condiment packets to the game. I would not be opposed to this, but you aren’t allowed to bring in bags anymore. What am I supposed to do, put a baggie of onions and relish in my damn jean shorts pockets and pull it out to go through the metal detector? No one wants this! The workers at the stadium don’t want it and the attendees don’t want it. We’ve all been victimized by innovation for innovation’s sake. I don’t want innovation. I want that janky onion crank back. I want my relish.