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“Are you on TV or something?” Maryland Crabs with Writers Edward P. Jones and E. Ethelbert Miller

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The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from members of the HoCoPoLitSo board.

I first met Edward P. Jones in 1994 when he accepted an invitation from HoCoPoLitSo to come to Columbia to read for Howard County residents.  His first book, one of short stories about the invisible people of non-tourist Washington, Lost in the City, had been receiving wide acclaim.  It was my job to drive him from his hotel to the reading venue.  He wrote in my copy of Lost in the City, “Thanks for escorting me around.  This has been one of the best days I have had in a long time.”

Our next meeting was in 2005 when he read for us from his ground breaking novel The Known World.  He had read to an appreciative audience on the campus of Howard Community College on a Friday night and stayed over to appear for a taping of HoCoPoLitSo’s literary program, The Writing Life the next day.  He was to be interviewed by poet, E. Ethelbert Miller.

Saturday morning, I picked up Jones at the Columbia Sheraton to drive him to HCC campus for the taping.  On the way, he asked me if I knew a place where we could stop and get some steamed crabs later on.  He said he doesn’t get to visit Maryland often but when he does, he makes it a point to buy some crabs.  So, while Miller and Jones went into taping, I left the studio to call my wife to ask about a crab place.  She told me that there was an excellent place just off Route 1 in Laurel that served the best crabs between Columbia and DC, the Bottom of the Bay.

When the taping was over, Jones, Miller and I got into my car for the trip to Laurel.  We found the restaurant with no trouble.  It was in an unremarkable strip mall and had both a sit-down restaurant and a carryout store which doubled as a convenience store with the usual fare that convenience stores carry – beef jerky, chips, soda, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cold beer and cheap wine.

We placed our order of one dozen crabs and asked that they be seasoned with Old Bay.  While we waited, Jones called our attention to the beef jerky on the display and noted that he had never tasted it and wanted to know if either Miller or I had. We both shook our heads “no” and chuckled.

While we waited for Jones’ order of crabs, two young men perhaps in their late twenties entered the store to buy some beer.  One of the men turned to us and asked, “Aren’t you somebody important, or something?”

Being the “host”, I thought I should be the one to answer, so I said, “This is Edward P. Jones and this is E. Ethelbert Miller.  They’re both poets.”

The other man asked, “Are you on TV or something?”

I replied, “They just finished taping a TV show, but they do not have a regular program.”

The young man followed with, “We don’t see folks around here in suits that much, so I thought you were, like, you know, somebody really important.”

At that moment, the man behind the counter announced our order was ready.

I grabbed the steaming bag of crabs from the counter and said to the young men, “Well, we are sorry to disappoint you.”

We left the store, got into my car, and headed for DC.  Miller asked Jones if he was going to eat all of those crabs by himself.  Jones said, “Not in one sitting; but by Sunday evening they should be all gone.” Miller and I laughed, knowingly and perhaps a little enviously.

By David Barrett
Ex-Officio, HoCoPoLitSo Board

Pictured above at the taping of The Writing Life ( left to right, back row to front): David Barrett, Ellen Conroy Kennedy, Tara Hart, Edward P. Jones and E. Ethelbert Miller.
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