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[Books & Culture, November 1995]
When I was down to the Big City not long ago, my youthful friend Rod took me to his favorite bookstore-cafe. We sat on high stools at a small, sticky square of yellow wood, buffeted by alternative rock flowing from the excellent sound system. I chose, at Rod's suggestion, a designer beer that the menu described as "fruity and complex." Nearby, patrons lingered at blond-wood book racks, perusing the handsome volumes with impressive nonchalance. Diversity spread her amiable wings: elbowpatch-and-beret types mingled easily with Birkenstocker-backpackers en tout noir. So when Rod came up to Baltimore I took him to my favorite book source, across the street from the Friend General Store and Love Nest Package Liquors. The bulky one-story building fills nearly a city block; it is painted rosy beige with deeper-brown trim, and topped with romantic crenellations. The orange metal sign bolted to the wall reads "Baltimore Department of Finance, Bureau of Purchases, Warehouse #9." But those familiar with its charms eschew the formal title; we call it the Baltimore Book Dump.