THE HEAT IS ON, it's on the streets, and so is a lot of other action. Early summer, that wonderful period between humility and humidity (after the diet and before the dog days) is the most sociable season in these parts, with the newly svelte and the nearly suave trading tolerant glances on the sidewalk.
In Georgetown, the competition for stretchiest limo has apparently gone stale; after all, it's one thing to be seen emerging from behind smoked doors and another to be invisibly locked in a traffic jam. The latest display of luxurious indolence is the pedicab, a sort of bicycle built for three. Pedal-powered carriages like those that serve as public transportation in Asia are swooping up and down Wisconsin Avenue, delighting tired tourists and inebriated habitues but startling a few drivers in the process (pedal-pushers don't seem inclined to use hand signals).
However, since parking in the shoulder lanes is restricted on weekends, and you can't get up more than about 15 mph in the Georgetown traffic anyway, they haven't caused much of a problem. And Georgetown merchants have begun to pick up on the promotional value of such mobile billboards: Filomena hires a mini-fleet to carry patrons to their cars or just curry unaffiliated patrons off the street (tips de rigeur, for novices).
Pedicabs are old hack in Annapolis, where they've inspired somewhat more controversy. Around the historic area, where the streets spoke out from the harbor up toward the state Capitol, driving space is much more limited and the parking is even more so, which makes for some stiff and nerve-wracking competition in the fast lane. On the other hand, that's probably what makes pedicabs valuable -- that and the fact that it's better to have a designated peddler than put a wrong foot on the waterfront.
(The Annapolis waterfront is one vast cocktail hour of a summer afternoon anyway. Especially on the weekends, the finger of harbor that jabs into the restaurant/boutique district is keel-to-keel with yachts and motorboats on which the social amenities are being faithfully and openly observed. Presumably the marine-going crowd cultivates a designated navigator policy.)
For the romantics, horse-drawn carriages are still a rarity in Georgetown, though with wedding season in full bloom there are the occasional sightings. The horses are mainly posted across town on Capitol Hill and on the Mall, which, as Charley Horse Carriage Company owner Sarah Davies points out, is less congested and far more scenic -- especially at night, with the monuments lit up.
The horse trade is up for debate these days, with the Humane Society urging the D.C. Council to restrict or even ban horse-drawn conveyances to protect the animals from the traffic and high temperatures. But that would erase a bit of truly wonderful history, because believe it or not, there is still a provision in the D.C. Code that forbids the drunken driving of a horse-drawn carriage. And we'd just like to see one go through a sobriety checkpoint.
SPEAKING OF COCKTAIL hour in Annapolis, one of the most comfortable waterfront watering holes is the Middleton Tavern, on the east side of the dock. The sidewalk tables are much in demand, and afford a really nice view of the Capitol and historic district, but the bar has the not inconsiderable advantage of being closer to the shucking stand. This is a prime consideration because of (the famous) Middleton Oyster Shooter.
At 95 cents, the Oyster Shooter is a marvelous invention, even if you don't ordinarily espouse the use of "cocktail sauce" on oysters. It's a pair of small plastic shot glasses -- commemorating the tavern's 20th year, incidentally -- one loaded with a prime oyster and glopped with a horseradishy sauce somewhere between the consistency of regular cocktail sauce and Bloody Mary mix; and the other filled with draft beer (National Bohemian, in this case). Then you throw them both back, in order; or, as the signs tell you, "shuck 'em and suck 'em, sauce 'em and toss 'em." And when the oysters are really fine, as they were last weekend (out of Galveston Bay, unfortunately under dire threat of oil invasion), it's tavern heaven.
Aside from washing down the cocktail sauce, you probably don't want to stick with the National Bo, because with the other options available, it's not even in the ballpark -- which is where Bo belongs, of course. Not only does the tavern have the superlative Cambridge-brewed Wild Goose in kegs, it has the slightly paler but obviously closely related Middleton Ale custom-brewed by the Wild Goose folks on tap or in bottles.
And for those who follow Daniel Webster's advice -- straight whisky or brandy with half-shells -- Middleton's has two of the best, Black Bush and the 12-year-old Jameson's special.
STREET BEAT 2: One of the most delightful bits of unexpected Nachtmusik is also to be found around Filomena's front door, but like all serendipity, we can't promise when you'll find it. The Silvertones are a unique ensemble -- a nonet the night we caught them -- all of them trombone players. Well, actually, one guy was playing basic snare drum, but he was really a rooty-tooter, too, on temporary percussion duty. Anyway, the Silvertones are members of the gospel choir at the United House of Prayer for All People in Southeast, and they play these street gigs to raise money for robes, uniforms, instruments and such. And they're fun. Watch that space.