Monday, August 16, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Having shlepped from Colorado to New York to Maine to see my kids in camp plays over the weekend, I wrote off today as a lost work day, knowing I would be driving back to New York from a friend's house on Boston's South Shore and would be too bushed to to anything productive. My plan was simple, and yet it turned into One Of Those Lost Days.

Original plan:
-- Sleep in,
-- Finish the engaging book I was reading in my friend's hammock
-- Drive back in uncrowded Monday midday traffic
-- Maybe stopping at a Roadfood-type joint along the way,
-- Finally plant my feet in Manhattan for the first time in over 4 weeks.

The Tender Bar: A MemoirInstead: I was awoken by my friend's cheerful crew of Portuguese maids. So I went and got an early breakfast. I got back home and my book was missing. This wouldn't have been such a big deal, but I was within 50 pages of the end of The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer, and it was a New York City library book I had been carrying with me around the country.

I spent a half hour tracking it down. The maids had shoved it onto a bookcase -- and when I opened it, I found they had also lost my place in the book. Fine. I read it to the end.

Next step: en route out of town, my friend told me a great lobster roll place I should check out. But I drove through Nantasket and couldn't see it, so I ended up with a dry, second-rate lobster roll on an untoasted bun ($18!) and then as I was leaving town, I passed the right place. [Linda Bean's Perfect Maine, right. Turns out it's a chain. Didn't have these helpful flags out today.]

Then on my drive home, a sign on I-95 warned that traffic was jammed from exit 54 to exit 44. No suggestion of what to do about it, just a helpful augur of bad times to come. It turned out the delay was right in New Haven. As traffic crawled to a standstill,  I decided -- okay, I will snuff out both the traffic jam and the bad lobster roll by detouring into New Haven for a white clam pizza from Frank Pepe's, arguably the best food item on earth.

I drove up to Frank Pepe's and the line was down the block. I decided, I'll just order takeout and eat it in the car as I drive. Then I got to the door and the sign said "SORRY, NO CLAMS TODAY."

What? That's like McDonald's being out of fries. But I was not to be defeated! I would simply seek out the other New Haven foodie mecca, where I hadn't been in 15 years -- Louis Lunch, the place that claims to have invented the "hamburger sandwich."

I've come a long way since those old days, when I had to lug around my battered copy of Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood. Now I just typed in a search into my cell phone, plugged the address into my GPS, and in 10 minutes, I was there! Louis Lunch! And there was no line! You know why? It's closed on Mondays! See those shutters and doors [right]? All shuttered!

With blood sugar alarmingly low, I made it to a Dunkin Donuts for a horrible cinnamon roll. I got back on I-95 and it ground to a halt again in Stamford. I surface-streeted it to the Merritt Parkway. My four hour breezy drive had turned into a 5 1/2 hour gruelling trek.

But then -- I got back to the city. It was still light out. I found a parking spot right across from my apartment building. I finally touched solid ground in New York for the first time in four weeks. I pulled all my bags from the car and a man walked up to me. He was unshaven, sweaty.

"Hey, I don't mean to bother you. My name is Elliott. I live in New Jersey. You know that Starbucks on the corner? My bag was just stolen from there, with the key to my Pathfinder. I'm just looking for some subway fare...."

You may think me callous to immediately know he was a liar. But a friend of mine in Tribeca heard the exact same tale a few months ago -- and then she saw the same guy a week later saying it to someone else.

I had been back for less than a New York minute. I looked at him, deciding: should I tell him to go to the police station 3 blocks away and report the theft? Shall I tell him that I had a pretty long day myself?

I finally looked at him and said "Sorry, you're going to have to ask someone else."


jeff said...

I like his choice of a first name.
sorry about the day from hell, but it must be nice to be home.

Sal Nunziato said...

I meant to tell you, I never got to finish Bat Boy. I left it in a record store. But that's not the real story.

I had been eyeing a record, "Jesse Fuller- San Francisco Bay Blues" on Prestige for months. Beautiful copy for $30. But, I just don't have $30 to spend on a record. I kept looking online, eBay, and there were some available, all for $75 or more.

I finally had a few bucks, so I decided to spring for it. (the day I left the book) I was very satisfied. Made it to a bar where I was going to meet some friends. Put the bag on the barstool, ordered a drink, stood up to adjust and knocked the bag to the floor. Record cracked.

That's it.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to read a food story that isn't over-idealized and lifestyle-mag-ized! - Anna

David said...

Ali & I are partial to Sally's, actually.

Welcome back.

Carl said...

No sympathy. You were down the street from my place. Could have eaten there *or* I could have given you directions to Frank Pepe's in Fairfield (exit 24). Not to mention directions for getting around Stamford.

David Handelman said...

I seek neither sympathy nor succor, but the commisery Sal provided helped a little.