While we march to our lunch destination there is an occasional stop to check for Ranch flavored Pringles in shops, but we either find old outdated cans or none. Eventually we find ourselves sitting down in a Thai place called Siam Grill on 9th Ave between 42nd and 43rd St and we are soon sipping cold Singha beer and looking at the extensive menu. I listen with great interest to the secret of their travel fund, they pay it like a bill that’s due each month almost without fail, therefore they have the cash in the bank to travel, just like the old Xmas clubs that I remember my mom and dad having… it works well for them. But it has also required discipline and sacrifice, you can’t blow money on CD’s, meals out or takeout food every day, or books, clothes, shoes etc if you want the travel lifestyle. We enjoy a beautiful lunch, chicken and veg with red curry sauce for them (it’s always a sign of a good relationship when couples order the same food) and I opt for a lunch special of crispy fried duck (sorry Daffy) with veg and green curry that comes with clear veg soup. We spend over an hour eating, talking about travel and tourism before leaving to have a walk about, with no destinations in mind we walk uptown almost to Central Park again before turning back towards the area of the hotel, we come down 7th Ave and start searching for a watering hole. I wish I could remember all the details of every moment but as I’m writing this after the fact some has been lost. But of course I wouldn’t bore you with our family chatter so it is sufficient to say that hours have passed since our lunch and we sit down in a large noisy pub in the back to continue our talk.
I ask them to tell me about their travels, I even suggest they ought to write a book about it but they both reject that idea, even after I read an excerpt from the first day of our adventures. They are not interested in writing and don’t posess my gift for stories, I think it’s high praise as they go on to tell me of their travels past. They have been to Egypt three times and explain how a few tips will get you treated like royalty, the barman will set your drinks out, your table will be reserved and all your preferences will be noted within 24 hours. They tell me that Morocco is not a place where Americams and English are treated well, and Gambia where every bit of your money will be taken from you in corrupt practices by almost everyone. This a wake up call to me, for us regular people things don’t go the way they do for TV hosts on the Travel Channel, heck even Anthony Bourdain and his crew were stuck in a war in Beirut. You have to be careful and read up on the customs and culture of your destinations, the DK travel guides are the best for this kind of info I think.
But in all their travels they haven’t run into such a nasty surley bunch of people as the arrivals staff at JFK, The line of questions asked in a half annoyed yet dis-interested monotone are especially rude…What’s your business here? Are you married? Where you stayin? When you leavin? and then STAMP STAMP off you go without really checking you out properly at all, a man with a large trunk was passed through while Mark and Sharon were practically stripped searched for a few small bags, it makes no sense. They have been to Canada and taken a side trip to San Francisco from there, and they have done Vegas more than once too as well as the whole Elvis Tour down south. We talk for hours and by the time we leave I’m a little looped, I had about 4 beers on a empty stomach and now I’m hungry. But although I didn’t intend to horn in on their dinner together, when Mark suggests we eat, I gladly and go along with the program. But I try not to show my loopy state of mind and quickly suggest Brazillian, Spanish tapas, Greek Taverna, etc. They both settle on Spanish so I direct them to restaurant rown on 46th St and we settle on Sangria 46, just a few doors down from Le Rivage… my favorite French restaurant.
It’s a long intimate crowded place where the food has a five star rating with only a three dollar sign rating, so that’s a good combo! Mark starts right in and orders a bottle of wine for all of us, he is a wine expert…a man after my own heart when it comes to the grape. He seems to love red and I do too, yet another reason to believe that we are genetically closer than second cousins. There is a guitarist in full dress regaling us with such Spanish classics as the Eagles, Billy Joel, Elton John, and The Doors…anything but Spanish classics but it’s cool so Mark and Sharon order veg medley and Chicken cooked in wine and I opt for a cup of Gazpacheo soup and two tapas plates (that’s small appetizers) of sauteed baby squid and pork shish kabobs, all was exceedingly delicious for me and Mark but Sharon struggled with a stray chicken bone or two. Sharon and Mark haven’t had much luck with chicken this trip I’m afraid. When the check comes there’s a problem, the tip is too small. Now Mark is not cheap by any means but the waiter explains the problem and points out the mistake in percentages. I will take the time to explain this now because the next night we all gather at Le Rivage to eat dinner, myself , Mark, Sharon, my mom and dad and my brother and when the check comes there again the tip is wrong. The waitress explains the different levels of tipping based on the number of people at a table, the more people the bigger the percentage. But she also tells Mark something I didn’t know, the wait staff isn’t paid an hourly wage by the owners, they work for tips only, now I don’t know how this got set up I mean nobody ever complained to me but then again I’m new to eating good food out in the city. Most of the places I go for lunch don’t seen to have these strict guidelines, and in the suburbs where I live the rule of thumb is to double the tax. This is easier for people like me who can’t do percentages easily in our heads, people seem to get really insulted if you don’t tip well however, and now I have to ramp up my knowledge of the city to avoid any future problems for myself.
So Mark sorts out the bill again and we walk leisurely back to the hotel and after a few more minutes of chatting out side I give then a group hug and walk down 8th Ave for my trip back home. I sit on the train later sipping a decaf coffee and try to collect my thoughts on an eventful and glorious day, a day full of firsts for me.
I now have an idea of what I must do to ensure the life changes I want , the feeling that the tourism industry is my true calling is very strong. I can’t wait for the day that it is I staying in a hotel in England, paying to feed and water Mark and Sharon when they show me their town, and we have many laughs over many pints or drinkies, great meals and tasty snacks. But it will all begin with the group hug that for me has come to symbolize my special relationship with them, the three musketeers if you will. These two wonderful people have given me what I prayed for, a new career path to follow, and they have become much more than family to me, they are my friends.