It’s a beautiful clear day as I ride the express train to Penn Station early for a change, the weather has been brutally hot this summer making me wonder if I’d really be suited to the south of France, it is considerably hotter there especially in August and also much colder in winter than it is here on Long Island. The only problem with express trains is they move so fast it makes writing in my notepad much harder. Speaking of notebooks, a cute little girl I can’t see but can hear very well talks nonstop about everything to her mother. But when mom reminds her that school is just a few days away she says “Stop saying that mommy, you say it every day!” “Why do you say that every day mommy!” she says woundedly. My guess is that mommy needs a break and can’t wait for school to begin!
We had a real problem with the railroad a few days ago, the main switching tower in Jamaica station had an electrical fire and disrupted service for many days in some areas, hours in others. My brother was on his way back from a vacation down south and his trip was also complicated by a suicide on the Amtrak tracks which caused his train to be re-routed through a different part of New Jersey. Luckily for him the Long Island Railroad was not affected or he might have had to sleep in Penn Station! I can see as we pass now, about two dozen workers in bright orange vests milling about the tower now. There is yellow police tape surrounding the building while crews replace every strand of burnt cable inside and outside the tower.
The summer is slowly beginning to ebb away and my thoughts are turning to indoor projects such as selling on EBAY and of course my writing. I can’t waste any more time, I must get some work done this winter. I must finish the play I’m writing and give it to a well-connected friend to see if it has any merit. I must get my city photos in order with excerpts of my writing and get that under a publishers nose too. I feel like this is my only salvation, my writing may be the only thing that keeps me from living alone and broke in a one room apartment somewhere barely making it on social security. We are arriving in Penn Station now and I can only guess what this day will bring, I plan only to eat at a place called Shake Shack, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s homage to old-time burgers, fries and shakes. I come up into the cool air topside and begin to search for a loo, it’s early so many places are not open yet. I wander into the lower thirties and see a pizzeria with its door open so I go in and ask but the old man at the counter says they are not open yet. He points across the street and says “Go over there, they will let you go there.” I thank him and go and do just as he said but first I asked and they said ok without any hesitation. I always ask, it’s the polite thing to do. Thus refreshed I go back out into the street to look at the mannequins that are decorateing the steet.
I take some pictures of a sidewalk fashion show on the wide island on Fashion Ave, the sitting areas have large planters overflowing with flowers and sweet potato vines-easy to grow in a harsh environment. Beginning my walk I find a whole enclave of Indian restaurants in the upper twenties off Lexington Ave, I never saw this before and looking for a loo brought me here. Soon I pass by a huge building surrounded by camouflage Humvees and see the 69th Regiment building built-in 1904. When I get to 23rd St I turn North and discover that without my map I’ve gone in the wrong direction again, but it’s okay I discovered some things. I have to remember going east to west it’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lexington Ave, Park Ave, Madison Ave, 5th/Broadway-it runs diagonally so in some places it comes before the rest and others after, 6th(ave of the Americas), 7th(Fashion Ave) , 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th. I arrive at Shake Shack at 10:00 am but it doesn’t open till 11:00 so I walk around the park and people watch and snap a few pictures while I wait for my brunch.
The squirrels are very tame here and expecting a treat will take it from your hand. A distinguished man sits reading with them coming right up to him unafraid, then I see he’s got a bag of whole walnuts that he gives out one by one to the waiting creatures who run off to eat some and bury the rest. He looks at me and says “They never say thank you.” So I say “What do you want-they’re New Yorkers!” and we both laugh at my joke and I move on to get my lunch.
The line is divided into those that want food and those looking only for ice cream so it moves pretty fast, I order a Shack Burger which comes with lettuce, tomato, mayo and cheese and if you want pickle or onions just ask and it’s yours. I also get a small vanilla shake which is a sin for me these days but I must have the full experience, they take your name, you pay, and they give you a buzzer that lights up to alert you when your food is ready. I wait on the other side for my food and watch as a young woman feeds her dog bits of hamburger and then tries to feed him water from a plastic bottle. It’s quite amusing but eventually he gets the idea and drinks away, then suddenly my buzzer goes off telling me to come up as a guy calls out “Glen” and I get my food. It’s cheerfully handed to me in a recycled cardboard box, after going to get napkins and ketchup I sit down in the seating area, small steel bistro tables and chairs resting on small polished pebble ground cover. This is so reminiscent of parks and childhood as is the burger, it’s done just right-juicy without being underdone, the bun is warm but not soggy from being steamed and the shake is thick and rich. Danny Meyer achieved what he set out to do, make an experience that reminds us of backyard bar-b-ques, and for me anyway the all too infrequent visits to the burger stands at the beach and vacation spots. I finish my food and leave the park intending to do whatever comes to mind as I roam. I am drawn to the sound of music and follow it to a street with tall buildings and a lone bass trumpet player. he stands in front of Walgreens and plays such classics as “A Time For Us” and “Michelle” and other classics, the sound is lonely and melancholy and I get a little sad thinking about those lost summers so long ago. But the city she loves me and a backhoe comes and begins working at the street corner thus ruining the acoustics and breaking the mood. The trumpet player packs up and moves off, and so do I-to places more familiar and happy for me.
I wind up in Union Square Market where I wish I could walk away with a shopping cart full of fresh vegetables, artisanal cheese and baked goods, plants and wine. I always enjoy a walk through but I go further to see whats happening at Washington Square. I find it alive and well and swarming with tourists, dog walkers, sunbathers, musicians, and artists. On the outside of the park on the sidewalk is a flea market fair. I find the usual assortment of items that I have described in other stories but this time I meet a couple of guys from France. They are selling all sorts of spices, spice blends. and teas all beautifully displayed in bowls piled high to reveal the color and texture. I buy Sumac, a Turkish spice kind of like Paprika, and also a Provencal blend that I could actually easily make at home by memorizing the ingredients on the sign but I’m here now. I talk with them briefly about my love for France and my attempts to learn French and they seem pleased by that, so with an Au Revoir I move off to look at a few more vendors, many I’ve seen before. I remember the days of being a vendor on the craft circuit, it’s like a family of sorts, I miss some of those faces.
I make my way back to MacDougall St and begin searching for a place to sit and eat but I suddenly remember a Spanish place around here somewhere, I passed it a few trips back and promised myself I would eat there sometime. So I walk down to Sullivan St and soon I find myself at Salon de Tapas, a Spanish Tapas bar and restaurant, this is the place. The idea of eating from food trucks is a little inoperable, I would need an expensive cell phone with apps so I could use Twitter to find the trucks I’d like to try, and then there is the problem of no seating or table so I’m better off having a sit down in a place like this one. I eyeball the extensive tapas menu, the famed small plates of Portugal, Spain and Greece. I decide to be brave and eat things my buddy Anthony Bourdain ate on No Reservations. I order squid cooked in its own ink, that’s right ink. It’s made with onions and a little white wine and will be the second most strange thing I ever ate, sweetbreads being the most strange. I also order roast quail and just to be safe I get Serrano ham and cheese croquettes, a safe bet in case I don’t like the other plates, as well as a glass of Malbec, red wine with a spicy taste and a heavy finish. When my food arrives I am surprised to receive it on a three-tier setup like high tea in London: which is very nice by the way, but unexpected here and now. I go for the croquettes first, crunchy and hot and soft on the inside they are delicious, how good does deep-fried anything have to be. I mean you could batter and fry inner tubes and they would be tasty. The quail is good-looking like miniature chicken legs and is perfectly tasty but a little tough, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I don’t know but the squid is another story. It looms on the last tier of the plate , a square white plate on the bottom of the tier. It is black and ominous, set against the white plate as I spoon it out on to my plate the long strands of onion hang down mixing with the cylindrical bodies of the squid and the clutches of tentacles combine to make a dish that would have made Lovecraft, Poe, or Stephan King proud. It is definitely a dish for the brave of heart or the foodie obsessed, which I am so it’s good. The croquettes are great finger food served with an aioli for dipping, perfect bar food for a group to share over drinks. The quail is more of a job to eat, but tasty and not gamey at all like I expected. The squid however is another story, if you like the chewy consistency of squid then you would have no trouble with this dish. The vaguely fishy almond like flavor of the meat is offset by the sweet taste of the ink followed by a peppery after taste supplemented by the sharp wine. if that sounds good to you then this dish should work for you, but like many fish dishes, I wouldn’t order it again but at least if it was offered to me I would be able to handle it and wouldn’t turn it down. I enjoy the long lingering looks of passers-by at my black food as they pass by, only one couple have the guts to ask what it is and the woman who looks vaguely foreign say that they make it that way in her country, while her white boyfriend gets a business card and they thank me as they walk away. I’m guessing they are upscale tourists on vacation or recent transplants who don’t know the neighborhood yet. I finish my meal with a second glass of Malbec and a chat with the waiter, who by now is interested in what I’m writing in my little book. So, I open up to him about my work and he seems interested by my war stories and we part with a handshake and I head back to Penn Station by way of the parks I came through on the way in. I find them full of roasting bodies in the sun which makes for some good eye candy, and there are schlepping families with strollers and bicyclists, roller blader’s, and joggers all trying to soak up what could be described as the nicest weekend of the summer.
Eventually I make it back to the station and I treat myself to a Brooklyn Lager from a new take away stand featuring 20 different beers on tap, a new feature of the Penn Station vendor community. I make it to the next train just in time and it’s also an express back home. So, I finish the day as it began, sitting on a train writing and sipping a beverage. Last night I was watching a video, The Dresden Dolls lead singer Amanda Palmer during her solo tour in 2009 was talking about how she ventured out of her hotel and walked several blocks in an area of strip malls and parkways, she said that she saw no one else on foot and felt very alone despite the fact that hundreds of people drove by her. I can really identify with her feelings, the most fun I had today was talking to my waiter, up until that it was a little drab really. it made me realize how much I needed people in my life, and how I would have to try harder to make a connection or two. I sit and write and look out the window and think about the problem of trying to meet friends at my age who are on the same wave length, most people my age are married and have kids. I am a free spirit of a sorts, but alone too. I must solve this problem for myself now, it might be the gym membership that will turn things around, I mean really and truly I can’t afford the city trips all the time. There it is easier to make friends and connect with others, unfortunately I am too old and spooked to go out on a Saturday night in the city just to drink and meet people, I will go to a concert or play but walking around still scares me without any friends to watch my back. Maybe the internet will supply the people if I look for groups of people with similar interests on Facebook or some other site. Still light out as we roll toward the boring suburbs of Long Island, at least I have a home to go to and people there who care about me, I write as the sun warms my face and the gentle rocking of the train makes me sleepy.