E Train Uptown

E is for Everything you missed while we took a break from End of the Line

Explained by: Bonnie

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Hello! Did you lose faith you’d ever see another post from us? Did you think that maybe we wouldn’t finish what we started? That we’d fallen OFF THE RAILS? Fear not! The Box Car girls are back with another adventure. We have a tale to tell of shopping madness, a weird underground food court, and a nostalgic chain restaurant….

Tania and I wanted to ease back into things since we’d really dropped the ball on EOLD as of late. We missed spring and most of winter (do you blame us? It was a cold one!). Tania also gets insanely busy with work in the spring, and I was busy juggling my multitude of jobs and projects. [Check-in! Since we last spoke: I’ve begun teaching at a community college, I’ve produced an original play at a Brooklyn high school with Mary and teenagers, I’ve watched 156 episodes of Friends (maybe that’s why I haven’t finished my novel revision), and that boyfriend who I may have mentioned, moved in with me. Holy pile-up, Batman!]

So, when I suggested Jamaica, Tania didn’t want to deal. It didn’t seem ease-back-in-worthy. After all, when you haven’t run in awhile, you don’t jump back in with a half-marathon, am I right? Our first impression of Jamaica was not favorable. But I needed to pick up a paycheck at Plaza College (that new job) off the E train line, so we just went ahead and killed two birds with one stone. Easy enough

I met up with Tania at Union Square. I was admittedly a little tipsy since I had been catching some rays by the Hudson with a Lemonade-Rita, while killing time before meeting up (when did I become such a lightweight?).

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The buzz wore off during the ride. Not that my company was a buzz-kill or anything! But one Lemon-rita does not make for a full afternoon.

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The Jamaica at the end of the E train was much different than what we saw at the end of the F line. On the contrary, the end of the E was a bargain shopper’s paradise! Every one of those cheap clothing stores we secretly love (Rainbow, Mandee, Strawberry, you know what I’m talking about) was out there and surrounded by many new gems of cheap clothing I can’t resist. I had an event coming up that I needed an all-white outfit for, so we had our eyes peeled.

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In the end though, the only person who made any purchases was Tania. But I’d say she scored with a white mesh and ribbing cape contraption thing. When she stepped out of the dressing room, another shopper told her she looked high fashion. Like she could be in the magazines. Unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence of this score.

The strangest part about this shopping mecca though? No restaurants! I don’t know about you, but I always get hungry when I shop. I actually think I’m just always hungry, to be honest. But nothing gets me quite as hungry as riding a train to the end of the line, and trying on tulle skirts and white denim.

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Where, oh where, are the restaurants in Jamaica?

Both of our phones had died by the time we found a basement food court. I so wish that we could have captured what this dimly-lit twilight zone was like, with its fading fluorescents casting a greenish glow against brown tile, and lethargic, zombie-like workers. The food options were Chinese, Japanese, and maybe a burger? A few lonely souls sat, eating out of Styrofoam containers. The stores nearby were half-filled, like a liquidation sale had happened and was later abandoned. There were jewelers, a very old shoe repair man, and formal wear fit for any event in the 1980s.  We had seriously stepped back in time (especially with the absence of cell phones). But we had also maybe stepped onto the set of a zombie apocalypse movie. Or maybe it wasn’t a movie set? Yikes! I’m glad we got out of there alive!

At that point, we remembered we had passed an Applebee’s right off the train. We decided to head back in that direction and make a concerted effort to find something else along the way, but if we found nothing, we’d check out the Jamaica Applebee’s. And I’m sorry, but those Caribbean buffets we seem to spy at all the end-of-the-lines never look appetizing. We do make an effort to find something unique and off the beaten track, but we know there will be occasions where we have to hit a chain. And look how it welcomed us back!

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Applebee’s is a restaurant of my youth. I remember when the first one came to Chico, California. I even remember the jingle that was always on TV (Pass the pasta! Pass the pasta! Pass the pasta, please. Pass the paaaaaastaaaaaaa. The pasta at Applebee’s! America’s favorite neighbor! Applebee’s!) (Or wait, was it America’s favorite flavor? I’m second guessing myself). Applebee’s was the SPOT for the Pipkins. I always love the big crazy salads at places like that with, like, breaded chicken and tortilla chips and ranch dressing. I have a soft spot in my heart for chain restaurants like Applebee’s or Olive Garden or Chili’s. It’s just true. I used to rebel, but now I reminisce. With a giant cocktail in a souvenir glass in my hand, that is.

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Speaking of cocktails, we were both ready to Celebrate Jamaica, and get the buzz back on. Off the bat, I ordered a Bass Ale, and Tania got a margarita. I plugged my phone in to charge, so we could grab these shots of our food and our quintessential across-the-table shot.

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Here’s what we ate…

Thai Shrimp Salad:

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Sriracha Shrimp:

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Spinach and Artichoke Dip:

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It was as mediocre as one could expect. Why did this food taste so good in Chico? I think chain restaurants taste worse in New York and better in small towns. Do you agree? I really think that’s true. But why? I think I need to conduct a study. The first time I ever had lobster was at a Red Lobster (with Tania) in a small town outside of San Francisco. It tasted great. But I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that the Red Lobster in Times Square is disgusting. And expensive. Anyone want to test this theory with me? It will require some road trips and some chain restaurant eating. Next food adventure project? The Suburban Chain Gang? (thanks, Tessa, for that brilliant title idea).

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Anyway, I’m glad to be back on the rails. I feel free again. Nothing like the stop and go of a subway car as we chug along to the last stop. Nothing like hearing “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” as many times as we do to get to the end, with the hope of some secret pocket of food. We didn’t find the secret spot in Jamaica. Not saying it doesn’t exist. And we still have to go there a few more times for a few more end-of-the-lines, so we’ll be reporting back.

Until then, eat well, and avoid the chains in NYC. We’ll see you again soon. Promise.

(Insert Chili’s jingle: I want my baby back, baby back, baby back, baby back…)

A Train Uptown

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A is for Attestation

Accounted by: Bonnie

Awesome Photos by: Andy Curtin

I tend to wax philosophical in these End of the Line Dining posts. In this account, it is my intention to stick to the facts, and tell the story in a straightforward matter. Just as Alice did with her Adventures in Wonderland, I will begin at the beginning, and when I get to the end, I will stop. Here it goes: my attestation.

The facts: On December 16th , 2014, at 8:38pm Tania, Andy and I met on the platform of the A train at 14th Street and rode uptown to Inwood/ 207th Street. My boyfriend, Jim…(oh yes, if you haven’t heard by now, I’m in deep with a really great guy named Jim) (Remember in my last post when I said: “The romantic in me can still hope that my man is wandering in some sphere right now and when we collide it will be fireworks”? Well, it happened. Fireworks and all)… Anyway, Jim was going to come with us, a double date, but bailed at the last minute. Some people don’t think riding a train to the end of the line sounds fun when they have to get up at 6 a.m. the next day. I say, any day is a fine day for an end of the line dining adventure. He’ll learn.

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The back story: Inwood/207th Street is where Andy’s mother grew up. He told me that back in the day (and actually maybe still to this day) a lot of Wall Street people lived in this hood since they could take the A train straight down to the financial district.

Another back story: I went to this neighborhood with Jim back in October when Christian’s nephew got married. He was my date. The reception was at a place called La Marina, and we had a magical time dancing the night away surrounded by the bride’s family and a view of the George Washington Bridge and a few too many gin and tonics. From this journey, I had a vague idea of the lay of the land, and a feeling we’d find a good spot to dine. The neighborhood has a bustle to it. Cute restaurants and bars. I thought if we headed toward Dyckman Street, we’d be A-OK.

So I met Tania and Andy on the platform. We were all bursting with holiday cheer. Well, I don’t know if Andy was bursting with holiday cheer, but we were all in good spirits. After I got over my mild annoyance at the last-minute bail-out, that is. (Sorry Jim, I’ll tell better stories later. There are lots. I assure you, readers). Tania was armed with blank Christmas cards and an assortment of pens. In case we needed an activity on the ride. We were squeezing in one more End of the Line trip in 2014 before I left for California the following weekend and we all got lost in the mayhem of the season.

As planned, we got off the train and headed toward Dyckman Street, guided by my distant memory of restaurants and bars. Here are some things we saw along the way:

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Tania told me she could imagine my living in a house like this.

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Away in a Manger

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Oh! Holy Night

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Jolly Old St. Nicholas

There was a slight drizzle, but the night was warm.

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We wandered toward the water when we reached Dyckman, and almost went with a corner mofongo joint, but instead found our way into Mama Sushi. Sometimes I think there is a great spirit of End of the Line Dining that leads us exactly where we need to go. As you know, we rely wholly on instinct and wandering, not on our smart phones, maps and pre-reading of yelp reviews. So when we just let go and trust, there seems to be a divine helping hand. This time was no exception.

Okay, first of all, Mama Sushi is a DOMINICAN AND JAPANESE FUSION RESTAURANT.

Did you hear that?

DOMINICAN AND JAPANESE FUSION. Wait until you hear about the rolls we ordered. Just wait.

The atmosphere was lively. The room packed with parties of people and a healthy dose of holiday cheer. We sat down and were immediately given very attentive service. But the magic started when the owner, Susana, Mama Sushi herself, came up to our table to greet us.

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She was so excited about the night. They were celebrating an expansion with family and friends, and promised that later there would be karaoke. In Spanish. But she still hoped we would stay. She asked us if we were new to the neighborhood (a common question with this project, people always wonder how we found our way to their neighborhoods) and welcomed us whole-heartedly. We had a good laugh over how we must stick out, and then a debate over who was more of a dead giveaway: Andy or me? What do you think?

Andy?

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Or me?

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Right away, I ordered a drink called Japanese Sex. Because, well, why not? Ingredients: Bacardi Coconut Rum, Amaretto Disaronno, and Green Liqueur. Green Liqueur? Okay, fine. Tania and Andy ordered margaritas. On the server’s recommendation we ordered spring rolls and shrimp dumplings to start while we looked over the menu. We toasted the holidays and friendship and adventure, then ordered the following:

Salmon Tempura Roll: Salmon tempura, bacon, crispy white cheese & onion tempura & topped with sweet plantain, grilled steak or chicken, spicy kani and sofrito. (We chose steak, naturally, and no, this is not a joke).

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Hot Mama Roll: Tuna tartar, smoked salmon, cucumber, avocado & jalapeno, topped with sweet plantain and ginger.

Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box: swerved with miso soup, white rice and a California roll.

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We ate and drank, swept up in the atmosphere. There was house music playing, and a general feeling that the room was about to party once the karaoke machine got fired up. There was also a great feeling of love in the air. Susana had a very infectious love for her restaurant and for her loyal customers. And she welcomed us right into the vibes.

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The food was… Well… what would you expect with that extreme combination of flavors? A bursting explosion in your mouth? That’s what I hoped for. And while there weren’t any oral nuclear explosions, the food did taste pretty good. Not wildly amazing, but pretty good. Probably because of all the love that went into the preparation. Love tastes good, doesn’t it? There’s a difference when something is prepared with pride. And I will definitely give Mama Sushi that.

Then the karaoke started. Susana, Mama Sushi, sang first. She belted out a heartfelt ballad in Spanish, on a wireless mic, wandering through the restaurant and serenading her customers. I swear I saw Tania get teary-eyed during the performance but she claims otherwise. It was a very moving and special performance to witness nonetheless.

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We did feel a little bit trapped, like when is the right time to dash for the door? Definitely not mid-song. But we were ready to trek back to Brooklyn after our meal (and tres leches for dessert). So after Susana’s performance, we got up to leave. She blocked our path and asked on the microphone why we were going. Of course. No quiet exits for the likes of us.  I said we just wanted to hear her sing, but we had to head home. She liked that. Though once we were outside, we did hear her say into the microphone:

Los Gringos no cantan.

Haha. Los Gringos no cantan. I guess we were the gringos. And I guess we didn’t sing, but I’ve been known to tear up a karaoke performance, so that’s not entirely true. But that night it was not in the cards. I wanted to get back to Brooklyn to snuggle into bed with my boyfriend, and Tania and Andy wanted to stop by a bar to see a friend DJ on the way home. We had other things to do.

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But we left with the love of the restaurant vibrating through our bones. Or at least a slight buzz from the crazy cocktails and the subsequent rounds of Asahi. I personally felt warm just with the feeling that we were witness to a very special moment in time. And that’s what I love about this project. We are observers and participants in all the nooks and crannies of our city. We go off the beaten track and find that other people are trying to live and love too, just like us.

Things got a little funny on the train ride home though.

You thought I was wrapping up a sweet tale of holiday cheer? Well, let’s not forget how crazy the holiday times make us too.

There was a man in a bright orange suit and an ankle-length black fur coat on board with us. He sat there with a friend and we didn’t think too much of him, other than the fact that he had a fantastic outfit on. When his friend left the train a few stops down the line, he got up and started ranting. Now, I usually tune out people’s rants, but this guy was loud and aggressive. He went on and on about how he was responsible for everyone on the train’s freedom, how he fought for us, and how no one appreciates what he’s done for the country, etc. etc. Things got sticky when he stood face to face with a couple of Hispanic guys and basically told them they had no right to be in our country.

Yuck.

Then somehow, a rather large woman got involved—hands in faces and yelling and all of that—when suddenly she was kicking the shit out of him with her umbrella. He fought back, sure. But she was winning. When the train pulled into the next stop, we moved out of that car and informed the driver there was a fight going on.

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And there we sat in the station at 163rd Street. Waiting for the police to come. While the crazy man stood on the platform yelling more off-color remarks about the people on the train.

While we were waylaid, Tania pulled out her Christmas card supplies. Yes, this is what I love about Tania. We’re delayed so we may as well write Christmas cards? It’s so deeply Tania that I smile just thinking about it. That’s what we did. While we waited for the police to come and for the craziness to die down, I wrote a card to Tania, Tania wrote to Andy, and Andy wrote to me.

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Once we finally got moving, at the next stop another character boarded the train. She entered calling everyone her sugar boo-boos, and when the driver announced we would be operating express she exclaimed with utter joy:

YES! YES! PRAISE JESUS! I’m going to see my man! Express! YES! God is good! Thank you Lord! Thank you Jesus!

Guess she was excited to go see her man too.

With the announcement at the next stop of the express stops, she made the same grand exclamations! YES! God is good!

Then promptly fell asleep. Guess all that excitement wore her out.

Wore us out too. I was happy to crawl into bed with my sugar boo-boo, full of the magic and adventure of the evening. He asked me how it was, and I said: Well, you’re just going to have to read the post, aren’t you?

YES!

6 Train Downtown

Back to the Bridge

By: Tania

I have put off writing this post for quite a while now. The events of this end of the line dining experience were the perfect intersection of our young selves and our still young, albeit slightly older, selves – and I figured I would not forget. So here goes from my foggy memory with digital assistance.

Bonnie and I met on the platform of the 6 train in Union Square at 7:30 for a short trip downtown to Brooklyn Bridge. I know this because of the following text still in my phone’s crystal clear memory: “Meet on the platform yeah? Front-ish car? See you at 7:30.” It is likely a safe bet that I was 5 minutes late, and I slightly recall running so that we could board the approaching train.

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Hopstop tells me the ride should have been between 7 and 9 minutes long – and that sounds about right. We were going for simple.

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We exited the train at City Hall Park, night having already fallen. Downtown Manhattan is abuzz in the daytime, but is not what you would call a happening place at night. Many of the eating establishments, mostly chains, close after the work crowd clears.

We decided to wander along the periphery of the park, and what should we come across?

A fountain. The very same fountain where we stood 13 years ago. You may recall Bonnie’s eloquent description in the 1 train to South Ferry post “One day, we went to City Hall Park (most likely after a Brooklyn Bridge walk), and we found a fountain. In that fountain we made wishes, and Tania reminded me how she felt with the penny in her fingertips (must have been in 2000 or maybe early 2001). She said she can only remember a couple times in her life when she felt so happy and satisfied that she honestly didn’t know what to wish for. And there was a kind of charmed feeling in the air.

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So there we were again. Happy and satisfied, but not without wishes and certainly not on our way to the Tavern on the Green. Bonnie and I made cast our pennies into the water (we will let you know what they are once they come true, and I have a feeling they will), took some pictures and moved on. The fountain is still magical, but there seemed to be some strange characters lurking on the benches, and we were hungry.

We decided to take a turn onto one of the smaller cobblestone streets. Ann Street is one of the oldest streets in New York, but beyond the cobblestone, the construction and modern establishments mask its beautiful age. It is hard to imagine that this was once the site of PT Barnum’s museum in the 1800’s, home to the celebrated midget “General Tom Thumb” and the “Fiji Mermaid”.

I would venture to say that downtown Manhattan has received a rather ugly modern face lift. I take a look and think she would have been much prettier if she just aged naturally. You can still see the beauty in a few of the remaining building facades and though a lit window here and there, but you have to pay attention.

Bonnie and I are naturally window peekers. We spied a mysterious, opulent parlor in an otherwise abandoned and gutted building. It was like the entire thing was being demolished save for that one room….a room that we knocked on and could not gain access to. We also spied the back window of 121 Fulton Street, and it looked inviting enough to us. The menu did not really impress, but it was nice enough, and I was glad to see that if we dined long enough, I would be able to see the Giants game on one of the TV screens (the one and only time I am ever happy to see a TV in a dining establishment). As most of you know, the Giants have already won the World Series (YAY)….that is how long I have dragged my feet on this post!

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As usual, we decided to share. Unfortunately, the only picture I took of the menu was the ‘Spicy & Jammy’ wine list. Judging from the pictures, our slightly forgettable but better than expected dinner consisted of an artichoke dip with tortilla chips, tuna tartar and a salad with grilled shrimp. It was solid bar food, and we enjoyed it with a glass of wine each.

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After dinner, we debated on whether or not to take a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge. As mentioned in a previous post or two, Brooklyn Bridge was the place that Bonnie and I went together our first year in college when we needed to clear our heads. Our serene place. The rules were as follows – no turning around until you reach the mid-way point of the Bridge, then quickly turn around and enjoy the view. Take in the whole experience in one glance. The view, centered on the World Trade Center, took your breath away. We came here many times together and would bring our nearest and dearest when they came to visit.

I don’t believe Bonnie and I have been to the bridge together since before September 11th, and certainly not since the new WTC has been built. We decided to go for it. We talked about how our 18-year-old selves would feel about our 34-year-old selves and the lives we have led up until this point. We agreed that our 18 year old selves would have thought we would have had children and had settled down by now – but would have been proud of the lives we have led and the people we have become.

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We turned around a quarter of the way across the bridge and were underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because the view is different, or because we did not follow our own rules. We agreed that next time we meet on the bridge that we won’t half ass it. I still have faith in the view ahead.

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N Train Uptown

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N is for Nature/Nurture

Noted by: BoNnie

A few years ago, my parents had a trip planned to see me in New York (they live in California). My dad had just had hip replacement surgery though, and wasn’t quite up for flying. These were the doctor’s orders, not his, for if you know the man, you know he’d rather be right back into the ocean with his scuba gear strapped to his back than be a patient in the sick bed. He doesn’t milk it, is what I’m saying, though maybe my mom would have a different opinion as his stay-at-home-nurse. Anyway, the point of this is that my mom, instead of cancelling her trip, decided to come out without him.

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There is a man growing out of my head.

I’m one of those unusual people with parents that are still married (weird, right?) and as such, I tend to experience them as a unit. My weekly phone calls are even with both of them on the line. What transpired that first mom and daughter time in NYC was so special to us that we’ve made it an annual tradition. We tend to do the things that we probably wouldn’t do if Dad were around. Not saying it’s better or worse, just saying it’s something special—something that’s just ours.

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Yes, this is my mom with Randy Jackson. This was during her last trip, but not during the End of the Line Dining :)

We’ve been to many subversive theatrical experiences (a Joey Arias extravaganza complete with penises in various forms, and many FringeNYC productions); we’ve partaken in drunken feasts at Roberta’s; and we’ve traipsed around the underbelly of Brooklyn (at least the parts that are sort of mom-friendly, though my mom can handle much more than you might think!)

All that lead up is just to say that Mom was in town, we were due up for an End of the Line trip, I hadn’t seen Tania’s mom in ages (she’s a short train ride away in Connecticut), and so everything was in place for the double mother-daughter subway extravaganza. And while I’ve said my mom can handle more than you might think, we still wanted to choose one of the easier end of the line destinations, and therefore it was to be the N Train to Astoria.

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I’ve always loved Tania’s mom, Sally Jo. She’s got a spirit that is contagious. I find her to be deeply interested in the world around her, and not afraid to live life to the fullest. She’s not afraid, for example, to ask for a taste of something on the menu when she doesn’t want to get the whole thing (you never know, right?) and she’s always up for a good time. From the year that Tania and I lived in the dorms together and she’d make her periodical visits to the city, to the Thanksgivings I spent with her family, and even some time in San Francisco at the Museum Mechanique sharing a good chuckle with “Laughing Sal”, I’ve always enjoyed my time with her. Most of all I love how much Sally loves Tania. It’s apparent in her every action.

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Laughing Sal

Getting to know someone’s parents really reveals a lot about a person. And I always find it fascinating to meet someone’s maker, so to speak. But if you mash that together with your own maker then you’ve got multiple levels of relating going on. It’s pretty special energy. I think back to the years living with my parents, and which of my friends’ parents my own got along with. There weren’t any great friendships formed from it. Parents are sort of just forced into interaction during the years that their kids choose to spend time together. There is no guarantee that they will like each other just because their kids do.

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I’m happy to report though that it seemed like Tania’s mom and my mom liked each other just fine. Did they exchange contact information and will they keep in touch? Well, no, but we just completed a circle in a way. A circle of understanding.

Okay, long winded intro is up.

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We met on the Union Square platform of the N train to trek up for our second journey to Astoria (the first being the Q train a year ago). The train was rushing into the station, and we could see each other down the platform, so we all ran to meet in the center car, and just made it as the doors closed.

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After catching our breath, the introductions were made. We chatted about my mom’s trip, did some reminiscing, and before we knew it we were on the streets of Astoria. As we strolled along, Sally shared a particularly amusing story about a mugger whose attack weapon was a dildo (!!), as we headed in the direction of a restaurant that this helpful Astoria resident recommended:

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Thanks, friendly neighborhood guy!

Along the walk, we were all in agreement that there were some very beautiful gardens to look at. Both our moms tend a garden. My mom has her tomatoes and her zucchinis, and Tania’s mom grows all kinds of things from flowers to vegetables. I’m the one of the bunch with the brown thumb. I manage to keep a cat alive just fine, but I even killed an aloe plant which barely needs to be watered, so you catch my drift. Still I love a fresh vegetable or flower so kudos to those who have that kind of patience.

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We travelled down Ditmars Blvd and arrived at the recommended destination.

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Tania and I both felt a little uneasy about it though. The menu looked a little whatever, and we wanted to take a quick peek down the road at the remaining possibilities. Since we had been walking for some time, we left our moms in their chairs while we continued the exploration. Just to be sure.

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There was a park right on the next block by the water (Astoria Park), and a corner restaurant that seemed to be more interesting and lively. We made the choice to move our mothers there without even looking at the menu to see what type of cuisine it was.

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Which turned out to be Greek. Fine with us! When in Rome, errrr, Astoria!

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We agreed to share food and we all have our little nitpicks—no meat but fish for Tania, no lamb or mushrooms for me, no eggplant for my mom—which presented a small challenge but we got through it quickly, and came around to these items:

Spinach Pie Authentic Greek

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Greek Salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, olives)

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Tzantziki (yogurt, cucumber, mild garlic*, dill spread)

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* uhhhh, the garlic was not mild at all, but I do like it garlicky!

Traditional Saganaki (baked cheese)

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Dolmades Yialantzi (hand rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs)

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Grilled Shrimp

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Mom refused to take a picture with her face and the shrimp’s face

That was topped off with three glasses of red wine to start our afternoon off right. They brought us bread and butter, which we devoured (my emergency pretzel stash in my bag had held us off before the walk, but we were starving by the time we sat down to eat!)

The food was delicious. My mom has a slight problem with decapitating shrimp (sorry, Mom, but those actually are little animals with eyes and heads that we are eating), but otherwise we enjoyed everything. Even without the taste of lamb stew that Tania’s mom wanted. They did send us a complimentary dessert. And you know what the best tasting dessert is, right?

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We strolled through the park afterward and snapped these shots:

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Then spent some time with the pooches that were up for adoption and hanging around the park.

Sally made the comment that I’m more like she is and that Tania is more like my mom. Well, we were born just three days apart from each other, maybe we were switched at birth! Though that’d be hard between a New Jersey and a California hospital.

It’s funny to think of that, actually. Here are these two women on opposite sides of the country, pregnant at the exact same time with two girls that were destined to find each other as sisters one day. There’s something kind of witchy about it, if you ask me. Something that can trip me out if I think about it too long.

People exist on their own tracks and spheres and then suddenly those worlds collide and everything changes. By that token, as those two women birthed and reared the two of us, we at the same time decided to apply to NYU, got accepted, and then ended up in the same dorm room together. How do we find anyone? Stuff like that still feels like magic to me. The romantic in me can still hope that my man is wondering in some sphere right now and when we collide it will be fireworks.

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Anyway, this End of the Line trip was magical in its own way. There’s magic in the creation of another person I think, and then it’s so interesting to think of what that person got from their parents. I like to think that I got my dad’s determination and ferocity, but that those qualities are tempered with my mother’s generosity and kindness. Tania says from her mom she got the love and ability to appreciate the the subtleties in life like a flower or the way a dog’s ear flops.

Those people passed those things on to us, and then I could list off a million great things that have happened in my life as a direct result of Tania. I consider Tania to be my family. My own parents have always been very fond of Tania, and regularly ask how she’s doing. I bet they too can get tripped out thinking about us two kiddos in the dorms at NYU in 1998 and where we’ve come to since. My dad (not so) secretly hoping that I’d have taken a similar path to Tania’s. But really, we are on the same path, still. After all our many twists and turns. We’re here. We’re family.

And she didn’t even have to marry my little brother for that to happen.

So, Στην υγειά σου! To family and all its many shapes and forms!

(That was “Cheers” in Greek, if you couldn’t tell!)

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C Train Uptown

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C is for Cock-a-doodle-doo

Conceived & Hatched by: Bonnie

Okay, so, we cheated a little. And there are multiple layers of cheating within this adventure, but what’s a group of cool chicks to do when all they really want is a real brunch and a real brunch cocktail to wash that down? It’s best not to go into these End of the Line rides (or life really, am I right?) with any preconceived notions, but let’s face it, sometimes we know exactly what we want. And this particular Sunday was no exception.

Before I begin the tale of our journey, I will confess our sins. They are twofold:

  1. When we got to the end of the line, we realized we were but 20 short and very walk-able blocks from Harlem, and isn’t the Red Rooster somewhere down there? And wouldn’t it be nice to leave this neighborhood and eat a real brunch? With a real cocktail? Oh the Red Rooster? Never been there before! Rules are rules: we can walk as much as we want once we get off the train, just no googling. So it’s really only a partial cheat ditching the neighborhood.
  2. And I swear I didn’t even realize this until much later in the day, buuuuutttttt… The C train ACTUALLY ends at 165th street (FOURTY blocks from the real brunch) and it was a service interruption that caused the subway line to cease at 145th on the day we rode to the end of the line. Normally, we look at the MTA maps. I guess we had our eyes on the prize. And varying degrees of hangovers, I would imagine.

I feel so much lighter now that I’ve made that confession! I haven’t even told our special guests that we didn’t make it to the end of the line. I didn’t want to spoil it for them. Sorry, Amanda and Dawn, but this was a Cock-a-doodle-doo trip on the C train. Perhaps the next time Amanda is in town, we should take it all the way. We are four birds that like to go all the way, after all.

But I will still recount and regale, for a journey was made and it deserves my attention. Allow me to introduce Tania’s and my companions for this ride uptown on the C train. Two old skool peeps from Roberta’s. These girls were the O.G. theme nighters, fierce competitors in sales floor competitions, champion shotgunners, late night Narrows bathroom shenanigans and shots of fernet comrades, my esteemed rabble rousers: Amanda Zug-Moore and Dawn Mauberret. None of us work there anymore, but our legacy lives on. And I betcha no one has as much fun as we used to have after hours in that Bushwick concrete bunker playland. As such, they are two of my favorite girls to share a meal and a drink with—they have sophisticated palates, but they are not afraid of the down and dirty. Great combo for an End of the Line Adventure.

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Amanda moved to New Orleans about a year ago, and was back for a short visit to her old stomping ground. Dawn hadn’t seen Amanda yet, so it was all kismet for this afternoon ride.

Realization: I’m really missing an opportunity here to make cock jokes, aren’t I? I mean chicken and bird allusions are one thing (and there are many more to come, trust me) but all roads lead to the Red Rooster, after all. Don’t be a chicken! Besides, one of my other favorite things to do with Amanda and Dawn (and Tania too, obviously) is to gossip. Or as Dawn says… to DISH! And what do we dish most about? You know it. We get down to every last detail, gentlemen. No holds barred. But that isn’t polite blog conversation. We leave that to the dinner table. Or the brunch table. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

We headed uptown on the C train at 11:26am from 14th Street, and as this trip is full of inconsistencies, I see now that I didn’t mark the end time. My brain was a little scrambled egg.

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The neighborhood we landed in was a food desert situated between Washington Heights and Harlem. It had its charms. Some beautiful parks. But this was not a commerce-heavy zone. Mostly residential buildings—big and brick and kind of non-descript. There were delis. There were a couple of shabby looking Caribbean flavored buffets. But not a single restaurant to sit down in, much less get our COCKtail on (trying). Was it time to cash in the deli card and take sandwiches to a nearby (and like I said quite beautiful) park? It was a lovely summer day.We flew the coop and headed the twenty blocks toward Harlem, with its promises of brunch and cocktails. And who am I kidding with the lovely summer day? We were sweating bullets. It was HUMID!

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Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the Red Rooster!

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The famed, the acclaimed, Red Rooster. From their own mission statement: “Located in the heart of Harlem, Red Rooster serves comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine and the diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood. Named in honor of the legendary speakeasy, Chef Marcus Samuelsson brings his passion for food to the neighborhood he calls home.” I waited on Marcus Samuelsson once at Roberta’s. He tweeted about his fine service. Considering that came shortly after my bad yelp review when I told a customer that her egg was cooked just like we do it (and it actually wasn’t cooked at all), I felt some redemption. Those were back in the days when we defended the food at all costs. There was a time when the customer wasn’t always right at Roberta’s (Does it still feel that way? You forget the old days). Things shifted throughout the years though. That was one of the amazing aspects of working at that restaurant. From day one, where we were thrown on the floor and told to go take orders (without order), through waiting tables wrapped in scarves during the winters without heat, through the establishment of a managerial system and a wine program, through the first NY Times review, through it all. Well, there are tales for days of this progression, but this isn’t my forum for that. Dawn, Amanda and I could cobble together quite a saga. The stuff of legends.

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At the Red Rooster, we were sat right next to the band which is why we were seated so quickly I believe, but actually it was perfect timing. A soulful crooner (sitting in a chair) and her guitar and trumpet player accompaniment provided the backdrop to the first part of our dining experience. Her tunes were mellow enough we could still chat and eat, and hopping enough to add to the liveliness and jazziness of brunch in Harlem. Plus there was a break before the next act, so we could just take it all in and enjoy our meal.  Are we such old hens that we’re happy when the live music quiets down a little? Well, for brunch yes. There is a time and a place for everything, right

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We shared our meal, and here’s what we had:

            *Watermelon Tomato Salad with cucumber, marinated feta, pickled red onions, cilantro

             and mint

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            *Crab Salad Ssam with daikon, mint, chilies, peanuts

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            *Brioche French Toast with strawberry compote and lemon cream

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            *Beaten Biscuits and Red Eye Gravy with a fried egg

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            *Grilled Shrimp & Grits with cheddar grits, green garlic and tomato sauce

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I don’t know about you guys but I like my biscuits beaten from time to time. Ladies? Brunch!

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I’m going to be the jerk that says I thought the portions of the salads were a little wimpy, but maybe Amanda and Dawn would tell me differently. They were always better defenders of small portion sizes than me. But still there’s something magical that happens when you put feta next to watermelon. And crab? Well, even a little nugget makes me happy.

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The brunch fare was classic and tasty. The ingredients fresh and delicious. We feasted and sipped on our much-anticipated mimosas, rosé wines, bloody marys and sangrias. The French toast was a little underdone, like kinda doughy, but I liked it. Dawn, not so much. The Shrimp & Grits were pretty heavenly though. I’d say we mostly caught up on where Amanda is at these days in her new life in New Orleans. I visited her once in the past year, and ate and drank and paraded my way through that city with her. We also crashed a Cure concert by camping out on the bayou with her babies and hubby. That was a magical night.

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I hate how little we see even our friends that ARE in town all the time. There are certainly friends I only see every couple of months. Hell, Tania and I were falling dangerously into that pattern before we started this project up. That’s the nature of New York; you almost need a project to work on as an excuse to get together. But Sundays shouldn’t be like that. You should always get together with a friend just for the hell of it on a Sunday. And if you end up cheating a little and not playing by the rules, well then who gives a fuck? Friendship is what this blog is about. Sure it’s about food and it’s about adventure, but ultimately it’s about the company we keep. And doing and living just for the sake of it. Our lives get busy. Sometimes it takes an out of town visitor to have a get together with all your old pals from the restaurant you used to work at together. Sometimes it shouldn’t though. What are we doing working so much? I mean, I know what I’m doing and I love what I’m doing, but what came first? The chicken or the egg? No, I’m stretching it with my chicken metaphors.

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Okay, so, at the very end of our meal, a full Brazilian band had set up right behind us (actually trapping me in my seat) and had started some high-energy, the-sky-is-falling, super percussive and big brassy tunes. The crowd gathered and threw their arms up and filled the whole bar area, snapping pictures and shaking their hips.

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Apparently we were still kind of in brunch mode, and the lead singer looked straight at Dawn and mouthed: STOP TALKING. Well! That was a little embarrassing. I’m not one to try to disrespect the musician. But there is a time and a place, as I said, and we wanted to get on that train back to Brooklyn. Some of us to catch the final world cup match, some of us to just catch up on life before the week started.

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And since I’ve failed miserably to make cock jokes during this account of our trip to the Red Rooster, I leave you with a blatant one:

Why doesn’t a chicken wear pants?

Why?

Oh, you want to know?

Because his pecker is on his head!

folks

Q Train to Coney Island

Quadruple the fun

by Tania

Train SignAfter a very long hiatus, end of the line dining has re-commenced. We have the great fortune that four lines terminate at Coney Island, and what better place to travel on a sunny day than Brooklyn’s amusement park by the sea. You may recall that last time we dined in Coney Island, we started by walking away from the boardwalk. This time we embarked on our journey fully intending to walk towards the beach, bathing suits on, towels in tow.

We boarded the Q line from Union Square at precisely 11:39 for a seemingly quick 50 minute ride. Catching up as usual, Bonnie shared with me her idea for a shadow puppet show in her back yard. From the moment she moved in, there have been visions of the performances to come. Thus far there have been fireworks, fire pits and bbqs, but the vaudevillian magic is still in the works – jugglers, puppets, fire dancing – I cannot wait!

I had the somewhat juvenile realization the other day, that everything I really truly love – and I mean the rip your heart out of your chest love – reminds me of one Cure song or another. If I can fit it into the framework of a Cure song, it seems to reach an emotional plane as of yet unsurpassable. Sometimes it is literally the words – “whenever I’m alone with you – you make me feel like I am young again”, and other times just a feeling. It’s slightly goth, terrifically adventurous and hopelessly romantic. One could certainly argue that there are better bands out there (or not), but none capture the undying dreams of youth in the same way – for me.

BonneBonnie is very much a Cure song (see picture to the left for reference – age 15, on her way to a show). From the first day we became friends, she has delighted me with her stories of impromptu performances, mischief (ala train hopping), wonder and love – similar themes I still delight in when I read her novels, or experience as part of her life. At the time, I had never met anyone quite like this bright red bobbed girl, or later her first love Nef – who traveled all across the country on a greyhound bus to visit Bonnie in New York. And when campus security decided Nef had stayed too long – the two of them stayed outside on the street together during the cold October night. You get the picture – slightly goth, terrifically adventurous and hopelessly romantic.

Coney Island gives me the same feeling – particularly our first stop – the Sideshow by the Sea. In this world of internet and virtual reality, I let out a huge sigh of relief that there are still human blockheads, sword swallowers and snake handlers that exhibit their skills live and in person every day for the bargain price of $10.

We were beckoned into the sideshow by a man in red stripes. Anytime I am beckoned anywhere, my first instinct is to run away (that is if I notice at all – I am not a very alert walker), but Bonnie suggested we go in. The first show was not yet ready to start, so we did what seemed most appropriate at the time – ordered a malt liquor strawberry margarita in a can. Actually, just Bonnie did that. I opted for a beer.

ber2Being the first performance of the day, the audience was a bit thin – but that only meant we had to express our cheer and wonder at a volume befitting a much larger crowd. We were up to the task, and the show was so good – every clap was deserved tenfold. The emcee for the show, Ray Valenz, was everything you would want your sideshow host to be. Striped pants, eye make-up – the kind of guy who puts a power drill up his nose, licks the blood off of the drill bit and still makes the ladies swoon. I won’t give away too much about the show – everyone should most certainly go see it, but I will let you know that I got to sit in an electric chair and have a torch lit to flames off the tip of my tongue. Most certainly a good start to the day.

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Now for the food. We had been told that there were some very delicious tacos in the vicinity of the bump your ass off bumper cars. In search of these tacos, we came across Cantina – Place to Beach (PTB). Unfortunately I could not partake in any of PTB’s meaty tacos, so we were directed to the side patio in the promise of shrimp. We quickly discerned that this was not the recommend taco locale, and ordered a red chili margarita (which should be renamed the pizza topping margarita), a sriracha margarita and some guacamole and chips. Well folks, I can tell you that this was the worst food in end of the line dining history. The chips tasted more like cardboard than cardboard, and the drinks were barely drinkable. On the bright side, they were perhaps the strongest margaritas I have ever had and we left decidedly more intoxicated than when we arrived.

 

 

Cantina 1 Cantina1 Cantina2 Coney

 

Next stop – Nathan’s. Nathan’s is a Coney Island staple since 1916 and host of the world famous hot dog eating contest. If you don’t know it, you have clearly never been to Coney Island. I will never eat raw seafood from Nathan’s (although many do), but I will order the perfectly fried clam strips any day of the week. Bonnie opted for a corn dog, and I somehow managed to buy an old man a hotdog with sauerkraut and onions because he asked me to. I mean how can you say no when someone asks you to buy them “a hotdog with sauerkraut and onions – don’t forget the sauerkraut and onions”? You can’t, at least not if you are me.

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Overwhelmed with how much there was to do, and how little time we had to do it, Bonnie and I rode the Wonder Wheel (wisely opting for one of the non-swinging seats), played some games (I am an undefeated champion at those games where you shoot water at a target), got our fortune read, paid 25 cents to fall in love (bargain) and went to a haunted house. We did not get to take a dip in the sea (Bonnie’s request) or play ski ball (mine), but we did grab a funnel cake on our way to the train.

Ticket Booth haunted house Wonder Wheel funnel cake

love clown zoltar

Coney Island has most certainly changed since that summer 15 years ago when I went every week trying to win a boom box with ski ball tickets, but in the ways that are most important, it has remained the same – slightly goth, terrifically adventurous and hopelessly romantic. Oh, there is one final thing that I will tell you about the sideshow. When asked what my tombstone would read if the electric chair trick when awry, my response was, “I had fun”. And I did.

Tania

M Train Uptown

M is for Metamorphosis

Manufactured by: Bonnie

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I’ve been naughty.

Tania and I took our last End of the Line Dining trip WEEKS ago, and I’ve been sitting on this post ever since. I wrote something right away then hated how sentimental it was, put it away and didn’t look back. After some gentle prodding from Tania, and some self-inflicted guilt, here I am with the full report…

There’s a lot on which I can blame my inability to write this post. First: I’m on a deadline. Wait, pause. I can’t tell you enough how happy it makes me to write those words: I’M ON A DEADLINE! Sounds so cool, doesn’t it? I was supposed to turn in a full revision of my novel to my agent on May 1st, and I’m running about a week behind on that too. Been mixed up with too many boys these days. Got the stomach flu. Got wicked drunk at a karaoke birthday party (where I straight slayed “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus). Had stacks of papers to grade. Had a book club book to read (didn’t have that read in time either). Had friends’ heartaches to attend to. Had articles to write for foodie ‘zines. Had barbecues to make an appearance. Had shit to DO.

I’m a punctual person (to a fault almost) but it seems to me that I’m about two weeks behind on life right now. I’m strangely at peace with this though. Strangely comfortable with the flux and the loose ends. My friend Ralph told me I have to be if I want to be amazing. And who doesn’t want to be amazing?

So, here I am. Tardy to the party for the first time in my life. But finally ready to recount the journey that was the M train to Forest Hills with my girl, Tania. I am going to preserve one little line from what I wrote before though and that is this:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A NEW DIRECTION MAKES

We rode the M train to Middle Village (the other direction) back in December when my heart was freshly broken, when I was smoking too many cigarettes and replacing my new love for yoga for the less healthy options in life. Now this time around, as we rode the train the opposite direction to Forest Hills, I can happily say that I, too, was heading in new direction. No longer wallowing in the heartache (just enough to make this post a little bit romantic though), no longer in graduate school and no longer thirty-three. The M train in the new direction now stood for my Misadventures. My Meandering Mind. My Metamorphosis.

I’m still a sentimental fucker though, don’t you worry. Some things never change. Right before I took this trip, I was working on my novel, using a hard-covered Marilyn Monroe book as a flat surface on my lap. When I picked up the book, out fell a letter that I had written to Tania (and apparently never sent) dated September 11, 1999. That’s right, folks, fourteen-and-a-half years ago. The handwriting was frenetic (brain scrambled by my new found freedom in San Francisco, my extensive partying, and being head over heels in love). I was going through a phase where I capitalized all my M’s aNd My N’s. I doN’t kNow why? I’m going to share some little gems from that letter at the end of this post, partly because it goes along with what a difference a new direction makes, and partly because Tania has never read the letter and now here is her chance, along with you, our faithful readers of End of the Line Dining. Some of it is downright cringe-worthy. It’s hard to look at things you wrote so long ago and not want to travel back in time to slap some sense into yourself. But you can’t. We go along in the directions that we’re meant to. And have to trust that the crossroads come at just the right moments.

It was a sleepy Wednesday evening when we met on the Myrtle-Wyckoff platform to head to Forest Hills. Tania was fresh out of crazy times at work, and I was fresh out of crazy times adjudicating for FringeNYC. Wednesdays are always sleepy for me anyway because I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to get to work on time in New Jersey, and that particular Wednesday, I just pushed through without an afternoon refresher nap.

There were two elements of déjà vu in the mix: 1) That we’d attempted this journey the month before with Stephanie, but ran into service issues and couldn’t complete it, and 2) We went to Forest Hills on the R train almost exactly a year ago with Bertie, Sarah K, Jen, & James Long!

So there we were again, this time just the two of us, and we boarded the train at 7:43 p.m. The train ride took one hour and one minute to be exact. Next to the eating experience, this was the biggest portion of our trip. We hadn’t seen each other since my birthday so we had plenty to discuss including: my recent foray into the world of online dating (whew, stories to come in the future, I’m just getting my bearings there), my upcoming deadline (the one that seemed totally manageable about a month ago and now feels like a stronghold), some future business deals that are on the table, future travel plans, and recent bouts of the death flu currently attacking New York City (I got it a few days later). There were some laughs and there were some tears (we do a really good job of crying together) (I won’t tell you who cried this time though), and one very weird hand job given by a girl standing next to us to the pole right by Tania’s face – lasting a good solid four minutes (awkward).

Then we arrived.

When we got off the train, we found ourselves retracing the steps we took the last trip. Not for any other reason than familiarity. The neighborhood looked different at night. There seemed to be more restaurants to choose from, but maybe that was just because they were lit and looked inviting against the chilly evening. Both of us commented it felt like a fall night, rather than spring. Something in the air.

I had the idea that we might eat at a Mexican restaurant. This is because our friend Anjali told me recently that she used to go out to eat in Forest Hills as a kid and there was a Mexican restaurant where she remembered liking shrimp for the first time. So when we found the Five Burro Café, it seemed just right.

We walked into the restaurant and the song playing was “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns n Roses. I took this as a very good sign. I also took the walls covered in kitschy decorations as a good sign (license plates, piñatas, chili pepper lights). We are both suckers for that kind of décor. After putting our margarita orders in, we decided to start with a half-avocado stuffed with shrimp and topped with “5 Burro House Dressing” and jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, breaded and fried, then to share the shrimp fajitas for the main course (had to get shrimp. For Anjali. And well, we both really like shrimp). The food was delicious and filling. By the time we got to the fajitas we were a little too stuffed (perhaps from our STUFFED appetizers!) to finish everything.

By this time it was approaching 11 p.m. and the thought of getting back on the train for an hour sounded painful. Tania sprung for an Uber cab. Our first time not taking the train back. But we figured we had ridden the whole line by then, we were good!

And so there I was, continuing to move forward. Not backtracking at all. I rode that M train straight from heartbreak in Middle Village and out into this new place I reside: on the brink of success and excited about the road ahead.

As promised, I’ll leave you with a piece of that letter I found to Tania. I was nineteen-years-old and a wild child. I’m still a wild child at heart, but somehow the more we push forward, the more we grow up. At least we learn a thing or two along the way. It almost feels like a different person wrote that letter but then it’s so obvious that it’s me. Just a little caterpillar. And while I still feel far from full-on butterfly, I know I’ve spent some time in the cocoon since then. Life is exciting that way. I left New York after my first year of college to head back to California. It was me travelling in the opposite direction. Back to where I came from. But with a new intention. At that moment I didn’t know that I’d travel to the end of the line again, back to New York, and start to call it home.

My heart is here.

September 11, 1999

My dearest Tania Lee,

So, Marissa’s here. She arrived earlier today, letter in hand… I just sat in Washington Square Park (San Francisco version) and read it before work. Accordingly, I have decided to devote the next six hours to responding (interspersed with a sprinkling of reservation calls and folding of menus – the joy! the joy!) (oh and I’ll probably take a break to enjoy the Moose’s employee meal at 4:45) – but now… of course I am rambling… Me? NEVER! Babbling Brooke has possessed the hand that writes this letter. Barbie pink nails and… where am I going? Ahhhhhh the introduction. An attempt to relate exactly how your letter made me feel- how it pumped me full of emotion leading to an explosion of memories and love and love and love and love. An explanation is what I have to offer. An explanation of the nine months I spent in New York. An explanation of my situation. And explanation of our tornado of a friendship. Yes darling, you ARE stuck with me. Distance cannot destroy the bond that is ours. Am I being too poetic? Am I even a poet? Whoa, where did that come from?

Ralph coaxed me to eat a bacon cheese burger from Wendy’s. A weak moment indeed. Speaking of Ralph, he’s on the phone right now, hold on. Another break another break. Holy Jesus. I need to get to the core of this stinkin’ letter. But let’s make another digression first shall we? I am in LOVE. So in love. Never thought it possible again (oh so tragic and romantic)

[Don’t you just love how I was nineteen-years-old and never thought it was possible to fall in love again? If I only knew how many times I would fall in love after that! And yes, that’s the same Ralph that I mentioned earlier in this post. The next moments in this letter are intensely private and belong to Tania and me… they’re just ours… some things are better left within the privacy of the letter and sent only to the intended reader, but I will give one more piece]

I was just remembering that last night I spent in New York with you and what a good time we had and how we could always have fun no matter what we were lugging across the city. My dearest friend… I will be coming soon. We will eat brie in the park to accompany our cheap wine. We will dance like the dancing fools we are. We will smoke cigarettes in unauthorized areas. We will take pictures. We will ROCK OUT.

See, sometimes we take new directions, but at our core, we’re always the same. Hopelessly romantic dancing fools. And sentimental as all hell.

Love you, TaNia, My sister-frieNd.

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