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.

 

 

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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

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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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L Train to 8th Ave.

never Made it, Lucky us

bLogged by: Tania

Guest Photographer: Stephanie Levy

On a recent Saturday, I begrudgingly boarded the L train at Union Square. The plan was to meet Bonnie and Stephanie on the M platform at Myrtle Wyckoff for a trip to Forest Hills. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around going from Manhattan to Brooklyn, just to go to back through Manhattan to Queens. We started our M journey to Middle Village at Myrtle Wyckoff back in December, however, and those are the rules. We start where we left off, and we ride the entire line.

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I am tired. It has been a long winter filled with long hours (80 hour work weeks to be exact), long days and cold fingers, and I am ready for it to end. March is a very significant month. It is the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is the month of my birth, as well as Bonnie and Stephanie. It is a time for new beginnings. It is funny the way that one marks the end of one thing and the beginning of the next – a new year, a new season, a new age, a new day. This will end today, and tomorrow will be different.

What was not so different on this particular Saturday was that there was yet another weekend schedule change of which we were unaware. By the time that I reached the Myrtle Wyckoff station, I was in a much better mood – aided by the Grateful Dead and the sight of the two pretty ladies I was meeting on the platform.

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Joining us that evening as our guest photographer was Stephanie. Stephanie is a good friend of Bonnie, and therefore automatically has the seal of approval from me. However, as I have gotten to know her better, I have come to find she is just the kind of friend that anyone would be lucky to have. She listens intently when you have something to say, she offers insightful advice, she is the sort of friend who is the first to arrive at your birthday party and the last to leave (making sure that 1. You’ve had a great time and 2. Your house is clean). She helps you to organize your space (both mental and physical). She appreciates the little things like the beauty of a single flower and last but not least…she is so much fun!

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We boarded the M train headed for Forest Hills. I scratched down the time on a piece of paper in my bag, which I have since lost. No matter, we never made it.   Three stops later the train stopped running. What to do? We considered getting off the platform, but that wasn’t really the end of the line. We ran back and forth between the M and J platforms several times before backtracking to Myrtle Wyckoff.

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Sometimes you want a new adventure, a new beginning….and sometimes you just want home, the familiar and the comfortable. As luck would have it, that night I got exactly what I wanted. We boarded the L train, headed for the end. 8th Avenue and 14th street.  We wandered through the beautiful West Village to a restaurant so familiar to me that it always feels like home.

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The West Village has always been a place where I have aspired to live. A brownstone at the end of a windy block. A small quaint town in a concrete jungle. We spent a while walking through the cobblestone streets, crashing stoops and enjoying the street art.

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Eventually we ended up at Fish, on Bleeker Street. I have been coming to Fish for over 12 years, and I have never had a bad time or a bad meal. First attracted to the restaurant for their Red, White and Blue special – a half dozen clams or oysters with a PBR or wine for $8 – I never stopped going. Birthdays, Anniversaries, this has always been the place.

We were faced with a wait, but it was probably one of the most enjoyable waits that I can recall. We got a bottle of red wine and sat on the benches in the front, fully enclosed and protected from the elements. A hour must have passed, but it felt like minutes.

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When we were finally seated, we were ready to eat! Three red, white and blue specials, one order of buffalo shrimp, a grilled tuna salad sandwich, a lobster cobb salad and king crab legs. Not being one to partake in buffalo wings, I truly appreciate the shrimp option. I could go on forever about the tuna salad. Now when I say tuna salad, you might think of a scoop of bumblebee with a pile of mayo. Not here. Grilled pieces of slightly rare tuna with a wasabi mayo and some celery. Amazing.   And king crab legs, they speak for themselves.

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We toasted to our birthdays. To new beginnings that are truly new, and new beginnings that feel like home. Out with the old. They brought us some complimentary wine, but at that point we were so filled to the brim, I am not sure we even finished. We left our home for the night for a good night’s sleep that comes after a night of good food and good conversation, excited for the new beginning tomorrow would bring.

1 Train Downtown

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1 is for: 1 way or another I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha

wr1tten by: Bonnie

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Over 4.3 million people ride the subway in New York City every day. I, myself, am one of those riders, and just about every day at that. Usually, on the trains, we bury ourselves into our iPhones or iPods or Kindles. We don’t look up when kids are doing amazing dance moves, lest we have to spare a dollar when they walk around with the collection hat. We shut our ears off when someone starts telling their sad story or proselytizing. We avoid eye contact. We just try to get to the next point in time as quickly and quietly as possible.

Then there are those times when this need to shut off while commuting doesn’t happen. In fact, quite the opposite.

One such time is when you’ve just spent the night somewhere other than your own bed, and you’re on the ever-so-infamous walk of shame. Which is a particular feeling when you have to take public transportation. You’re acutely aware of the smudged eyeliner and last night’s outfit choice and perhaps unfamiliar smells on your skin as everyone else is moving along to work or wherever. You’re sure that everyone knows exactly what you’ve been up to, that you must be branded with the scarlet letter S for, well, take your pick. Truth is, no one pays too much attention, and I’d venture to guess the only time this is really obvious in New York is probably the morning after Halloween (pro-tip: an excellent day to ride the train!).  Admittedly I love this feeling. I love sitting there in the morning commute but heading home, with last night in my skin, smiling with my secrets while other people are just pushing through. If you’re unfamiliar, I’d say you’re missing out.

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The other time that I actually pay attention on the train is when we go on these End of the Line Dining treks. We move to the corners of the city, keenly aware of every detail. Maybe it’s because ultimately we write of the whole experience, but suddenly we listen to the proclamations, looking for signs or reason within our journey (remember Eastchester-Dyre?) and we experience our commute and our city with wide-open eyes. I love these trips because we are aware. Every move has meaning. Every step is symbolic of the bigger picture of our lives—whether that be some awesome memory or some awesome plan for the future. Every instance contributes to the whole, and we soak it all up, get drunk off the experience, but not numb. It’s living at its best.

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Last Sunday morning I met up with Tania in Manhattan to take the 1 train to South Ferry. I may or may not have just spent the night in Manhattan before meeting up with her. I may or may not have asked her to bring me a hair tie to disguise my bedhead. I may or may not have been living the experience of both of the scenarios that I just described above. A lady doesn’t kiss and tell. But I will say that we met up on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, and by 12:10pm we were heading downtown on the 1 train.

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Okay, so we had one of those proselytizers. And he started his speech when the train was stuck in a tunnel for close to five minutes before moving into the last station. We listened at first, as we always do. A passenger across the aisle rolled his eyes, but I didn’t acknowledge his annoyance. Tania and I agreed that the speech started with a promising note. He was talking about the law of gravity and the law of suction and then helicopters (Hey cool! Was this going to be a science talk!?). But after that great intro, he sort of started to glitch out on his speech (Thank you, oh lord. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Over and over and over and over and over). And while I don’t have a problem with thanking God, it felt like we were being hit in the head with a hammer over and over and over. A baby started crying. Tania was recording (ask her if you ever want to hear it). And the train was not moving.

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When we finally escaped this K-hole, we found our way out to the icy tip of Manhattan and saw our Lady Liberty and Ellis Island across the water. We took a couple of snapshots for posterity, and then began winding our way toward the Brooklyn Bridge and the South Street Seaport.

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Neither of us had been to the Seaport since Hurricane Sandy and we wondered how much would be open. If you remember, it was hit pretty hard down there.

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And sure enough, not much was open. The Seaport itself was entirely closed. There were many boarded up buildings within the historic district and the brick roads of that neighborhood. I’ve always found beauty in urban decay, but when it’s the effect of a tragedy, there is a different vibe, for sure. Nevertheless, despite the wind chill (read: it was fucking cold!) we had a very nice walk. That neighborhood holds a few very key memories in the history of my friendship with Tania.

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The first being that the Brooklyn Bridge used to be our spot. Where we’d go to find some serenity. And we had a ritualistic approach to the crossing. We’d walk halfway across the bridge without turning our eyes back until we reached our mark. Then we’d turn around at the same time and let the majesty of the New York City skyline assault us all at once. Mind you, when we started this ritual, the twin towers were still part of the glory.

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The other memory is from when Tania was a Resident Assistant at a dorm down there on Water Street. This one:

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This was when I lived in San Francisco but was out for a visit. 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. Later that night she treated our friend Marissa and me to a fancy dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, where we got way dressed up and lavished in the extravagance. Then she sprung for a bicycle cab to take us back down to 14th Street for a night at Barmacy (which is now Otto’s Shrunken Head). That’s about a seventy block bicycle ride through Manhattan. And it was magical. We definitely felt on top of the world. When we got to the bar that’s when I first locked eyes with a boy that would soon after become kind of famous and we would engage in a long distance romance that was wild and passionate and unforgettable. There were many trips to New York after that. And many walk of shames through Manhattan back to wherever Tania was living during subsequent trips. Not to mention when his band adopted mine and we got to play at the Fillmore in San Francisco and the Troubadour in LA. Also, unforgettable experiences.

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But I’m digressing. This is all just to say how powerful associative memories can be. And how by just paying attention, the experience of life is so much fuller and richer. Maybe too much sometimes. We definitely need to numb out sometimes. But checking back in with the hustle and bustle is so important.

So, back to our wandering in the here and now… After a quick pop-in to a boutique pet supply shop (Tania got Peanut a toy lobster),

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we eventually found a bar/brunch spot called Cowgirl Seahorse. We agreed that was a hard name to pass up.

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The theme of the décor was sort of an underwater rodeo. Everywhere you turned was a seahorse lamp or a horseshoe or an anchor, and even a fish with a horse’s head. The bathroom was for “Gulls and Buoys”

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and hanging from antler chandeliers were the doily hearts and sparkly hearts left over from Valentine’s Day, no doubt. Not to mention the calming glow of twinkle lights set against wood paneled walls. Very cozy. Very kitsch. And we felt right at home. It was a sweet little brunch spot, one that I’d be happy to return to. Tania even mentioned it’d be a fun place for a birthday party, and I agree.

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I ate biscuits and gravy with eggs over-easy and cheese grits. Washed all that down with a Bloody Mary. Tania had shrimp and grits, washed down with a coffee and a Virgin Mary (she was hitting Soul Cycle later that evening so booze didn’t seem like a good idea.) I thought the food was great.

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I babbled on about the things I’ve been reading and writing lately. Tania filled me in on her craziness at work. This is the time of year that her job is so demanding that it’s kind of amazing we had the opportunity to spend an afternoon wandering.

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We’ve been told (jokingly) we should change the name of our blog to Girl-Talk. And to be fair, an AWFUL lot of girl-talk happens on these trips. But an awful lot of dream-talk happens too. We passed a gorgeous flower shop and Tania told me of a particular dream to have her own flower shop at some point in her life. I’ve recently been offered representation by a literary agent (AND ACCEPTED! YAY!) so there’s a good amount of dreaming going on about what’s going to happen to my little edgy and gritty young adult novel (Oh, yeah, I also graduated. I now have my MFA since last we checked in here. YAY again!). These trips are a perfect blend of past-present-future. Past: because of how powerfully our memories are conjured up. Present: because we are so focused on every moment’s detail; and future: because of, well, that dream-talk that I just described.

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It was a perfect Sunday, if I do say so myself. I was full, tired, a little buzzy from the booze, and oh-so-ready to get home to my shower (yep).

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But before I could get there, we experienced another one of those instances in which people are forced into awareness on the train. This is when you run into someone you may or may not know very well, but end up sharing your ride with them. There are a whole range of feelings that can come along with this: from joy (rare) to awkwardness (often). There are the people that you run into that you wish you had maybe looked a little better (y’know, today’s clothes instead of last night’s), and there are the people that you maybe know very peripherally and have never really talked to, but are all of a sudden forced into a conversation by proximity. So Tania and I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in awhile, but our particular captive conversation actually ended up being quite pleasant: we talked about love and relationships, and whether it’s okay for your girlfriend to leave her ukulele at your apartment. But I was sort of squirming the whole time, wanting to inform Tania of the connection here, who this person was. They both exited at Bedford and once I was out at Halsey, I texted:

Me: If that wasn’t obvious….He’s in what’s-his-name’s band

Tania: I figured. A lot of world colliding going on!

Me: My life is a romantic comedy

Tania: Sure is!

My life as a romantic comedy: I mused on that for the rest of the afternoon. I’m waiting for that triumphant ending that comes along with that type of movie. Until then I’ll revel in the wacky irony of all these little moments.

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And I’ll just keep fucking paying attention.

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