Today I parked my bike in a place where I never before parked it.
The funny thing is that it was a place where I used to go almost daily for about two years. That was about a dozen years ago, at least, and I hadn't been back since. I had no bad feelings about the place; I simply hadn't been in its vicinity.
The reason I never parked there is that I never needed to. I worked just across the street from it and parked in a storage area of the building. So I never knew whether or not the place would allow my bike to accompany me.
And I found out that the proprietor would let me park there the same way R.J. Cutler, the director of The September Issue got to talk to Anna Wintour: he asked.
Actually, the proprietor is nowhere near as ferocious as the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Vogue editor. But he is an intense man who seems not to have aged at all since I last visited the place. For that matter, the place hasn't changed since then--or, it seems, since the 1970's or thereabouts:
I mean, when was the last time you saw stools with Naugahyde in that shade of mustard-beige, and lampshades to match?
The menu seems not to have changed, either. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't changed since the 1950's, if the place has been around that long. And most of its patrons--including yours truly--wouldn't want it to. It consists of the sorts of sandwiches and dishes diners in New Jersey and New England (away from the Route 128 corridor, anyway) would have served during that time: things like spaghetti with fish cakes, meat loaf, roast beef sandwiches and some Greek and Italian specialties.
Back in the day, I would buy a cup of coffee and a corn muffin on my way in to work. Sometimes I would go there for a sandwich. It was all really good. But today they had sold out of muffins and donuts and looked ready to close: apparently, on Sundays they stay open long enough only to serve people going to, or coming from, church and the ones finishing up the weekend shift and the nearby bus yard.
So, I had a baklava and cup of coffee. These days, I don't normally drink coffee, but this was one good time to make an exception. It was as good as I remember from back in the day. And the baklava was not soggy, as it is in too many places: The buttery texture of the flaky pastry really tied together the tastes and texures of the nuts and honey it contained, and the slight taste of cinnamon was the perfect "foil" for the rest of it.
The funny thing is that the proprietor was looking at me as if he were trying to remember where he saw me before. Finally, I said, "I used to work in this neighborhood, and I used to come here."
"A long time ago. About twenty years ago." I stretched the facts a bit, but the truth is that it seemed even further in the past than that. It was, almost literally, another lifetime.
The proprietor's wife, who had been putting away dishes of butter and jars of jelly, overheard us.
As I left, she said, "Come back, will ya?"
I promised her that I would, next time I'm down that way.