Sunday, May 25, 2008

Taking a bite out of the apple

Lugging my indescribably heavy bag to Heathrow, I send it off to the baggage check in and breathe a sigh of equal parts relief, bliss, and victory. Making sure all of my bits and pieces of carry on are with me, I'm on the plane and bid farewell to Europe as the ground fades away below.

I've flown so many times in the past few months that it's all pretty much automatic. Get to the airport early. Make sure to have the right confirmation codes and outbound flights (if necessary). Check in. Take off watch, belt, phone, etc. and pass through security. Immigration/passport checkpoint. Go to gate. Wait/read/buy/eat food. Board. Liftoff. Check check checkity check.

The whole preparation part, meanwhile, bothers me, those two to three hours of hurrying up to wait. Can we break the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle already? Can't someone just "beam me up?" All this time waiting for things is good for bookreading, but it does add up to a lot of wasted time...

Anyway, after an unexpectedly tame and short flight, I land in New York. Back to US soil. Back after 8 long months. I had thought that this moment would be filled with a kind of excitement, anticipation leading up to the moment I step off the plane, like reappearing in a land from which I vanished. Nope, I was just being silly. It just feels like just another place, another mundane featureless airport, another stop in the metro of life. But not the stop that moves you forward, more like the stop that you pass through on your normal commute. Nothing special, no change in feeling detected. I begin to wonder if I really did change or grow during this trip because I don't seem to consciously register it. Maybe it's all hidden from view.

Grabbing my bag and moving out to the arrivals area, I begin to spy for Kat, my host out here. So I actually never met her in person before. This itself isn't that weird; many of my hosts for CouchSurfing I haven't met in person until I actually see them, but those connections are made for that purpose and at least I've seen what they look like (CouchSurfers have photos of themselves). Kat I met randomly because she emailed me about some movie stills in Flickr and we just got to emailing about photoraphy, dreams, and whatever else, penpal style! Of like photographic minds (just like Armand too), I mentioned I'd be heading back to the states and she said well New York is on the way back, why not?

My thoughts exactly. 

I spy a paper with my name on it. How neat! That's never happened to me before. We head back to her place in Brooklyn and chat about great places to eat in the area (of course, it's always what I gotta know). I get to meet her boyfriend Abe later when he comes home from his job (sound guy for film sets, this one was for Pepsi) which is one of the coolest, chillest people I have met. Such great taste in music too. 

Delicious food is finally within decent financial reach after traversing through some of the most expensive places to eat in Europe. Early on, I went to have the New York style bagel sandwich at a local place which was absolutely delectable consisting of a toasted everything bagel (all kinds of seeds), two delicious fried eggs and a layer of sausage to round it all out, ketchup salt and pepper included. Cost? $3.65. Insanely priced food is, at last, history. 

Much of New York so far has been a whirlwind of events and happenings. My timing here must be something incredible as various friends from all over happen to be here when I am. Coinciding with the university graduations, many friends are in town, some from California, and one from London even. While having a delicious burger at a diner in Manhattan (Deluxe Diner) I got the chance to meet up with Chris Nguyen coming from LA for a graduation and do some work. It was so great to see him after so long and to finally have a chance to chat! The burger, by the way, was pretty much the best one I've had in ages. Meat cooked perfectly tender, it just melted away in the mouth, great fries and a decent amount of veggies to round it all out. However high Deluxe Diner raised the burger bar, any records held were totally smashed when I met up with Joe (who came from London for work reasons) and we went to the Shake Shack, located in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park. Famous for their burgers, the line is always at least a half hour long. I picked out this one called the Shake Stack, which is a layer of tomato, a layer of lettuce, cheese, a burger, a fried portobello mushroom layer, another cheese slice, and one more layer of burger. You don't really need me to describe what a feast it was, or how this burger was even MORE tasty and deliciously tender than Deluxe's. Just make it a point to go there yourself and wait in line for it when you're around these parts because it is just SO worth it.

Another thing that's great about being back in New York is having the foods that I really missed and could not get while away. Case in point: Mexican food. We all know that Los Angeles is arguably the best hub of Mexican food, and having sampled quite a few of their delicious restaurants, roach coaches and even El Parian (5/5 on The Great Taco Hunt) anything out here must be truly formidable to match my (self-proclaimed) discerning palate for the savory tortilla wrapped food.

Well, thanks to Abe, I found the spot. It's called Jennifer Cafe and it's on 67 1st Avenue at 4th St. How does it compare? Carne asada? Deep flavor, juicy and nicely tender, but a bit too much fat for my tastes. Pollo? Decent, bit dry. Carnitas? 

Oh... carnitas... *drool* You just can't lose with carnitas. It's got SO much pork juice oozing out of the meat and perfectly spiced. Totally destroyed my 8 month Mexican food craving. 

What else is good... Ah yes. After our Deluxe Diner feastlicious, Abe and I were still a bit hungry so we walked nearby to Koronet Pizza. For $3 you get a slice the size of home base, thin crusted New York style. I added pepperoni because I missed it so much, turning it into $4.25. It's big, it's tasty, and it's filling. 

Abe, by the way, is the real Galactus. After our meal at Deluxe, he finished off his slice of cheese, and I gave him half of mine. And you guys thought *I* could eat!

To be continued...

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