The Canyon Dinner

5 01 2010

From Durango, we drove through Monument Valley to get to the Grand Canyon.

Jim had secured dinner reservations with an old friend at the El Tovar, a landmark lodge overlooking the Canyon’s South Rim. It would be a chance for me to dust off the blazer with a night of fine dining in store.

Parked outside the El Tovar

Parked outside the El Tovar

Monument Valley was stunning.

“Can’t you just see John Wayne leading the Calvary,” Jim remarked.

We pulled off the road on several occasions to take pictures of the rock formations and mountain backdrops.

And this leg of the trip was the first time we spotted hitch-hikers. It was a sight I was not accustomed to, certainly not around Panama City.

It made me think about Barry, my Berkeley friend. When we were preparing for our renedezvous in New York, Barry had suggested I skip the bus ride and instead hitch-hike to Atlanta.

This idea, of course, seemed preposterous to me, but to Barry, the 60s radical, it was something he had done many times before in his youth. Turns out, the bus ride, with all those convicts in tow, might have been more dangerous.

Jim wasn’t about to stop and offer any hitch-hiker a ride. I was plenty enough company on this trip. We got to the Canyon before sundown and the bellhop at the El Tovar helped us unload the car and showed us to our room. Before dinner, Jim did some shopping at the gift shop, buying a piece of Native American pottery with a price tag that could be a mortgage payment for most folks.

Meanwhile, I was saving what little cash I had for Vegas and sprucing up, back at the room, for dinner.

We met Jim’s friend Tom in the lobby. Tom knew Jim’s annual routine well as the two had met years ago when Tom was a server at the El Tovar. These days, Tom was pretty much in charge of the place and had recently published a book on Grand Canyon National Park.

The three of us had a delightful dinner and great conversation. Tom was originally from Michigan, a stout fellow with a neatly trimmed beard. His overall appearance, sans the beard, reminded me of Syracuse’s famed basketball coach Jim Boeheim.

My intellect seemed to surprise him at first. Jim’s previous travel companions had probably not been as challenging a conversationalist and Tom appeared to appreciate this change.

Tom also seemed surprised that I had given up my newspaper career.

“But your stories were on the front page?,” Tom asked.

Before I could respond, Jim came to my defense, “But, if you’re not alive to read them, it doesn’t matter.”

As usual, Jim was right on the money. He had seen my career at the newspaper come full circle. He knew how tough it was, for me, at the end.

After dinner, which included a tasty entree of duck, we moved into the lounge where some of the park’s workers had just gotten off their shift. Waiting there, was another surprise. Tom introduced me to a young server named Stallone. He was a thin fellow of Hawaiian descent with feminine mannerisms. After a few drinks, Stallone asked me if I cared to step outside.

He wasn’t looking for a fight and neither of us wanted to smoke a cigarette.

“Do you kiss and tell?,” Stallone asked.


Potato Making

22 11 2009

Last night I made mashed potatoes for the Church. Peeling those bad boys made me think about my first day in New York.

I had met two nice gentlemen at the Center. They were both retired, white guys living comfortably in Upper Manhattan. Sadly, I can’t recall their names.

Nevertheless, when one of the gents learned of my Irish descent, he proceeded to tell me about the “great potato famine.”

“That’s what brought the Irish here,” he said.

Potatoes in High Demand

Fast forward some 150 years and Panama City had not run out of potatoes, but I was in New York, strolling the streets with two old fogies and sharing stories.

We went to the Barnes & Noble store in Lincoln Center to hear a panel discussion on famous Broadway composers, presented by famous Broadway composers.

Famous, that is, if you follow Broadway composers. These guys did and when a score was played they hummed and rocked in their chairs.

The music, for the most part, went over my head, but I sat and listened and hoped to hear a familiar tune. I felt very uncultured.

After the panel was over we decided to have dinner at a nearby diner. Another fellow joined us, making our party a foursome.

It was a civil dinner. The gentlemen all seemed intrigued about my arrival in the City, but it was a story they had read, heard and witnessed many, many times before.

“It’s really hard for a writer to find work right now, you know,” one of the men told me.

I acknowledged this and assured him that I was up for the challenge. He seemed skeptical.

The four of us split the bill evenly that night and the three wise men went off to their comfy condos in the sky as I headed to meet Barry in Union Square.

Last night, as I peeled potatoes in the sink, thoughts about that night resurfaced.  I remember getting the phone number for the fellow who told me about the “great potato famine” and how I tried to call him a few weeks after our initial visit, only to receive a gruff response.

Why did he even give me his phone number in the first place?, I thought. New York is such a strange place.

Meanwhile, back in Panama City, the mashed potatoes went over big at Church this morning. Food for thought.

Touchdown New York

21 10 2009

Every visit to New York has come courtesy of the friendly skies. Always landing at La Guardia, the small airport in Queens.

And sometimes it can take longer to get from Queens to Manhattan than from Atlanta to New York. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people waiting outside the terminal gates willing to assist you.

If you can afford it, a cab is probably the way to go. Or if you really want to impress, there’s always the limo service.

I took the Super Shuttle and for 12 bucks was promptly deposited in front of Grand Central Station. Once inside, I made my next important purchase…the Metro Card. I was to rendezvous with my friend Barry later in the evening as his flight was arriving from the West Coast through JFK.

Barry and I met on the internet of all places, thanks to an obscure website called Couchsurfing. He had arranged for our accomodations for the first week and then he was scheduled to leave for France and a hike through the mountains near Toulouse.

“A left-wing radical from the 60s,” is how Barry referred to himself. He had been in the trenches during the Harvey Milk years and often spoke with distain about the country in which he lived.

He called Berkeley home and said, other than New York, he had no desire to visit any other part of America..much less Florida.

“My father lived in South Florida before he died,” he revealed.

Barry was many years my senior and I enjoyed his company. We spoke on the telephone several nights before scheduling this trip.

I looked forward to our chats, often taking place during my graveyard shift at the Bayside, when the fiddler crabs would crawl out of their holes and scurry toward the lights around the main office.

“You’re being exploited,” Barry declared when he found out how much I was being paid to stand guard through the night.

Apparantly, eight bucks an hour is well below the minimum wage in San Francisco.

We decided to meet in Union Square in the village, where at night, the kids from NYU would congregate. I arrived first and sat on the steps watching the skateboarders show off their moves.

Barry showed up about an hour later, wearing a professor-like blue blazer, plaid shirt and  jeans and carrying way too much luggage.

During our phone chats, Barry’s voice conjured images of Mel Brooks.

“You’re a deep one, John,” he told me.

This was flattering, coming from an academic from the Left Coast.

Barry asked why I remained in North Florida, where the obstacles were so great. He wanted to know why I remained in relationships that didn’t work and why I had left the security of a newspaper job with a recession taking hold.

All good questions.

During the course of our week together in New York, I think Barry got those answers and I too learned more about my long distance pen pal.

He asked if I could help him carry one of his bags and together we left Union Square for Gramercy Park.

“We have to feed the pussies when we get there,” Barry reminded me, referring to two cats inside the apartment that he had managed to secure through the same website where we had met.

“Can you help me feed the pussy cats, John?,” Barry asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“They need lots of attention, those pussy cats,” he said.

And so did Barry.