Monday, July 9, 2012

Chocolate Explosion

"Oh yeah, there'd better be snacks."
This past long weekend, I visited my friend, LB, something I look forward to for months ahead of time. I always take the train out to see her, not only because it is cheap but also because I gave up my car two years ago because I really didn't need it. I usually love the train- yeah, it would take half the time to just drive there, but it's just absolutely lovely to be left ENTIRELY and completely alone to eat snacks and read books while someone else worries about getting you to your destination.  I know several people who would think 7+ hours all by themselves would be torture, but for me it's a little vacation all by itself.

HOWEVER. This time, my train was delayed numerous times, stranding me in the Syracuse train station for four hours. FOUR HOURS. I was very glad I'd brought an extra library book. (An important fact I learned from this trip: all train stations only have two food options- Dunkin' Donuts and Subway. Except the Albany–Rensselaer station. But more on that later.) My train was supposed to leave the Syracuse station at 11:38am. It finally arrived at 3:30pm, having been stopped twice (possibly thrice, I gave up paying attention) due to engine trouble. They gave us packs of snacks as sort of an apology, but that didn't change the fact that instead of 8:00pm, I was now due to arrive in Hartford around midnight.

These are times that would try a nun's patience.
Looking around at my fellow passengers, however, I had an old saying of my grandmother's proven to me once again: everywhere you look there's folks who have it better than you and worse than you. In the waiting room at the Syracuse station, with its uncomfortable wire-mesh seating, there was an elderly lady in a wheelchair who was going to visit family and had been taken to the station by two women from her church. Those poor ladies stayed with this women throughout the four hour wait, making sure she had something to eat (of course, their money got stuck in the vending machine), getting her to the bathroom, and not leaving until they had seen her safely onto the train.

There was also a nun who had been there since 9:30am. It was the first time she'd ever been on a train and she figured you had to get to the station at least an hour ahead of time, like you do at the airport. In Albany, a young man took the seat next to me and told me he'd been on the train since Chicago. He'd been on the train when it stopped for each of its engine failures. He was on his way to Boston. I heard him on the phone with a friend telling him when we were estimated to be arriving in Springfield. "Yeah, we're moving along pretty steady now. No, not nearly as fast as a train could- or should go!"

"I'm coming for you, Sister Immaculata!"
Apparently my texts & emails to LB were sufficient to worry her so she marshalled up a friend who is a fearless driver and the two of them met me in Springfield to save me from having to board another train. As LB and I were exiting the station, looking for E., a nun whipped up along the curb in a beige sedan and called out to me, asking if the train from Syracuse had finally arrived. I said yes, and in fact, I think one of her sisters had gotten off the train behind me. The nun nodded and peeled out in search of the other nun. Both LB & I agreed that this chick was one skilled driver. She was tooling around the Springfield Amtrak like Popeye Doyle.

So once that indignity was over and we'd dropped E. off at her house with many fawning thanks, LB & I started our visit as we always do- with Burger King drive-through and a stop at the CVS. This is not intentional. It just always happens this way.

The next day we went to lunch at an Italian place called Yanni's, then to the grocery store to pick up some supplies. We were puzzled by this pumpkin pie filling display in the pet food aisle. We also accidentally stole a pound of salted butter. Someone ahead of us had apparently decided at the last minute not to purchase this butter and it was tossed at the end of the lane to be restocked later. The cashier popped it in our bags without either of us noticing until we'd already arrived home.

Then we went to Crazy Bruce's liquor store, where we had an involved conversation about the inverse ratio of wine bottle labels' interestingness to deliciousness. (It's true- the best tasting wines always have the plainest or ugliest labels. Go figure.) Since I was on vacation and wasn't going to be operating any heavy machinery, I bought 3 wee bottles of prosecco and some plums (which for some reason I haven't been able to find in Ithaca) and made myself a delicious little cocktail.

Okay, here's the part in my story that some folks may find troubling. After our shopping adventures, I shared with LB one of my obsessions: Alice Lee. There's an absolutely wonderful documentary on Harper Lee and both the book and film of To Kill a Mockingbird called
Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. It's fabulous. You should see it. Right now. I'm serious. It's that good. But in the midst of all this fabulousness and fantasticosity, there are numerous interview segments with Harper Lee's older sister, Alice. Miss Alice, at the time of filming, god bless her, was 99 years old and still went to work every day in the law office her father founded in Monroeville, Alabama. Alice is still adorable and sharp as a tack.


Imagine if Scarlett O'Hara ate E.T.
Imagine Tom Waits and Harvey Fierstein had a child and she was raised by Paula Deen.

It's indescribable. Really. I can only suggest you see it for yourself. (I looked everywhere but the clips that are posted online from the documentary don't include Alice.) I have no idea how she fits every vowel that exists into the word 'toys' and also manages to stretch those four letters out into about seven syllables. Of course, it appears that my one true talent in this life is being able to do a spot-on imitation of Alice Lee, which I proceeded to do until my throat was raw and LB was millimeters from peeing herself.

Every time I visit LB, I make her go somewhere she's never been or do something she's never done, which annoys her to no end. I had found a BBQ place in Hartford called Black-Eyed Sally's that I wanted to try. Even though it meant driving and going "downtown" (which is just a few blocks from where she works everyday) she agreed. However, we were still kind of full from our large Italian lunch and as we sat down, realized we were not exactly ravenous.

Explosion served.
And LB had been experiencing stomach troubles, more acutely described as being "backed up." (She's so gonna kill me.) She explained to me, as we looked through the menu, that since she was so uncomfortably 'full,' she was just going to order dessert. So the nice young man came over to our booth, I ordered burnt endz & fried catfish bits, and then the waiter looked over at LB. "I just want a chocolate explosion," she said. I apparently practically dove across the table at her, screaming with laughter. She didn't get why I found it funny- I had to explain. She could've ordered Key Lime Pie. Rice Pudding. Cheesecake. Nope. Right after she's talking about constipation problems, she states that she just wants a chocolate explosion. (Yes. I am completely aware that I have a seven-year-old's sense of humor. I'm fine with it, thankyouverymuch.) She got chocolate explosion all over the front of her shirt, poetic justice being served.

Saturday, we went to breakfast at a place that serves traditional breakfast and Mexican food, side by side. I had a delicious California omelet with avocado and chorizo hash. LB defied convention by wearing a skirt. Something she has literally not done in years. (Again, with the doing things she's never done during my visits.) We went to the Downtown Book Club at the Library where she works. Even though neither of us had finished the book (I at least got to page 25; LB never even cracked the cover) we felt we owed it to E., who was leading the discussion, to show up as thanks for driving up to Springfield to rescue me from Amtrak. The book was Mister Pip and I irritated LB by calling it "Mr. Pibb" like the Dr. Pepper knockoff. I also irritated her by referring to the older white gentleman who works in the Local History Section as "Mr. Pibb."

"You! To hell you go!"
Since we'd driven by several times since I started visiting LB, I asked if we could please go across the street from the library and see the Ancient Burial Grounds with the creepy pointing Puritan man statue. It's amazing. Surrounded by high-rise office buildings, there's this little patch with these ancient gravestones, the oldest of which marks someone who died in 1648. Since we were on a roll with the skirt and the walking and sightseeing, I asked LB if I could get a closer look at the Bushnell Park archway. It's beautiful. She admitted that despite living here all her life (except 4 years of college in Ithaca), she'd never seen the archway up close.

Then she took me to the train station Sunday, realizing for the first time that the park, the archway, the burial grounds and other such things downtown were all a few blocks from each other. "You have opened up Hartford to me," she said with total sincerity. I did not laugh. We made plans for our next vacation together, she hugged me goodbye & I got on my train, which was, mercifully, on time.

Since there's always at least a two-hour layover in Springfield before the next train comes to take me to Syracuse, I decided to look around. The Springfield station has no wi-fi, just a couple of vending machines, and incredibly uncomfortable hard plastic chairs. When I was planning my trip and trying to see if there was anything interesting within walking distance of the train station, I saw that the Seussian Memorial Gardens at the Springfield museums were only four blocks away. So when my train arrived in Springfield at 12:15pm, I decided to go take a look.

The blocks around the train station are decidedly not "good." There's a plethora of really scuzzy-looking "gentleman's clubs" and a whole hella lotta garbage. But the Seussian gardens are fantastic. Dr. Seuss was born in Springfield and they have sculptures of his most famous creations cavorting around the courtyard of the museums. (Which are also pretty cool- five different museums all grouped together for one ticket price.) But as I was walking back to the train station, I was stopped by a strung-out lady asking me for change so she could "make bail." She said she'd won $2 on a lottery ticket but "every little bit helps." I apologized and told her I had no change at all. And then walked as fast as I could in the 97 degree heat without looking scared.

Get yer hot soup here!
The return trip is much longer than it needs to be because there's a two-hour stop in Albany–Rensselaer. This station, while well cared for, makes the Syracuse station look like an oasis. Debunking the rule that all train stations only have a Dunkin' Donuts & a Subway, the Albany–Rensselaer station only has a coffee shop that serves hot soup. Yup. July 8th, temps in the high 90s. Just got off the train. How about a piping hot cup of soup? With a nice boiling coffee to boot? FOOD FAIL.

My train was only 20 minutes behind when we finally arrived in Syracuse. It seems like the last couple hours of a journey like this are always the longest and the hardest. Especially when there is a woman with a very high-pitched voice yammering on in Indian on her cell phone (loudly) nonstop for a solid hour and forty-three minutes. Not kidding. Even my headphones couldn't drown her out. I almost wished I understood the language so I could know what the hell she had to talk about for nearly two hours. Almost. Almost.

And a brief piece of advice to fellow or future travelers? Don't wear flip-flops. Please. You're going to be spending several hours sitting fairly uncomfortably close to another human being you've probably never met before, someone you know nothing about. I really, truly, sincerely, don't want to see that much of your feet near me. I know, you're thinking, "It's not like I'm sticking them in your face. I just want to be comfortable!" Well, you are actually sticking them in my face when you get so caught up in your game of solitaire on the world's largest laptop ever, and you cross your foot over your knee and bob that foot up & down inches away from the book where my eyes are directed, girl in too-short denim cut-offs with filthy soles. And you- boy who thinks he's curled up into a comfy little ball in his seat- your grimy toes are dug into the seat cushion mere inches from me. And keep skittering closer to me with each light snore you exhale. Please. People. Keep your socks on.

No comments:

Post a Comment