Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the NY breakfast barrier commute

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I work in the Journalism Department at Columbia University, which is about an hour commute from my Brooklyn apartment, which I share with two roommates; it's a typical NY situation.

Every morning I wake up around 7, take a shower and assemble myself while listening to itunes on shuffle; I leave the apartment at 8, walk from S1st St. to S7th and catch the L train to 6th avenue in Manhattan; I transfer to the 1 train from there, if I'm not in a rush (but if I am I take the 2 or 3 express trains and transfer back to the 1 on 96th St) and read or write in my moleskine until I get to 110th St; from there I walk to 116th St, usually with a large coffee from a market right outside the subway entrance. I start work at 9, and work from a desk until 6pm.

This morning, since I got a pretty early start and all the trains were on time, I got off on 103rd St to enjoy the sunshine of an early Spring day with a 13-street stroll, to admire dogs flashed out in their adorable outfits looking for various places to sniff and relieve themselves onto, to stop off at my bank's ATM for cash.

I walked by a McDonalds and felt tempted; and I could not resist the temptation; I looked at my watch, hoping I didn't have enough time, but had plenty of time; I went inside and got in line with this mixed feeling of excitement and shame.

A Mexican girl about 5'2" asked if she could help me; she looked 16, but I figured she was probably more like 23 with a kid or two in daycare; she seemed young though, in the way a person looks if they've never had to deal with things like suicidal goldfish, like she still had the all same friends from elementary school, in her life, as her friends, now; her eyes looked impatient and curious like that--spoiled-stupid and completely unaware of psychology.

I said, "A Deluxe Breakfast
and a large black iced coffee, please."
She said, "black?"
I said, "yes, black."
She said, "iced?"
"Yes, iced, please."
"With no flavoring?"
"No."
"No flavoring, at all?"
"No, just black."
"Would you like sugar
or liquid sweetener?"
"No. Black."

She turned and said something in Spanish to another Mexican lady, looking flustered; the other Mexican lady said something in Spanish back, unemotional, as if she were used to and exhausted from explaining the ways of the world to the younger girl. They were standing in front of the 2 for $1 apple pie warmer.

A moment later the first girl slid what looked like a clear cup of iced milk with a tinge of brown to me and said, "Here you go."

I looked at the cup, slid it back to her and said, "black."
She looked shocked. "No cream?!"
"No, black."

Then I started to mumble something about needing it more for the caffeine than the calories, but decided the communication barrier was already too complicated and let the general notion evaporate into a sad series of tired ellipses.

She took back the coffee, handed it the the second girl who she'd spoken to earlier in Spanish, then glanced back at me like I was holding the Grim Reaper's sythe while he was doing jumping jacks beside me; she said something in Spanish again.

A few moments later she finally handed me the large black iced coffee I felt like I'd been waiting my entire life for.

"Thanks," I said.

She looked at me as if I'd already ruined her day as the strangest human alive she never wanted to meet again; she finally handed over my Deluxe breakfast with pancakes and a hash brown.

I asked for ketchup; she looked scared, reached down without breaking any indirect eye contact and handed me three packets.

"Thanks," I said again, and walked away looking for a straw.

When I finally got to my Columbia desk, after passing two of my usual AM coffee places along 13 streets strutting the walk of shame with my golden M bedazzled bag of pure delicious nonsense, I wasn't in the mood for a Deluxe Breakfast anymore; but after slathering the crisp, greasy and salty piece of potatoey work, with two-of-the-three packets of fancy ketchup, I devoured the hash brown that came with it, in two-bites anyway.

I took a sip of my watered-down coffee from its straw and rolled the brown taste around my tongue and teeth before swallowing it.

As I suspected--perfect.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was debating on visiting NY this summer and that sealed the deal. I'm going, that's all there is to it, I'm fuckin' going.

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