The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

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Cultural Things

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Chinatown Philly 2019

Last week I accompanied Veruca on a class trip to Chinatown (Philly). The Chinese teacher gave the students strict instructions to be respectful, walk no more than two astride, and absolutely “no frog on school bus.” I was given an itinerary with a list of students I was supervising (hey – I did NOT sign up for THAT) and we passed under the Friendship Gate – a beautifully painted arch that marks the entryway into Chinatown.

We split into 3 groups for shopping. The first store had knickknacks, books (particularly one on Chinese medicine, which I would like to explore again), dishes, some Bruce Lee Kung-Fu statues in various stages of combat, and beautiful CHOPSTICKS (which I bought). The second store was a Hello Kitty store – need I say more?

The last was a grocery – boxes of fruit lined up outside and large vinyl refrigerator flaps covering the entryway. I followed V and her friends inside where she snatched up a bag of these candies she’s always swiping from the nail salon. I wandered around, the funky “off” smell burning a hole in my sinuses, looking at the meat cases filled with normal everyday things and then some obscenely long pig legs with hooves still intact. I snapped some pictures of the fish display in the back, which was quite impressive, and no – I am not embarrassed. Someone said the fish area was disturbing but I still don’t know why, unless she was referring to the football-sized bloody fish head, its eyes facing the back wall. I wandered downstairs and bought chili sauce, sesame chili oil, and seaweed wraps.

Afterward, we walked around the block to a very small Asian bakery where we entered in waves. It was hotter than a South Street pizza shop in there, so I bought a butter cream bun and hightailed it back outside. V and friends bought Bubble Tea that resembled a pink smoothie with little black balls floating in the bottom that you’d suck up through the straw. They were oddly, simultaneously slimy and spongy and I was afraid to ask but I did. They’re tapioca balls.

Next stop – the Chinese restaurant that was booked for lunch. I googled this place the night before just to see what it looked like, what the menu was like, etc. and the first thing to come up was a series of Yelp reviews, which everyone knows is just a bitch-board because everyone’s a food critic. HOWEVER. One review pointed out the very real news that this restaurant was responsible for the largest food poisoning incident in recent Philadelphia history. Over 100 people in one day, in 2015. I googled the article and found more – as recent as last summer – meat stored at temps above 50 degrees and black mildew inside an ice machine, just two of TWENTY health code violations in a single visit. Who’s hungry now?

So we sit down. All I can think of is – what is the safest thing to eat that is least likely to lead to explosive diarrhea and vomiting? And – I’ll have water – NO ICE – thank you.

Anyway. The dishes were served family style – pork fried rice, lo mein, some sort of red meat on a stick (that V said was raw in the middle – I didn’t eat it), sweet and sour chicken, General Tso chicken with broccoli, orange wedges and fortune cookies. The two chicken dishes were good. Everything else? Nothing to blog about. Even my fortune – he who is shipwrecked the second time cannot lay blame on Neptune – what the heck am I supposed to take away from this? I’m safe to eat here this time, but don’t come back? Or perhaps a deeper message about watching for my ex’s other shoe?

I will say this – that peculiar smell from the grocery store followed me around the block and into the restaurant. It was also in the underground grocery we went to after lunch. In retrospect, although it isn’t a smell you want to encounter in a food establishment, it is a smell often encountered in city back streets that smell like wet garbage and rotting food.

The underground grocery is quite well-known but could easily be missed because it’s through a set of dirty glass doors and down a flight of gray concrete steps with fluorescent lighting reminiscent of old subway stairwells. There are live crabs and jellyfish, and FROGS in a Rubbermaid tote (presumably where last year’s student bought the live frog), and purple (black) packaged chickens that drew everyone’s attention. (They are Silkies, according to my birding friend Dave.) The kids bought a shit-ton of candy and I bought a 5lb bag of sushi rice.

In all, we had beautiful weather and no one got sick. I watched the folks who live and work in Chinatown, the tourists popping in and out of the stores, the men seated in the back of the bakery, looking like Asian Goodfellas and speaking in the hushed tones of their native language, and the boys in Veruca’s class all wearing those ridiculous Chinese straw hats (that screamed, tourist!) looking like they were headed to the rice fields. The boys – all of 13 or 14 years old and varying degrees of tall and short – the tallest boy seated at our table muttering about propaganda on the television and the shortest boy giggling like a chimpanzee.

*****

***Trigger Warning: The following is NOT kosher but (I think) hilariously funny, and may also be offensive to those without a sense of humor.

Friday night was Seder. Todd and I drove down to Baltimore to his parents’ house. Just a couple of their friends, Aunt Marilyn and cousin, Michael. We went through the motions like a drive-thru version of Passover, and got to the eating. Someone started talking about pigs feet and Michael said the hind legs aren’t kosher. But the front legs are, because they’re split-hooved.

I leaned over and said to Todd, I bet all the pigs in Israel only have back legs. Father-in-law’s shoulders started shaking, and then Michael said, they have to put them in those little carts so they can get around. Which in turn made me burst into red-faced laughter. But he wasn’t done. Because he said, but then they’d get stuck in the mud… so they have to put them in all-terrain vehicles, and I had an instant picture of those big all-terrain tires they put on monster trucks, which is where Michael was going and now there are tears running out of my eyes. Aunt Marilyn and I are falling into each other and the whole thing was monstrously inappropriate but we’re a fun family and if you’re offended you don’t have to join us for dinner next time. Oh – and YES – I KNOW that Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork.

 

Exit Zero: Last Days in Cape May

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Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

Tuesday Morning. Veruca picked Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for breakfast and then she was pissed when she realized we were walking there because it’s so far. We were seated immediately at a booth by the window facing the street and beach.

V had the waffle and woofed that thing down before I’d eaten half of my Denver omelet. By the way, did ya’ll know that a Denver omelet is just a Western omelet with cheese? How I lived this long and had never even heard of a Denver omelet was quite a revelation at 9:00 in the morning. And, also noteworthy, is the fact that a Western omelet in Cape May does not have tomatoes. (At the Dough Roller in OCMD they do contain tomatoes and you can’t order it without.*)

We landed the same spots by the pool as yesterday, and it wasn’t long before my bad influence of a mom was offering up cocktails before noon. Since I am my mother’s daughter, I ordered a piña colada. V had a virgin colada. Mom went with the Bloody Mary.

I spent more time on my current read – The Woman in Cabin 10 – a great fast read, by the way. More kids in the Jacuzzi and one boy climbed out the pool crying because “she pushed me in!” And I was reminded that no matter how sad I may become about my kids being teenagers, at least I can lie by the pool without dealing with this shit anymore.

At one point V hands me her colada so she can apply more sunscreen, and it slips through my fingers just as I was placing it on the table next to me. It crashes down, knocking my piña colada down too, piña coladas flying everywhere, spilling onto the ground under the table, all over mom’s necklace on the table, and into her bag… it was a piña colada explosion, and not in a good way. So mom sits up and helps with the cleanup effort, which quickly becomes another emergency after she accidentally bumps her own cocktail over and now there are THREE spilled cocktails by the pool and we’re laughing like seagulls and I swear we’re not drunk.

Anyway, the afternoon ended with lunch at the Barefoot Bar, part of the hotel and overlooking the pool. V had – surprise! – chicken fingers and fries, I had a Caesar salad, and mom had fried calamari….which she thought we’d eat too and I don’t know who she thought “we” were but I don’t eat fried rubber. I have my limits. V took her cue from me because I’m an excellent example (see Piña Colada) and wouldn’t even try it.

Tuesday evening we had decided we’d go see a movie – in a nearby town called Rio Grande, which sounds really glamorous but I didn’t see anything more glamorous than a Wawa and a couple of Wendy’s buildings impersonating sushi joints. We left two hours before the movie time to buy tickets in this ramshackle looking movie theatre in an old shopping center that looked scheduled for demolition – mom came out in shock that 3 tickets were $18.

We literally drove through the first traffic light and happened upon Rio Station – which appeared to be a locals place. It felt like a Mexican restaurant but was definitely a seafood joint with other offerings. Veruca left her go-bag* in the car, so I had to go out and get it. While I was walking back inside, my senses were accosted by the LOUDEST Latino music EVER… one, because you couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from and two, as the car got closer and closer, the decibels made your eyes water. The food was quite good. Mom shared a filet with V, and I had crab cakes over a bed of mesculin tossed in a lemon vinaigrette – which was delicious.

After, mom suggested we “drive around” a bit before the movie; I ignored her and drove straight to the movie because it was 15 minutes to show time. There was a line about 20 people long just to enter the movie we were seeing, Crazy Rich Asians. And it turned out to be “Tightwad Tuesday,” which explains the cheap tickets but 3 boxes of candy and ONE water still cost me $28. The movie was great! And contrary to outward appearances, the theatre had modern reclining seats. But I sat next to some woman who not only threw her handbag into the seat next to me like she was slam-dunking a basketball, but laughed loudly at every single thing that was funny and I remembered why I hate going to the movies.

We drove all the way back to the hotel and parked the car a block away (because there’s limited parking) and realized that V left her go-bag in the movie theatre twenty minutes away. I read her the riot act in the parking lot, and drove all the way back, in the rain, to retrieve it.

The only good thing to come out of it was that when we got back, there was an open parking spot right in front of the hotel. Which a seagull decided to shit on, on the day we left. And before you tell me it could’ve been worse, like mom did, I direct you to last summer’s air strike in OCMD. You’re not helping.

*******

Last day… Wednesday. Breakfast at the hotel again. Different cook – decided to gamble on the omelet and it was cooked to perfection. We revisited the pool, had more piña coladas that did not spill this time, ate leftovers for lunch, and went back to the room for a nap. V slept briefly; mom was out cold about an hour in; I was wide awake. I don’t DO naps. I started Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain and sat out on the balcony (my favorite thing), listening to the ac unit kick on and off and the dog two floors below us that barked at every dog that walked by.

V and I took a walk on the beach around 5:30, listened to the sounds of the Beach Bumz’ free concert drifting over the breeze and crashing waves, and I snapped some gorgeous photos of her in that beautiful late afternoon light. I started this tradition with her a few years back of taking that walk at sunrise, but this year we both agreed we didn’t “need” to see the sun rise.

We collected some shells and talked about stuff that’s really important when you’re 13, and I counted every minute as a blessing. To say that I am acutely aware of the preciousness of time with my kids right now, is an understatement. At some point, as we stood by the water looking back at the hotel, I saw mom on the balcony so we waved our arms like we were at a Jimmy Buffett concert and she waved back.

The three of us decided to walk to the end of Beach Avenue* for the sunset, which was (insert Veruca) a really long walk. The two of them stopped in the restroom along the way, while I sat on the bench and sent Todd a selfie. A minute later mom popped her head out the door and waved a black handbag at me she said someone had left in there. What should she do?

This is MY MOM asking ME what she should do with a found handbag. I don’t know! Leave it there – the person may retrace her steps to find it again. Like, how are you asking me this? You’re my mom. Moms are supposed to already know the answer.

So we began walking again and she told me it was filled with tampons, and all I could think of was that someone must be having a really bad day about now, until it dawned on me that she’d looked inside and why did she do that? Looking for ID, natch.

And then we finally get to the end of the street where people are already gathered to watch the sunset when a strange man approached V and me…and when I turned toward him I must’ve looked like I was going to kill him because he put his hands up sheepishly and then I felt like a real asshole when he told me he was from Cape May’s Kiwanis Club and wanted to know if V wanted to participate in lowering and folding the flag at sunset.

These are the moments when you know you’ve raised your kids right. If I had asked her to do this, she’d have hissed at me and given me the Italian look of death. But she smiled angelically at this man and said, sure! I won’t bore you with the details, only to mention that she was one of four chosen – the others were a sweet girl with Down’s who knew this routine better than the Kiwanis guys, and 6-year-old twin boys who were clearly in over their head (and so was the man who picked them).

This whole thing delayed dinner by an hour and a half, but V got a certificate and a flag pin and I texted my dad to share the event (he used to be in Kiwanis). He was proud to know kids are still learning about the value of our flag, and then sent me a video/sound clip of the smoky herb-y drum circle he was hearing from his hotel room somewhere in upstate New York. Sometimes he has all the fun.

V chose the restaurant – YB – a very small, darkened but chic little restaurant on Beach Avenue between Perry and Jackson Streets. She saw the Mac & Cheese Poppers and was sold. And, I will say, they were the best I’ve ever had, hands down. Made fresh with jalapeños, fried and then baked with stewed tomatoes. I had a chicken dish that was delicious, though it was so dark in there it was hard to know exactly what I was eating (though at 9:00 it hardly mattered). Mom had a stuffed pepper (also delicious) and the Greek salad – a real Greek salad, not some American knock-off with lettuce.**

*******

*The famous Dough Roller in Ocean City, Maryland serves western omelets with tomatoes. You cannot order the western omelet without tomatoes, because it’s premixed. Therefore, you must order each of the ingredients of said omelet a la carte, which costs more than the western omelet (with one less ingredient).

*The Go-Bag is a must for Type 1s to carry: inside you will find a glucose meter, extra test strips, glucose tabs, pump supplies and extra batteries for pump and meter, glucagon, and snacks/candy.

*The best known destination for sunsets in Cape May is Sunset Beach, and the view is every bit spectacular. However, you have to drive there, and try to park, and every other time I’ve gone it felt like a race against time.

** Y.B. – short for Younger Brother – is helmed by the younger brother of John, who owns George’s Place up the street. However, despite the subordinate implication, Pete has had quite a decorated career for a “young” chef:  he worked at Buddakan, Le Bec Fin, and Prive, and was executive chef of Brasserie Perrier. He’s also appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. (We knew none of this when we dined there.)

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The missing Do Not Disturb sign?   Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

 

 

 

The Weekend, Food, and the Apocalypse

The 4th of July weekend, they call it, even though the 4th doesn’t actually fall on a weekend this year, but is in fact on Tuesday. But the fireworks and explosives junkies don’t let a little detail like that derail their plans to blow shit up and generally disturb whole neighborhoods and animals alike. FIVE days of fireworks in my neighborhood.

I am fairly certain the new residents of the only house that was still for sale were responsible for the majority of them, which doesn’t bode well for our community or their reputation. The former residents’ three boys earned a reputation for illegal and occasionally dangerous shenanigans. When they finally moved away, even the trees breathed a sigh of relief.

Anyway. I picked the kids up Monday morning with plans to go to my dad’s for the day. It wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet, so I went to my mom’s to pick up Todd’s table saw – that he’d left in her driveway on Friday. Just drove away and forgot it. We hung out with mom for a bit and the neighbor’s little Shih Tzu came over – the cutest little thing ever who might be cuter if she actually gave a shit about anything but treats. Veruca gave her a piece of Pupperoni and a whole one to Moses, my mom’s Great Pyrenees, which he held in his mouth like a cigarette and little Tessie hopped over to him and brazenly bit the end off of it.

We left mom’s and picked up hoagies at Wawa for later, and then went to McDonald’s for breakfast. Opac and I were hungry; Veruca had had breakfast before I picked her up but she was suddenly hungry again and stepped up to order her food: hot cakes and hash browns with a Mocha Frappaccino. It would seem that Todd’s luck with food places of any kind is wearing off on V – they made her the wrong drink but caught it before handing it over, and then she found a hair in her hot cakes which I’m fairly sure belonged to Tessie the Shih Tzu.

I watched the employee who made the first coffee drink lose her shit behind the counter and throw her cap down on top of the bagging station, which – I don’t know – seems like some sort of health code violation, all because the other woman told her the drink was wrong. She stalked around the counter and later out by the drink station, still hatless, bitching to some guy standing with her about I-don’t-know-and-don’t-want-to-know-what. She was angry. And big. And made eye contact with me in the midst of her rant, which somehow made me feel more uncomfortable than I like to be, that early in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the pool, the three of us swam for an hour or so, played “colors” and some saturated Nerf football. We took a break for lunch, where V discovered that the hoagie she ordered had lettuce and onions on it and OH MY GOD they ruined it and now she can’t eat it. Really, though – HOW does one screw up an order when one is reading the order from a screen???

My wayward brother returned around that time and gladly took the poisoned hoagie. I unclogged the downstairs toilet because apparently kids can clog toilets anywhere. Dad came outside and we chatted for almost an hour, which was wonderful since with his work and so much traveling we haven’t seen each other in months, except for Father’s Day. He and stepmom just returned from Cabo. We compared our experiences since I was there long before there were luxury hotels and condos, possibly even predating the drug cartels.

Yesterday, on the actual 4th, Todd and I took my mom and the kids to the place on the water we’d gone to two days earlier. It was crowded but we got a table on the deck under cover, and enjoyed steamed clams, shrimp, crabcakes, double cheeseburgers and chicken fingers and fries. Opac ordered crabby fries too – French fries smothered in crab dip and melted cheese – which Todd was keen to try until it was delivered to the table with chopped tomatoes on top. (Reminder: he’s allergic. Reminder: shit like this happens every time he goes out.) We got a replacement because WHO puts chopped tomatoes on cheese fries, and our server was awesome and brought us one right away.

It was breezy and warm there by the water, until the sky opened up and folks were scattering to get under cover and away from the sides where the rain drizzled down over tables. We were fortunate to be seated in the middle. Still had a view, but it was very dry. Well, dry but for the sweating margaritas and a frozen one that took a nosedive onto my feet under the table.

No 4th of July is complete without a round of Clue (it was Peacock in the bedroom with a dagger, by the way) and comforting the two dogs during the apocalypse of fireworks coming from every direction. I’m telling you seriously, not one creature, great or small was spared. Even the frogs were hollering.