From Here to New Jersey

There’s no food in the apartment and I’ve skipped breakfast.  A meeting cancelled, opening up just enough time in my calendar to run out and eat, which my growling stomach has turned into a top priority.  Pat comes home just in time to join me and I suggest we go try an Italian restaurant we spotted the other day while out walking.

We head down the street, taking the shortest route to the restaurant.  When we get there, we’re slightly confused.  There’s a door on the right that walks into what appears to be a large kitchen area with 3 women standing around in it.  Then there’s a door straight ahead that looks like it goes into a cookware store.  We go in the front door and look around.  Yes, it’s a cookware store.  The women come around and I ask if they serve food.  They do not.  They give us their schedule of cooking classes and demonstrations and tell us about a wine dinner coming up.

This is all grand, but my stomach is growling and the clock is ticking.  We thank them and head back down the street.  Since I have Italian in my head, I suggest we go a little further to an Italian restaurant we know is a restaurant.  We get there and the place is dark.  They don’t serve lunch.

We head back towards home, deciding we will stop at the Urbanspoon Diner we passed on the way.  We open the door and discover a tiny little place with very friendly waitresses.  We’re seated and handed menus and brought drinks.  Just about then, a family of 6 walks in.  The waitress makes a fuss over them, pulling together two tables of four and arranging chairs and learning that they are from New Jersey.

I’m not sure why she finds the fact that they’re from New Jersey so amazing, but it’s clear she feels the need to be extra nice.  We watch while she gets the family seated, introduces them to a couple of regulars on the other side of the family’s table, takes their drink orders, and brings out their drinks.  By this time, we are also watching the clock.

Fortunately, the waitress notices our angst and excuses herself from the New Jersey family and comes over to take our order.  I decide to try the pecan-crusted chicken, which she assures me I will like.  Pat picks the pork and beans, which she tells him is her favorite.  She then tells us that one of the rowers from the Head of the Hootch asked for her favorite this past weekend and she told the rower she couldn’t recommend it because the rower was about to get on a plane.  Pat and I laugh, but I silently hope Pat isn’t going to be home much of the afternoon.

In the meantime, the father from New Jersey has gone over to the regulars’ table and gotten into a loud discussion about Joe Paterno.  The couple seems to think that a guy from New Jersey has the inside scoop because he lives in closer proximity to Penn State than Chattanooga.  But when the NJ father says he doesn’t think Joe will resign, they argue vehemently.  They end up betting $5 that Joe will resign and the guy from NJ promises to come back and pay it if Joe does resign.

For me, this whole conversation is a news flash.  I realize that I haven’t seen or heard any news beyond updates from the Wall Street Journal that pop up on my phone, which I have mostly been dismissing unread, for weeks.  Between being overly busy at work and having a lot of things to do and see outside of work, I just haven’t had time or interest in keeping up.  So, I am completely taken by surprise that there could possibly be any kind of controversy around Penn State and Joe Paterno, who for as long as I can remember has been considered the most upright guy in college football.

Normally, I would google immediately, but our food arrives before I have time.  The food is hot, fast, really good, and extremely plentiful.  While I work on my chicken, the NJ father tastes his sweet tea.  The waitress asks how it is and he says, “That’s good!  Better than McDonald’s!”  I assume he’s making a joke, but his son says, “Really?” incredulously.  It occurs to me that McDonald’s may be the only place to get sweet tea in New Jersey–it’s the only place I’ve ever heard of having sweet tea in Ohio.

I eat every bite of my dinner-sized lunch.  Pat reminds me that in the South, lunch is dinner and dinner is supper.  While this could explain the portion sizes, I think they have the same menu at supper time, too.  In any case, I enjoy the food–the chicken is moist and tender and I haven’t had chicken in a really long time.

When we finish up, we have to get back quickly as I need to get on a conference call.  But Pat’s hamstring has been acting up again; he can’t walk too fast.  The long strides seem to be what irritates his muscle.  I suggest he take shorter strides faster, but he thinks this will look stupid.  I visualize Fred and Barney revving up their Flintstone cars and tend to agree.

We make it back just in time for me to join my call on time.  As I settle back into my office chair and perch the back of my head on the neck rest, I lean back, take a deep breath, and wish we were in Spain where we’d now have time to take a nap before returning to work.

As the call goes off on a topic not related to me, I think about the New Jersey family and wonder what they will be doing this afternoon.  I think about the last time I was in New Jersey–in the beginning of my career, it was a place I went every two weeks.  Now, I don’t think I’ve been there since 2006.  I think back to a weekend trip I took out there to see a girlfriend.  We took the train into Manhattan and spent the day wandering around and then the evening seeing Mama Mia on Broadway.  But, then, someone says my name and I am pulled back into the conversation and back into my chair in Chattanooga.

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