Saturday, March 08, 2008

Chop Suey for Breakfast

What a crazy week it has been for me. I've been working twelve plus hour days almost every day, including last night when I didn't get home until almost 9pm. I'm trying to get through an unrealistic project deadline and juggling a few other schmooze intensive clients all at the same time and frankly it isn't working very well. As my boss told me, this is what I get for being the person in the office who "goes where angels fear to tread".

One of my whiniest clients has a weekly project progress meeting that even if you don't have issues on the list they expect you to attend. Fine by me, because I'm happy to bill them an exorbitant hourly charge to sit around a job trailer and outline future posts for this blog in my moleskine while they discuss the plumbing connection issues between buildings.

Under normal circumstances, I really don't mind these meetings because the job trailer where this meeting is held is near Chinatown; meaning I always plan on getting either a bowl of good noodles and a pork bun or two before or after the meeting. This week however, I was just stressed for time and about all the things I had to get finished on my deadline project and attending this worthless meeting was not high on my priorities. To make matters worse, they had changed the meeting time from late morning to early morning. Meaning, I was on the early thirty train into Manhattan just in time to hit the peak of the subway rush hour. Yea, Rah.

After fighting my way onto the 6 Train just as the doors were closing at Grand Central and getting "goosed" by some guy's umbrella between 28th Street and 23rd Street, I popped up into the middle of Chinatown at Canal Street. It was 8:15 am, I had about an hour to kill before my meeting, and I was hungry. Now here is a tip for you when you visit New York City and in particular Chinatown; get thee off Canal Street, Broadway, and Centre Street because the true Chinatown is found on the little side streets like Mott, Bayard, Pell and in the alleys. It is here that you will find the hole in the wall noodle shops with six or seven tables jammed together. The menus won't be in English and they only take cash. But if you are looking for quick, good food that will remind you of the noodle shops in Hong Kong or Shanghai, this is where you will find them. So, with a rumbling stomach, I went in search of noodles for breakfast.

As I walked up Centre Street to explore the little blocks just north of Canal Street, I encountered an older couple standing on the corner of Hester Street, tourist map from one of the hotels in hand, looking completely lost. I stopped to ask them if they needed help, the lady looked relieved and answered, "Well, yes you can. I want to buy a handbag or two on Canal Street and the hotel told us to come here early to get the best deals. But we can't seem to find Canal Street." I pointed them in the right direction and turned to go on my way when she asked me something that stopped me dead in my tracks, "Can you also point us in the direction of a restaurant that doesn't serve Chinese food?" Um, well...

After I pointed them in the direction of the McDonalds that is on the corner of Canal and Lafayette street, I started chuckling to myself and then burst out laughing as I walked down Hester Street because you see, that comment about not wanting any Chinese food reminded me of one of my most cherished memories of W's father.

Before I go further in this story, you should know something about the types of food W's parents liked and disliked, in particular his father. W's dad absolutely and vehemently refused to eat Chinese food because he believed that old urban legend that all the meat in Chinese food was cat. Anytime the topic of restaurants or food came up, his dad said he would eat "anything as long as it isn't Chinese because I don't want to eat cat." W's dad so believed that cat was part of all Chinese food that once, when W was home for a visit, his dad refused to eat a stir fry W had fixed even though the meat was bought at the local Piggly Wiggly and W's father had seen W purchase the meat. When it came time for dinner that night, his dad refused to eat it. "Nope, not going to eat it because there might be cat in there". After a few visits and W's homemade stir fries, W's mom came around to liking Chinese and even had a wok to make it but W's dad never ate even the stir fries W's mom made. She was forced to share them with his uncle and any other family member that might be over for dinner while W's dad would go fix himself a steak.

Back to my story. Several years ago, W's parents came to Boston to visit us. It was the first and only time they came to Boston as W's mom didn't like to travel despite W's fathers love of travel. On the last day they were in town, we took them out for breakfast. Since they were staying at a hotel in Harvard Square, and we knew they were ready for a hardy and simple breakfast after all the "fancy food" we had been eating during their visit, we decided to take them to the only diner that served breakfast left in Harvard Square, Johnny's (now Zoe's). Johnny's/Zoe's is located down Mass Ave heading towards Central Square in Cambridge. Also along this street is the Harvard Bookstore, one of the best independent bookstores in the country and Mr. Bartley's Burgers, one of the best burger joints in the country. To walk to Johnny's/Zoe's from W's parent's hotel you had to walk by all these places and this is where the story gets funny.

As we walked up the street towards the diner, we were talking about all the restaurants along Mass Ave and the places W and I frequented. At the exact moment that W's mom asked if the restaurant was much further we rounded the slight jog that Mass Ave takes to head towards Central Square. On this corner, sits The Hong Kong Restaurant and the reaction of W's father as we turned that corner was priceless.

He stutter-stepped, came to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, stared at all three of us with accusing eyes, firmly declared, "I'm not having Chinese for breakfast!" and folded his arms over his chest. W, his mom, and I all looked at each other and burst out laughing because W's dad was absolutely sure we had tricked him into having Chinese food. After a few more minutes of back and forth about how W's dad absolutely would not be having any Chinese food, I walked over to him, slipped my arm into his arm and began to guide him down the street, "Sir, I promise, we aren't going to have Chinese for breakfast".

We had a very enjoyable breakfast of good old American food that morning and later that afternoon, put W's parents on the plane home to Tennessee. But, from then on, whenever W and I would walk down Mass Ave towards Central Square and pass The Hong Kong we would both look at each other and smile.

So, it was with a bit of sadness this week, that I sat down for breakfast with my delicious bowl of steaming noodles from Chao Chow and remembered W's father. I still miss him and his stories. I think of him often with great fondness.

I just hope where ever he is having breakfast in Heaven, they aren't serving Chinese food...