NQ: Astoria/Ditmars Boulevard, Queens
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
It’s been almost five months since our last trip, during which time Damaso has been living in Barcelona. I was sure that by the time he got back I’d have viveca.net up and have started publishing these stories. I’m a little sheepish to see him again without any progress to report. My only defense is that I have been riding my web programmer to help me get started, and I haven’t given up. In any case, I hate quitting in the middle of something, and equally relevantly, even if nobody else were ever going to read any of this, I want to see the rest of the city!
We meet in Astor Place and ride the N uptown into Queens. The ride isn’t long. When we get off the elevated tracks at Astoria/Ditmars Boulevard, it’s raining and hot. The tracks run over a busy thoroughfare with plenty of culinary options. Damaso spies a transit worker and asks him for a recommendation, but the MTA employee says he brings his own lunch. Like us, he lives in Brooklyn. When pressed, he says the other guys eat at the diner, and he gestures vaguely across the street at Mike’s Diner.
We stay on our side and walk to the end of the block, peering into a Southwest-style place and weighing options. Nothing is appealing. We cross and walk back towards Mike’s Diner, but right before we reach it, we notice the Last Stop Restaurant, which fits our theme too well to bypass.
Inside, our thought process is rewarded. The entire café is decorated with a subway and train theme—the name is posted in tiles, toy trains line the counters, train art hangs over the tables, and two walls are painted as a subway car exterior (N train) with passengers peering out through the windows. Facing us are a conductor, a wary mother, and a smiling daughter peering out of the end of the train mural. Damaso asks me to make a face as though I’m running away from the train barreling towards me. He takes a few pictures of my attempts to act, but I only look crazier in each one. I know these would be better if I were willing to include pictures of myself in them, but my vanity rebels. This photo goes beyond unflattering to ridiculous though, so maybe I’ll let it slip through.
The air conditioning is freezing against our wet clothes, and the man behind the counter graciously turns it down for us. I had just given Damaso a bunch of t-shirts, and he hands me one back to use as a shawl while we peruse the menus. Nothing appeals, and I particularly don’t want any of the Last Stop Specials. Damaso wants to order a burger but doesn’t want me to mock him for it. He often hears judgment when I think I’m stating facts, and I’m slightly sad that my commenting on him liking to order the same things made him feel insulted as unadventurous. Worse, I worry that we’re experiencing some sort of social Heisenbergism, which of course doesn’t exist. But just as social Darwinism falsely extends evolutionary theory to behavior activity, I apply the uncertainty principle to this project: measuring (or documenting) an activity changes it in ways that prevent it from being measured accurately. It’s ridiculous. There is no “real” End of the Line experience, and Damaso changing his order doesn’t hurt anyone.
In any case, he decides to get a turkey burger, “to mix it up,” and I eventually order a chicken parmigiana sub, because the waitress says it’s her favorite, and a side of broccoli because I gained a ton of weight traveling recently, and I’m convinced that eating extra vegetables, even if smothered in oil, will magically make me thin.
While we sit, a man follows a wandering toddler around the restaurant. They seem to belong here. Maybe he works in the restaurant, or maybe they’ve finished eating and just don’t want to face the rain. Damaso keeps trying to say hello to the child. He or she, I can’t tell, stares back for a while but is blissfully unresponsive.
When our food arrives, “thin” leaves the building. My “sandwich” is served open faced, with chicken, sauce, and cheese oozing over the sides of a giant toasted hero roll. Damaso’s large burger comes with a heaping helping of battered French fries, and my broccoli could feed a dozen schoolchildren if children ate vegetables soaked in fresh garlic and olive oil. The broccoli is still green, not too mushy, and delicious. The rest of the food is, well, adequate. I eat the toppings and leave the bread on the platter. The waitress won’t give me a refill on my iced tea, and I’m sulky and spoiled after six weeks out of NYC. Iced tea runs freely in the rest of the country, but it’s a precious commodity here.
Outside we cross to a bakery whose interior is much less appealing than its appearance but which smells fantastic. Somehow convincing myself that buying food here will help me avoid eating restaurant food and therefore that this will actually help me lose weight, I buy a loaf of olive bread and two almond cookies, one plain and one dipped in chocolate. I promise myself that I won’t eat the cookies until I finish an overdue article draft and write this up. That was four days ago. I threw out most of the bread today, but I finished the other project a few hours ago, and when I finish the next sentence I’ll go retrieve the cookies from the fridge. I hope they’re not too stale.