So take diversity for instance - it makes America great. Yesterday I had a long overdue brunch date with C&K, two friends from The Cheese State who I met through LH back in Chicago. Yesterday was something like 91% humidity and it honestly felt like I was breathing water. But hunger is an obvious motivator and so it was that I heaved myself down to the East Village and we met up at Veselka, a New York institution since 1954 that serves up Ukrainian soul food, 24 hours a day. Trust me - the potato cakes alone were worth the 20 minutes we waited to be seated. Sitting there at the restaurant and catching up for almost 3 hours, the tables around us were chock-full pretty much the entire time. Kids, parents, grandparents - that restaurant was a microcosm of New York yesterday and it was great.
After bidding farewell to C&K I wandered around the East Village for a bit and found my back to a little piece of Australia, The Tuck Shop. I settled in to read a few more chapters of the third instalment of "The Hunger Games" trilogy when the bartender, a British fella, asked me what I was reading. I made the mistake of telling him I'd stayed home all day Saturday to read the second book. The look he gave me said everything. "I know," I admitted rather guiltily, "such a loser". He had the good grace not to agree with me outright. What followed was a bit of a conversation over some Coopers beers about the differences between Aussies, Brits, Scots and Americans. Our collective travel experiences, plus a healthy bullshit factor, meant we considered ourselves eminently qualified to dissect our respective cultural nuances. But even I was at a loss to clarify for the bartender why a bunch of Aussie tourists who had visited the bar earlier in the day had felt compelled to steal fistfuls of free napkins from off the counter. Perhaps some deep-seated and irresistible return to their convict beginnings? Or perhaps they were just morons. I think a little from Column A, a little from Column B to be fair.
Heading home briefly, I then ventured out in the cooler evening air to meet up with P at The Hill to redeem a Groupon certificate I'd had for a while. When I got there, the bar was pretty much empty and I had a good opportunity to make google eyes at the cute tattooed bartender (in spite of his trucker hat). I mean, seriously - the guy opened my beer bottle with the bottom half of the cocktail shaker. Could I have done that? Could you do that? Talent and showmanship, my friends. They make America great. So me and P sat outside in the fresh air, having beers and delicious white pizza (truffle oil also makes America great, by the way). As time went by, I watched the bar fill up with pretty young things, all of whom would have been at least 10 years younger than me and fortunately P agreed with me that it was time to head off somewhere else.
So we went around the block up to Wolfgang's, a steakhouse (this is definitely another thing that makes America great). We sat up at the empty bar and had a great chat with the barman, a French/American Vietnam Vet who was full of stories of 9/11, Jimmy Carter and Scotch. I was also quite taken with the beautiful tiled decor of the steakhouse, and will likely come back there soon for something cooked medium-rare with a side of mashed potatoes.
Tonight though I'm heading off to my boss's place to watch the July 4th fireworks and to help The Big Apple celebrate this great - and sometimes crazy - country's birthday. Here's hoping there's cake. But I will settle for some Snyder's pretzel pieces, of course.