Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s early Sunday morning and instead of being curled up at our computer at the far end of Kim’s work table, which is where most mornings find me, I am propped up in bed in “my” room at my mom’s house in Fair Haven, NJ. Pictorama readers have found me here before and therefore might guess that I have cobbled together my breakfast from my mom’s mostly vegan offerings. Although only exercised infrequently, it is an alternate routine of sorts. I scrounge coffee and a bagel and take it back upstairs so I don’t have to face her hungry cats with the decision of whether or not I should intercede on their behalf, break ranks and feed them early.
I myself have a cat-like craving for routine and a green smoothie and (very large) coffee in hand is how I start most days at home while at the computer and chatting with Kim. I try not to get sucked into my work email and instead read the newspaper online (prize or interesting tidbits read out loud to Kim, who in turn proffers some stream of consciousness thoughts while he works) or if it is the weekend work on a blog post.
I wrap up with a look at Twitter and Instagram (see last week’s post which describes my cheerful all-cat, all-early-film preferences on social media) and then, if it is a weekday I begin the process of getting ready for work. I like to get there early and frankly it isn’t an early morning kind of place so being there first isn’t that hard to achieve. Today’s post is about the space between leaving the cocoon of the apartment and arriving at work, although I will perhaps devote a future post to the Q train, which deserves one of its own and skip that part of my routine. (As someone who walked to work for years taking the train each morning was a big change.)
I have lived my entire adult life in New York City, so I don’t know if the daily commute to work kicks off sufficiently different elsewhere. We live in a building in the Yorkville section of the most Eastern part of upper Manhattan. Our building, christened in 1960, is of an anonymous white brick facade where one in a rotating series of doormen are the last folks to say have a good day each morning. I always feel as if they should also hand me my brown bag lunch as my mom used to do on my way to the school bus each day.
I have written before about my chosen neighborhood diner previously in my post Cornered (found here) and also about the role a local diner played in my walking commute to the Met each morning – a tradition that I mourned a bit in my post, here, about leaving that job after 30 years. Starting on my first day of work at Jazz at Lincoln Center I began sizing up my breakfast options. I eventually began dividing my breakfast consumption between a bodega and a restaurant – on either end of the block that is the west side of Seventh Avenue between 57th and 58th.
The bodega is less expensive. Starting with this new job, I fell into the habit of purchasing flowers for my desk at the start of each week and the bodega wins many Mondays because it also sells flowers. The downside to it is coffee that is not great and the fact that the construction workers, who put in long days on the towering structures near my Columbus Circle office, form long lines and purchase baskets piled with staggeringly high calorie breakfasts of eggs, cheese, sausage and bacon, coffee and other drinks.
On the other corner, my preferred establishment was a restaurant with take out in one half of it. The waiters and coffee guys. a rotating cast of musicians. occasionally belting out a rather stunningly good renditions of Happy Birthday (yes, at breakfast and I cannot explain that) for an appreciative customer. I often wonder to myself if being a few short steps from Carnegie Hall was encouraging or discouraging for them.
The short order cooks, a non-singing crew, generally remember my regular order. Then, as things do in New York, it closed abruptly one day. It took me a few days but I eventually found the cooks, but not the singing waiters and coffee guys, at a chain restaurant called Roast Kitchen and, after an initial snobby resistance to breakfast at a chain restaurant began to frequent it.
My order varies daily, although my large coffee with skim milk is consistent. One of the men there offers me a blessed day whenever he waits on me (or sees me) which was a bit surprising at first, but I have come to appreciate. After all, blessing is good. They offered me the rare free coffee or even lunch on occasion – as at one point they also became my midday salad provider. (I am especially fond of the spicy pumpkin seeds, pepitas.)
The regular cast includes three men – the man who blesses me, another man who does most of the cooking and is the least friendly, and a very young man who seems only capable of the most simple tasks at hand. (Making your coffee is, for example, a bit complicated for him, especially when combined with the cash register. However, he seems to be reasonable adept a making the soup base and the prep for the later lunch.) There is an occasional woman working the register, but not often. They appear more frequently to help at lunch.
One of the things that interests me about it is that, despite being a chain restaurant, they actually do seem to cook there. I see stock being made each morning for the daily soup, the oatmeal homemade as well – it isn’t just all dropped off a truck from a shared kitchen in another borough. Hot greens with a pile of grain offerings isn’t my thing for lunch, but the salad made to order is acceptable – sometimes with a slab of roast salmon, but most often not. There is only mysterious artisanal and I tend to avoid it.
Lunch caters to a broad population, office inhabitants like myself, students and teachers from The Art Student’s League next door, and there is a long line snaking through the storefront. No time for any pleasantries – all business at lunch – as am I, feeling lucky if I have managed to duck out for the ten minutes round trip to get the aforementioned salad.
Meanwhile, the whole point of the breakfast interaction is that it also be briefly efficient and mine is generally satisfyingly so. Yet, it is an important interlude in the space between the subway and the office, as I move from one world to the next and prepare for the rigors of my day. It is a friendly oasis these days between and not unlike the doormen at my building each morning, they send me on my way with their well wishes for a good day and hopes to see me later – and a paper bag with a hot breakfast in my hands and I am repeatedly grateful – and yes, in fact somewhat blessed.