It's Saturday and Nico a friend from work who has been given a full weekend away from the hot line, comes to help me pack up my NYC apartment.
No small feat considering I have just spent the previous day puking my guts up for hours on end and have no real desire to carry heavy boxes and furniture. Just my luck, my last weekend in New York City and I am food poisoned. Either from the cheap BBQ wings I had feasted two nights before or the Chipotle burrito the day after which only digested for roughly one hour before emerging looking surprisingly un-chewed in my toilet bowl.
I’m sure there are worse things to regurgitate, but I can’t think of many that top black beans, hot sauce, and marinated chicken.
Nonetheless, Nico the “French Terminator” as we have lovingly dubbed him at work for his make-it-happen work ethic and funny sounding French Alsatian accent, get to work wrapping everything we can in shrink wrap and loading up the truck. Nico is a master packer. Not suprising because he is a very efficient and organized cook.
The decision to drive my apartment across country was out of necessity although the romantic idea of driving through America’s backbone easily turned my grim reality into an exciting adventure. When will I have an excuse to make this kind of trip again? No doubt my new home at Le Club restaurant in San Franciso will keep me fully engaged for years to come.
Road trip. God it’s been ages since I went on a road trip.
I rent a Budget truck after many blog readers advise me against using U-Haul trucks to drive across country. (And I must add a quick ‘thank you’ to the reader who provided the low down on rental insurance). Before Nico arrives on Saturday afternoon, I go to the rental place, take a look at the 10’ truck I’ve rented, shove open the roll gate cargo door to check out the space that will house my apartment, and realize it is much to small. Much, much too small.
I go back to the office and sweet talk the manager into giving me the 17’ truck for the same price. Things are looking good so far even though my stomach is still not sure if it wants to be cooperative on this journey.
Climbing into the cushiony driver’s side I adjust the seat, my side mirror and reach for the rearview mirror when I realize there isn’t one. Shit. I’ve never driven a truck before. I roll down the window on the passenger side and adjust the other side view mirror.
Keys in ignition, radio blaring Lady Gaga’s overplayed hit ‘Bad Romance’ I peel out of the Budget truck parking lot onto the Westside Highway and commence in making my way South to the financial district, my home.
This is fun! I am so much taller than I’ve been before riding higher than the cars all around me. I can’t believe I’m doing this, I think out loud laughing for nobody to hear but Lady Gaga.
I make a left off of the Westside Freeway and head over to 7th street and now I’m a little nervous. The streets are narrower and I have too much stimulous to take in trying to negotiate stoplights, parked cars on my right and traffic passing me on my left.
And then the worst happens. As I’m looking out my side view mirror I hear a deafening smack. I automatically look into my nonexistent rear view mirror and then to the passenger side mirror which is no longer outstretched but firmly folded into the window.
I have just taken off some parked car’s side mirror. Shit, shit, shit. Do I turn back? Do I keep driving? Oh my God, I can’t believe this.
I pull over, shaking, get out of the truck and adjust my mirror then slowly walk down the street to see what kind of damage I’ve caused. And there it is, a car with a demolished side mirror. Some guys standing outside work on a smoke break are laughing their asses off. I smile sheepishly.
I’m waiting for some one to come running out and start screaming at me, but no one does. I leave a note, nervously take another quick glance around, and get the hell out of there.
This time I keep the radio off and drive slower down the street until I make it to my enormous apartment building. And now the real fun begins: parking a 17’ truck in New York City.
There is no parking in the financial district. My building, a block away from the Stock Exchange is a heavy security area with guards up and down the block and meter maids that fly out of nowhere giving double and triple tickets to illegally parked cars.
I drive around the block once, twice, three times, four times. I need to park oustside the building but it is a ‘no standing’ zone and the moving trucks that have dared to risk the vengence of Rita the Metermaid all have little yellow slips underneath their windshield wipers. I pull up outside the entrance to my building and leave the truck running.
There is a black Surburban in the ‘no parking zone’ (not to be confused with the ‘no standing zone) on the other side of the street. A famous name is plastered in the window and I ask the driver if he is going to leave soon. He is.
Since it is Saturday I can park in the ‘no parking’ zone but not in the ‘no standing’ zone. Go figure. I wait and wait and finally the world famous passenger leaves the apartment building. He waves to me, I wave back wishing my camera more accessible and then attempt to negotiate parallel parking the beast without any more casualties.
In my apartment I look at the twenty boxes I’ve managed to pack over the last few days in between sudden and swift naseau attacks and flop on the sofa waiting for NIco. The rest we will do together. And I’m sort of at the giving up point. Maybe I should have just paid the extra $1000 for some one to make my crap disappear.
Nico arrives with enough energy for the both of us. We pack, we talk shop, and I attempt to convince him unsuccessfully to leave New York and join me in my new adventure. I can tell he’s thinking about it. I have already secretely attempted to win over his wife, who has trained in France and who holds a Master’s Degree in hospitality and management. A dynamic duo in my small restaurant would be awesome.
Nico and I are around the same age and both ready to have creative input. The idea of burning yourself out for yourself is always more alluring than being a burnt out cog. We brainstorm recipes while loading up and he promises to at least make a trip to San Francisco with his wife. I repay him with cold beer and hot pizza and he leaves to enjoy a layman’s holiday with a promise to return on Sunday and finish the job.
Thank God for Nico. I could never have packed up without him.
Eric, a chef friend from San Francisco and my newest and only other team member thus far, flies out to help me make the drive across country. This is team spirit. I trade him a free one way ticket to New York and promise a quick and fun tour of the city’s attractions before heading out. He’s never been to New York before and hasn’t taken a vacation in over 7 years.
I can’t imagine how driving 8 hours a day would be considered a vacation. But Eric tells me he loves to drive. And he’s excited to make the cross country trek. Growing up in logger country, and working for the family business as a kid, he has driven just about every truck known to mankind and driving long distance is no big deal.
There is a God after all. How I ended up with a talented chef who also happens to like driving trucks long distance is beyond me and I think qualifies as a bonefide miracle.
Now Eric is funny. He shows up to my apartment in shorts. It’s still Winter in New York. “Don’t worry, I have a pair of pants.” This is so Californian. The rest of the East Coast is bundling up in layers and face masks and scarves and mittens. And Eric is still surfing the West Coast. He’s of Nordic descent, Viking no doubt, and apparently cold weather or ‘weather’ as we call it on the East coast does not affect him.
“Is there anything you really want to eat in New York?” I ask before dragging him around the freezing city?
“Not really, I just want to see what I can, and maybe eat at one of David Chang’s restaurants. Good pizza would be awesome.”
Not a problem.
Times Square. Check.
Central Park. Check.
Kespe Pizza in the West Village. Check.
Pool and jazz at Black Cat. Check
Cocktails at Daddy-O’s. Check.
Pork Buns at Momofuko’s ssam bar. Check.
Cocktails at DPT. Check.
Leo’s Bagels. Check.
The morning of the our first travel day things go wrong. I am forced to park the truck in the ‘no standing’ zone outside my apartment building in order to load in the last of my stuff. Rita gives me a $95 parking ticket but promises not to double or triple ticket me out of something resembling pity. I’m not sure that metermaids have pity, but she is cutting me some slack anyway.
We’re ready to roll and I go to wash my hands in my kitchen sink and the faucet comes straight out of the socket spewing water everywhere.
“Are you kidding me?!?!?!?!”
I get it fixed delaying our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia by hours and say goodbye to the concierge staff who have taken very good care of me over the last two years. And then it hits. I’m leaving for good. I give Oliver, the doorman and my constant protector, a big bear hug and tears start flowing.
Oliver looks over to Eric and says, “Take care of my girl. Or I’ll find out where you live, if you know what I mean.”
Eric laughs and promises to do his best. Oliver is smiling, but I know he’s not kidding either. Oliver has helped me to my apartment in some interesting conditions. He has been a good friend and easy listener. If there’s anything I need he’s there to help and not just because its his job.
“Don’t say goodbye Amy. Just say ‘I’ll see you later’. Come back and open a restaurant here. I’ll get the investors…”
I wipe my tears and muster a half smile and a ‘see you later’. Eric and I hop into the truck. Me in the passenger seat with a plethora of GPS devices and out of date maps and we begin the adventure navigating New York City streets to the New Jersey turnpike before the incoming snow storm hits.
We cross into New York and the Statue of Liberty is holding her flame high. “Eric, look, there she is! Now you can say you’ve seen that too.”
He responds with a simple, “Statue of Liberty. Check.”
The route we have come up with is not the real Backbone of America that bisects the country in two but a Southern route, I-40, that starts with a slight detour into Williamsburg, Virginia where my older sister lives. I’ve lived two years in New York and never once made the visit and there is no way in hell I’m going back to California without seeing her.
We had hoped to get there by early evening, but our trip is now more than four hours behind and we pull up to her house late in the evening. Nonetheless my sister and sister-in-law have a steaming bowl of beouf bourguingnon ready for us and some nice cold beers. We catch up filing in the blanks over the last few years and then I fall asleep with her three dogs snuggling up around me like a re-found pack member. That was some good sleep.
Day two of the adventure we head to Knoxville, Tennessee where a fellow blogger and chef, Kevin Weeks of Seriously Good, promises us some sofa to sleep on and a hot meal. It’s a good deal: we bring the wine, he makes the dinner and gives us a place to stay.
But we get lost and end up in North Carolina around 6PM. We somehow manage to miss the I-40 connection from I-85 and continue on it until we are far South of Knoxville.
I call Kevin, who I am very excited to meet, and say “I know you don’t really know me yet, but I think you’re going to very much dislike me. We somehow ended up right outside of Charlotte in North Carolina and we don’t really know how long it will take us to get to Knoxville, Tennessee from here.”
“Oh you poor thing!” He says with a reassuring voice “I’ve missed that connetion before too.”
“Really?” I ask feeling not so inept as a navigator. “You have really missed that connection before? How long do you think it will take us to get to Knoxville? My now-working GPS says four and half hours.”
“Oh, no way. There’s a rockslide that you will have to detour so plan on 7 hours.”
“Oh my God. Okay, I guess we better find some place to stay here and then head up tomorrow.”
Kevin wishes me well and reassures that the dinner he has prepared for us is no big deal. But I know he’s not telling the whole truth. I know he has something special up his sleeve. He’s a chef after all and a good one. However, he lets me off the hook without even a slight guilt trip. I’m bummed. I was looking forward to meeting a fellow food blogger. And I think he is too.
Parked outside a diner called Bicuitville Eric gets on his cell phone and me on mine as we call friends and family trying to see if anyone knows anyone in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I’m coming up empty handed but Eric is making headway. He knows a cook who knows a cook who just moved back to North Carolina from California. It’s a long shot. We don’t even know if they live close to Charlotte or if they will have us.
Within fifteen minutes we are heading over to a suburb of Charlotte, the Biscuitville truck stop growing smaller in the rearview mirror and the promise of a biscuit and fried bologna sandwich. “Fried Bologna is Back” the posters around the diner boast.
Really? It’s back? Where did it go?
We arrive to our new host's house and are greeted with ice cold Budweisers, hospitality, and a hot plate of pinto beans, fresh cast iron skillet cornbread, and sautéed cabbage. It is a great meal. Homey and nourishing.
We polish off six pack after six pack swapping hilarious cooking horror stories comparing burns and scars. My cheeks hurt from laughing. Our host is funny, and I can only imagine what cooking on the line with him is like, no doubt a good time.
In the morning we re-route. Our next stop was supposed to be Oklahoma City after Knoxville but this will mean a 20 hour drive. Without internet connection we feel lost, so I call my Mom, our new On-Star navigation system, and she quickly comes up with a new plan.
"Listen, you are going to have to add another day to the trip. That's all there is to it. Enjoy yourselves and don't risk the long drive. From Charlotte you will drive through Alabama and then up to Oklahoma City. That's the quickest way to get to I-40."
"You know what. Your Aunt Annie has a farm in Alabama. She would love to see you."
"Yeah, but is it on the way?"
I can hear my mother clicking away on her key pad inserting new information into our trip.
"Actually her farm is right on your way. You will have to go through Birmingham anyway and she's just 50 miles North from there. She would love to see you, you know."
I have only heard rumors of my Aunt's certified organic farm. And although we talk on the phone and keep in touch via email I have never visited.
We fortify ourselves with biscuits and gravy at Bojangles and hit the pavement.
Alabama here we come!