Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Absurdity of a Late Lunch.

Wednesday was the first time I ever ate cheese fries and chili dogs in an examination room at a gynecologist's office. Is that hard to believe? Maybe so, but it happened. Before you start wondering, I'll explain right off the bat that there wasn't any particular emergency. I could have stayed at home with E. (daycare was closed), but M. didn't want to drive on the icy roads, such as they were. So we all got bundled up for a cross-town jaunt to a hospital complex I had never even noticed. I can't say I was specifically enthused about going, yet it did make a certain kind of sense to have me behind the wheel. The main problem was my hunger, as I had chosen not to eat before we left. I had taken an early walk instead.

After we made it to the destination and found parking in the indoor garage, and checked in with the receptionist, I sat down and realized that I needed something to eat. The doctors were at lunch and we anticipated that it might be awhile before M. was in for her appointment. It was easily apparent that I was going to be cranky until I had something in my stomach. I got the go-ahead from M., and I didn't waste any time getting underway. I stepped outside onto Federal Street and looked for an eatery. I passed a fried fish-and-chips place, and decided quickly against stopping with the foresight that it would have been an alimentary disaster. The last thing I needed was to be sick for a couple more days.

Next I was tempted by a delectable image on an advertisement in the window of the Pizza Hut. Who knew that they now offered macaroni-and-cheese with REAL bacon? Unfortunately, after a quick surveillance, I realized that there was nowhere to sit while waiting for an order. Plus I had no idea what the hell else I could get to go along with the the mac-and-cheese. I don't like that chain pizza. My quandary deepened as I ran out of options on the "institutional" side of the street. I'd have to venture across Federal St. to the ramshackle independent "eateries" on the degraded side. Even getting over there was a bit of a hassle, with the rain and the sleet and the ice. I hit the opposite curb and skirted an open pit in the sidewalk.

There were four joints lined up in a row, as if the crumbling strip they inhabited meant to serve as a desperate bulwark against the corporate onslaught of homogenized "progress". And I felt a tiny bit guilty about my skepticism as I passed each in turn. These were the hauntings of the "Old North Side", their habitu├ęs presenting vague possibilities of danger in their poverty and "otherness". But surely employees at the hospital frequented these places as well? They looked dirty and unkempt under the gloom of the Pittsburgh winter. My appetite dictated that I make a quick choice and throw the weight of a potentially foolhardy confidence behind the search. As you already know, I chose a hot dog shop.

Ironically there were two businesses in that cluster that served hot dogs as the main attraction. My decision was based upon the way that the words "Steve's New York Style Hot Dogs" were painted on the window. They had a cleanly rendered traditional script that I found inviting. The cook was a young man of few words, and he was assisted by an older woman that spoke on the phone in alternating languages. The two worked methodically, and the food was simply prepared. How bad could it be? After what seemed like ten minutes, I grabbed my bagged lunch and went back to join M. in the waiting room. I had just set the messy conglomeration of junk on my lap when the nurse called us in. I managed to avoid spilling stuff everywhere.

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