two bad maps, two free things
Friday, December 28 2001
setting: Brooklyn, New York
Today the plan was for me to pick up a pricey New York rental car and drive down to Silver Spring to meet up with Gretchen at her parents' house. Since I had to act alone, this meant I had to do all the little logistical things that I normally delegate to others (or, if you prefer, it meant I had to do logistical things in addition to my usual limited and sometimes pathetic tactical efforts). For the record, I have never been much of a logistical person. When the process of planning takes place or when logistics are being discussed, I'm suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of "Why am I here, when I could be playing with my imaginary friend?"
The big difference between this trip and other similar trips was that Sally the Dog would get to come along! She looked on in anxious concern as she saw me piling things necessary for the trip in a pile on the kitchen table. With all dogs, the change in their emotional state is always a sudden and explosive event, but this morning I think I noticed a subtle glimmer of hope materialize as I spooned cup after cup of Sally's dog food into a plastic bag and added it to the pile.
Of late Gretchen and I have noticed that companies that deliberately advertise their products as being shoddy (in an effort to get people to think they're especially inexpensive) do in fact deliver shoddy goods while charging the standard market rates charged by other companies for non-shoddy goods. A case in point is Rent-a-Wreck (on Union near the park). Last time Gretchen rented a car from them, we ended up with a broken tape deck. So now we're using the Speedy Rent-a-Car down on Union and 7th Avenue.
As I was having my name added to the Speedy Rent-a-Car database, the friendly guy at the computer terminal asked about this Barbara person registered for my address, and I said that it was Gretchen's old girlfriend. In the blue collar world of the car rental office, this was probably something of an overshare, but he'd taken me by surprise and in the context of my compressed schedule, I didn't know how else to explain things. As the guy erased Barbara from the database, he chuckled that he didn't mean to pry or anything. I assured him it was quite alright.
As I was gathering my first armload of stuff in preparation to take it to the rental car double parked out on President Street, I made the mistake of putting Sally's leash on. She flew into such a transcendent fit of joy that she refused to wait for me in the house. So I had her wait for me out in the car. She doesn't get to ride in cars very often, but when she does, it's almost always a glorious adventure.
I'm not too familiar with driving in New York City, especially when my copilot is an overstimulated wet-nosed canine. I'd thought to grab a road atlas as I was heading out the door, but I'd made the mistake of grabbing the large-print Rand McNally atlas, which was only a little more useful than a globe would have been. I drove all the way down to something like 70th Street in Brooklyn before I found a ramp up to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and by then I was practically at the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. The guy at the toll booth saw Sally relaxing in an upright position in the passenger seat and remarked on how unbelievably calm she looked. She'd been lulled into tranquility by the relaxing hum of the road.
I had two unexpected freebies on the road. One was a free Philly Cheese Steak at a Sbarro in the Delaware Welcome Center. I never shoplift any more unless under the duress of peer pressure, but in this case the Homeslice working the counter handed me a slice and then abandoned me without asking for money, so I took it and walked out. I'd never had a Philly Cheese Steak before and only took it for its resemblance to a fancy slice of pizza. Oh, but what a dreadful confection! What must one do afterwards to get that taste out of one's mouth? I hadn't eaten since this morning or otherwise I would have thrown it out or shared more with Sally.
Two questions about Sbarro: how does one pronounce the decidedly unEnglish "sb" sound? Secondly, how did Sbarro win the contract to locate in all the state welcome centers (and virtually nowhere else)? Perhaps they're more authentically Italian than the food would indicate.
The other freebie came after I crossed the Susquehanna River. For some reason the toll booth wasn't staffed when I came to it, but I saw the sign warning about the fine for not paying a toll and was going to wait for someone to come and take money from me, but then people started honking so I drove off. It's amazing how responsible I've become since getting Platinum cards because I was so determined to pay the $3 toll that I actually pulled over to the shoulder and sat there thinking about it for a time before saying fuck it and driving off.
Gretchen had drawn me a "map" instructing me how to get to her place. But it wasn't really a map, because things were not placed in their topologically appropriate places relative to one another. Read as a map, it indicated that my destination lay outside the beltway when it actually lay just inside. The exit ramp had been the topologically confusing element in our 3-D world.
That Philly Cheese Steak was still taking up substantial room (and perhaps elbowing for more) when Gretchen and her parents started fixing me pasta, buttered bagels and foods of their normally welcomed kind. Before long I was so overstuffed that I needed to stretch out on the couch, eventually wrapping myself around a coffee table book that caught my interest from among the dozens available. From it I learned that humans have about one million neural fibers in their optic nerves, while pigeons have 2.1 million fibers and goldfish have a mere 50,000.
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