ironic and nostalgic
Thursday, October 28 2010
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, NY
We'd be leaving for Washington DC today, but first Gretchen had to first spend the early afternoon down at the prison. Meanwhile I spent most of that time cleaning the house so it wouldn't be completely disgusting for our housesitter, Sarah the Vegan. In terms of grossness, it's easy for it to gradually accumulate unnoticed to a level that would be unappetizing were it to appear all of a sudden one day (the way housesitters encounter it). The inside of the microwave oven always needs a good scrub down, as do the horizontal surfaces inside the refrigerator. Then there are the carpets, which are typically strewn with sawdust, cat litter crumbs, dried puke, and other things.
Because the weekend was predicted to be a chillyone, I started up the boiler (though not for the season). I also loaded the wood stove so Sarah wouldn't have to wonder how to start it.
We took our non-NJ-Turnpike route south, the one that passes through Princeton and uses US 206. Gretchen had prepared detailed directions for how to get to an Olive Garden, where she wanted us to stop for dinner. We'd tried finding an Olive Garden in this area on an earlier drive down I-295, but had ended up lost in the Jersey-barriered rat maze and had had to settle on a Burger King instead (resulting in a classic incidence of roadside explosive diarrhea). The Olive Garden was in an impersonal mall outside Princeton. I'd never been in an Olive Garden before, and was going just because Gretchen wanted to show me what it was all about. Her motivations seemed to be equal parts irony and nostalgia.
The decor in an Olive Garden seems to be your typical late-1980s-style American simulacrum of aged European charm, creating a cozy illusion that dissolves the moment you glance up to see the dropped ceilings. There were a lot of other customers there, though nobody else seemed to be there for semi-ironic reasons. They were mostly working-class and middle-aged, sometimes with complete families. They were ordering bottles of wine as if they were in a real Italian restaurant, though obviously they were getting something from the Olive Garden that an authentic Italian restaurant (which New Jersey must be full of) cannot provide. Gretchen's chief selling point was "endless breadsticks, soup, and salad!" As for entrées, there was only one vegan option available: spaghetti with marinara sauce. So that was what we both ordered, though I spiced mine up and made it something of a fra diavolo using surprisingly-hot pickled peppers that had come with Gretchen's salad. I'd ordered the minestrone soup, and it was absolutely delicious. Our meal proved surprisingly good, and cheap. And, since I'd done all my driving duties for the trip, I drank two Stella Artois beers (the best beers on the Olive Garden menu; they obviously haven't woken up yet to the ongoing IPA revolution).
At Gretchen's parents' house, I immediately began the process of fixing my father-in-law's computer, which had been acting like one of its hard drives was about to fail. I'd brought a replacement, along with a boot CD having a sector copying program. Gretchen's parents were actually gone, so we had the place entirely to ourselves. I raided the refrigerator and drank a very disappointing pomegranate-flavored Saranac.
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