Day 1: My 80 day journey has begun
This extremely beautiful stretch of asphalt is the pier at Red Hook, Brooklyn. Actually, it's the parking lot. I tried to get to the pier, but the security guard would hear nothing of it, for reasons that remain unclear. If all goes according to plan, I will be stepping onto said pier exactly 80 days from now. Soon after that, I will reach the parking lot. But I have many miles to go before any of that happens.
Today I start the first leg of my journey around the world. My objective: Los Angeles. I must be there by Sunday, when I am scheduled to voyage across the planet's largest ocean on a big, beautiful ship. All that lies between myself and the pier at Long Beach is 2500 miles, the Rocky Mountains, and a whole lot of highway. If it snows, I got problems.
To get in the spirit, I decided to eat a farewell meal at one of the same spots Kerouac eats in before he sets off on his travels. On page 7, Kerouac downs a meal of franks and beans at a 7th Avenue Rikers, a restaurant that doesn't register so much as a single entry on Google. Earlier in the book, his friend Dean eats at Hector's Cafeteria--also gone, though not entirely forgotten.
I ate at the cafe at the Edison Hotel instead, a grand old diner and one of the few non-franchise establishments near Times Square. The menu featured a long list of chilled fruit juices, which is something you hardly see anymore, along with old-school sandwiches like chopped liver or liverwurst, both of which I think are delicious and neither of which is served at Bennigan's or TGI Friday's.
I had the daily special: matzo ball soup followed by beef brisket over potato pancakes. The soup was good and the brisket was more like generic roast beef in gravy heaped over two crispy and extremely comforting potato pancakes. At the far end of the plate was a mound of green beans cut into one-inch lengths and boiled into submission. This, I thought, is how they served beans in 1947.
It wasn't a great meal, but it was an honest meal, which is something that's getting harder and harder to find. I can't help but wonder how much of Kerouac's America still exists today. He writes about a "rawhide old-timer" from Nebraska with the greatest laugh in the world, "handsome bumpkins" in overalls, and "sunny smiles and large white corn-fed teeth." He eats his way across the continent in diners, downing plates of pie and not much else. Do these people still exist? Are there still diners that serve pie? Or will I be stuck in sitting booths in Applebee's, Bob Evan's and Denny's and reading menus that were focused-grouped back at head office.
It has begun.