Street Food Date

—Saturday, June 9, 2012—

Sometimes a great date just appears out of thin air and wants to eat greasy food with you.

Pepper had sent me a message on Facebook at the very end of May, and about a week and a half later, she was driving down from Central Massachusetts to go on a date with me. This project was so crazy sometimes.

As it turned out, she was living in Worcester, Massachusetts and working with a high school friend of mine, which was how she’d gotten turned onto the project. She had read a bunch of the site and decided to send me a message.

Hi Evan,

My name is [Pepper], I’m a friend of Jen [Surname]’s – a girl you went to high school with. OHD is inspiring  – a very courageous adventure that I’d love to be a part of. I’m a fun-loving, sarcastic, adventurous person.  I’m a biomedical engineer, I love waterskiing, and trying new foods is pretty much my favorite (not sure if these things are up for debate–but I’d be down for that street food date :).  

Let me know if you’re interested!

After a couple messages, she also friended me on FB, so I was able to check her photos out and, um, she was super good looking. When I think about little 15 year old Evan having so much trouble getting any girl to like him and how at 26, attractive co-eds were driving three hours just to be near me, my mind wants to explode.

IMG_2049I was expecting Pepper around 1 p.m. but when her 11 a.m. text said that she would be there in an hour, I decided that I needed to get out of bed and pull my life together.

By the time Pepper told me that she was close, I had showered, shaved, peed, cleaned my entire room, dropped off laundry, put away other laundry and done some schedule organizing. I was impressed with myself. All I needed was a deadline.

I told her I would run outside to help her park and all that. I walked past roommate Pat and said that I’d be right back. He knew a date was coming over, so I don’t think he was shocked. I received a text on my way out the door, saying that Pepper was at the corner of Crescent and 24th Avenue. She was right nearby. I walked down the block and spotted her across the intersection. She didn’t see me until I had crossed 24th Avenue and was standing across Crescent from her.

Pepper waved, smiled and, once there were no cars, she crossed the street towards me. She was wearing a cute little black and white dress with small birds on it. I liked it and thought of Portlandia simultaneously. I asked her if she needed water, to use the bathroom or anything else, but she said no.

As such, we didn’t need to go back to my apartment for any reason. I patted my pockets to make sure that I had everything I might need and confirmed that I was good to go. I texted Pat to tell him that I would not be right back and Pepper and I went on our way.

She told me that when she got out of her car, she wasn’t been sure which way to walk. NYC was confusing, I agreed, when you weren’t used to it. Even New Yorkers in new neighborhoods could be easily confused. After all, Manhattan’s avenue numbers counted up going east to west while Queens’ streets increased west to east. Plus, its avenues were reversed, increasing north to south, opposite Manhattan’s south to north climb of street numbers. It could all be a bit tricky to get the hang of it.

We talked about Pepper’s journey down to NYC from Massachusetts that day. She told me that she had eaten breakfast with her mom in Westfield, so I asked if that was where she had been raised. I knew she lived near Worcester, but had no real clue where she was from originally. Well, she wasn’t from Westfield, MA, but her uncles lived there and her mom was visiting them.

As it turned out, Pepper was from Maine. My interest was piqued since my brother’s girlfriend (now fiancé), Erin, was also from Maine, and though it was the largest of New England states, I wondered if they might be from proximal towns. I didn’t know where though, so I texted Colin (The brohans) to find out. I went on to tell Pepper about Westfield River Brewing Company — at the time, a brand new brewery in Westfield that my brother had invested in at the onset. He and some friends had put money towards opening a brewery and it was just getting on its feet that summer. My brother was the connecting point between where Pepper had come from that morning and where she was raised, so that was pretty sweet.

At the subway station, I quickly got my hands on a $10 Metrocard for Pepper and gave it to her to use for the afternoon. I went through the turnstiles first and, after two failed swipes on Pepper’s part, I reached back and swiped it for her. Another minor city skill to acquire and not a problem in the least. We were good to go.

Up on the blustery train platform, one of the first things Pepper said was that her skirt not good for wind. Indeed, she had to stay attentive to keep it from flailing about. Unsurprisingly, I was okay with this. Men are just dogs, aren’t we?

As we stood on the N/Q platform, and while on the train, I gave Pepper an overview of NYC, pointing here and there to indicate where the different boroughs were, as well as the neighborhoods of Queens we’d be passing through. She had only been to NYC two or three times and didn’t understand the layout too well, which totally made sense. I felt like a pompous professor, like I was flexing my city muscles, but I think she was okay with it.

Not too long into our journey, my brother texted me back and we figured out that his girlfriend Erin’s parents were only about an hour south of where Pepper had grown up. In the context of Maine, this wasn’t actually too far away.

We had to make a transfer at Queensboro Plaza to catch the 7 train out towards Flushing, but it was one of the easier transfers in New York and it didn’t hold us up very much. The rest of the ride out to Jackson Heights wasn’t very long and we even passed by a stop that shared a name with Pepper’s family name, so that was fun. 

Though I had originally planned on getting off at 90th Street and walking back west along Roosevelt Avenue, we discovered that the train would be running express after 74th Street, skipping 90th, so we jumped off at 74th, which was just fine too.

Now, astute OHD archivists will note that I had already brought a date to Jackson Heights to sample street food on Random Person Date. Though I didn’t necessarily want to repeat a date location, I didn’t necessarily know of another area to go on a weekend day where I could be assured of having a number of street food options beyond hot dogs, halal and pretzels. Thus, I returned with a date to Jackson Heights, but I had a feeling from the onset that it would be quite a different date.

For starters, Pepper was an entirely different person than Fiona. Their personalities, lifestyles, aesthetics and upbringing were all considerably divergent. Plus, this trip to Jackson Heights was taking place during a warm June day rather than a chilly November evening; we were starting our date there rather than making it a pit stop; and we hardly knew anything about each other prior to showing up for the date.

So there. Have I justified why it was okay to repeat this general location? I sure hope so.

Since neither of us were particularly hungry when we arrived in Jackson Heights, we agreed to walk around the neighborhood and check out the offerings before digging into anything. 

We first made a big loop around the (mostly) Indian section, which presumably contained some Bangladeshi and Pakistani joints as well, but neither of us were well versed enough in the languages or cultures of South Asia to confirm that suspicion.

I don’t remember if she asked about it or if I was once again turning into Professor Barden, but I explained long-form improv to Pepper for a while as we walked east along Roosevelt Avenue. Not only did I try to explain the art form itself, but also how I ended up getting involved with it and a bit about the NYC improv scene as well. We passed by places where we could eat, but we were really just walking and talking for a while.

Mid-way through our tour de Roosevelt, as we turned around to head back west, it began to drizzle. I mentioned to her that the weather report had called for a 30% chance of rain, which I joked meant that we’d only be getting 30% of the available rain. She laughed and told me that she didn’t think that was what the rain percentage meant. I was happy to get a laugh, but disappointed with myself because I had left my umbrella at a bar earlier that week while trying to get a Bartender Date. Pepper had given hers (Back) to our mutual friend, Jen, so she didn’t have one either. It was okay though — the rain was light and the weather still warm.

Apparently, our friend Jen had been reading the site and had wanted Pepper to go out with me, egging her on to contact me. That was one of the main reasons she had sent me that message. It was cool that Pepper was so willing to embrace Jen’s somewhat crazy idea and actually follow through with it.

After we turned around at 90th Street, and by the time the rain had passed, we decided it would be a good time to get some food. Pepper was hungry and I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before because I had skipped dinner in order to go out and try to get a Bartender Date. I explained the whole thing to her, that I’d met up with a co-worker at a bar, hung around for hours until the bartender agreed to go out with me and that I was relieved to have finally found a bartender to go out with me. Pepper was interested in the project, so I didn’t feel odd talking about it, though I generally tried not to speak about other women so directly while on dates.

The first place we stopped at was a Mexican food cart. We ordered a tamale, which was two dollars and absolutely delicious. Pepper had never had one before and we both agreed that it was great. She held it in her hand and we stood on the street eating. She gave me the last bite, which was always pretty cute. Also, I wanted it because I loved delicious foods.

We walked a bit further and as we were talking about travel, she told me that Ecuador was one of the places she had visited in her travels. It was fortuitous then that we came upon a Ecuadorian food cart. We reviewed all of our options and were largely ignored by the woman running the cart for a few minutes.

Eventually, she took note of us and I ordered a llapingacho (Friend mashed potato disc with cheese inside), some fritada (Fried pork) and a side of mote (Hominy). I held onto the container this time and we dug in. We didn’t know what the fritada was when we ordered it, chicken or pork, but after a few bites, we knew it was pork. It was really tasty — salty and savory. Pepper could barely use the flimsy plastic fork on the tougher pieces of meat, so she asked if she could use her hands. Yeah, this is street food! Get after it. I was not expecting glamour.

The mote was all right, as I had remembered it from Random Person Date and the llapingacho was awesome, which I had also had on that previous date. I had to order it again because I knew it was so tasty. Not sure why I gave the mote another shot. Maybe I just wanted it to be better.

After we’d had our fill, we threw our trash away and wiped off our hands as best we could. I also helped a little boy get his gum into the garbage can. He couldn’t quite reach.

Walking further west and past where we had initially gotten off of the train, we began talking about our families. Pepper’s dad was a serious libertarian and lived on a blueberry farm with tons of supplies in case the world were to come to an end. She thought he was a borderline hoarder, but he insisted that he was simply well prepared. I told her about my father, growing up in a sparsely populated part of Vermont and being an NRA “life member,” and said that I thought our dads would get along quite well.

We turned and walked up 69th Street, which I wish was a euphemism for something cooler, and ended up at Hart Park, a smallish playground, basketball court and generally concrete park. We found a bench to sit on and watched the activity around us. It was a busy Saturday at the park with children running around everywhere — playing in the fountain, chasing each other, riding bikes — and teens and adults hustling up and down the basketball court or watching their little ones. There were people picnicking and others simply sitting out in the sun.

By this time, we were talking about our brothers and Pepper told me that her little brother was in high school and turning into a really great basketball player. It reminded me of my brother who had been a standout on the baseball diamond. Seeing all the out of shape, relatively short men out on the court made me really want to play some basketball as I hadn’t done so in quite some time and I thought I actually had a shot of competing with them.

Pepper commented several times on how cute all the little kids were, running all over the park. Indeed, they were all very happy, silly and fairly adorable. Even my cold, stoic heart could recognize that.

Even though we’d been talking for a few hours at that point, I still didn’t know exactly what her company did. I wanted to know what kind of stuff they worked on and if she liked the work. She told me about testing for a glucose meter that could read glucose levels from the ear rather than relying on a blood sample. I thought it was a really interesting and very useful product for diabetics and she said that she enjoyed working on a project such as that because it was so obviously beneficial to so many people. As far as being involved in biomedical clinical research went, the things Pepper worked on sounded pretty cool.

After sitting in the park for a little while, we decided to walk back towards the train via Broadway and maybe hit up one more food cart. There was a Tibetan dumpling cart right by the subway station which seemed like a decent enough idea and was also the only cart we saw that wasn’t either South Asian, Latin American or halal. It turned out to be a great move. The dumplings were cheap, plentiful and totally delicious.

With our appetites once again satiated, we caught the 7 train back towards Western Queens and Manhattan. I asked if she wanted to grab a drink back in the neighborhood, or maybe in Long Island City, since we’d be passing through there and I was up for trying something outside of Astoria. It was relatively early, the sun was still very much out, and she agreed that a drink might be nice. Being that I knew only a couple of LIC’s drinking options, I went to my most trusted source for date spots: Yelp!

I searched for bars within walking distance of Queensboro Plaza and the clear standout was Dutch Kills. It was described as a cocktail bar with a speakeasy feel, which sounded right up my alley. It was an easy decision.

On the ride towards LIC, Pepper told me that she thought the project took a lot of bravery. I thanked her and tried to clarify that rather than bravery, it was more about a willingness to do weird things. Very little of it was scary or dangerous to my life, merely a little unusual and I could live with being a little unusual. She wouldn’t let me explain away my bravery and I appreciated her insistence that I was in someway a brave human.

We got to the bar, a short walk from Queensboro Plaza, only a few minutes after its 5 p.m. opening time, so we were the only people in there for a little while. We walked up to the bar in the back, which was illuminated by a skylight above, and talked with the bartender, who was still setting up for the evening ahead.

He gave us drink menus and also asked us what we liked, making recommendations along the way. In the meantime, we were served little metal cups of water with cucumber in them, which was a really nice touch. We both ordered some drinks off of the menu and he told us we could grab a booth in the front area if we wanted, and the server, who had greeted us on the way in, would bring our drinks to us.

Pepper and I sat down and immediately began talking about how cool the bar was. It had a total speakeasy vibe, the staff was very cool, yet approachable, and the big leather booth we were situated in was both elegant and comfortable. I told her that I’d been to a couple other cocktail places around the city, but Dutch Kills was already in the running to be my favorite.

The server brought over our drinks and the night seemingly began to speed up. Either that, or my memory is shit. I don’t really remember much of what we talked about but I do remember feeling more and more flirtatious.

As we drank our first round, which were really nice drinks, some other patrons trickled in. I got up to use the bathroom between rounds, but thought the door was locked. I waited for several minutes with no luck, looking like an idiot in front of Pepper, and eventually gave up.

We ordered a second round, this time from the server, and I asked him if they could make me a margarita with a couple blackberries thrown in, as I’d seen them at the bar among the bartender’s garnishes. I’d had a blackberry margarita at Fig.19 a week earlier on Foreigner Date. I didn’t know how to explain it to him, but the blackberry had been mixed in (Muddled is the term, I believe), so I just told him to add a couple blackberries. To my delight, the drink that was returned to me was exactly what I wanted, muddled blackberries and all. I was impressed. The bartender seemed to know precisely what I had in mind.

A few minutes later, I tried the bathroom again and found that I simply hadn’t pulled on the door hard enough. It had been unlocked the entire time. When I sat back down at the table, I chose to sit on the same side of the booth as Pepper. Slick move, Evan!

I was getting more and more brave about flirting with this gorgeous woman with each sip of my drink. She had been so damn attractive all say long and I was finding it harder to control those highly flirtatious feelings. I knew she would only be down for one night. I knew that we’d be going back near my apartment. And I hoped that maybe she’d want to take a chance on me. (Yes, in a physical sense.)

However, Pepper wasn’t really flirting with me physically. I didn’t push my luck and stayed respectful the whole time, or at least I’m pretty sure I did.

Two drinks after entering Dutch Kills, it had begun to fill up and we made our exit. It was shocking to find it dark outside, since we had entered in the daylight and where we’d been sitting had not had any windows. The transition to evening had passed us by without us knowing it.

We took the train back to my stop and I walked Pepper to her car. I knew, deep down, that she wouldn’t have been offended if I tried to kiss her, and though I really wanted to, I balked. She wasn’t being super obvious about wanting it, so even if she wouldn’t have been offended, I still don’t think she was really looking for for a kiss either.

We hugged each other goodbye and she left NYC to spend the night with a good friend who lived in Hoboken, NJ.

Just as she had appeared from out of nowhere, Pepper vanished into the night.