I spent the last few days working in Philly. Center City, as we call it, is known for it’s historical edifi, it’sÂ public sculptures, The Art Museum, and the newÂ NationalÂ Constitution Center.Â But I love it for itÂ for the street food!
You’d expectÂ the “City of Neighborhoods” to have great restaurants, but the street vendors are amazing.Â In New York City you can get the famous “dirty water hot dog,” but in Philly you can get a meal.
Wednesday morning I got off the R2 Warminster at Suburban Station. I walked past the dozen or so shops in the station concourse, andÂ up to street level to visit Tom’s Lunch Cart. It was about 9AM and I hadn’t had breakfast. I waited patiently as a woman gave Tom strict orders on exactly how he was to prepare her, whatever it was. The gray haired Tom smiled and joked with her as he happily went about his work.
I’d only been there a few times, but Tom, and his wife, who was filling the beverage bin preparing for the lunch rush, both greeted me like an old friend. I ordered two eggs with scrapple and cheese on a roll with salt, pepper and hot sauce. My mouth watering as he efficiently prepared my food, I was shocked whenÂ my bill was only $2.75.
I paid him, said goodbye, and scurried across the street like a squirrel with an especially good acorn. I sat in the beautiful Love Park, and opened my “Heaven in a Bag.” Words just can’t describe the crispy, yet gooey scrappley yumminessÂ mixing gently withÂ egg and hot sauce on the world famous Amoroso Roll. A true culinary orgasm!
I went into an adjacent building, and did my work thing for half the day. At about 3PM I was walking back through the park thinking about lunch. Right there on 16th Street, between Market & JFK, there are several greatÂ food carts withÂ fantastic cheesesteaks, South Philly sausage, and evenÂ fruit salad if you’re feeling guilty.
Â I walked past them all to hit “The King of Falafel.” I don’t think he’s really a king, it’s the best falafel in Philly.
This time I got a falafel sandwich with baba ganouj. Insead of a pita they put it in a wrap-like thingy, much like the Jamiacan roti, some hot sauce; Woo Hoo, another great meal!
Check out the “Roach Coaches” next time you’re in Philly!
June 16, 2006
“You’re a lucky man Vinny!” Clive’s big voice boomed from the wrong side driver’s seat.
“No Man! You get to live here, you’re the lucky one my friend!” I replied in kind.
“Yes, OK, Yes, sometimes you right, but not all de time” he turned a bit serious. “You travel wit de beautiful girl, Vinny, that’s what I mean.” Dee was all smiles at Clive’s compliment.
“Yes, OK, Yes, sometimes you right, but not all de time!” I came right back in my best Clive impersonation, making him roar with laughter. Dee wasn’t amused.
We raced through Montego Bay. My memories of the place are always blurry. Some stores, a Pizza Hut and a KFC, brightly painted signs announcing, no, proclaiming the next big music act or dancehall event in town. And in what seemed like moments we were climbing the chalky road out of town, the high rise hotels against the azure sea looked like a travel magazine cover out the back windows.
My head stopped spinning long enough to crack open a couple frosty Red Stripes that Clive pulled from a stash somewhere in the cockpit of his spotless van. As I handed Dee her beer I watched her looking all around, taking in the sights with her brown eyes sparkling beneath her stylish sunglasses. Her blondish hair was blowing in the wind; her smile was the answer, wide and unapologetic.
Clive was right, I am a lucky man.
Our relationship? Well, we’re close friends, and years of tribulation have kept us close. She’s the one girl friend (girlfriend?) in my life that I can totally let loose around, completely chill the hell out and just be myself. For her, I’m the guy who doesn’t care what she looks like, to me she’s just Dee, and that’s all she needs to be.
That’s where it starts, beyond that we fight like reality show contestants. Usually with the best of intentions, and you know what they say about best intentions. We both think we know what’s best for the other based on our pre-conceptions, misunderstandings, divergent world views, and love.
The cold beer felt great on my throat, though it was not nearly my first of the day, Dee and I had a pretty strong buzz going, and it was still before 1PM.
“We’re headed to Negril BABY!! Woo Hoo!!” I shout out to Dee, Clive and the world in general, raising my hand in the international high-five request gesture.
“This is AWESOME!!” Dee slapped my hand, recognizing the gesture, and then did a sexy kind of seat dance trying her best to groove to Clive’s mellow “Roots” Reggae.
“Clive! Put on some REAL music!!” Dee shouted raising her beer to Clive in a drunken salute to party music.
“I don’t think he’s got any Ozzy”¦” I replied snootily, my Jamaican sensibilities bruised. I was annoyed she would disrespect the gods of reggae so blatantly in a Rastaman’s coach. She gave me the “what-eva” look, while Clive responded without missing a beat.
“De giarrrlll wants some gooooood music to jiggle to?” Clive feigned a jiggle, somehow retaining his coolness in the process, “Yeah Giaarrrllll I got the good stuff far ya!” Damn, Jamaican guys are smooth.
Dee replied by raising her hands over her head and, well, jiggling in response to Clive’s selection of a Beanie Man CD. Soon we were all grooving to the upbeat riddims.
“Where’s that jay?” Dee asked loudly as the traffic started moving.
“Don’t you worry daaahhhling, I’ve got that for you.” Clive responded, “Just let us get down the road a bit, I’ll roll a big one for ya! Do you like big ones sweetheart?” He gave me a “Vinny is a BIG man” wink.
Somewhere past Sandy Bay near Mosquito Cove Clive pulled his van over, and pulled a glass cigar tube from somewhere. Neither of us paid much attention, we were busy watching a Jamaican family frolic in the sea. The small turn off in the road became their makeshift beach. It was nice to watch, simple pleasures on Easter Sunday.Â Â Then we smelled that sweetness!
“MMMM, That smells great!” I said, while Dee nodded affirmatively, the sweet ganja aroma beginning to waft through the cabin.
“Only the best from Orange Hill for Vinny and his friend, Respect Mon.” Clive said seriously, working the “make Vinny sound like he’s got “˜people’ in Jamaica” angle.
“Respect” I responded solemnly, bumping his fist in the weird Jamaican/American male solidarity quazi-handshake.
I love how Jamaicans roll a spliff. I wish I could do it. They take the appropriate amount of ganja into the palm of their hand, and they break it up in a twisting motion while keeping it fairly coarse. Then they pull out a Rizla, though any paper will do. I’ve seen them roll with a piece of a paper bag and once even with a page of the Jamaica News Gleaner!
Next they put the ganja into the paper and roll it like a cone. Gravity helps to evening out the smoke. And when the cone is tight and full, they twist the top like a Hershey’s Kiss, and this all takes only a few seconds, truly amazing to watch.
Clive, ever the gentleman, passed the big spliff to Dee, but she gave it to me saying, “You light it. You should do the first one,” which I thought was sweet. I took the beautiful piece of rasta art and lit the very tip, let it burn for a second and hit that bad boy hard and deep. Unfortunately all I got was paper and I coughed like a freshman. I handed it to Dee with the obligatory, “Ere.”
She toked like a pro taking several big hits, her pretty face was ringed with ganja smoke as she handed it back to me. This time I was ready and took several deep cleansing tokes. The euphoria was instantaneous and simultaneous, and when I looked over to Dee her eyes had already began to swell up in ganjafied wonderfulness.
“OK, now we’re finally on Vacation!” I proclaimed wrapping my arm around Dee, pulling her close.
“Ya Mon, You deserve it Vinny” Clive stated rather seriously from the front, and as I turned back to Dee she was exhaling a huge cloud of purple tinted smoke.
“I’m having such a good time!” Dee’s smile was total, she seemed to glow. The sky and sparse landscape framed her through the big window. I took her picture, one that she will probably hate, but it captured the moment. We’d barely smoked a third of the spliff and were already fully involved.
The time flew by and in what felt like minutes we were driving through the town of Lucea and on around the southbound drop into Negril. We stopped at the roadside place with the big stairway behind it. We got a few snacks, more beer and enjoyed the view. On our last trip we had lunch here on the way back to the airport. It was our last hurrah, and now on this trip it was our first real mingling with locals and other tourists.
“Welcome to Negril,” the big sign shouts. Then “Welcome to Negril” again, then another one, and another. By the time you actually reach Westmoreland Parish you are fully welcomed.
I started playing tour guide as we ran past the beach properties, “That’s the new RIU, remember they were building it last time we were here. That’s Couples, it looks nice. Sandals is over there”¦” I’m sure I was being overbearing, bordering on obnoxious, but Dee put up with me.
We whipped past the beach properties, around the roundabout to West End Road. We made our way up the narrow road dodging pedestrians and taxis when all of the sudden there it was, Blue Cave Castle.
“That’s the place” I said pointing to the magnificent structure.
“Shut up! Really? That’s where we’re staying?” She was impressed.
“Only the best baby” I schmoozed. She never took her eyes off the place.
Clive beeped and the big gates opened. The entranceway was impressive, bright and clean. A good looking Jamaican man stood smiling to greet us as we climbed from the van.
“Good Afternoon, you are Vinny, correct? Welcome! I am Robert.” Robert greeted us formally, shaking my hand.
“Thank you Robert, this is my friend Dee.” I said as we drew closer.
“This is a beautiful place,” Dee said, spinning her head around trying to soak it all in.
“Thank you, thank you,” replied Robert. He and Clive unpacked our bags. “Let me show you to your room.”
We both went to pick up bags, but Robert would have none of it. He called to an older gentleman sitting under an awning to help. Fuzzy was tall and wiry fellow with a grey beard. I remembered him from my last trip, but couldn’t remember his name.
We had a great room, I think they call it Deluxe 1, but I’m not sure. It was situated at the front of the actual Castle, on the ground floor about twenty feet from the cliff face, the view was perfect. The porch had a thick wooden table and a small sitting area both enclosed by a stone portico. Beyond that there was a large area for sunbathing that seemed to be all ours, it was a great spot.
Inside the room was nice too, roomy and nicely furnished. The outside wall faced the ocean and had big windows with hurricane shutters letting in plenty of light, while the two-foot thick stone walls kept everything cool.
Robert dropped our bags and gave me the key. “Petrona will be by to settle up tomorrow, she’s off today.”
“Cool, great,” I left Dee to explore our place, and I went to settle up with Clive. I arranged for him to pick us up some quality Jamaican refreshment and deliver it later in the afternoon.
I returned to our room to see Dee leaning over the wall laughing and talking to someone, I walked up next to her to have a look. Down near the water’s edge was a completely naked muscular black man who covered up as soon as he saw me.
I waved. He waved back and made his way up the steps.
Dee was all giggles, “Did you see that?”
“I saw him but I didn’t see ‘THAT.’ I see you did, you’re blushing!” I teased.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m not a perv like you!” She said. Then she punched me.
Just then our new friend bolted into his room around the corner from ours. I waved again. She turned to see who I was waving to, but he was gone. “Nice to see you making friends so soon,” I said with one eyebrow raised. She punched me again.
We went into our room and unpacked a little, cranked up the fridge and got some music going. It was a hot day but the room was cool. We sat on our porch and finished the spliff Clive rolled for us.
“Why don’t you order up a bottle of champagne?” Dee asked.
“Champagne? We drink Red Stripe in Jamaica!” I said defiantly.
“I can’t drink beer all day.” Dee plainly stated.
“This is going to be a different kind of trip,” I thought, but didn’t say. I had such preconceived notions about a Negril trip, I really hadn’t thought of Dee’s impact. That was about to bite me in the ass!
-More to come
June 2, 2006