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Monday, September 05, 2011

A Board Grows in Queens

The last time I was in Jackson Heights Queens was when I visited my grandmother on 89th Street. I think Kennedy was president. I'm going back 50 years later to visit Nori, a sometimes student and always friend, and to notify the Eat Club restaurant of our impending invasion.

Eat Club is a roving group of NYC gluttons. We go to a different restaurant every month in alphabetical order by cuisine. A-Afghanistan, B-Belgian, etc. This month, for the fifth time around, we're doing C. Yelp recommends Pequeña Columbia in Jackson Heights.

It's long been my fantasy (one of many) to take a train to anywhere in Queens and just walk around. It's the most ethnically diverse place in America, with 138 languages spoken. (That's even more than I can toast a beer in!) Walk a block and visit another country. I should be able to pick up some cheap toilet paper. Can I beat the $4.50 for a 12-pack price in Chinatown Manhattan?

OK, I'm off the subway at 75th Street and Broadway. In the middle of Jackson Heights.


The first thing I see is a Chinese Restaurant, next to a Korean Restaurant.
A short walk away, is a grocery store. While I'm waiting for Nori I can browse. Outside is a fruitstand. Looks nice, but too heavy to walk around with. Still. I miss my adventurous chance when I don't buy one of these What the hell are they?

But I don't. Inside the store, I look for the few things I need besides toilet paper. An egg slicer-- not aluminum (causes Alzheimer’s), not plastic (causes cancer). It's also gotta be strong enough for my needs. I don't slice eggs. I use it for cheese and garlic. The store has none of these things, but it does have a ton of spices and some pretty scary stuff:

Registered trademark? Whose registered trademark?

I load up my goods and then do a brief check of the Albanian wallet in my pocket. Whoops. Running on empty. Leaving everything in the cart, I take off, looking for the ugliest yet ubiquitest sign in New York City.

On the way to meet Nori, the area changes from East to South Asian. People in the street dress more exotically that the boring assimilationists from the East Orient (a pleonasm?). 

I'm supposed to meet Nori at 74th and 37th., streets that do not cross in my Manhattan enclave. He said 7 minutes and the Japanese are pretty punctual. Here I am, but no Nori. The area looks Indian, I see a sign in what I guess is Hindi. 

My phone vibrates. It's a text message ARE YOU LOST?

I thumb back. NO, I'M AT 37TH AND 74TH LIKE YOU SAID.

The reply comes. 37TH STREET AND 74TH AVENUE?

I check the sign. 37TH ROAD. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?


In a few minutes, Nori shows up, laughing.

“You're the New Yorker,” he says shaking his head. “I come from Japan and I have to tell you there's a difference between 37th Street and 37th Road?”

“I've spent more time in Mongolia than in Queens,” I tell him. “Let's go eat.”

We walk into an Indian fast food place. A glass counter with a nice choice of food, an aluminum (uh oh) pitcher of water on every table, and a row of microwave ovens to cook the food just like they did back home in Calcutta. I order a Kahta Roti (something I've never heard of before). Nori has something with a lot of Okra and Chili in it. The food is good, not spectacular. B+ on a scale of one to ten.

“It's not bad,” I tell Nori. “Not the best I ever had, but not bad.”

I should not have criticized it at all. It turns out to be much thinner skinned than it's roti exterior shows. By 9 PM tonight, it'll be reaping it's revenge... in spades! 

Back to the restaurant: It's a great mix of ethnicities, ages, races. Nori thinks the girls in the corner are Mongolian. To me they're not beautiful enough. The high point is the Indian guy wearing a soccer shirt with OSAKA emblazoned on the back. If you look closely, under the number 68 you'll see some more writing-- in CHINESE!

An Indian wearing an Osaka shirt with Chinese writing. Probably the shirt was made in Sri Lanka where they don't know Chinese from Japanese. Multi-ethnic, yeah!

After lunch we walk around Jackson Heights. Leaving India/Pakistan we go to Nepal and Tibet.

Then to Afghanistan:

Before leaving Asia, we again hit India, but, don't forget Polynesia! How about... Hawaii?
(Check out the DIVERSITY CENTER ad above the stores.)
Or how about a Japanese restaurant... next to a Polish meat market!! Happy Kitchen indeed. 

Here's a close-up of the Polish meatshop.
You thought we forgot Thailand? Come on, what were you thinking?

Not only does this place serve Thai Food, it serves ORIENTAL Thai Food. Much better, I'm sure!

Then we left Asia for South America. Where the posters and the ads were: 

In a few blocks they become:

First stop Argentina:
Then Equador:
You want some California with your Ecuadorian?
Need something to read during those long bathroom trips necessitated by Gandhi’s revenge? Take your choice of reading material. 
Walking down the street toward the subway, we see a long-time local-- maybe even born here. He's a rare bird in these parts. (46% of Queens residents are foreign-born. And foreign does NOT mean in another borough.) AND this guy's an artist. He works with his wife creating amazing, psychedelic art from nails and thread. If I had $30 to spare I wudda bought something. 
And with 9/11 TEN YEARS creeping up on us, an inevitable memory:
Last stop LONDON. Where? Can you get more gringo than LONDON? I donno, but I guess it counts as an ethnic group.

And in case you can't see, here's a close-up of the mannequins in the window. The proportions are a bit different from other London girls I've met. But maybe this is a special for Queens.

That's the trip! Said good-bye to my friend and tour guide Nori, got back on the train, went to the Peking Duck House for dinner, and the rest of the story has been flushed. I'd better hurry and get that toilet paper. Next stop: CHINATOWN MANHATTAN.


Note: I still have to blog my recent trip to Arizona and Mexico. I WILL get to it, but it may take awhile.