June 18, 2014

US excursion 2014: two sandwiches and the Twin Towers

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I had an early morning flight this morning, so I was always gonna take my breakfast at O’Hare. After going through TSA’s security screening – where they make everyone feel like a terrorist or criminal – I scanned the plans for Terminal 3 and figured the best place to grab a bite would be Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless. Having rejected numerous friends’ suggestions that I check out Rick Bayless’ restaurants serving Mexican fare while in town, I guess in the end I just have to have a little Mexican.

The thought that griddled sandwiches may be a little big for breakfast did cross my mind, but I still went for one. As it turned out the egg and chorizo torta was pretty tasty, and I even found myself pouring enough of the green chili sauce in the middle to get a little kick. Not bad.

After I arrived at the Mondrian Soho, I dropped my big suitcase with the bell boys and schlepped over to Katz’ Deli for the first of only three meals during my very short stay in town.

Believe it or not, despite having lived in Manhattan for a whole two years and even counting a number of trips back after moving to Hong Kong, somehow I had never made it to Katz’s. Well, I guess it was always too out of the way for me, and if I had wanted to get my deli fix, Carnegie Deli was only a block or two away from my apartment. And staying in hotels Midtown meant that even places like Zabar’s or Barney Greengrass were closer options. But this visit had to happen sooner or later, and after reading fellow blogger Scubagolfer’s post on Katz’s, I knew the time was now.

I dutifully lined up in front of one of the guys responsible for cutting the meat, and following Scubagolfer’s very helpful tip, slipped a couple of dollars into a cup in front of my guy before placing my order. I figured there was only gonna be upside from this move…

As is traditional, the guy cut test slices for me so that I could approve the thickness of the cured meats. I probably should have asked him to cut the corned beef in thicker slices the way I prefer, but figured he’s the expert on this.

Pastrami and corned beef on rye – I’m being a total copycat here, since this was exactly what Scubagolfer ordered. Instead of mixing the two up, I asked for the two types of meat to be segregated so I could better taste the difference.

Even though I didn’t ask for the fatty pastrami – the way I would often ask for fatty char siu (叉燒) – I found myself liking the pastrami more. Besides the charred edges providing that smoky flavor, it was clearly more tender and juicy.

The traditional style corned beef here was much drier and – surprise, surprise – even more salty than the pastrami.

My one complaint about the sandwich was the bread. For some reason, the slices of rye just kinda disintegrated in my hands… so it became nearly impossible for me to hold the sandwich together.

I also figured I’d get a drink that was impossible to find in Hong Kong – a chocolate egg cream. Quintessentially New York deli, but sooo rich.

Well, I was totally weak today. I thought that since the sandwiches here were smaller than the ones at Carnegie Deli, I’d have a chance to finish the whole thing. I was wrong. I guess ordering egg cream didn’t do me any good in that department, and since the cured meats were so salty, I finished my drink much quicker than anticipated. In the end I managed to stuff down a few bites more than half the sandwich… finishing the pastrami side and leaving most of the corned beef side. Oh well…

With my belly full, I took the subway downtown and headed for my one and only sightseeing destination on this trip.

As I’ve been away from New York City for more than 6 years, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Fortunately for me, the Museum has just opened recently, so it would be the perfect opportunity to visit both.

I had already moved to Hong Kong when the 9/11 attacks happened. I was particularly tired that day, and had passed out on my couch after having dinner. A phone call from Diplomatic Uncle woke up from my slumber, and I was told to turn on the TV to watch the live coverage of what was unfolding. I was stunned and horrified.

The next morning I showed up at work at the offices of Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong. Markets were in free fall globally, and we waited while management updated us on what was happening with our New York headquarters – as they evacuated from the World Financial Center directly opposite the World Trade Center to the various business contingency sites and resumed trading. For the next few months Lehman bankers operated out of numerous hotel rooms at the two Sheraton Hotels in Midtown Manhattan.

Not long after the event, word came that a former colleague from my first job was lost in the attack. He had been at Windows on the World in Tower 1 when it happened. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I arrived at the North Pool and came face to face with the sea of names engraved into the rim, I realized that they were not in alphabetical order. I had wanted to seek out the name of the one person who had some connection to me, but I felt lost. How many names would I have to go through while circling the pool before I would find it?

I abandoned the task temporarily and focused on snapping a few pictures of the North Pool, from various angles. After getting a few shots I wanted, I paused momentarily and my eyes focused on the section of the rim in front of me. There it was, the name I had been looking for. By coincidence, or perhaps there was some mysterious force at work which naturally drew me to it, I came upon it without making any effort at all. David M. Berray. The one name among thousands that meant something to me. Instinctively I reached out my hand to touch the engraved letters, wanting to make that personal connection. Tears welled up in my eyes instantly.

I bought a ticket and entered the Museum. This was such an incredible exhibition. One can find out just about every important or minute detail on the events that took place that day – and the stories that followed. From parts and remnants of the Twin Towers, to fire trucks damaged during the rescue, and all sorts of artifacts from the towers and/or their occupants. At one point I came across a collection of 3 ½” floppy disks, and realized that I hadn’t seen one of those in years…

Part of the exhibit allowed visitors to write their personal messages on a group of touch panels, and visitors can indicate the city they are visiting from. The handwritten messages are then superimposed on a projected world map near the visitor’s home city, the letters/words appearing slowly as if they were being handwritten in real time. The multi-lingual display is particularly interesting. I made sure to leave my own message in the system.

Finally, I went to the exhibit named In Memoriam, where one can look up information on every single person who perished in the attack. I found my friend David in the system and called up his details, then proceeded to project them onto the walls of the “inner chamber”. The walls of the exhibit were lined with photographs of most of those we lost, and I found David, there, too… smiling as always.

I picked up a couple of souvenirs on my way out to support the museum, and left with a heavy heart. It was a long, long time ago that we last saw you, David, but we remember still… and you’re not forgotten.

1 comment:

Derek said...

The chocolate egg cream sounds amazing. Will have to try this if I ever make it to NY


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