My friend Steven and I grew up on food and travel shows. On his couch we recently viewed the PBS documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like. When I was twelve and watching this show with my mother, I was the little girl who dreamed to see the world, but mainly the United States. My mother, however, has always wanted to go to Europe. Back then, and again with Steven, I wanted to eat the sandwiches we saw in the documentary—the lobster roll in Maine, the barbeque in Texas, the Elvis, and Pastrami sandwiches in New York.
Then I realized that I wasn’t the little girl anymore who was forbidden to cross the street alone. I was older. I could make my own choices. I told Steven we could go to two of the places on the program. He had already gone to Katz and wanted to go again. Steven was also up for any sandwich that had bacon on it, which the Elvis in Peanut Butter & Co. does.
“Just looking in from the outside, I felt younger.”
Two weeks later, having saved up enough money, we went. The summer day was warm, with slightly chilly winds. We followed the directions I wrote on an old yellowed piece of loose leaf paper to Peanut Butter & Co. The shop was not hard to miss with the blue and white striped awning. Steven went in the shop so easily. He was not drifting into the past like I was—seeing the old 50s Wonder Bread ads, the girls spreading peanut butter or jam on slices of bread. I wasn’t born in the 50s, nor was my mother. I was, however, raised with TV shows from before my time like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy. The commercials that came with those shows were old fashioned.
I walked in, feeling shorter and younger than I had been outside, and ordered the Elvis, a peanut butter sandwich with bananas, honey, and bacon, served on their famous extra-large slices of bread with the crust still on. An elderly couple sat by the window, eating, not minding the sun hitting them. Steven and I ate our sandwiches away from the glaring sun-rays, and we barely talked. I preferred the silence actually. It gave me time to reflect on the simple dream I had accomplished.
Then I felt ashamed. It had taken me eight years to go to Peanut Butter & Co. I had been missing out on the Elvis with bacon for nearly a decade. Because I was so focused on wanting to try all the sandwiches I’d heard about in other parts of the United States, I had failed to see the ones close to me.
“Dreams can be accomplished with the smallest step.”
I bit into the Elvis with a child’s innocence and anger. The peanut butter was wonderfully sticking to the roof of my mouth. The honey dripped on my fingers and down to the plate. The bacon was crispy and perfectly fattening. I took a break from eating and saw a 1963 Norman Rockwell Skippy advertisement on the wall and felt like I was enjoying what America tastes like—peanut butter, white bread, crust, bananas, honey, and bacon. My mom had made me peanut butter sandwiches for my school trips and for our outings to Coney Island beach. But this sandwich was a grownup’s sandwich. I started to feel my age again.
I knew what I could and couldn’t do. I learned what others had learned much more quickly. Dreams can be accomplished with the smallest steps or with a train ride.
After we ate, we walked around a bit to make space for the pastrami sandwich awaiting us about a mile away.
“I told Steven I was going to see the world,
and New York was part of it.”
I was a tourist in my own city and needed to get to know my own yard more. I was off to a great start. Steven and I were going to another tourist attraction.
Then we were at Katz to get our second sandwich of the day, not even having waited long enough to digest what we had eaten before. Steven and I took our tickets from the man inside and headed to the sandwich counter to place our orders. Together we watched the carver cut the meat into thick slices. He offered a piece of pastrami to us, and I relished eating it for real instead of just inside my imagination.
“I’ve eaten pastrami before,
but no place was like Katz.”
I thanked the man and watched him perform his delicate task of stacking the pastrami slices between the slices of rye. I had accomplished one dream just a little while ago, and even though I was still happily stomaching it, another great sandwich was coming my way.
We sat a couple of tables away from the famous seat where Meg Ryan had her fake orgasm in the movie When Harry Met Sally. The sign on the ceiling, moving with the wind from the door opening and closing, pointed at the place. A family occupied the seats, and I was okay with that. The reality of what Katz is and tastes like is better than sitting at a celebrities’ table.
The counters were completely crowded with people. Old ladies and old men had to fight their way to be heard over the other customers and to give their carnival-looking tickets to the carver. He wrote down their order and gave the ticket back. Not everybody was fortunate to get a piece of pastrami to taste.
Pictures of celebrities were wallpapered to the deli. Some United States Presidents had eaten there. The sign that encouraged buying salami for the troops gave me a World War II feel. I imagined rations and women working the jobs men left behind.
I was eating at my first Jewish deli, attacking my juicy, greasy, pastrami sandwich, slathered with brown mustard, held all together on rye bread. I was seeing and tasting the world’s food within my city and an hour away from my house. I would only finish one half the sandwich and have the other half wrapped to go.
I originally wanted to go to Katz with my mother, but we had different ideas about traveling. She wants to save up to see Europe. I want to see America and then Europe.
I decided I would travel on my own more. The times of watching travel and food shows continue, and gradually I’ll be able to say I’ve been to those places.
“I’ve changed my I want to I have.”
I’ve traveled around NYC more since making that decision. Steven’s collection of food and travel shows help point me to the local places I can check out. I have to order more sandwiches from Katz. I have to go to Coney Island to enjoy the cotton candy and mango on a stick again. I have a lot of places to see. This little girl has grown up and has a world to explore. And I’m proud to call myself a New York Tourist.
About the Author,
Elizabeth YanesElizabeth Yanes is a writer, nature lover, photographer, and possible adventure seeker. She wanders around New York on footfor hours to see the changing city. Currently she is writing a mystery novel set in present day New York and takes pictures of city life in her free time. Elizabeth wants to document the times through pictures and writing, while she works to create positive change in the present.