Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sopranos Fantasy Camp

Life in the shadow of NYC is a bit like living in a Sopranos Fantasy Camp.

A decent chunk of my work day is spent in my car, zipping back and forth between different appointments in NY and NJ. When you leave Manhattan and drive into Central Jersey, you actually follow the exact path Tony takes in The Sopranos opening montage...which is kinda cool if you watch the show. The Statute of Liberty to your left, an oil refinery to your right...I mean it's routine.

I've also discovered a little authentic Italian Deli that I hit up about twice a week. One could picture Tony and Christopher dropping by regularly to chew the fat with the boys behind the counter - and pick up a canoli for the road. Napoli's, as it's called, is straight out of every Italian stereotype you've ever seen. Behind the counters are about 5 Italian guys bustling back and forth, putting together custom orders from the steady stream of customers. Every time I've been in there, there's at minimum of 5 or 6 people in line - ordering everything you can imagine coming out of an Italian eatery. Thursday, some 60 year old lady in front of me ordered a pound of sliced Genoa Salami, and a half pound of sliced Prosciutto (so cliche I can hardly stand it). Another guy was picking up antipasta for a party, and got all these stuffed olives, artichoke hearts, and other Italian things that I can't pronounce.

Also, every time I've been in Napoli's, one of the following stereotypes has also been there:

  • A fireman or cop. Always huge, and with thick New York/Italian accents.

  • Some sort of sketchy looking dude, slightly overweight - probably collecting on a sports bet from one of the guys behind the counter.

  • An old lady from the neighborhood. Probably been coming here for 30 years.

  • And then there's a tie...probably looking terribly out of place.

Nonetheless, this place is top notch. Typically I stop in for lunch and get one of their hot sandwiches - like chicken cutlet with salami and prosciutto. Crazy good. But they've got a great Butcher area too - and I've gotten some sausages and veal cutlets to take home. (Maybe too much food network for me?)

I also find the accent of Jersey women particularly amusing. To them, my name is pronounced 'Maak' rather than Mark. A typical comment might be, "Maak, oh my gawd. Was in cold up there in Michigan?" [It's been said that people outside of Manhattan don't really know the rest of the world exists - and it's true, because they really don't know (or don't comprehend) the difference between Minnesota and Michigan. It's all the same to them.]

I haven't stumbled across any real Mafioso types yet - and truthfully, out here you're just as likely to meet an Investment Banker from Cleveland as you are to meet an authentic New Yorker named Guido. But still, to drive down the road with The Empire State Building right in front of you is a bit more lively than a strip mall in Maple Grove.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I do not like coffee.

I'm about the only person I know that doesn't drink coffee. Actually, that's not entirely true - my dad doesn't drink coffee either. It's not just that I don't like coffee, it's that I'm generally completely annoyed with the whole culture of coffee drinkers. Let me explain...

One could suggest that my deep seeded coffee resentment started at a young age. When I was about 7 years old, the Roberts family had an Easter Buffet at some fancy schmancy restaurant downtown. I remember it was time to go up and get some food, and as I stood there waiting for my parents to show me the way, some waitress came along and backed up into me. Problem was, she backed up into me while she was holding a pot of coffee on a tray over her head. (Who puts a coffee pot on a tray and then holds it over their head?!) The coffee dumped over backward and down the back of little Markie. Tough 7 year olds don't cry, so I didn't. No major burns or anything, but my parents recall the manager turned a nice shade of white when my dad handed him his business card listing his profession.

One could also suppose that my coffee resentment stems from years of working in restaurants. I want you (the customer) to come in, order an expensive meal, leave a big tip, and get out as soon as possible. I'll be charming and affable, but only such that it leads directly to cash flowing from your pocket to mine. Problem is, you coffee drinkers think it's fun to sit around and drink coffee after a meal.

Here's a typical cutesy scenario that plays out over and over in restaurants:

Customer (probably a middle-aged lady, and her 3 lady friends): "Oh, gosh, I think we're all just too full for dessert."
Mark: "Alright, I'll just grab the check."
Lady: "Actually, you know, I think I'll have a cup of coffee. No, I really shouldn't..."
Lady 2: "Well, I'll have a cup if you have a cup."
Lady 3: "I try not to drink coffee after 8 pm. But maybe I'll be bad tonight."
Lady 4: "Sure, let's all have cup!"
Mark's inner monologue: "Oh Joy."

And what's with putting both your hands on the cup of coffee, sniffing it, and then getting that smug look on your face like you've just stumbled across pure Jesus Juice?

Then we have to play this game of figuring out how many creams, sugars, spoons, napkins blah blah blah blah blah.....

Usually I'll go back to the kitchen, and one of two things happens:
1.) The coffee pots are all empty
2.) There's some coffee left, but it's been sitting on the warmer so long it's bordering on syrup. I have no moral problem with serving you 3 hour old coffee...but if you send it back, then I just have to make another trip. So I stop and brew you a new pot.

And what's the deal with people asking for just 'half a cup' of coffee!? If you don't want to drink it all, use some self control and don't drink the whole cup! This ranks right up there with the people who want you to pour just an ounce more coffee into their cup - "just to warm it up a bit." Seriously...

Then there was another scenario last week - which lead to today's rant. I was giving a seminar last Thursday morning, and as part of it we decided to bring in some breakfast accoutrement. Caving to the masses, I agreed that having coffee should probably be part of the deal.
So I get up bright and early and head to this Starbucks I knew was on the way.

Side note: When did coffee shops start selling CD's? Is there a DVD department as well?

Inside the Starbeast, I step up to the too-perky coffee chick, and tell her I'm gonna need some coffee to go. I clearly don't know the coffee lingo that is so commonly banded about in popular culture - so I try to keep this transaction fairly straightforward: "I'm gonna need coffee for 30 people. To go."

This apparently triggered Ms. Perky to hit me with a varitable pop quiz that I was now subjected to.

Perky: "What kind of coffee?"
Mark: "Normal?"
Perky: "We have Verona, Kona, Breakfast Blend, and French."
Mark: "Which is most like normal? Give me that."

Perky: "Ok, now what kind of milk would you like?"
Mark: "Normal?"
Perky: "Half and Half, 1%, Low fat creamer...."
Mark: "Cream. That sounds right. Give me that."

So three people start scurrying about and filling 4 of these box things with coffee. I'm suddenly realizing that I have to carry 4 boxes of coffee, 4 cups of milk, and 2 bags of cups, sugars, and other assorted B.S. out of this place. Oh Joy. I drive an Acura, not a flatbed delivery truck.

I guess coffee isn't going away, unless Al-Qaeda makes a strategic strike against Seattle or Juan Valdez. I suppose I'll have to accept 'you people' - but I don't have to like it.

Me? I just keep it simple. Diet Coke. No cream, no sugar.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

My temporary corporate shack

For the month of January, they put me up in this high rise apartment right along the shore of the Hudson - overlooking NYC. The most stereotypical moment was the first night I was there - I wanted to get some pizza delivered in, as I had no food. I went down and talked to the doorman, named Vinny or Geno or something, and told him I wanted to order pizza...thinking he could offer a recommendation. "You mean, you want to order a pie?" said the rotund gentleman. "Sure, a pie..." I said. Thus started the adventure.

The place had a pretty nice view of midtown Manhattan, and was fully furnished. I think if I wanted to live here year round the rent would be about $3,500 a month. I'm pretty sure you could buy KG's mansion on Lake Minnetonka for $3,500 a month...
I pulled the table over by the window, and setup a little home office...even if it was only for a few weeks. Figured it'd be the only time I'd have a corner office with a window looking out at the Empire State Building.
I'll put up some pictures of my new new place when I get all moved in and setup.