NEW YORK: Call it my Higher Power, divine intervention, a charmed life …..
How else to explain this almost unbelievable story?
It was Day Three of my recent four-day visit here. (Two more days were spent travelling from and back to Toronto by VIA/Amtrak train – a quick word of advice, don’t try it and, if you do, take enough to eat for the 12-hour trip as the “food” from the cafe car, including coffee, is basically inedible.) While here, I also attended parts of the Food Network Wine & Food Festival: a new offshoot of the Miami event that’s been going for several years and is a similarly hectic, celeb-studded whirlwind of demos, parties and tastings. More on that later.
So it’s Day Three and I’ve been advised by the lovely Gail Simmons – Toronto gal and telegenic judge on the Food Network show Top Chef – to visit the recently opened Meatball Shop on Stanton St. in the Lower East Village. Only in New York: home to eateries devoted solely to the likes of rice pudding, risotto and ramen noodles. So why not meatballs?
Anyhoo, I’m seated at the bar during a busy lunchtime enjoying a tasty chicken meatball in silky parmesan sauce and a side of creamy risotto inundated with prosciutto flecks and chunks of mushroom, all washed down with homemade grape lemonade, when I hear my cellphone ring from the depths of my purse perched beside me.
It’s a man called Joe with a strong Hispanic accent explaining that he has some “important papers” of mine. I’m confused. Soon I’m seriously concerned as, amid the restaurant’s hubbub, I frantically ask him what this means. Rifling through my purse and, by now, shaking, I understand what’s going on. He’s found my wallet – in the middle of the street nearby – and is urging me to come and pick it up.
It’s amazing what adrenalin will do when shooting through one’s veins. In a state somewhere between panic and an out-of-body experience, I wrote down his address on Allen St. which I realized, through all the broken English, was minutes away from Stanton St. where I’d been calmly devouring meatballs minutes earlier. I told the server I would be gone to find my lost wallet and be back soon to pay my bill. Then I shot, like a bat out of hell, around the corner on to Allen St. scouring doorways for a building with the address I needed on it.
Lo and behold, a grimy tenement appeared between a laundromat and a vegan restaurant bearing the correct address. I peered through the main door which quickly opened. Standing there was a large middle-aged man wearing a pork-pie hat surrounded by several short, smiling women. The whole family had come to greet me. He reached out to give me a hug, then handed me my wallet. Tears streaming down my face, I opened it at his behest. Everything was intact. I handed him $40, mumbled something about him being an angel from heaven and bolted back to The Meatball Shop.
I was still shaking when I announced to the solicitous server that my wallet had been returned. “And New York gets such a bad rap,” she said with a sweet smile, adding: “Can I get you anything?” “Dessert, please!” was the immediate reply as I dabbed the tears from my face.
The restaurant’s deeply delicious homemade chocolate ice cream sandwiched between two ragged, crunchy coconut macaroon cookies could not have tasted sweeter at this amazing moment.
Checking my messages at my two homes (one in Toronto, the other in Stratford) that evening, I couldn’t believe my ears. Joe had called both numbers in search of me. There are so many things I can’t believe about this story – that I actually had my cellphone switched on, that I heard it in the noisy restaurant, that the number for it was in my wallet …..
But, above all, that a decent, honest, diligent man called Joe found it – and in New York of all places.
Maybe I do have a charmed life.