Our 2011 Road Trip #23: Peanut Butter and Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit lady!

This outgoing saleslady spoke just enough English to SELL! SELL! SELL!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

When we had been brainstorming alternatives and last-minute requests the night before, a return to Chinatown was at the top of my son’s list. Those four hours of walking ourselves to death on Tuesday had yielded very little in the way of strange new foods for him to try. We can’t get him to touch pasta at home unless he can make eye contact with a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee logo, but he bore no such prejudice against the untested grounds of Chinatown merchants.

One lady was kind enough to pose for Anne’s “Faces of New York” photo series on the condition that we include her fruit stand as well. We rewarded her by buying two dragon fruits and two pounds of Chinese grapes. I only wanted zero pounds. She insisted on two. I offered to take one pound off her hands as some squirming form of condescending white kindness. She insisted on two. After much back-and-forth, I shrewdly haggled her down to just two pounds. I’m an excellent negotiator.

Three weeks later, I threw away nearly two pounds of uneaten Chinese grapes. The dragon fruit fared slightly better with us.

Pagoda Place!

One of many Chinatown structures whose architecture screams “CHINATOWN!”

The watch-and-handbag barkers were out in triplicate, but Anne still paid them no mind. Her unconventional femininity — by which I mean her disdain for shopping — is just one or her many endearing qualities. One would-be salesman eyed my son’s Star Trek: the Next Generation T-shirt and, hoping to make a sale or maybe just bond with him, shouted, “STAR WARS!” Dude botched the sale.

We instead chose to divert our tourist dollars to a couple of neighborhood groceries. My son bought a handful of unlabeled cubic gumdrops, a bottle of mango-flavored drink, and — in an inspired moment of Russian-roulette gambling — a can of a liquid labeled “Honey-Flavored Grass Jelly Drink” (possible slogan: “Because kids love five-letter words!”). Their poor marketing department aside, far be it from us to discourage him from trying new things, as long as they don’t require us to pay for a stomach pump.

Having finished my son’s NYC bucket list as best as possible for the day, we departed Chinatown one last time from a different subway station, whose entrance art was in code.

Subway Symbols!

Kryptonese? Interlac? Huttese? Rejected Pokemon? No idea.

We stayed aboard for just a hop and a skip up north on Broadway. As we walked the remaining block, we would have passed the next attraction if I hadn’t written the address down. From the outside 594 Broadway looks like any cozy tenement, up to and including its narrow hallways and rickety, claustrophobic elevator that comfortably holds one normal passenger or two toddlers. The entirety of its fourth floor is the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, a single-exhibit gallery (not unlike the Toonseum in Pittsburgh, which we visited on our 2010 road trip) devoted to my primary hobby: comics!

MoCCA!

Nothing about this well-kept interior resembles the ramshackle exterior.

The current exhibit was devoted to NYC as represented in the works of Will Eisner, whose sixty-year career revolutionized comic-book page design and resulted in the creation of the hero known as the Spirit, who was turned into a movie with trailers that resembled very little of what I liked about the stories I’ve read. We had seen several pages of Eisner’s original art on display in the Milwaukee Art Museum on our 2006 road trip, but I was anxious to see more, especially in his own hometown.

Slight drawback: half the pages on display here were the exact same original art pages we saw in Milwaukee, including all eight pages of Eisner’s classic Spirit story “The Story of Gerhard Shnobble”. Several pieces were new to me, but many weren’t. Even if the trip was partially redundant, I still took pride in having visited a real live NYC Bohemian art gallery. I took less pride in the return down the elevator, in which we all held our breath as we had to share the creaky vertical coffin with two young ladies who looked none too pleased to be in the presence of unabashed out-of-towners. Perhaps we should’ve worn our trendier clothes, of which we own none.

MoCCA Art!

Taking pics of original art seemed tacky and may not have been allowed (can’t recall now), but Anne sneaked a quick pic of me examining and appreciating.

The next leg of our trip looked like a deceptively short walk on the map if you ignored the mileage key as I normally do. We walked into the heart of Greenwich Village, half a short block northeast on Broadway to Houston (bonus points if you know how not to pronounce that in NYC), seven short blocks northwest to Sullivan, and nearly three long blocks northeast to lunch at a restaurant called Peanut Butter & Co.

Peanut Butter & Co!

Y’all can have your five-star eateries with your eighty-dollar steaks and mandatory dress codes. This is what speaks to us.

Their specialty is sandwiches combining peanut butter with other ingredients besides just ordinary jelly. Their love of peanut butter shines through in their interior decorating scheme. You can also buy jars of their specialty PB flavors through their official website.

Peanut Butter Hangings!

Their walls are bedecked with peanut butter memorabilia and great moments in peanut butter advertising history.

I ordered the “Johnny Appleseed”, a bagel with PB, cream cheese, and apple slices. Anne ordered the “Jerry Seinfeld Comedy Special”, a bagel with PB, cream cheese, honey, and cinnamon. My son, not remotely enthused or amused, ordered the “Turkey Sandwich”, which was a turkey sandwich without peanut butter. A long walk to such a silly-sounding place did not endear me to my son.

Also not endearing: their dining room is more of a dining closet , jammed with enough tables and chairs to seat exactly twenty in a space that should ideally seat no more than eight. All personal space had to be checked at the door to allow for maximum jostling, bumping, and lambada practice.

Other random sights from this cross-section of our long walk:

Angelika Film Center!

The Angelika Film Center, one of those fabled theaters willing to show films that will never see a screen outside NYC or L.A. I think I’ve heard of three of these five films.

N Train!

Still fascinated by those subways, Very much missing them here in Indianapolis, which is one inadequate bus line away from being declared a mass transit desert.

Firetruck!

The closest we got to a real NYC firetruck with heroes aboard.

Random Walk!

Sometimes I just like photos of scenery and backdrops, with or without a focal point.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. I was saddened to learn through comics writer Dan Slott that Peanut Butter & Co. closed its doors several months ago. Their company lives on with those specialty peanut butters now on sale in mainstream groceries, including our local Kroger and Walmart locations. You have to create your own bizarre peanut butter sandwich combinations without their help, though.

2. The MoCCA storefront closed its doors a year after our visit due to funding issues. The MoCCA as a body is still around as a non-profit arts organization.

3. Broadly speaking, I like to think one or two of my T-shirts now qualify as “trendy”. Maybe not enough to impress those young ladies on the rickety elevator, but still.

4. I later saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris on DVD the following February as part of my annual Oscar quest. One down, four to go. None of the five are currently on Netflix.

5. Now showing at the Angelika as of this writing: another Woody Allen film, Cafe Society; the fiduciary drama Equity; Hunt for the Wilderpeople; and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

Comments, questions, and suggestions for future entries welcome. No, really!

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