Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Electric City and Me (Newest Lunch)

I had to run an errand way out west on Central Ave. this morning. As I had my perpetually hungry Junior in tow, I thought that we might head into The Electric City (Schenectady for any outlanders reading). Considering the time of day I suspected we could grab a booth over at Newest Lunch for some breakfast.
Driving down Central Ave. from Albany, through Colonie, and then into Schenectady is an awfully interesting ride, isn’t it? So many examples of the weird and wonderful fad architecture of the various eras of the past 50 years or so. That part of Central Ave. has an appealing Chernobyl-esque sort of vibe. I guess it could seem rather bleak to someone who hasn’t been traveling that particular thoroughfare since childhood but I sort of like it.
I will admit that I am often thrown into depression when driving by the abandoned Ground Round on the outskirts of the city. I alway seem to be passing by on particularly gray and rain sodden afternoons.
I am not prone to fits of exposition in my internet ramblings, but I think I will indulge a bit today as my trip to Newest Lunch brought up some memories. The Electric City has a brief but prominent appearance in my personal history. I will give you a bit of the backstory.
18 year old me (circa 1998) was a bit of a ridiculous person. I was one of those tall thin fellows who smoked Camel Lights, wore cardigan sweaters, scowled a lot, and fancied himself an “artiste.” I decided to go away to college for graphic design, and fairly predictably, wasted a lot of time drinking and gadding about. After a couple years I thought it wise to return home to the Capital Region and figure something else out.
I spent a few months working as a barista (not a word out of any of you!) at Starbucks and living off of Lark Street in Albany. I occupied myself with being a degenerate barfly at the various holes in the area until my good sense told me that this was perhaps the saddest possible way to spend ones life and times.
Back then I had a friend who worked in the exciting field of environmental remediation doing fun things like asbestos removal and PCB cleanup. So I had him get me a job. Some weeks later there I was. In a hard hat. Working a year long contract at the General Electric plant in the Electric City.
That was a pretty big change for me. Switching out of my foppish persona was a bit of an adjustment. My former opinion of myself as an impoverished genius waiting to be discovered by the world at large was left a bit tarnished. But adaptability is a hallmark of my personality. I put on my Dickies pants, hooded sweatshirt, and steel toed boots. I drove my shitty car from downtown Albany into the Electric City every day. And you know what? I started to like it.
I remember being fascinated by all aspects of this “blue collar” sort of life I was acclimating to. I would stand in front of the sandwich machines in the break rooms in the GE machine shops and marvel at the items. I loved the Prussian order of all those soggy ham, salami, and egg salad sandwiches as they stood in their little plastic windows. I loved standing in the raucous lines at the factory-like hoagie shops outside the plant.
I loved the people I was working with. I loved the easy familiarity, the bathroom jokes, the casual alcoholism. All of it. I loved hearing about the swing shift bars, the old union hacks, the best places to get a hot dog. I talked soccer with the Guatemalan asbestos removal crews. I asked the Korean crews what was in their rice cookers at lunch.
I loved the easy camaraderie of the all male work place. I loved being around people who got their backs into their livings. I loved sitting around eating bad Freihofer’s, drinking coffee with powdered creamer while listening to Howard Stern in the job trailer.
As I was coming from your standard suburban, Capital Region, middle class, white collar sort of upbringing this was all new to me! I had never seen anything like it and I finally felt as if I had found my people. I had figured out that I was never going to be able to function in the world of the genteel office worker. And I never have.
It just so happened that these changes in my life were occurring circa 2001 at the beginning of our nation’s recent long nightmare. I won’t call what I was feeling at the time “patriotism” exactly. I think it was more aptly adventurism. I didn’t want to get left out of what I was sure was going to be the great adventure of my generation. So I put on Army green and my story headed from there in yet another direction… I did end up going back to college and getting a very un-blue collar degree. But we don’t need to get in all of that.
Suffice it to say that as I see it, the man I am today was born in The Electric City. Having some ability towards self analysis I do see that sometimes I sort of play up my everyman routine… But heck, we all have our faults.
Sigh. Anyhow, on to breakfast. Ever been to Newest Lunch?
Well, it is a great place. A stone cold traditional, perhaps the original, example of a Capital Region style hot dog joint. It has everything. Greek influences, hot dog sauce, fish fry, rice pudding. Everything.
They don’t do mini-dogs. But that is just fine with me. Here is some advice from ol’ Dave. It is bad luck to eat small hot dogs in even numbers, but it is ill advised to eat more or less than two full sized hot dogs w/everything in a sitting.
Newest Lunch’s sauce is interesting. Not as liquid as the over-the-river style stuff with a bigger beef crumb and less paprika. Thoroughly enjoyable. A bit light on the mustard for my tastes but I love the crunch of the relatively large onion dice.
My son had quite the nice plate of pancakes and bacon. They have a full menu at Newest Lunch it is not just hot dogs. You should give them a whirl.
So that is that. I sort of love Schenectady a bit.
In parting I leave you with a cow on a roof. We love our cows on roofs ‘round here…

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