Indigo On The East Coast - Part 2
A while back, I flew from London to The States to attend a friend's wedding at Princeton University. I can often be found dropping this tidbit into conversation, as it makes me sound glitzy and jetset.
It was a memorable trip. I could fill a dozen blog entries with a run-through of this lightning four-day Transatlantic event, and perhaps I will at some point. None of it was dull. The wedding was beautiful, the reception amazing, and my one day in New York itself contains much that was implausible.
But as is usual with me, the strongest memories lay in the unexpected.
I've been wandering the Princeton Campus for a couple of hours. My body clock is messed up, and I've been up since five a.m. The wedding is at 2pm, so there's plenty of time for an explore.
I'd wandered out of my hotel looking for somewhere to have breakfast around six; the hotel didn't start serving til seven, it being the weekend.
I've already wandered the length of Nassau Street, and found a few places open, but none of the menus tickled my fancy. I have my heart set on an unhealthy, all-you-can-eat fried breakfast, the kind I will look back on and say, That breakfast in Princeton, now that was a breakfast!
So, I took the initiative, and came onto campus. Partly out of curiosity, but mostly to find somehwere to have sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, and coffee. Oh, and a stack of pancakes with maple syrup.
I'm not sure if I'm technically allowed to be wandering here, but as I may have mentioned before, while I am a great fan of Order, I am not big on Rules. Order is what you have when everyone thinks about their actions, and accepts responsiblity for them. Rules are what you need when they don't.
I am passing through, a quiet non-presence. I don't believe the Rules here were created with me in mind. Arrogant, yes, but I can live with it. I do not intend to disturb the Order of the place, I'll respect personal space and privacy as I go, and I will apologise and leave quietly if asked.
And man, this place is something.
I walk along tree-lined avenues, and pass through many impressive arches into immaculate shady courtyards. Enticing staircases lead the eye and imagination upwards; I keep to the path, remembering I'm an uninvited guest.
And it's not only beautiful; it's enormous. Five hundred acres of it. Twenty years ago I went to a tiny university in an industrial wasteland in the midlands of England. I loved it then and do now, but this is so different.
Princeton is Xanadu to my Lilliput.
I check my watch and realise it's mid-morning. I'm still no closer to breakfast. The temperature is rising sharply, I could do with a cold drink, and I'm hungry, dammit.
Just as I'm thinking of heading back to the hotel, I stumble across a long, glass-sided building. It kind of looks like a library, but on closer inspection it turns out to be a student cafeteria.
My spirits rise, but I pause. Again, I consider that I'm not a student. If there are Rules anywhere on campus, it wil probably be here. The public won't be invited in to enjoy what is probably a subsidised eating experience. If I need a student ID? I'm busted. If I need to use a pre-paid cafeteria card? Game Over. If my presence disturbs the Order of the place, and I'm challenged, I'll most likely be escorted from campus, let alone the building, which will be a shame.
Especially if I don't get breakfast first.
I inwardly shrug, decide to wing it, and head inside.
The building is cool and pleasantly lit. I was expecting it to be a hive of activity, but there's not a single student there.
I walk confidently through the seating area - nothing suppresses questions like confidence - and I'm bemused by the lack of activity. Yes, it's Saturday, but it's ten in the morning; surely there must be at least one student who needs something to eat after a night on the tiles? Well, clearly not. Oh, wait; as I approach the serving area itself, a studious-looking young man marches out with a tray and settles efficiently to eat. It all looks healthy. Granola type cereal, yoghurt, juice. What? Healthy? To hell with that.
The main serving area is modern and rather impressive. Plenty of chrome. Bright, colourful displays. Pleasant looking members of staff. There's different areas for drinks, cereals, fruit, sandwiches, salads, cold plates. Hmmm, all cold. But further along somewhere is serving freshly cooked pizza, and next to it there's a section serving hot Italian and Mexican. My hunt is getting warmer, but it's still not what I have in mind.
I retrace my steps, and eventually notice a dimly lit area behind an unobtrusive counter. A middle aged man, clearly a chef, stands alone in the shadows, near a hastily scribbled menu; bacon, sausages, several kinds of eggs, hash browns, beans, mushrooms, toast, pancakes. Bingo!
Can I get you something? he asks amiably.
Oh, yes please. I continue to eye the menu quietly.
So, what would you like?
I'm uncertain how much to order. Well, I like the look of everything.
Uh huh. Is this your first time here?
This snaps me back to reality. Am I about to be busted? Damn, that was quick. Steady, Indigo. Don't panic. This guy's doing his job. Be honest.
Yes, first time.
I didn't think I recognised you. Are you a new student? he asks doubtfully.
I don't hesitate. Confidence. I laugh.
No, I'm not a student. At my age? No, I'm over here from Cambridge.
He considers this for a moment. Then, putting two and two together with my accent and smart clothes, immediately makes five. Perhaps even six or seven. His face brightens.
Cambridge, England? That's great! he enthuses, Welcome to Princeton. I hope you'll enjoy working here!
This is curling up at the edges a bit. I'm not going to lie to the guy; I don't like lying. I laugh again and prepare to 'fess up.
Well, I'm not actually on the staff...
He cuts me off gently, waving dismissively. It's okay, I know how these temporary assignments and sabbaticals work. So, what can I get you, sir?
Wow, I'm a sir. Part of me wants to straighten the tale out, but everyone is happy, and I'm tired and hungry; breakfast beckons.
Ok, two sausage, three bacon, beans, a pile of hash browns, beans, mushrooms, toast.
He seems surprised. Well, that's more or less everything. Want any eggs with that? he asks with a hint of something that might be sarcasm.
Oh yes please, two over-easy. I've not eaten properly since lunchtime yesterday.
Again, all true. Hey, I tried.
Yes sir, no wonder you're hungry. He seems to consider something and asks quietly, I've just made up a batch of banana pancake mixture. Can I tempt you?
With maple syrup?
He looks at me strangely. If he was under forty and not talking to a member of staff, I'm sure that Well, DUH! would have tripped happily to his lips. He indicates the bar opposite and grins at me.
You go help yourself to coffee and juice, and I'll have this ready in a few minutes.
I head over and help myself to a very serviceable cup of joe. There's even grapefruit juice, which gets my taste buds zinging. It occurs to me I'm thirstier than I realised; it's going to be a monster hot day outside come lunchtime.
I pick up my huge plate of fried goodies to a cheery Enjoy! and a promise to deliver pancakes in five minutes.
The woman on the checkout chats happily to me; she has also assumed that I'm on the staff. I let it go. I pay and grab some cutlery, but have trouble choosing a seat. The place is vast, and now empty again; the solitary student has gone. I decide to hide in plain sight, and choose one of the first tables.
The food does not disappoint. It's well cooked, hot, fresh and tasty; I've not eaten so well in weeks. I devour it with little by way of table manners. As I'm wiping up bean juice with my toast, the pancakes arrive.
Ten of the things. Thick and fluffy, moist with banana.
With a jug of maple syrup.
Hope this takes the edge off your appetite, winks the chef.
I smile a thank you to him as he strides back to his station, but my stomach wails; the new plateful looks crippling. But I'll not leave a bite; this is some small Karmic payback for breaking Rules, and I decide to take it on the chin.
I can live with it.
Besides, I've got my wish. If I am ever asked about breakfast, I will be able to look back and say, That breakfast in Princeton, now that was a breakfast!
Part 1 is hidden in the future - A Ratchetting Of Vertebrae
Continued in Part 3 - Trespassing Into The Endzone
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2009