Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eating out. Atlas.

It was again one of those endless days, the kind that sees me dropping my bags on the floor once I am home again, books scattered across the floor as I try not to curl up and fall asleep. But I need to be fed, and I want to go for a drive, so I climb into the electric-blue van my uncle bought several years ago (I believe it was my grandfather who chose the color) and lurch off unsteadily towards the freeway. I head towards the mall where I use to spend most of my free time; it has shops and bakeries and huge supermarket and drugstore and several restaurants, and it is filled with young families and students from the nearby university. When I first got my driver's license nearly ten years ago I was afraid of the freeway, and this was the only place I knew how to get to; I would follow the winding road along the lake, through the vast greenness of the Arboretum, cross the bridge over the cut that joins Lake Union to Lake Washington, past the university campus, until at last I reached my destination.

Ten years ago my friends and I would occasionally come here for dinner. We were teenagers on parental allowances, and back then it was a splurge to spend twenty or so dollars on dinner. (And we always had trouble figuring out tax and tip). One side of the menu had comfort food - burgers and fried chicken and fish-and-chips and that sort of thing - and the other side had a rotating selection of themed menus (mostly seafood). I probably tried everything on that menu. We would always share the hot berry cobbler that had to be pre-ordered because it took half an hour to bake; it came to the table bubbling hot, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting in the middle. The friends have changed, the shops that like the walkways have changed, I've changed, but most of the dishes on the left side of the menu - and that cobbler - have remained the same after all this time.

Now I am here alone. (No cobbler tonight; it needs one or two people to share with). I have a new book, Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson, about the writer's years in England. Thinking of gray English days I order the fish and chips and sink into Bryson's stories of the cities and towns that I have never seen. (And probably never will). The fish and chips arrive, crisp and golden, with a wedge of lemon and a dish of tartar sauce alongside. (I must confess I think of fish'n'chips as merely an excuse to eat tartar sauce). I eat my dinner and think about how what we (Americans) call chips is different from what they (the British) call chips, as with biscuits and pants. It is the perfect end to the day, this book and this plate of fish and chips.

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