An Encounter With a Lone Traveler Leaves Me Wanting More


A few weeks ago my friends and I were in Brooklyn at L&B Spumoni Gardens, where they serve the best square pizza I’ve ever had. The pizza is perfect, but that’s not the point. The point is, while I was waiting for my square, I asked the guy in front of me how long they said the wait would be for the fresh pizza and I soon discovered that he was much cooler than me.

L&B Spumoni Gardens, a “Golden Oldies” favorite place for pizza. (Beata Cherepakhina/The Observer)

The man turned around. He was tall, Asian and looked thoughtful. He appeared to be alone and he was wearing a backpack. Nothing too remarkable or strange, but I thought to myself, “What’s this guy doing here? NYU is very far away.” He did look a bit out of place amongst all the Brooklynites in the bleach white sneakers and basketball shorts. Then he spoke and was absolutely out of place.

His accent was glorious and British. He sounded like a James Bond version of Jeremy Clarkson, one of the hosts of the car show, “Top Gear.” He said to me, “I’m not entirely sure how long it will take. The man either said four to five minutes, or 45 minutes. Either way, I’m quite prepared to wait.”

We continued our conversation because I needed to hear him speak again. He was a medical student from Cambridge named Cheng, and it sounded like he was just traveling the United States and eating and talking sexy. I brought him back to our table.

We talked about school and Cheng asked us what we were reading. At first I was confused. I wasn’t reading anything at the table. Then I thought I had misheard him. I was about to say, “Oh, I’m eating pizza,” when my friends said they were reading some history books or whatever. I felt embarrassed to have wasted a summer just working and making money (poor me). The conversation moved on.

He told us he was trying to get a feel for the American medical system by checking out different hospitals in the area. He was staying in Queens and trying to explore as much of New York as he could. He talked about his travels and food experiences, from hanging out with some “real gangster types in the South,” to eating at a San Francisco burger place called Super Duper, with his incredible voice and accent.

“It’s jost the great’st burger I’ve ever had. You ‘ave your burgah, and you just devour it, and then you lie there in a partial coma, with jost the essence of Supah Dupah burgah dribbling down your chin. Then you dribble it back up, because it’s jost that good, and you think t’yourself, there’s apsolutely no way I could eat anything else ever again. And then you get to the fries.”

I was beside myself with joy. We asked him if he had been to Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridien hotel, and he said yes. That was a bit of a shock, so we demanded to know how he had managed to find both our favorite burger place and pizza place. Most tourists ended up at Grimaldi’s and Shake Shack. The answer, as he put it, was “the Golden Oldies.”

He had been in a bar in the West Village, where a couple of New York natives, 50-year-old Irish men (Golden Oldies), had directed him to all the right places for experiencing the best of New York. He had hit up a couple other bars and a jazz club as well.

I felt so proud to share recommendations with the Golden Oldies. I felt proud to live in New York, and I was so happy that I was doing it right. I pictured myself 40 years from now, as an honorary Golden Oldie. In my head they had become a mythical duo of corner-sitting, beer drinkers who only listened to Miles Davis and appeared to the loneliest of travelers.

Sadly, I don’t know what became of Cheng and I didn’t have the presence of mind to offer to show him around. Maybe I should put up a post on Missed Connections. “You: Eloquent, British, hungry. Me: Illiterate.”

Regardless, he did show me that the only way to get to know a place was to talk to the people, particularly the older ones. I’ve got to do that more.