If I Go, the Ice Cream Goes With Me

With the ring of the cash register, our relationship shifted.

The transaction had started, as it always does, with the struggle of getting the attention of someone behind the counter. That is hard enough to get a server’s attention at a joint Dunkin Donuts-Baskin Robbins at any time of day. It’s twice as hard before 9am. At that time of day the staff’s focus wavers only between the growing line and the rapidly depleting coffee pot. But my sister and I are tactical in our pursuit of ice cream, especially when Baskin Robbins – known for offering 31 flavors – is offering a scoop for $1.31 in honor of the 31st day of the month. We split up for a two-pronged attack; she stood in line while I attempted to wave down an employee behind the counter. She got to them first, I joined her, and we ordered our early-morning ice cream.

The cashier, confused but polite, rang up us. “$4.73,” she said.

“No,” I shook my head in confusion, “it’s not.”

“It’s the 31st of the month,” my sister explained. “The scoops are $1.31 each.”

“No, they are not,” the cashier informed us.

She stared at us. For a moment, we stared at her. Then, I glanced down at the ice cream cones we held and knew that in this stand-off we were guaranteed to win. “Don’t worry,” I assured my sister as the clerk kept her eyes on us as the manager warily approached.

On one side of the counter was the cashier and her manager.

On the other side was me, my sister, two ice cream cones, and a coupon:

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“We already have the ice cream,” I pointed out to my sister, “and they can’t get it back. As far as they know we could walk out without paying a cent.”

We wouldn’t, but our adversaries didn’t know that.

They looked at our coupon in surprise, looked at the ice cream we were holding on the other side of the counter, and – without looking at us – reentered our order into the cash register.

“$1.31, each,” our cashier said as her manager walked away shaking her head with puzzlement.

We paid.

We ate.

We appreciated the customer service. Especially after my sister re-read the coupon and pointed at that not all Baskin Robbins locations were required to participate in the $1.31 scoop day. It’s not every chain store that will honor the promises of its corporate headquarters. So, thank you to

Baskin Robbins at 1342 Amsterdam Avenue

for honoring coupons,

and for knowing when you’ve been out-maneuvered.

Riding the Rails, A Love-Hate Relationship

I hate the subway. I hate its ugly cars. I hate the obnoxious and endemic man-spreading. I hate its skipped stops and unannounced alternate routes. I hate its sticky vinyl flooring. I hate the trails of unknown liquids which spread across the cars. I hate the people who are forced to beg for money, the laws that forbid donating, and those who won’t spare a dime for a brother. I hate the fares which increase at the same rate as unexplained delays. I hate pole-hogs and people who won’t give their seat to a pregnant woman. I hate the way everyone averts their eyes when fights break out. Most days, I hate the subway.

But on other days, I love the subway. I love the way is arrives, gliding down the rails smooth as butter – doors open, doors shut, blink your eyes and you’re in a new neighborhood. I love the parents who spend the commute reading stories to their kids. I love listening to new music blast through someone else’s headphones – though I worry about their own damaged hearing. I love the artists who sketch their fellow passengers quickly and confidently. I love watching women apply their makeup without hesitation or a mirror. I love watching the graffiti flash by the train windows late at night. I love seeing old men with canes try to give their seats to young women with children. I love spotting a friend from long ago in the next seat over, and catching up as we chug through tunnels and over bridges. I love reading Poetry in Motion and studying the MTA-commissioned art on the subway walls. I love the subway.

I have never loved the subway more than when I fell – thrown off balance by a sudden jolt. With a book in my hands and a hefty backpack weighting me down, I was destined to fall like a turtle onto my back. But the guy standing behind me, someone I didn’t know and hadn’t noticed, saw what was happening and reached out a helping hand. He put his hands on my shoulders and didn’t let go until I stabilized myself and turned around. “I got your back,” he told me.

The subway might be an awful place. But it’s also a wonderful place. Because as long as you’re on the subway, someone’s got your back.

Mother’s Day: A Card

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I love my mother. My mother loves being appreciated. I want my mom to be happy. My mom wants to hear from me. The path to making us all happy is clear: send a mother’s day card.

But it can’t just be any old card. My mom wants a card that says ‘This one’s for you!” If that exclamation point isn’t there, if the card isn’t screaming her name, she’ll still be happy. Just not as happy. I know because she told me. The first year we were apart for mother’s day, I sent her a card and she knew it had been designed just for her – or so she told me. So ever since I’ve been looking for cards which fit that pattern. Cards which my mom will love, like she does us. Through trial and error I found two criteria.

Firstly, there should be sparkles. There didn’t appear to be a difference between glitter, sequins, or beads. But if it didn’t sparkle in the sunlight – or reflect the glow of a mother’s live – then it isn’t worth the stamp it would cost to send.

Subway Stories: Bootlegging

The nicest of the subway station’s elevator operators was there today. To call him an elevator operator isn’t quite accurate – he doesn’t open gates or announce floors. Rather, he sits at the controls, pressing “door open” when the staccato of high heels ticks up as the doors begin to close, pressing “door close” when the air has been all but pressed out of a packed of elevator, and shooting the breeze with any other subway worker who’s on duty at the station. Today the elevator operator was shooting the breeze with one of his guys as he operated his elevator.

“Coming up on 25 years?” the operator asked his fellow membership a he pressed down on the “door close” button.

“Oh, yeah,” his friend responded.

“What are you gonna do?” the operator turned in his padded chair to ask. The operators at my station have a desk and chair, and in the summer a fan, to keep them company.

“I’m gonna be like you, sit here all day pressing a button,” his friend teased.

“Oh man, I’m year 36!” the operator protested.

“Yep just sit here pressing a button and bootlegging,” his friend said as the doors opened. “Just like you,” he called as he walked out of the elevator.

“That’s low man, that’s low” shouted the operator after him.

Bootlegging? I guess the MTA pensions aren’t what they used to be.