If we did not know it before this trip, we know it now. Big cities with the lights, noise, traffic, and hustle – not for us. Small towns where old men come to your door and talk to you for an hour and a half about the mushrooms growing in the driveway – that’s our style.
For two weeks, we stayed in a two-room apartment in West New York, New Jersey. Right on the Hudson. It had amazing views….and constant traffic. The apartment was on JFK Boulevard which people just call The Boulevard. Even when you get a package mailed you don’t have to include the JFK on the address. The New Jersey transit buses stopped right at our doorstep. This was fantastic for getting into the city, but horrible for sleeping at night. There was a constant squeal of bus breaks, people laughing and playing at the park across the street, sirens every 15 minutes racing by. The owner of the apartment told us we could easily find street parking in front of the building, but he was crazy. There was rarely parking open. And giant parking lots like we have in Texas? Fuhgeddaboudit.
There are things I do like about the city
- We saw Wicked playing on Broadway at the Gershwin Theater. (Know the difference between ON Broadway or OFF Broadway or OFF OFF Broadway? The size of the theater.)
- Food Tours of NY –Amazing food and a hilarious guide? I’m in. Cindy was hysterical. She actually said, “Fuhgeddaboudit” one time.
- Macaroons in the subway station
- Food, food, food
- Bike riding in Central Park where they even give you a basket for your little dog.
- Did I say food?
But none of that can make up for that small town feel. After New York, we drove to Cape Cod. And it was so Quiet. That has to be what we all noticed first. We are staying in a beautiful home just south of Sandwich, Massachusetts that has a sign warning you to drive slowly because it is “Thickly Settled.” But we just left NYC. These people have no idea what “thickly settled” looks like. Even compared to what we are used to back home I don’t think this counts as thickly settled. The houses are cute and the yards well maintained. There is space around each house with beautiful landscaping and trees. It is all so pristine.
And old men come to your door to talk to you about mushrooms.
The afternoon of our second day, Gene knocked on our door. At first, I thought he was lost but I soon realized he came to the house with a purpose. For the mushrooms.
“Do you know what you have in your driveway? Come out here and see!!”
Gene is 84 years old with half of his bottom teeth missing and no top teeth. He is tall, spry, and garrulous. He has dentures but rushed out so quick to see the mushrooms that he forgot to put them in. He is healthy as a horse and looks 15 years younger than he is.
“Look at these! This is amazing! I am leaving Thursday to drive 2700 miles to Michigan for these mushrooms and here they are, right here!”
He showed us the Morel mushrooms growing in a swath across the white shell driveway of our rental house. To me they look like wasp nests but to Gene they are a delicacy. He showed us a well-worn picture in his wallet of these mushrooms and told us all about how to cook them. His family travels north each year to meet at their acre of land in north Pennsylvania and then to travel up into Michigan to gather mushrooms. He regaled us with story after story of his mushroom hunts. He had Jay go get his phone so he could look up the town in Michigan and sure enough they have mushroom festivals and mushroom hunting seasons. These are apparently some mushrooms.
Gene gathered all the mushrooms from our driveway and walked the entire property looking for more. He left me with a small bag full and told me extensively how to cook them (four times). They are best with a good steak cooked medium rare. He also told us stories of his family, his friends, people in the neighborhood, and there was always more to learn about mushrooms. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed. That is small town living.
My kids thought it was hilarious that I was going to cook mushrooms from the driveway and Erin said multiple times, “We are all going to die. Aren’t you always told NOT to eat the mushrooms that grow in the yard?” But Gene told me about these mushrooms and I cooked them just the way he taught me. We didn’t have steak, but they were excellent. A very mild mushroom taste with a great texture.
This is one of the things I love about small towns. The people, the caring, the instant connections. When I was in graduate school, I was in a car accident on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere, Texas. The closest town was Alvord (pronounced Al-void). Not too long after the accident happened, along came an old man in overalls and a BIG truck. (Trucks are really big in Texas). “Hon, are you okay?! You better come with me back to Mama. Mama will make you some soup and clean you up. Mama makes the best soup and she’ll take care of you, hon.” I didn’t go with him, but his offer has stuck with me and is an example of small town hospitality. “Mama will make you some soup.”
I guess the world has big city folk and small town folk. I can enjoy brief visits to the big city, but small town people are my people.
Are you more big city or small town?