The park was flush with people. Across the street, a fountain bubbled and gargled water while a throng of men in kilts lolled on the sidewalk outside of a bus burping exhaust. It was a Saturday in New York and the sunshine sparkled as a reminder that spring had arrived. My hand had shot into the air several times as taxis began nearing. Though I don’t live in Manhattan, we seem to have an understanding between us like old friends that pick up conversations on pause. At last, one yellow cab veered toward me and in I crawled, directing the car toward the Upper East Side. At first, we began the kind of banter between strangers- talk of the weather, then talk of good food, and finally, questions about what a Californian was doing in New York. As the driver heard about the book tour adventure I had begun, our conversation turned to tea and cooking.
We agreed that he could easily make tea-infused yogurt. We agreed that if he took Lex all the way to Park, he could make it to the bookstore where I still thrill at the idea of asking for my book by name, and the delight of surprise when they hear I’m the author. I feel like a flower delivery girl in the guise of a tinkering tea cook because they smile. They congratulate me. I feel like we are complicit in some delicious enterprise of book-making and book-selling. I ask them if I can take their photograph and most of the time they comply with wide grins and Instagram handles at the ready.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the efficient way to descend on the stores I had scrawled on a piece of hotel paper, all polka-dotted up and down the east and west sides of Manhattan would be best done in a car. I had mapped out my route and described the opportunity to the driver, Mike. We struck a deal and set off to the next bookstore. Between bookstores, we began painting between the lines. He had arrived from Poland at the age of 19 to attend college and graduate. All of his family, except for an aunt in Jersey, were still in Poland. He never saw the temporary job of cab driving lasting as long as it had. He had decided to give up bread and pizza for a month to try and adopt better eating habits. We talked about piroshki and namely my friend Casey’s book that is coming out with unbridled pierogi love for him to check out once he emerges from his no carb-cocoon. We rattled on about the Scottish parade and the sea of kilts that had foisted us from Bryant Square Park. He asked about cooking with tea. He detailed the kind of tea he likes to drink (Brisk. Black. No sugar. No milk.) and he laughed with me when I described a madcap excursion on our route for me to finally nab one of the Matcha Cortados that have been making me swoon on Instagram. He handed me a $20 outside of Chalait and told me to pick a tea for him. Out I came with two bright green drinks. I may have sidled up to the bar and sipped the cortado while waiting for the iced matcha lattes. When in the West Village…
Back in the cab, we sucked down our green tea lattes and he declared that it was good. As the end of our voyage approached, we discussed a pick-up time to dispatch me with my five bags of groceries and suitcase of books to SoHo for a private cooking with tea class.
Here’s what still sits with me in the quiet room of my heart where I wrap cherished things in cream-colored tissue. Mike sent a friend to Eataly to buy my book the evening that we met. The next day, I signed it to his cousin and her fiancé. On the way to JFK while the sky was still dark and the pigeons slept, he told me he had decided to try and get a different job, one that employed his degree in public health. He said he had been driving the cab for too long and hearing my story inspired him to make some changes he had been putting off. And, as the cab pulled up to the airport’s curb, he told me he might have to get a matcha latte later that day.
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