Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monday Night With Charlie

TigerBlog dined al fresco last night. Nice night for it, wasn't it?

Actually, it was 28 degrees on the thermometer inside TB's friend Charlie's rented car, and that didn't tell the whole story, since the wind chill was near zero. So why would reasonable people be eating outside on such a night?

For starters, there's no "inside" at the place TB ate. Or menus or waiters, for that matter.

For another, it's tradition.

And so there was Charlie, TB's roommate his senior year at Penn, waiting as TB pulled up to Geno's at 9th, Wharton and Passyunk in South Philadelphia, across the street from Pat's, its big rival. In case you don't know what these two eateries are rivals at, it's cheesesteaks. Philly cheesesteaks at their absolute finest.

Many people have told TB through the years that they'd love to have one from Pat's and one from Geno's and see which one they like better. TB might actually have done that himself way, way back when.

For whatever reason - perhaps because Pat's is a little more famous - TB and his college friends settled on Geno's. He wishes he knew how many cheesesteaks he had there in his four years at Penn, but the answer is "a lot."

And most of the time he was there, it was after midnight. This is what college kids in Philly do, and so there was always a line there, no matter how late.

Geno's never closes. As in ever. As in open all day, all night, all year. There are picnic tables in front, and the line usually flies by, as it is an assembly line of food preparation.

Ordering is precise. Cheesesteak at the first window - provolone with, where the "with" means "with onions." Fries and soda at the next window. It hasn't changed in years, and nor should it.

There was no line there yesterday around 7 when TB showed up. A few people came by, but TB's group was the only one that actually sat outside an eat.

Charlie had a long day. It started in Germany, where he was on business (and where he had left his hotel at 7 a.m. local time, or 1 a.m. in Philadelphia), and it ended in Atlantic City, for a trade show many hours later. Charlie has worked hard in his life and has a lot to show for it, but he's earned every penny. He has relocated his businesses from New York City, where he started out in some really awful neighborhoods, to Jacksonville, where weather like last night's isn't something that comes along.

He's a driven guy and has been since Day 1 when TB first met him, heads poked outside adjacent windows on the 22nd floor of one of the three high rise dorms above 38th Street, when Charlie saw an unfamiliar face who was interrupting his conversation with two people from the 21st floor, and uttered the first words he ever said to TB: "Who are you?"

Okay, there was an expletive that TB deleted between the "who" and "are" in that sentence.

If TigerBlog knows anyone more loyal than his friend Charlie, then the list is very, very small. As in maybe one or two other people.

And so when Charlie says "cheesesteaks January 27," TB knows to etch that in cement on his calendar.

Charlie went to the same trade show a year ago and the two had the same dinner plans. That night featured freezing rain, and yet they were there, out on the picnic benches eating. TB knew that there was no sense in saying something like "indoor restaurant, with menus and heat?", and so he just added some extra layers as was off to South Philly.

The weather did cut the outdoor part short, and there were still a few fries in the cups when they finally gave up and headed inside Charlie's rented car. With nowhere to go, they headed north a few blocks and then turned west, heading for the Penn campus.

Charlie doesnt' get back to Penn much. TB is there multiple times a year, essentially to root against his alma mater, something that Charlie struggles to come to grips with.

Like most college campuses, Penn is a combination of buildings that haven't changed in centuries and new construction. If you haven't been there in awhile, it looks freakish, with areas of great familiarity and others that distort your memories because of their newness. It becomes a lot of "that's where the freshman dorm was" and "there was where that class was" alongside "what used to be there?"

One building that hasn't changed is the McDonald's at 40th and Walnut, where Charlie once saw a female student get her purse snatched by a kid and then instinctively took off chasing the kid - and ultimately tackling him into an Action News van.

Charlie asked TB about the whole Princeton-Penn thing, and TigerBlog answered the way he always does.

He roots for Princeton now because he knows all of the people involved at Princeton and has a much stronger connection to Princeton now than he does to Penn.

Still, it doesn't change the fact that it used to be much different for TB, who as a student learned to hate Princeton, especially in men's basketball. It's part of the Penn culture.

TB was hired at Princeton at a time when there was no athletic director, and he and Gary Walters started on the same day. At one point early on, Walters told TB that he was lucky, because Walters never would have hired a Penn guy for that position at Princeton.

TB has always wondered how serious Walters was.

Many times through the years, TB has wondered what would have happened if he'd attended Princeton and not Penn, but he's always liked the perspective of being a Penn alum and longtime, loyal Princeton employee. Walters once referred to it as "a Penn diploma and Princeton education."

TB has gotten many dirty looks from Princeton people when they find out he went to Penn, usually in a funny way, and he's heard himself referred to as a "Penn guy" more times than he can count. He's always enjoyed it.

Princeton is a place where alums don't turn on their alma mater. TB always tells his Penn friends that, that there is no comparison between the connection Princetonians feel and Penn people feel to their schools. It's one of the best things about Princeton.

Still, TB will always be glad he went to Penn and will always cherish his time there. Yes, there aren't many Penn alums who have spent as much time as he has rooting against the Quakers and for the Tigers, but that doesn't mean he isn't proud of his school as well.

Last night was a reminder of that. A very cold reminder.

It was great to see his friend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

glad you had some fun