The McSorley’s Way of Life

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The McSorley’s way of life may not be for everyone, but it should be.  On a recent trip to NYC, my friends Jeff and Stephanie introduced my husband and I to McSorley’s Old Ale House, located at 15 East 7th in the East Village of Manhattan.  It is the oldest Irish Pub in NYC and a place I will never forget.  Sitting amongst the rowdy patrons of McSorley’s, I decided that I should always live like I did for 2 hours that night.

The rules of McSorley’s are easy to learn, and, God willing, should be implemented in all aspects of life:

1.    Listen to the waiter.  These waiters know how to wield their power in order to get things done.  And they get things done quickly.  Here’s the scene:  you and 3 friends push your way into the crowded pub, all the seats are filled, and you can barely snake your way to the bar.  After getting a couple of beers (they serve them 2 at a time here) from the bartender, you spot a waiter, who immediately (and magically) knows you just arrived.  No time is wasted on greetings or flare.  Look at the waiter, mouth the word “four” accompanied by holding up 4 fingers, and wait.  The waiters will get you seats as soon as available.  No need to look for a hostess and seating chart.  They don’t exist in this place; nothing unnecessary does.  When seats look to be coming open, the waiter will motion you towards the table.  “Stand here,” will be all the waiter says as he points to your table and then moves on to the next task requiring his attention.  Stand there, look pretty, drink your beer, and be ready to pounce as soon as Frat Boy and his loud as hell friends who are currently pretending to understand rugby vacate their seats.  Then sit.  The waiter has spoken.  Life is just easier when someone capable takes the wheel.

A special note here for the members of Congress:  would I have preferred the small table up front near the window?  Of course!  But what we really needed, especially for my friend Stephanie who still insists on rocking the four-inch heels on a special night out, was a seat, any seat.  At McSorley’s, indecision, stalling, and hesitation will leave you standing next to the bar scrunching your toes as you try to relieve the pain caused by fabulous shoes.  I’ll take the quick decision making of McSorley’s over whatever it is you think your doing on Capital Hill any day of the week.  Ponder that for a minute, my dearies.  Thank you.  I feel better.

2.  Light beer or dark beer?  That’s it.  That’s your only choice.  This is not a pub full of self-entitled, have it my way, double shot, no whip, skinny latte, coffee house whiney babies.  At McSorley’s you get light beer or dark beer.  No wine.  No liquor.  The lack of endless choices results in a bar that moves quickly.  Not once during the 2 hours spent there did I want to kick some little tart in the neck because she just couldn’t decide between a frozen strawberry daiquiri and an amaretto sour and really thought the bartender could help her decide while the rest of the world was dying of thirst behind her.  Get over yourself, Sweetheart, and just drink a beer.

3.  It is what it is.  And other than finally allowing women through the doors in the 70’s, not much has changed in decades.  Supposedly, not a single piece of the memorabilia that covers every square inch of wall space has been removed since 1910.  (You can throw out that American History textbook.  McSorley’s has you covered.)  From the looks of the small pub, the furniture and sawdust covering the floor was put in place over a century ago.  The seats are wooden, no fancy cushions or arm rests.  The menu is sparse, to say the least, offering a few Irish-themed sandwiches and cheese and crackers, but it offers enough to fill the hole in your stomach.  Like life, this place is loud and smells funny and is really all about the people you get to share a few moments with while squeezing 10 people around a table made for 6.  Complain about it, try to change it, turn your nose up, but at the end of the day, you love it.  You know you will.

4.  Buy another or get out.  This was my absolute favorite part of the McSorley’s way of life.  When the waiter notices your glass is empty, he will ask if you want another.  If you say yes, before you know it another round will be set in front of you.  If you say no, he will motion for you to pay up and get out.  Loitering is not allowed.  Buy another, participate, contribute, or get out of the way.  This is society, baby.  Be functional or be gone.

5.  Socialize.  If you would like to live as a hermit, I suggest buying a cave in New Zealand.  At McSorley’s, you are forced to socialize with strangers.  Now, for us introverts, this can seem like an anxiety filled task.  This goes completely against the “stranger danger” lessons of our childhood.  Maybe it was the volume of the tiny bar or how closely I was forced to sit by the six strangers sharing the communal table, but before I knew what was happening, I was chatting up the couple next to me.  I quickly learned that an Alabama woman and a couple from Washington Heights (north of Harlem) aren’t that different after all.

So, yes, I want to live as I did at McSorley’s Old Ale House for 2 great hours.  Namby-pamby leadership annoys me.  Endless choices bog me down.  Resting on my laurels makes me lazy.  Refusing to accept life for what it is, the good, the bad, and the strangely wonderful, wears me out.  Yes, indeed, I want to live the McSorley’s way of life.

Road Tripping: Wonderment & Rage

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My recent mission:  drive 500 miles from my current residence to see my family in Alabama for Thanksgiving without losing my mind or wrecking my car.

The challenge:  The world is full of idiots and freaks.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s proof:

Soon after I merged onto I-20 in South Carolina, traffic nearly came to a standstill.  Crawling at 30 miles an hour, I found myself weaving in and out of Christmas trees scattered on the highway.  My first thought when I saw the trees was, “Oh great, along with being squished between two semi trucks, being blown off a bridge (I am terrified of tall bridges), hydroplaning during a blinding rain, and having another golf club fly out of the back of a pickup and take out my front tire (yes, that happened on I-65 in 2002), now I have to worry about flying Christmas trees!”  Then, I witnessed possibly the dumbest behavior I ever seen.  Cars were actually pulled over and waiting for daring passengers to dart into the highway to steal a tree.  Really?  My prediction for a Christmas blessing somewhere in South Carolina:  “Happy Birthday, Jesus!  Thank you, Lord, for all you have given us.  We pray for world peace and for Tiny Tim to recover from the injuries he sustained while stealing our Christmas tree on I-20.  We thought surely he could move faster than he did.  That black SUV seemed to come out of nowhere!  Amen and pass the gravy.”

Later in my journey, I decided to get off the interstate and take the back roads of Georgia and Alabama down to I-10.  This road less traveled took me through Dothan, Alabama.  I lived in Alabama for 20 plus years, but never ventured through Dothan.  Now I know why.  Apparently, the child beauty pageant craze is alive and well in Dothan.  Nearly every other billboard along 431 advertises a toddler’s pursuit of a tiara.  As I drove along 431 and read the good luck messages printed under the gigantic 6-year-old faces, I assumed the parents of these little girls thought it was a good idea and a great use of money to plaster their child’s face (fake lashes, red lipstick, flipper, and all) on a billboard.  If anyone knows how much it costs to wish little Kaitlin or Sophie or Honey Boo Boo good luck during the next Little Miss Peanut Pageant on a 20’x60’ billboard, please let me know.  I would also like to know if in the case of defeat, when does the billboard come down?  Will it stand as a public and constant reminder to the Honey Boo Boo’s of Dothan that they just don’t have what it takes to wear the rhinestone crown?  Needless to say, I don’t plan on driving through Dothan ever again, so I will have to live without understanding this phenomenon.

Back on the interstate, I stopped at a Starbuck’s for a coffee.  As a waited for my Skinny Peppermint Mocha, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons to love the Holiday Season, I walked around the shop looking at all the overpriced, coffee-themed gifts.  Then I saw her: the woman who made me appreciate my parents’ strict rules concerning how to behave in public.  This woman, probably in her mid-forties, was curled up is a corner chair, and she was barefoot.  She had kicked off her sandals before tucking her feet under one thigh.  Maybe she was confused and thought she was in her own house, but I doubt it.  So I ask you, when did we become so comfortable in public that being barefoot with your feet on the furniture is acceptable?  And did I mention that the chair was upholstered?  God knows what is living in the fabric and Poly Fill of that chair.  Well, lady, whatever is living on that chair, is now on your bare feet.  Please, people, no matter how comfy the soft chair and adult contemporary music of the coffee shop make you feel, keep your shoes on.  Let’s at least pretend we were all raised with a little grace and dignity.  Fighting back irritation and gags, I grabbed my coffee and got back on the road.

Over the next 100 miles, I saw the failure of our driver’s education programs.  For the sake of my sanity, please remember these tried and true rules of the road:

  1. The left lane is the passing lane, also known as the “fast lane.”  If the speed limit is 65 mph and you have your cruise control set to 65 mph, get over to the right lane!  Some of us have places to go and are very tired of watching you hold your phone to your ear oblivious to the line of cars piling up behind you!
  2. Furthermore, the signs that state “Slower traffic keep right” means to get in the right-hand lane if you prefer to drive under the speed limit or slower than the woman pounding on her steering wheel behind you.  Get over.  Get over.  Get over!
  3. Tailing me so closely that all I can see in my rearview mirror is the grill of your monster truck will not make me go faster.  Can’t you see that the person in front of me will not get over?
  4. Unless you have Ariel from Footloose in the car with you and plan to reenact the car-straddling scene, stop driving the exact same speed as the person next to you.  Please see #1 for proper use of the left lane.
  5. If I am leaving two car lengths between my car and the car in front of me, that space is not actually for you to fill.  The guy behind me in the monster truck is getting really angry.  He could pass me, but prefers to scare the hell out of me instead.  If I have to hit my brakes because you cut me off, he will literally roll over me.
  6. And finally, stop doing everything that is not related to driving including fiddling with your phone, eating, putting on mascara, reading (this is specifically to the woman who actually had a book propped on her steering wheel), digging around your floorboard, bag, or console, and lastly, please, please, put Muffy in her crate.  Would you drive with your baby in your lap?  Only if you’re Brittney Spears.
But in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the entire Holiday Season, I am thankful for all the elements of my recent road tripping, the irritable and the completely baffling.  The rage fueled my motivation to arrive home as quickly as possible, and the wonderment kept me awake.

Please feel free to include your driving pet peeves, road trip wonders, and rules of the road in the comment section below.  Knowledge is power, people.  Let’s educate the masses.

Yeah Burger, Yay Burger!

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Oh, Atlanta, I have loved you my whole life.  You were the setting for my first professional sporting event (Braves during the bad years) and my first concert (Willie Nelson rocked this little punk rocker).  The Z-Force (dismantled due to safety concerns) at Six Flags Over Georgia gave my sister, Kellie, and me lifelong memories of two fearless little girls.  In 1998, I insisted on riding every roller coaster next to my then crush, now husband, secretly holding his hand through every twist, turn, and flip.  I witnessed one of my best friends nearly lose her mind when a cab driver in 2003 couldn’t find his way from Centennial Park to Buckhead.  “Stop f-ing clicking!” was Steph’s reaction forty-five minutes into the fare when the driver pulled over to ask his brother in Swahili for directions.  The clicking was more than Steph could take.  I still laugh at the idea of our “clicking cabbie” who couldn’t find his way between two of Atlanta’s most visited destinations.

But through all of my visits to Atlanta, I had never explored the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta.  I honestly never knew it existed until a recent girls’ weekend in Atlanta, which is a little embarrassing because I consider myself to be an Atlanta expert.  After a little arm twisting and agreeing to “shop till we drop then crawl” at Lenox Square, my skeptical companions agreed to give a couple of new-to-us restaurants a try.  Yeah Burger in the Highlands was selected for dinner Friday night.  Yes, I know, with all the choices in the Highlands, from international cuisines to fine dining to chic, foodie-type cafes, why choose a burger joint?  Because burgers are delightful.  And a great burger is a thing of culinary beauty.

Now, I must admit, Friday night at Yeah Burger with its fantastic gluten-free choices was an easy sell.  My friend Candace has serious gluten intolerance and, as a result, has not had onion rings in probably five years.  Candace also has the taste buds of an adolescent boy, and, therefore, would prefer to eat nothing but cheeseburgers, pizza, nachos, and onion rings.  So, the idea of actually being able to have a cheeseburger and a side of onion rings delighted her for the weeks leading up to our trip.  I, on the other hand, spent the weeks before our trip praying that the gluten-free buns would not compare to cardboard and that the onion rings would be extra crispy, what Candace has missed for the last five years.  (My friend Candace is hilarious and wonderful and beautiful and scares me a little.)  Much to my delight and sincere relief, yummy noises were made through the entire meal.

Just for kicks, I ordered gluten-free that evening:  gluten-free burger with pickles, grilled onions, cheddar, mayo, and mustard and a side of gluten-free rings.  The bun was soft and squishy, but dense enough to withstand all my toppings.  The grass-fed burger was juicy and delicious.  The rings were crispy, and the cook even made Candace’s extra, extra crispy.  I washed down the meal with a crisp mojito.  Yes, this is a burger joint with a full bar!

My three recommendations for anyone visiting Yeah Burger in the Highlands:

1.  Allow an extra ten minutes to find a place to park and/or be willing to walk a few blocks.

2.  Have a friend hold your place in the order line while you go to the bar.  Why stand in the long line empty-handed when you could sip something tasty while waiting?  The booze will make the wait more entertaining and make it easier to convince yourself that because the burger is grass fed and the toppings are organic, eating a cheeseburger must be good for you.

3.  Weather permitting, dine on the patio.  This is a popular restaurant with a diverse demographic and great acoustics.  So, unless the shrieking laughter of 18-year-old girls being amplified by high ceilings delights you, take your order number flag outside, sip your drink, and wait to indulge in a truly wonderful burger!

Wait for it…Two Urban Licks review coming soon!