Tuesday, March 20, 2018
"Where's a good place to eat around here?" I asked Ed, the man at the front desk of La Reserve, a charming 1850s bed and breakfast off Rittenhouse Square. He took a pad of Post-It notes and jotted "Marathon, corner 19th & Spruce St."
"Take a left then a right," he said.
A nice old section of Philadelphia, four-story brick townhouses, one after another, grand pianos spied in warmly-lit living rooms. Spires. Oval windows.
The restaurant was at the corner, where it was supposed to be. A well-dressed older man came by walking his dog.
"Excuse me," I said. "Is that a good restaurant?"
"Yes," he said.
"Thank you," I said, and crossed the street and went in, feeling his eyes on me, as if he were shocked that there wasn't a second part, maybe the scruffy guy in the leather coat and cap hitting him up for money.
The dining room was dim, and so I took my seat at the brighter bar, spread the book review on its concrete surface. A hip place. Directly across from me was the name of the bar, "MARATHON" in big white letters.
"Do you carry non-alcoholic beer?"
"No, we don't," she said. "How about an Arnold Palmer?"
She fussed behind the bar. I put in a plug for actually stocking non-alcoholic beer: St. Pauli Girl. Beck's.
"It's quite good nowadays," I said.
"We're out of lemonade, which is too bad, because it's good lemonade."
"Water is fine."
I looked at the specials, the menu.
"Can I have a dinner salad, and the pork chop?"
"Vinaigrette all right?"
"Vinaigrette is fine."
I gazed at the name of the bar a bit more. She strayed into my zone of the bar.
"So," I said, "'Marathon. Is that the battle, the plain, the race, the song..." There is a Jacques Brel song called "Marathon"—"...or..." a thought occurring to me as I spoke, "...the gas station?"
She looked at me.
"I don't know. I never thought to ask."
That sincerely surprised me, and I spoke without thinking.
"How long have you worked here?
Had I had insulted her, by pointing out her lack of curiosity? It felt that way. That hadn't been my intention. I was just curious, not as common a sentiment as could be wished. I turned my attention back to my newspaper. How could you work there for six years and not wonder?
The pork chop was very good—seared on the grill and drenched, I had failed to notice when ordering, in a bourbon reduction sauce, which to be honest was like a phone call from a former friend. Hey, remember me? Yes, great to hear from you, we must have lunch one of these days. Grilled Brussels sprouts, mashed sweet potatoes. I read my paper, sipped my water with determination, and tipped well, by way of apology.