Normally I don’t speak much about my personal life here. A lot of it comes from the fact that I’ve been on the Internet for almost 20 years, and back when I was on, there was a certain emphasis on not using your real name or having a lot of identifying characteristics about yourself readily available. In fact, I have done this so well that there is not a lot of information specifically tied to my name to be found online. About the closest I get to talking about myself is on the Facebook page.
Today I want to change that a little. I want to tell you a story of what I did last week, because it was one of the best weeks I have had in a very long time.
Our story starts in March, with the announcement that one Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame would be releasing a new solo album in May and doing a solo US tour during June and July. As soon as my best friend, Mandy, and I heard the news, we started talking about the possibility of going to the show. She lives in Florida and has a family, so the easiest situation for us would have been for there to be a date near her, and I would make my annual visit that week so we could go. No such luck. However, there was a date set for Hartford. Which led to us saying, “Hm, perhaps you can come up HERE.” This would have been amazing. She was born here in Connecticut and moved away with her family in 1993, a year after we met. Aside from a two day visit in 1998 when I didn’t get to see her, that was the last time she was in her home state.
The day came for the Pearl Jam fan club tickets to go on sale. I tried for Hartford. Oh, how I tried. The web site got very overloaded though, unable to handle the onslaught of fans wanting tickets. The next day, the fan club released another set of tickets. Both of these days, I could not get anything. It’s always a gamble with buying fan club tickets, especially because they want to be sure as many people as possible can attend. After all the troubles, the fan club made arrangements with all the venues to offer one more pre-sale on the last day in March. Fate worked out that I was home on this day once again. (The night before I attended a performance at the New York City Opera and didn’t want to go to work on three hours of sleep.) At the appointed time, I got on the venue’s site, entered the password, and thought that once again I would have no luck getting tickets.
Not so fast. Within five minutes of clicking (and yelling at the computer), I had the object of my desire within my grasp. Orchestra, row E tickets. I don’t think I have ever typed in my credit card information so quickly, but there was no way I would lose these tickets! And I had them. Closer to the stage than I could have dared to dream. I shrieked, posted to Twitter and Facebook of my success, and called Mandy. The first words I said to her were “Guess who got FIFTH ROW ORCHESTRA tickets?” She may well have been more excited than me (she’s been in love with Eddie Vedder for at least as long as I have known her, and that is now 19 years) and made plans to talk her husband into letting her come up here for the show. Bless him, he said yes. He even took a week off of work so he could watch the kids while she was gone. They have two daughters (D and K, for whom I am making gifts this year) as well as custody of his brother’s son and daughter.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday. 19 years to the day we first met, a week before I graduated high school. Mandy flies up here, and my mother being gracious, picked her up from the airport. When I got home from work, my best friend was in MY house again! I could not have been happier. We had four days together and not a moment to spare. A lot of her trip here revolved around food, because I wanted to share the amazing food we have to experience.
Wednesday night we ate dinner at Basta, a local Italian organic restaurant. New Haven saw a large influx of Italian immigrants over 100 years ago, and the influence can still be seen around town. You can still find Italian neighborhoods in town, along with the best thin crust pizza on earth. Going through the menu at Basta, I think we were both trying to hold back drooling and neither of us could decide on what to eat. In the end, we settled on an appetizer of calamari, a second appetizer I have forgotten, and for entree we both had penne alla vodka with Italian sausage. Dessert had to happen too, along with a decent amount of alcohol. If I have a complaint about the restaurant, it’s this: they use canola oil. Surprising! As an Italian restaurant, I would think they’d focus heavily on olive oil.
Alright, I have another complaint, the lighting was not friendly to getting photographs of the food.
The next morning, we both basked in our ability to sleep in. Neither of us needing to wake to work, and a true rarity for Mand, no children coming in wanting to wake Mommy. After a lazy morning, we set out to bounce around New Haven in daylight, including giving her the Caseus experience and finding some REAL New Haven pizza for dinner.
If you caught the Big Cheese recently on the Cooking Channel, you’ll recognize the name, as it is the restaurant of show host Jason. The store’s Cheese Truck was also on the inaugural episode of Man vs. Food Nation. If you are a cheese fan, you owe it to yourself to make a trip to New Haven to experience this place. Jason has done an excellent job of incorporating local foods, whether they be nearby cheesemakers, buying up a slew of ramps at the Saturday morning farmer’s market for use that night, or even foraging from his own yard.
With all the potential selections available, what do we pick? Grilled cheese sandwiches. Not just any grilled cheese though, multiple cheeses together on fabulous, thick artisinal bread. This is not your white bread and American singles grilled, this is its antithesis.
Vinho verde anyone?
We also had to get the bread plate when we heard about the butter they had made that day in the kitchen. Chocolate peppermint butter.
Butter, with chocolate bits and broken peppermint candy mixed in. I don’t think a better butter could exist.
More wandering happened, mostly in the way of a museum visit to Peabody*. I cannot count the times I went there as a kid on field trips. But there are still interesting things to be seen there, as well as a lovely gift shop in which to find nice mementos.
We will not discuss leaving the museum to discover my car had been towed. At least I was able to get it back before it was taken to the lot. As I said, we shall not discuss that.
After recovering the car, and getting over the adrenaline rush, we headed down to Wooster Street. Italian neighborhood? This is THE neighborhood in New Haven. It is also the home of two legendary pizzarias: Pepe’s and Sally’s. The line outside Pepe’s was far too long already at 5pm (New Haven is currently in the midst of the annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas, so people were out to get food before their evening events), and while Sally’s line outside was short, I know from experience we would have had at LEAST a 90 minute wait before getting a pizza.
But how do you get the Wooster Street pizza experience without eating on Wooster Street? Somehow Mandy had never had the experience before she moved.
In this case, you pay a visit to BAR. (Those of you who saw The Big Cheese will recognize the name) BAR was founded by a former employee of Sally’s, and the pizza they serve is certainly on par with the best of Wooster Street. Plus, BAR brews its own beer. Definitely a fair compromise in my book.
I had a Toasted Blonde to drink, Mandy had a very hard lemonade with blackberries in it. Our pizza, a small, was a red pie with mozarella (yes, around here you DO have to specify, since the white pie is also popular), green peppers, black olives, and artichoke hearts. Oh, there is nothing like a New Haven pizza. Trust me on this one.
For dessert, we visited a place so familiar from our youth, it could be called another friend. Ashley’s ice cream shop. At this point I am surprised I didn’t start shaking, because I am not used to having that much grain and sugar at once now. Thankfully that was not an issue. Mand had a reverse chocolate chip, and I had a bittersweet chocolate. Both delicious, both rare treats.
Friday was filled with rain, so we ended up spending most of the day at home, resting, reading, playing video games, watching TV. For both of us, such a day is something which does not easily happen, and we reveled in it. Just time for the two of us to talk and unwind. A day like we had when we were teenagers.
Friday night, my best friend got to partake in a many years long tradition my mother and I have had: we go out for Mexican food for dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t get to take any photos. Let’s just say there were margaritas, deliciousness, and more fun.
Then the big day came. Saturday. The hours ticking down until we could sit in front of Eddie Vedder and listen to him sing and strum guitars and ukelele.
Taken at the pre-show. The pub did alright drinks and lackluster food, hence why I am not linking any names.
We got to our seats and were able to see Glen Hansard (of The Commitments and The Frames fame) open with a solo set. What a voice this man has! I’ve seen Pearl Jam play live twice now, and both times I sat through the opener impatiently waiting for them to finish. Saturday night, I was enthralled from the start. But the waiting between sets could have killed me with anticipation.
The show itself… I don’t think I have the words to express how happy I felt that night. We both heard every song we wanted to hear (You’re True, Just Breathe, Unthought Known, a performance to bring down ANY house, Hard Sun, which topped Unthought Known for energy) and then some. We laughed, we sang, we tried to get photos. When the show ended, we were nowhere near ready to leave, which was a very good thing.
There’s an interesting thing about Eddie Vedder solo shows. Sometimes he’ll come out to talk with fans after the show. A friend of ours was able to do this in 2008, and we had decided in advance that we HAD to try to do this too. Thankfully the weather was nice, and warm enough that neither of us needed an extra cover while standing near the tour bus. After an hour of waiting (and when standing in a crowd of people, this can lead to some stiff legs), one of the security guards came out and addressed the group: “Mr. Vedder will be out here in about ten minutes.” We were given the rules, don’t crowd him, don’t ask for photos or autographs, generally, don’t be fools.
That was possibly the longest ten minutes of our lives. But Mandy managed to turn around just as the door opened and HE came out. She whispered to me, so others would not hear her and potentially stir up the crowd, and I just gawked. Oh my God, it was Eddie Vedder! He started to work his way down the line, and I was trying hard to see him, but the people fanning out were blocking the view. Never mind though, because he got closer and closer, and I could SEE him.
The best I could manage with my phone.
The next thing I knew, he was talking to the people next to me, who had flown over from Switzerland for the show. (Pearl Jam fans are indeed that devoted) And then he was in front of me. I’m still impressed I didn’t scream or faint from glee. I thanked him for being such an important part of my life even though I could never express just how much so. I think that was humbling for him, because he said it wasn’t that much. For me, though, it is. He shook my hand, and having seen his interaction with others and feeling bold, I asked for a hug.
AND I GOT ONE!
Somehow, I still didn’t faint. *smiles*
He went on to Mandy next, who was also feeling bold and asked for a hug right away. He said “I don’t know how my wife will feel about this,” which still has us cracking up, but he did indeed hug her as well. Soon after, we headed back to the car, made sure no one was in hearing range, and had our screaming and babbling fit.
I swear that the car floated us home. It may have been late, I may have been very sleepy, but I was on cloud nine for the whole trip.
Sunday morning came too soon, because it meant Sunday afternoon was not far behind, and when I would have to take Mandy back to the airport so she could go home. We paid a visit to one of my friends, visited the grave of her paternal grandparents, and came home so I could make a lunch of local, grass-fed sirloin and mashed cauliflower.
When I first started to visit Mandy in Florida in 2002, partings were always hard. Before that last trip, the last time we’d seen each other in person was 1993. Blame a lot of factors, like lack of money and tumultuous lives. Since that trip though, I’ve been down to visit almost ever year. In fact, I made three trips in 2006 at various times. Separating has gotten a little easier, because it won’t be all that long before we get to see each other again. I also need to make my trip down there sometime this year. Ms. D. would not have it any other way, she needs to see her aunt Soli.
It always feels good for me to expose people to amazing food, and to what my day to day life is like. I hope that I can pass on both the love for such things and an example that anyone can do it.
I’ll never forget those four days. Or that hug.
And thank you all who have gotten to the end of this post. I hope you enjoyed my story.
Happy Midsummer! And Happy birthday to my mom!