1983: I start to eat at Pizzeria Uno, and it kind of sticks. Occasional bad service aside, it's still comfort food for me 26+ years later.
1986: I move into NYC, on the fringe of a neighborhood that has a decent quantity of attached and/or single family houses where people can put out Christmas lights. Or, as I refer to them internally in an interfaith-y kind of way, Holiday Lighting Displays. I realize there are worse things to do than walk around on a December evening admiring the Holiday Lighting Displays.
Early 1990s: Barnes & Noble opens a superstore in Bayside, kind of distant from me and in what is then a "two fare zone" because you need to take a subway to a bus to get there and there are no free transfers. It is a mile or so away from a Pizzeria Uno.
1991: I move to a new neighborhood that's almost all apartment buildings, so it's really hard to get a good Holiday Lighting Displays experience.
So I like to visit the B&N every so often, in part because it's a different market and a different feel than the Manhattan stores are.
So some Dec. 24, it's not like there's anything happening in the office, I have lots of time, so why not go to Bayside. Did I walk all ten miles the first year? Did I take the #7 to Flushing and then walk? Did I just go the B&N on that first visit or do both Uno's and B&N? Details, details, all lost in the haze of time. But I decide to walk back from the B&N to catch the #7 at Main St. Flushing, around a four-mile walk, and then it's a "My God it's full of stars" moment as I realize that I'm walking through a neighborhood full of single family homes, which are full of Holiday Lighting Displays, and I just can't resist admiring them, and admiring them, and admiring them. And it's such a much bigger neighborhood than where I'd lived before.
Whatever happened the first time, the tradition eventually developed its firm elements. If possible, you walk all ten miles from your apartment to the Uno's on Bell Blvd. Sometimes, I may have walked even more by first going down Queens Blvd. to the recently closed Entenmann's outlet store. Leave around noon, get to Uno's before 3pm, so you can have the express lunch. Stay an hour or so, no need to rush, maybe walk along the Bell Blvd. commercial strip before heading down to Bay Terrace shopping center and the B&N. Get to the B&N 4:30 or 5, stay a while, enjoy the panicky announcements that we are closing at 6 and you better get your last minute items or else, enjoy the atmosphere. And then sometime between 5:30 and 6, you leave. You meander the 4 miles to Main St. to catch the #7, except tonight it isn't 4 miles. Because you just go down whatever block you feel like, wherever the Holiday Lighting Displays seem to be the most colorful, most interesting, most alluring. You have all the time in the world. Savor it. Soak it in. Enjoy it. Enjoy the lights. Enjoy the people pulling out and pulling up, arms laden with packages. Enjoy the lights on the trees, and the trees inside visible thru the bay windows. Enjoy the quiet and serenity and uniqueness of this one night. And then enjoy that last hubbub on Main St. as everyone else is heading one way home from the subway station and you are heading the other way.
Some minor variations, maybe. The Cake Box bakery in Bay Terrace went out of business, but then you discover D'Aquila Pastry Shop. Stop and smell the ravioli at Durso's. Try the heavenly hash at Lazar's?
I didn't get out of the apartment on the 24th until 12:26, which makes it a little tight to get to Uno's by 3pm. So in this case, I walked 3.5 or 4 miles to the 103rd St. subway stop, the took the subway 3 stops to Main St. I hoped this might gain me time to buy something at Durso's instead of just smelling the ravioli, but the line was so so so very long that I decided I would make a special trip to Durso's at some point because I really should actually finally buy something there. The walk to 103rd St. was delightful. Not quite the full way to Flushing but certainly the interesting part of it, and I hadn't done it in so very very long so I just looked around as I walked buy, taking in some of the small changes. The very different walk from Flushing to Bayside was a delight. I hadn't done it in so long. Here's an apartment building being fixed up on Roosevelt Ave. There's the IHOP on Northern Blvd and the McGoldrick branch of the library. The old UA Quartet theatre that was a drug store and furniture store for not very long is now an ethnic supermarket. The left turn onto Crocheron Ave., the meander after the Clearview Expressway to the Uno's.
After lunch, it's been so long since I've been in the neighborhood that I decide to take the very scenic route to the B&N, and go down Northern Blvd. to the Joe Michaels Mile along Little Neck Bay. The added distance makes up for the subway ride earlier. The last dribs of sunset reflect from houses on the other side of the Bay. It is getting dark so I can't go to Ft. Totten and double back, so I leave at the Marina for 28th Ave. and up to Bay Terrace. Hey, it's nicer on a crisp fall day or gorgeous glorious spring day, but those opportunities ain't coming so often any more.
No, the lines at the B&N aren't like once upon a time they were. But the announcements are as frantic as always. Hey, there's somebody in the sf section buying Simon Green's Hell to Pay, and they're buying #7 in the series because she's read and liked #1-6. Sweet!
And then I meander. There's always something new in the Holiday Lighting Displays, and this year it's the lettered Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays signs I see in a lot of windows. Of course next year most of those will be gone, like we don't see all of the American flag ornaments I remember on the walk in 2001, but this year everyone has to have one. I set off at least six motion detector lights on houses as I'm walking along. There's a Homer Simpson Clause at this house, a little music going on at that one. More snow-globe type things than I remember Someone calls me on my cell phone and disturbs my serenity to make plans for seeing Avatar. I start thinking we need to finish a filk that starts "Hrathen got run over by a Mistborn, walking home from Vasher's Christmas Eve. You might think there's no such thing as Stormlight, but as for me and Brandon we believe." Durso's was mobbed like always, but there's nobody at D'Aquila's. It's been getting slower and slower there over the years, no twelve people line like I remember. I don't really like Italian pastry that much but for this one night during the year it's nice to do something different. It's a warm enough night that in a concession to age, I rest in Bowne Park for ten or fifteen minutes before doing the final 30-minute walk to Main St. Usually the meander stops at Bowne Park because I'm getting tired and the neighborhood slowly more urban with less to see.
Unlike the 23rd, I enjoyed every single part of this trip as much as ever I had. There's something special about Christmas Eve, just like there was something special 25 years ago to walking along the deserted Diag at U-M on Thanksgiving night. The walk, the lunch, the store, the Holiday Lighting Displays.
I added another element this year, so infused with the spirit, and came home and put in the entire Back to Mono box set, ending with the holiday album.
And the knees that seem to want to get older a little bit quicker than the rest of me are coming up out of the last dip and don't seem to mind the walking from store to store yesterday, or the 18 miles I must have put on the pedometer. No, not something to do every day, but when I rest them up a little bit by doing the bike or the elliptical instead of a walk, I'll feel like I'm rewarding them for a job well done.