I was in NYC the past week to attend some food and cocktail events and to tape some spots about summer time cocktails and spirits for a radio show, during the first heat wave of the summer. For several days the temps were in the mid to high 90's and the whole city was in meltdown. Everyone walked around slightly spaced out and dragging their feet, myself included. For me the weather was a real killer because I live on the coast of Maine and the warmest it had been all year was a day or two in the low 70's, with it so chilly at night I still had the heat on every night since last September. The morning I left for NYC it was 42 degrees out and I started the drive with my heat on high in my car, by noon the AC was cranked instead.
As I walked out of the radio studio on my last day in town it was the hottest yet. 96 degrees in the shade and the humidity was so high that you felt like you could actually feel the water sitting lifelessly in the air. I broke into a full sweat before I had walked ten feet and I started to think about waving down a taxi. My original plans were to walk from the financial district, north up to Chinatown to get some eats and buy some lychee fruit, and then through Soho and into the East Village. Now it didn't seem like a very good idea at all.
I was waiting for traffic to let up so I could cross the street ,when I saw something I hadn't laid eyes on in decades. A Latino gent bent over a small cart covered with brightly colored glass bottles. It was a shaved ice man. There he was, looking like the brother to the guy who set up shop on the corner next to the elementary school I attended in Brooklyn when I was a kid.
I felt like I was physically pulled over to the cart by some unseen hand. I nodded my head to him and I watched the man work his trade. He uncovered a large block of ice and pulled out his scraper and went to work. Quickly he ran the device back and forth across the top of the block. Soon it was full of finely shaved ice and he dumped it into a cup, then went back to scrape up another pile. He pointed to the bottles filled with a multitude of syrups and asked what flavor. I looked them over and asked if he had cinnamon, my childhood favorite. He said Si, and reached down under the cart and removed a brand new bottle. He told me that it was the least requested flavor and that I was the first person this year to ask for it. I was dumbfounded! Cinnamon was the least liked flavor? No one wanted that spicy, sweet, mouth filling and confusing flavor? Hot and cold at the same time, tasting like those Red Hot candies, another childhood favorite, magically merged with granular snow. I forked over my money, 20 times the cost of when I was a kid, and dug in with spoon and straw. Instantly I was transported back in time.
Shaved Ice in New York city(click thumbnails to view gallery)
I was in fourth grade, the last time I had a cinnamon shaved ice, and had just gotten out of a long day of school. I strolled over to a nearby low wall and sat down. I spooned up the ice and crunched away. Hot, cold, spicy, sweet, tasty; just like it should be. From my low vantage point I watched all the business men and women dragging by in their suits, briefcases dangling dispiritedly, as they wandered to and fro doing whatever business stuff it was that they did. I wondered what it would be like to be them, and as I saw how hot they were in their suits I swore that I wasn't going to be like that when I grew up. I never wanted to wear a suit on a boiling hot day, dragging along a 50 pound briefcase stretching my arm until it would drag on the ground.
I slowly finished my ice and realized that it didn't feel as hot as it had ten minutes ago. I jumped up and started to skip down the street, when I realized I wasn't in fourth grade anymore. I dragged a little decorum around myself and looked around sheepishly, but no one had noticed or paid any attention. With a big grin on my face I set out on my way to walk up town. Glad as all hell that I didn't have to wear a suit and carry a big ole briefcase on a 96 degree day in New York City.