Life Lessons

So, first impressions are a funny thing. My friend (and bridesmaid!) Brittany and I were recently discussing how some of her closest friendships started with the weirdest introductions.

My friend Sam is a good example of that. I first met Sam through my now-fiance. Sam is basically everyone’s little brother, so I guess his closeness with TF gave him a bit of a sense of entitlement about talking to his friend’s new girlfriend. The conversation (again, the first conversation we had ever had) went a little something like this:

I was sitting by myself at a friend’s house during a party, when Sam plopped down next to me.

Sam: Justine, I want you to tell me five things you look for in a guy, and I bet I have at least two of them.

Me: Ha um…seriously?

There are a couple of things you need to know about Sam. One, he was 16 at the time of this conversation (I was 22). Two, he has known the fiance literally his entire life and openly adores him. So this convo was not at all creepy, just more…bold(?).

So I named off a few things I look for (sense of humor, nice to me, blah blah blah).

Sam: Justine…I’m your perfect man.

Then Sam proceeded to list five things he looks for in a girl, ending with:

Sam: …and (stares into my eyes)…green eyes.

Me: My eyes are hazel, Sam.

Sam: That’s what I meant. Greenish-hazel.

From then on, Sam and I had a special kind of friendship. Namely, the kind where he openly hit on me in front of my boyfriend. I think my favorite line was (to the fiance), “When you die, can you will Justine to me?”

Me: Sam, it doesn’t exactly work that way…

Sam: Shhh…I think he’s going for it.

(Edit: I’m watching the fiance play football with some friends, including Sam, as I write this. Sam just got something out of his backpack and was teasing me about blogging. I told him I was writing about him and his immediate response was, “I love you.” Same old, same old…)

So, it hasn’t exactly been a crackerjack month for the Long Island Rail Road.

Remember a few weeks ago when the whole train stopped running? (Apparently there was a fire in the control room of Jamaica Station, a fairly crucial gateway between the Island and the city.)

Welp, apparently it takes less to bring this dog and pony show down than you might think. Last night a few trees (allegedly…I’m not ruling out conspiracy theories yet) fell on the tracks between Penn and Jamaica in a storm, and all trains ceased running in or out of Penn Station.

Now, those of you who don’t live in New York or have my commute might not grasp the gravity of that statement,  so think of it this way: I would venture that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that at least half a million people commute into the city each day. That means that roughly half a million people were simply stranded as of, oh, 5:00 p.m. on a weekday.

The LIRR is in the middle of celebrating its 100-year anniversary. (I believe the slogan on the website right now is, “100 years…and still going strong!” Meaning the railroad has not lost its sense of humor with age.) This means that in one hundred years of running, it never occurred to the people in charge that maybe, just maybe they should come up with a backup plan. In case of a thunderstorm, which actually does have the power to bring down the whole kit’n’kaboodle.

I actually got to Penn before I realized the extremity of the damages, so I spent a few minutes milling about on the sidewalk with a few thousand angry commuters and curious passers-by. I must have looked like I knew what was going on (to be fair, by that point I did, thanks to numerous concerned texts from friends and the Fiance) because people kept asking me what was happening.

I’ve decided you can tell a New Yorker from a tourist in a second just by seeing how they respond to the news that the LIRR isn’t running.

Tourist: “Like, it’s turned off? Until when? How?”

Local: “Well, that’s just perfect.”

And even though the fact that I’m spending a small fortune every month for service that might be provided is stomach churning, it’s oddly heartwarming to watch this city in the face of adversity.

Instantly, we were all on the same team of stranded commuters who simply want to get home. People who would normally gruffly ignore each other chatted amicably on the train, swapping “where I was when I heard and what I did next” stories and “isn’t this just so typical” jokes.

I even got to spend a few hours with my friend and fellow commuter Laurie, and we talked more than we have in months as we scrambled to Brooklyn where the trains were rumored to still be running (they were, thank goodness).

So yes, I think what happened yesterday was avoidable and an atrocious way of running a transportation system, but it’s also one of those stories that I think will always define me as an at-one-time “real” New Yorker, no matter where I end up in the future.

And it shows a different side of the city; one that sure, always assumes the worst, but is still always ready to forgive.

So as you can probably assume, living in one of the most expensive areas of the country requires a fair amount of budgeting when your parents dont own a hotel.

And I’m not talking about avoiding hundred dollar shopping sprees, tickets to lavish events, or all-night benders at pricey clubs (though I avoid those, too). No, for me the guiltless cash-suck is something much more innocuous: lunch.

When I first moved to the city, it was difficult to get to the grocery store regularly. A supermarket with limited hours combined with the added detriment of only being able to purchase what I could carry meant I was often short on packable meals.

So I’d buy lunch. We’re not talking lobster or price rib here — often my meals were composed of lunch meat turkey if any meat at all — but after a while it alarmed me to discover that I could easily drop $10 on lunch without even blinking. Without getting anything fancier than a bowl of soup and a roll.

I’m a journalist, so my math skills aren’t exactly award-winning, but even I can figure that this pattern could mean spending up to $50 a week, $200 a month. And if you wanted to also meet up some friends for dinner or do anything with a price tag on the weekend? Forget it.

Not exactly budget friendly.

But, because I’m me, simply not eating lunch was, of course, not an option. So I started packing lunches. But you can only eat so many cold PB&Js and limp turkey sandwiches before you start feeling like an extra in Oliver. (“Please, sir, can I have some more?” “Sure, that’ll be $8.50.”)

Which brings me to the less depressing part of this post! I’m on a mission, folks, to make lunch (my favorite meal) awesome again, even on a tightened budget. In doing so, I have become quite the master of the toaster oven. For example, for a week or so I was whipping up these out of nothing more than some cheese, a tomato, and two slices of whole wheat bread:


And you GUYS. It was so good. Then I started making better use of leftovers. Ahem:


Marinated broiled chicken, wild brown rice, and sauteed peppers. Delish. This probably should have been a Kitchen Adventure, but it was one of those meals that I didn’t realize how awesome or pretty it was until I was hunkered in my bed watching Jersey Shore and chowing down.

So, I’m moderately poor. That doesn’t mean I can’t eat well. I think I’ll title my cookbook: The Cheap Girl’s Cookbook: Ladies Who Lunch Without Spending Much.

In other words, Latin for “I came, I whined, I conquered.”

Listen, I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of awesome. Like, there are skittish peasants somewhere who want to build bronze statues in honor of my bravery.

WHY, you ask? I’ll tell ya why.

I’m not an especially confrontational person (understatement). The only fights I genuinely enjoy are strangers’ public breakups and battles of pretension between freshman philosophy minors and junior women’s studies majors.

When it comes to my own grievances, I’m much more likely to sit and stew than to do something about it.

And then yesterday happened.

You may have read my post negatively (understatement) reviewing Grand Lux Cafe yesterday. (You didn’t? Ok, go ahead. I’ll wait…. Ready? Ok.) Well, what you might NOT know is that I sent an edited version of that post (same points, fewer jokes) to the company’s corporate office.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really expect too much to happen. I mean, some free stuff out of the deal would have been nice, especially after the ridiculously bad treatment, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

Then my phone rang at 2:53.

“Hi, I’m looking for Justine? This is Travis, the manager at Grand Lux Cafe in Roosevelt Field. Do you have a second to talk?”

I didn’t (am I the only human who works full time? People always call me in the middle of the afternoon and sound shocked I can’t talk. But I digress…), so I asked Travis to call back at 6:30.

On the DOT of our prearranged time, my phone rings. It’s our buddy.

Long story short, corporate had sent him my email and Travis felt pretty bad about the whole thing. He apologized about eight times, assured me that that was not how business was normally done at Grand Lux, and then he said those magical words:

“So, Justine. What can we do to make it up to you?”

Me: Well, what did you have in mind, Travis?

Turns out Travis had a lot of things in mind. Because unlike our friend Damien, Travis understood that as the manager of a restaurant, there is a LOT he can do.

Starting with a $100 gift card so I can bring the girls back for a redo, and Travis’s personal number so I can call him when we’re coming in and he can make sure they “take very good care of us.”

So, essentially, Travis is going to do everything Damien and Bernadette SHOULD have done. And I would venture to guess that’s why he’s a good manager.

So the point is, I’m giving GLC another chance (although Travis did say that if they fail me again, we NEVER have to come back…he’s such a kidder! …but seriously.). And I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson here.

I don’t mess around.

***Disclaimer: I’m writing this post on my phone on the train — turns out I have less time to blog at actual computers than I used to — so there may be a few more errors than normal. My apologies. /Disclaimer***

Wow. So guess who left you for days with a post about a sandwich? That would be this girl. I suck. Sorry.

You know what else sucks? Impulse buys that don’t work out. Especially when it’s something you’re going to feel obligated to use anyway.

Case in point, two days ago I bought a lotion that promised “luminous” skin. (Total disclosure: It also has self tanner in it. I’m tired of being glow-in-the-dark, folks. And I’m averse to getting cancer. Thus, here we are, with me perusing self tanner in Duane Reade trying to figure out which one is the least likely to turn me a shade of Snooki.)

So anyway, I had used this particular brand before, so I was pretty sure the color would agree with me. And luminous? Sounds great, right?


Apparently what they meant by “luminous” was “your skin will sparkle like a Cullen.” (Get it, lazy pop culture references.)

At least the glittery bits are pretty fine…if my skin had resembled a Spice Girl circa 1996 this may have been a two-shower morning.

I think I’ll be ok if I avoid direct sunlight…like a Cullen.

So remember that time I went camping with The Fiance’s family last year? Well, since no one was eaten by a bear, we decided to go again!

And believe it or not, but this venture was actually more successful (from my viewpoint). Not only did we go to an even better campground, but I have found a way to conquer mosquitoes.


Thanks to this:

(I know, I look good…not.)

I swear the Off company is not paying be (although I’ll take a check any time now), but if you have to spend any time outdoors and you typically get eaten alive, buy this. Stat. I mean it, go!

I got ONE bite the whole weekend. It’s a miracle. A camping miracle!

It’s inventions like this that make me wonder, why one earth did it take so long to think of this? You clip it on and go. Take that, West Nile Virus.