March, 2004

When Marsha and I were first dating-- close to 30 years ago, now-- I took her to Manhattan for a long weekend. We did all the touristy stuff I never did back when I lived up in the Bronx as a kid. We rode a hansome cab thru Central Park; rode the Staten Island Ferry; went up the Empire State Building; strolled 5th Avenue down to Washington Square and thru the Village-- all that kind of stuff.

I was accosted in the middle of Washington Square, as we bought Italian ices from a vendor, by an old wino who insisted that I was Gregory Peck, and repeatedly demanded my autograph. He refused to believe me when I told him that I wasn't Gregory Peck, and I could only finally get rid of him by signing a scrap of paper: "To Willy: Best wishes, your pal, Gregory Peck". We poked through stores, wandered and window shopped, had lunch at the Russian Tea Room, dinners at Sardi's and Marchi's, etc., etc... It was a riotous, romantic, whirlwind sort of a visit.

Our last day there, during the final hour in town, as we were heading for Penn Station and the train back home to D.C., I realized we hadn't yet had an egg cream. This is a very Noo Yawk sorta thing.  I explained to Marsha what they were-- syrup, a little milk, and some seltzer. No egg, no cream... go figure! Of course she'd never heard of 'em; she's from Georgia. There followed this mad dash from one place to another, up and down 34th street, as we tried to find some diner or restaurant or deli that had egg creams-- to no avail.

We went into one last place-- a little lunch counter sort of a joint-- and asked the counter man If we could order an egg cream.  "Nah; they ain't on the menu" he said.

"Oh, for Christ's sake; doesn't ANYONE in the entire city know how to make a friggin' egg cream any more?" I asked. "When I was a kid, you couldn't take two steps without bumping into a place that made egg creams! What the hell's happened to New York?"

"Hey, whatsa big problem, buddy?" says the counter man.

"We've got...oh, hell...27 minutes before our train leaves for D.C., and my girlfriend here--she's from Georgia, by the way-- has never, ever had an egg cream. I gotta take her home from New York after this fabulous weekend we've just had, and she's never even had a chance to taste the legendary drink of my youth" I explained. "I can't find any place that makes them! It's like I'm on the moon, for God's sake! I'm completely pissed off! "

"Whoa! Hey! Why dincha say so, man? Siddown!" he says, and clatters about gathering up various items. "They ain't onna menu here 'cause nobody ever asts for 'em no more-- but that don't mean I can't make ya some! Best damn egg cream youse've ever tasted, comin' right up, Chief! "

Inside of 2 minutes he had a pair of splendid, frothy, cold and delicious egg creams on the counter--which he would absolutely not allow us to pay him for; no argument accepted.

"Heyyy... I gotta let Georgia, here, know we ain't all mooks up here in big, bad old New York City, right? So; howzat taste to ya, sweetheart? 'At all right, or what? " he asked. "There ya go! Drink up! So, there's still one nice guy in New York, am I right?"

We chugged them down, making appropriately appreciative noises. I belched my approval, gave him a handshake and a brotherly punch in the arm-- and we made it to our train with 6 minutes to spare. Gotta love an honest-to-God New Yorker who'll go that extra mile for ya when it counts..!

Thank you, Joseph Biondi. You are officially The Nicest Man In New York.

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