Waiting is a part of life. Sometimes waiting is forced on us and other times we choose to wait. And when I’m waiting, sometimes I wonder, “Is there anything that’s worth waiting for? Anything that’s worth putting other things on hold for?” There are a number of deep thoughts behind the waiting thing but today, we’re just gonna float a little and leave the deeper diving for later.
Standing on a ridiculously long line to get into a restaurant is not high on my list of priorities. Unless I’m with exceptional company who INSISTS on it, you won’t find me choosing eateries like Carmine’s or Shake Shack any time soon. A Disneyworld (you pick the attraction) sized line as the pre show for…. lots of spaghetti or burgers, fries and shakes? Nope. Not me. We can get just as good somewhere else. And as for standing on a similarly long line to get jelly donuts in a BAKERY? Definitely NOT something that jazzes me, NOT even if that bakery is the focus of a hit cable TV show. There are plenty of other jelly donuts in the sea. Not worth waiting for.
When I was a kid, Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken was one of several possible bakery stops made by family members who wanted to bring a “nice piece of cake” to someone’s house when they went visiting. Each branch of the family had their favorite stop; each bakery had a specialty. Judicke’s in Bayonne had “the meltaway,” a delicious type of crumb cake that literally melted in your mouth (one of Aunt Margie’s favorite “brings”). Paris Bakery, in the Greenville section of Jersey City, had a fruit and custard tart (Aunt Jenny loved it when one of those showed up but I hated the slimy fruit on top). Monteleone’s, in the Jersey City Heights, was the stop for Italian pastry, cookies and cannoli (and that grumpy old lady who sat in the window). And, if anyone wanted the BEST lobster tails on the planet, a trip to Carlo’s was on the itinerary. The sweet little spot, like all the good bakeries in and around the ‘hood, had a wonderful aroma and was always filled with delicious baked goods and samples of the beautiful specialty cakes.
We were a cake, buns and pastries kind of family so, if we weren’t swapping home made holiday baked goods (our plate of struffoli, assorted taralle or easter pie for yours), the ubiquitous white bags and boxes from local bakeries were familiar sights in everyone’s kitchens. You could find them, most often, on top of the washing machines. And it’s no wonder that those bags were such a staple in the households. Mom and dad each came from large families. They didn’t have a lot of money so, “to get the best bang for their buck “my aunts and uncles said when they were kids, they’d go to the bakeries late in the day to get bags of leftover buns for a nickel.
As I got older, went out on my own and became a little more health conscious, bakery bags were no longer a standard part of the kitchen décor. If there were baked goods around, they had the Entenmann’s label on them. But, from time to time, after having dinner somewhere in Hoboken, picking up a couple of Carlo’s crispy, creamy Lobster Tails was a nice way to end the evening. They really were special favorites, sometimes serving as “pick me ups” on drab days. You know how that goes … eat and you’ll feel better; eat good sweets and … well … the sky’s the limit. For a minute.
Time moved on, life changed and trips to Hoboken were few and far between. Parking was becoming ridiculously difficult and, after finding a space, there was usually a long wait to be seated in any of the nice/fun/hip restaurants (remember from above that I’m not a fan of standing on long lines waiting to eat). As collateral damage, the trips to Carlo’s stopped as well. The last intentional trip I made to Carlo’s was in 2007 to order a special cake in celebration of the civil union between two of my most wonderful heart brothers. And as I think about it, the only lobster tails that occasionally enter my mind are the ones that start out in the ocean rather than the oven.
Fast forward a couple of years. 2009. “Cake Boss” hits cable TV and what a nice surprise! Carlo’s bakery with its own reality show letting us see the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes while Buddy, his family and his artistic team create their delicious specialties for various occasions, charities, events and celebrities. How cool was that? And, of course, the crowds went wild! And what a boon for business!!!
At around that same time I’d moved back to Jersey City and started practicing yoga at Devotion studio located just around the corner from Carlo’s. So late one afternoon, before a class, I thought I’d head to the bakery to reminisce a bit and grab a snack to take home. BAD IDEA. The line of people heading to Carlo’s was about two blocks long and three people deep and they were taking pictures! Hmmm … Times Square in Hoboken … all they need are a few Elmos, Sponge Bobs and a Naked Cowboy. I thought OK … it’s becoming “famous” and attracting more business including tourists. I’ll come back in a couple of hours after class, the line will be gone for sure. BAD IDEA AGAIN. The line was STILL just as long. Newcomers replaced those who’d been served. What the heck?!?! The stuff is good but, SERIOUSLY? Do they know that, once they get inside, it’s a little bakery that smells really good and has the same good sweets that the best (Italian) bakeries in their neighborhoods have? I mean, seriously. Giorgio’s Italian and French Pastry on 11th and Washington may not have the ambiance but the baked goods there are delicious, too.
I honestly “get” the crowd drawing power of celebrity. I “get” that excited people think they might actually see Buddy or some of the other folks who are on the show. I “get” that it’s important to people to visit that place that’s on TV. My friend Lorraine, had folks visiting from Missouri and they INSISTED on going to Carlo’s, big line and all. What I don’t get is that, if I just wanted to buy one lobster tail or a jelly donut, the only way I can do that is to stand on that long line. There’s no express service; no foot through. Locals for whom Carlo’s was the regular stop for a donut and coffee on the way to work or on break from work were boxed out of doing that because of the crowds. Doesn’t seem right. I’m not sure if that’s changed; if there’s been some alternate way of serving the “drive by” regulars, but it would be nice if that happened. Or maybe it was time for the regulars to change their stop and shift their business to other establishments who needed it … after all, there are many other places to get “coffee and” in Hoboken. Why not spread the wealth around?
Over the course of a couple of years I tried getting to Carlo’s before or after a yoga class but there was always that crazy crowded long line; rain or shine. YES … they stand on line in the rain, too!! One night, though, while walking back to the PATH after a class in the uptown studio, I noticed that there was no line in front of the bakery. How curious? And how cool! Maybe this was the right time to get here. Maybe a Napoleon! NO too rich. My heart started racing a block away from the place. Would I finally be able to pick up a cookie or that jelly donut I always joke about? NOPE … To my dismay, as I got closer, I realized OF COURSE THERE’S NO LINE. Carlo’s was closed for the evening! And I laughed.
So fast-forward again. It’s 2013. I’m living in NYC now, haven’t been back to Hoboken much and haven’t really thought of Carlo’s. I stopped watching “Cake Boss” after the first season because reality TV just isn’t my thing. Then, just before a rehearsal at a little black box theatre on 42nd street, I looked out the window to see THE CAKE BOSS CAFÉ!!! Holy crap! He’s HERE! Of course … Bring the mountain to Mohammed, too! I laughed, took some photos and let it go … I couldn’t get into the *original* bakery so there’s no way I’d be stopping in at this tourist trap.
Well …. Never say never, right? A month later, after a day of back to back appointments and constant rain, I was on my way back uptown, wet and hungry. As I walked toward the C station on 42nd street I passed The Cake Boss Café, and then … doubled back. No line outside. Just a few people standing at the counter and folks sitting at the tables. Hmmm. Smells good. Looks good. OK … just this once because I KNOW there MUST be a line out the door and two blocks long on a regular sunny day.
Out of all the delicious tempting baked goods and pastries, including lobster tails, I chose a simple piece of crumb cake. It was really good and I enjoyed every bite. But would it be worth the wait on a line two blocks long and three people deep either in Hoboken or NYC? No way. And I’ll stick to that story. I’m sure there’s really good crumb cake out there somewhere else minus the wait.
And apples are really good, too.
But who knew I’d have to move to New York City to finally get into Carlo’s Bakery without a wait?
So what is the value of time spent standing on lines that seem to be pointless. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s not about *wasting time* on those long lines, it’s about sharing the experience of that long line with someone you love and punctuating it with something you might not ever do again. Thus creating a new story to add to the Life Book.
At the top I hinted this could get deep. And I’m going to continue to shake the snowglobe.
You can be your own judge. What’s worth waiting for?