When I was 18 years old I went to Phoenix Arizona to study auto repair at UTI. (No, it stands for Universal Technical Institute.) I could have gone to a local junior college but the fact that UTI was in another State made it more appealing. It was my first ever, all alone adventure. I remember I drove the long way to see a girl, got a speeding ticket on the way down, my car overheated in the desert and I liked it all.


Being a bit of a loner, I got my own, very first, studio apartment.  I remember that it was furnished, had a swimming pool, and lots of cockroaches. Soon after I moved in I purchased a bug bomb and bombed the place. I was critter free for months but my neighbors began complaining like crazy. It was great living on my own. I could do almost anything that I wanted to do. It was permissible. I mean, I was 18 and legally an adult, so I made the decisions. What to eat, what to wear, when to clean up. Should I stay up late, should I skip school? Yada yada. I was free.


One of my favorite memories was finding my first bar, The Statler Lounge. I remember the bartender. Her name was Gina, she was from San Francisco, she had red hair, dyed, and was old, maybe just 40. I was making minimum wage back then so had little extra to spend. I cannot remember just exactly how it transpired but I think Gina made me a Greyhound the first time I was there. I did not know anything about cocktails or bars so when I went back I ask for the same thing. She hesitated for a moment, trying to remember, and poured me a Yukon Jack and Grapefruit juice. This became my cocktail.  I had money the first few times to pay but was shocked to realize how much drinking cost. After having a hard time paying my tab Gina offered me a deal. If I would bring the cases of beer for her at the end of the night, she would let me drink for free. I was lonely, she knew it, and looked after me.


The drinking age in Arizona at the time was 19. I was 18. Probably the only time I kept my mouth shut. The Statler was my place and Gina took care of me. Each Friday night I would show up around 10, school got out at 9. I would drink until closing and then go home. Another new thing for me. Pastrami Sandwiches. Right next door to the Statler Lounge was a sandwich shop. They were open late and it was permissible to go buy a sandwich and eat at the bar. Dude, I was in heaven. Yukon Jack and a pastrami on dark rye!  It felt like home.


I turned 19 right before my term ended at school and I remember telling Gina that it was my birthday. She rolled her eyes at me when I shared my age. I hugged her and said goodbye. I still miss her kindness. Not so much the Yukon Jack, that stuff is sickly sweet. Every time I get a pastrami sandwich she crosses my mind. I sent her a letter once and got one in return. She was planning on coming back to The City. I wondered if she ever did.


Speaking of sandwiches and permissibility, I enjoyed a lovely Lamb Gyro at Q’s Halal Mediterranean, locate at 48 Springstowne Center. Halal translated means: Permissable. It usually refers to food that is prepared in accordance with Islamic law. These guys definitely know their stuff and followed the letter of the law in preparing my sandwich. I am such a fan of tzatziki sauce and I ordered extra spicy so the harissa left a pleasant burn on my lips. Another really cool thing that they do is serve waffle fries. Big chunks of potato, waffle cut and fried. Yum.  Chock full of fresh cucumber and tomato the Gyro was huge but I managed to finish it off neatly. Will I go back?? Duh . . .


It was not a pastrami sandwich with sweet whiskey but the late not sandwich shop brought back fond memories that I had not remembered in decades. Thank you Gina.


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Until next time,


Eat Well and Smile Often


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