White Castle, 8th Ave between 36th and 37th. Around 10 PM.
When you have a friend in from out of town, you find yourself doing things you might not otherwise do. And so, after a 6:30 showing of Spiderman 3 at 54th and 6th (which I mention only because if you've seen it, that's the intersection the police scanner squawks as the location of the crane scene) I find myself hoofing it some 20 blocks to White Castle. No trip to NYC is complete without it.
It's on a completely unremarkable block (for Manhattan): a few blocks north of Madison Square Garden and a few more southwest of Times Square. Nestled between an unremarkable sushi place and a Subway restaurant. There is a McDonald's across the street. If you want to use the bathroom, you need the person at the counter to buzz you in. A sign above the counter informs you that 20 minutes after you've ordered your food, you will be asked to leave.
"You got exactly 80 cents?" a guy decked out in a Superbowl-sized ring and flashy jacket asks me. "No, sorry," I say as I make my way to the counter, avoiding eye contact, past a girl asking to borrow her friend's phone: "Mine's dead and I need to call my bank and see if I can buy something."
I order my food. Andy orders his. And then the little man behind Andy orders, his voice tiny and thick with accent. The girl who borrowed the phone takes a seat and waits for her friends to order, apparently lacking the funds to partake. She starts singing to herself in honest-to-God the most amazing voice I have ever heard in person.
As we take our seat and begin to make our way through a sack of fries, dipping into a large-sized drink lid full of ketchup since dipping cups are nowhere to be found, a homeless guy approaches the counter. "I'm going to make a deal with you. Either you do me a favor and give me a few burgers, or I'm going to beg every person who comes in here for change until I can afford them." It works.
The little man who ordered after Andy sits down a few tables behind me with his chicken breasts. And the girl with the voice continues to sing. Andy and I chew.
The door to the street opens and a small group of high school aged kids walk in. The man with the accent and the small voice looks up from his food to greet them.
"Welcome to Hell," he says.