After riding across the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, I knew that I would need to refuel before heading back. The plan was to finally try a hot dog from Mateo’s Hot Dogs, a staple on Treasure Island that has been there since 2011. But it was still early and I felt like I should take the opportunity to explore the island first.
Taking a right onto California Ave, I spied a pink shack emblazoned with a sign indicating that it housed Tammy’s Chicken in Waffles. Intrigued, I rode by trying to appear as noncommittal as possible.
As I rolled by the shack’s serving window, I inquired what was on the menu. When Tammy started telling me about how she encases chicken breast strips in waffles, I had to try some. But my momentum had carried me past the shack. A moment of indecision whether to circle around or dismount and walk back left me with my cleat stuck and no momentum, precariously unbalanced and on the verge of falling over quite unceremoniously in front of everyone—namely Tammy—to see. Embarrassed, I somehow willed the bike to stay upright and circled around as she rattled off the selections from the menu. I ordered two chicken in waffles as I dismounted.
“Nice bike,” she said intimating a much deeper knowledge of bicycles than I have.
“Thanks,” I lamely responded, still recovering from the embarrassment of nearly falling off my bicycle. Searching for something more to offer in conversation while the waffles sizzled on the hot irons, I said “it must be over 20 years old by now.”
Holding the bicycle out before me as a shield, I looked down at the bike, searching for something to say that could keep the conversation going from there. I eventually remembered that when I bought the bicycle, I had to choose between a classic steel frame and newer carbon fiber frames. The carbon fiber frame felt squishy as I rode around the parking lot behind the bike store. The heavier steel frame felt sturdier and more predictable.
I blurted “its one-hundred percent steel” with implicit disdain for carbon fiber bicycles. I hoped that perhaps there was an ongoing debate among bicycle aficionados pitting carbon fiber frames against steel frames similar to the debates that continually swirl around SLR and mirrorless cameras, Apple computers and PCs, Coke and Pepsi. It is one of the ways that I have learned as an introvert to make conversation with strangers: take a side in a debate. I would either find common ground or not; either way, the conversation would be kept alive.
“Steel is for real,” she responded, the words rolling out of her mouth as though it was not the first time she’d said that. But I was out of my league. What did that mean? Did she have a similar disdain for carbon fiber frames? What would I say back? “Graphene is not keen?”
The conversation had clearly gone too far into the deep end and me without any water wings. Trapped in my own conversational device, I fell silent.
“You have 6870 components,” she offered as a life preserver for me to latch onto. But was that a question? An observation? I was lost. Having no memory regarding the components, I panicked. Were 6870 components good? Were they cheap? More importantly, what did they say about me? Cheap bastard, extravagant ninny or something in between. Fearing the unknown consequence that selecting the bike components 20 years before might have in the present day, I stayed silent looking down at my bike, masking the shame that always rises up whenever I don’t know what someone is talking about. “Fake it until you make it,” they say. Bullshit. More like fake it until someone reveals you for the fraud that you are.
In the far recesses of my mind, I’m sure a neuron tried to take me back to the store where I bought the bicycle and the reasonably intelligent and knowledgeable conversations that I must have had with the salesperson about the components that I wanted, the pedals, the derailleur, and so on. The flood of adrenalin that arose from my panic, however, quickly extinguished the neurological spark before it could ignite any memories.
Grasping for something to restore the conversation, I reached for a closer memory: the tater tot waffles I’d had a few months back. “Have you heard of this champagne bar in San Francisco called The Riddler?” I asked, changing the subject. “They make these tater tot waffles where they take tater tots and smoosh them in a waffle iron.” I figured if Tammy cooks chicken breasts in a waffle, she might also be interested in other original waffle-based creations.
My comment landed and she started relating how she had once been making some kind of waffle that involved hash browns, that she was working on perfecting some particular original creation but that she had recently gotten new waffle irons that didn’t quite have the seasoning of her old irons that she had been using and so the recipe was not quite working.
By then, I had stopped listening, the adrenalin drowning out her words. “That sounds good,” “neat,” and “sounds good” a second time was all I was able to muster as I paid for my waffles.
I snapped back when I heard the timer sound indicating that the waffles were ready and that the discomfort would soon be over. She offered me a plastic fork. “Here,” she said. “You can use a fork if you want to, or you can just eat the waffles with your hands. I’m from New York so I eat them like pizza, with my hands.”
Visions of being mocked like Mayor Bill de Blasio after he ate pizza with a fork flashed through my mind. No fork for me, thank you very much.
But, wait, another lifeline.
“New York? Whereabouts?”
“Oh. I grew up in Westchester. Rye.”
“We used to play hockey there growing up.”
Hockey? We seemed to be about the same age or at least from the same era. I didn’t know that girls played hockey back then. Did she mean field hockey? Girls for sure played field hockey back then. But she would have said field hockey if she meant field hockey, wouldn’t she?
Flummoxed, I gathered my waffles and walked out to a bench where I could sit and eat them, saying thanks as I walked away.
“Nice to meet you, Dan,” she said to my back as I walked away.
Come again? How did she know my name? She must have seen it on the credit card that she swiped. But why would she call me out in that way? No one else has ever done that unless I was dropping a substantial amount of coin. This was only six bucks! And was it really nice to meet me? That couldn’t be right given my utterly shameful attempt at conversation. “Nice to meet you too,” I mumbled back completely spun out by the entire the events and conversation that had transpired.
Later, back home, I did some digging into Tammy’s Chicken in Waffles. Holy cow. Quite the story.