January 28, 2010 by
Photo by Joe Ellis
Once upon a wintry Thursday afternoon in Chelsea, Ryan and Karol seek cheap thrills and a warm place to hang out at. They’ve got nearly two hours before they’re to lead a Roadtrip group into a heavy night of gallery hopping.
Having filled-up on cheap-and-tasty falafels, they head to the famed Hotel Chelsea to find the ghosts of Sid and Nancy. Sadly, they’re refused right away by a man wearing a pencil-thin moustache and a garish chihuahua. Next stop: a bright, shiny grocery store to browse all the exotic packaged goods unavailable in Canada. They quickly become overwhelmed by the weirdness and the steep prices, so they hit the road. But their search is not over. When you’re down and out (or just out and about) in a strange city, if you’ve got an open mind, some guts and a little imagination, finding amusement is easy. One of the best places to go at a time like this is a restaurant, the fancier the better. All you have to do is scam your way in, then enjoy the free amenities and get the hell out before anyone realizes you don’t belong.
The next target is a very expensive Spanish restaurant. Cold and a bit run down, Ryan and Karol come up with a scam in a jiffy, walk right in and tell the hostess they’ve got a reservation. Without skipping a beat, totally straight-faced, Ryan tells her it should be under the name of his uncle, Ed Mirvish. The hostess, obviously unfamiliar with famous philanthropic Torontonians, checks her list for our (famous) uncle and informs us that there is no reservation under that name.
“No, there must be a mistake,” exclaims Karol, as Ryan pretends to make a call to Uncle Ed. Nobody answers his fake call, so he leaves a fake message. He hurriedly pretends to make another call, pretends to get another answering service and leaves another fake message, instructing an imaginary cousin to call him back immediately. Ryan and Karol pincer the hostess with a flurry of explanations and worried looks. The waitress tells them not to worry and seats them at a big table to wait for their uncle.
Within seconds, a big beefy a man arrives with a pair of menus and a basket of steaming fresh bread with individual servings of butter and margarine. Ryan and Karol pause their fake conversation about their fake family dynamics and look at each other with huge smiles of disbelief. Less than a minute later, a young Spanish boy, maybe about 17 years old and obviously just learning the ropes of restaurant life, pours crisp glasses of water from a gorgeous pitcher. Ryan and Karol smile politely and thank him, pursed lips holding-in little giggles.
Why not open the menus? Okay. Ryan browses the appetizers (none under $17) while Karol spreads margarine over the fresh bread and digs in. The entrées hover in the $30-40 range.
The beefy waiter comes back to take their orders. ”We’re still waiting for Uncle Ed to show up,” says Karol. “Yes,” adds Ryan, “we’re still waiting. Shoudn’t be long now.” Almost twenty minutes has passed and it’s almost time to meet the group for gallery hopping, so an exit strategy is needed. As the beefy waiter circles the dining room, the rookie busboy trailing behind, Ryan pretends to take a very loud (and very fake) call on his cell.
“Uncle Ed’s in the hospital? A heart attack? Oh my god!”
Ryan closes his cell, jumps up from the table with a look of extreme worry, puts on his jacket and makes for the front desk. Karol follows suit. The hostess approaches to see if everything is okay. Karol’s speechless, holding back fake tears, as Ryan quickly explains the gravity of the fake situation, also holding back fake tears, stammering a bit. This is a beautiful performance. The hostess is mortified. As they leave, Karol shakes the hostess’ hand and thanks her for her hospitality. “I hope your uncle is okay, she says.”
And that was – to this day – the most delicious bread Ryan and Karol have ever had. This was the birth of a little activity called ScamJam.
See, when we’re in New York City, it’s not about killing time. It’s about making dead time live. It’s about living.
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