9 July 2010, 5:15 PM – Forest Hills, Queens, NY
“A soda stand is the perfect place to meet.”
Getting to Eddie’s Sweet Shop was the first interesting part of the journey. It’s a good ten or 15 blocks from the 71st Avenue-Continental stop of, in my case, the F train (though the E, M, and R – and for a time the G and the now defunct V (you can still see the imprints of the G and V insignias on the train sign coming into the station, as the change was quite recent) – run there), but I wouldn’t have even gotten off there if it had not been for the Key. The trip felt even longer with the sweltering heat and humidity, but I didn’t care – it was another stop on the journey, another lock to open.
The heat was assuaged by the air-conditioned Sweet Shop, on Metropolitan and 72nd Drive (not 72nd Avenue, as I found out), an aged building inside and out – it looked like it was stuck somewhere circa World War II. I showed my key and the gentleman at the counter (wearing a green shirt and a blue Mets cap) went to the back of the counter to get the lock…a box.
Really, a box? I thought. It was filled with messages – I read a couple, and wrote my own (on a piece of paper from my Macaulay notebook, which had a crude drawing of a pig on the back). I found out from the guy at the counter that the Key was also good for 20% off.
So it’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled marketing scheme, I thought. Well, it worked. But two things changed my mind on that front. The first took place mere moments later – when I started talking to a fellow keyholder, something I wouldn’t have done if we hadn’t shared that trait. (I compared our conversation, beginning with showing each other our keys, to a conversation between Freemasons after they show each other their rings.)
The second took place just before I left, after having consumed a milkshake featuring the rare combination (well, rare to them) of mint chocolate chip ice cream and cherry syrup, I asked just how old the vintage cash register was. “About 80 years old,” the guy said. “Everything here is original.”
I thought that was incredible – I felt like Marlin in Finding Nemo when he asks Crush the sea turtle how old he was, to which he responded, “140, dude! And still goin’!” While the key only literally led to a lock box, it unlocked so much more.
The journey continued almost a week later in Brooklyn at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which you can read about here.