The air was cool and crisp, and the sky a blanket of gray. I wrapped my scarf a little tighter around my neck and drank in the beautiful cobblestone streets and rows of colonial town homes. I had been to New York City once before but the trip was short and I was much younger.
My sweet friend (and NYC tour guide for the day), Ava, waited patiently as I stopped and snapped pictures of the beautiful streets and tall buildings surrounding us. We were on a hunt for the world famous Magnolia’s Bakery. Ava had been a time or two before, but I had only heard.
We walked and talked, paying little attention to the time until our cold fingers and hungry tummies reminded us of our intended destination. We soon realized that we had circled the same block three times, and still hadn’t found Magnolia’s. Ava knew we were close, but we seemed to never find it so we decided to stop and ask for directions. A kind-faced man in a crisp blue button-down and an apron had just stepped out of his front door.
I smiled at him and politely asked if he would direct us to Magnolia’s Bakery. He put his head in his hands in feigned disappointment and informed us that their treats were overpriced and overhyped, and that his baked goods were far superior. He went on to tell us that he was just finishing a batch of the best chocolate cookies in the world, and that we should come have try his instead of venturing on to Magnolia’s.
My mind flashed back to my childhood, and I could hear my mother’s voice telling me not to ever take food offered to me by a stranger. Ava must have been on the same page because she politely declined for the both of us.
Our stubborn new friend looked up and stated that he would only give us directions if we first came into his kitchen, tried his fresh-baked cookies. Ava and I exchanged glances, and contemplated his offer again.
He doesn’t look too harmful, right? I mean he’s standing outside some kind of Jewish temple…maybe he’s even a rabbi. I mumbled to her.
Let’s go for it! she whispered back with a grin. If we don’t make it out, I’m blaming you!
Having lived more than one exciting adventure together in Costa Rica, a new one on our own turf seemed necessary.
So we followed our rabbi friend (or so we assumed) back through the door behind him, and down a dark, narrow flight of stairs to his tiny basement kitchen. Ava and I exchanged wide-eyed glances as we stepped into the tiny, dimly-lit room.
The rabbi checked his cookies and with an exclamation of glee, pulled them out of the oven. He immediately grabbed paper towels and served us each one of his famous cookies, then waited anxiously for our review.
See! he exclaimed they are the best cookies in the world, are they not?
And they were quite tasty. It may have been the hunger and the cold that had gotten too us, but the warm gooey cookies in our hands tasted spectacular. As we ate, the rabbi baker insisted we go up to his office. He lead us to an old chalkboard and asked us if we believed in God. Without waiting for a response he launched into a very complicated mathematical equation on the chalkboard and explained to us (rather, attempted to explain to us) how this verified the existence of God. As two young college girls studying the arts, we just nodded and smiled.
He then asked where we were from, and he was thrilled with my response.
Kentucky? he exclaimed as in Kentucky, the home of bluegrass music?
umm, yes I replied with a smile, slightly confused by this native New Yorker’s excitement about my home state’s banjo music.
Have you heard of Ricky Skaggs? he inquired.
Yes, I told him, unsure of where this conversation was going.
He responded with another exclamation of glee as he clamored over to his oversized desk covered in books. He is a friend of mine, he told me. I even have a special recording from him, that is unavailable anywhere else!
By this time it was quite clear that the only real danger we were in was the very real possibility that we would spend our entire afternoon with this very interesting stranger, and never make it to Magnolia’s. Resigned to that reality, we listened to a good ten minutes of the special recording and agreed with our new friend that it was certainly a treasured recording.
Surprising us once again, he insisted that we take it with us, so I took it from his wrinkled hands and placed it in my coat pocket.
So, do you still want Magnolia’s he asked in his classic New York accent.
I nodded and breathed a quiet sigh of gratitude. gratitude for the random kindness of this complete stranger, and that we might actually make it to Magnolia’s after all!
He led us back out his front door, gave us our directions, and sent us on our way.
We did finally make it…
just in time to wait in the hour long line that was wrapped around the building.
The cupcakes were quite tasty, but you know what I remember best from that day? Our rabbi/physicist/baker friend.
Sometimes the journey is much more exciting than the final destination, in our case it certainly was.