The summer after I graduated college, I worked as a fact checker at [REDACTED]. My dad’s law firm was in the same building as my magazine. Most afternoons, he and I would get a snack at what he called the French Café, which was really an Au Bon Pain.
I was going to move to D.C. after the summer, and I didn’t take the job too seriously. Nor did they take me too seriously; I didn’t even have a security pass to the building.
One day in late August, I had plans to spend the evening with my friend E—. She and I had been best friends since 8th grade. Eighth grade may seem old school, but it’s not really. Second grade is old school; by eighth grade, you’re old enough to choose your friends.
That night, I left my wallet at work, and I couldn’t go back and get it. I had maybe six dollars in my pocket. E— had just started her first real job and had set up her first real ATM account the week before. She couldn’t withdraw money yet and didn’t have any cash either. Between us, we had about $10 and an entire night to ourselves in New York.
We decided to walk around the Upper West Side; no other part of Manhattan is more beautiful at sunset. After a dinner that included sampling from health food stores and pizza, we had about $3 left. I was determined to spend my portion of that money on Newman’s Own Sparkling Lemonade.
If you’re a connoisseur of lemonade in the least, you know that Newman’s Own is the best. It maintains the sour-sweet balance that is essential to good lemonade. A glass of Newman’s Own doesn’t leave your throat filled with gunk nor does it give you a sugar high. Their sparkling lemonade takes it a step further, adding bubbles without watering down the flavor. Truly, if ambrosia were mass produced by a charitable food company and turned into a drink, it would be Newman’s Own Sparkling Lemonade.
But as is the case with most of premium drinks, Newman’s Own Sparkling Lemonade is hard to find. Go into any bodega anywhere in New York and you can buy a bottle of Coke. But getting a specific, quality drink is a scavenger hunt.
Luckily, E— has never minded spending an evening searching for a juice drink. We walked into nearly every supermarket, bodega and deli from 86th and Broadway to Grand Central. I’m sure E— would have preferred if I had just bought an Orangina, and in a pinch, I would have settled for the lemon drink Orangina makes, which is quite tasty. But on this day, nothing would quench my thirst but Newman’s Own Sparkling Lemonade.
E— and I weren’t really in a rush to get anywhere. We were just walking around Manhattan, talking about nothing, everything, how before gym class in high school, girls would walk into the locker room and scream, to no one in particular, “Yo, anybody got lotion?”
Bodega owners don’t take any pride in stocking something as prosaic as a lemon-drink. When we finally found it, at a deli on 42nd and 5th, there wasn’t a sign outside advertising their wide selection of citric beverages. The guy at the counter didn’t even know how sought out his goods were.
Unfortunately, the people who own the deli did know how good their location was. At the counter, I found out the price of the drink was $2, fifty cents more than I had. Without thinking, E— opened her wallet and gave me the difference. And with a thick Korean accent, the deli guy said to us, “Good friends.”
It’s a sappy story, but a true one. Every time I go to Grand Central, I try to stop by that bodega; walking in there just fills my heart.