In any great relationship, there is a give and take that needs to exist, an ebb and flow that must be followed. There are high points and low, and it’s always a two-way street. But twenty- and thirtysomething New Yorkers don’t really follow any of these guidelines: We text through dinner, look at Instagrammed dog photos at the bar, and don’t call anyone besides Grandma and Mom.
For all the one-word texts I send and receive, there is one relationship that I do work on almost daily, and usually twice a day on the weekends: my partnership with Graham Garden, my local bodega.
There was one of those “top 10 things only New Yorkers will understand” lists a few months ago that asked, Do you know the name of your bodega? Although I didn’t, at the time, I knew just about everything about the place, because a bodega relationship is one that is intimate. You know the menu without looking. You know which guy has the secret touch with the egg sandwiches. (At Graham Garden, a new guy somehow layers the bacon into my bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. I still can’t really figure out how he does it, and I’m not asking any questions.) And you know items to stay away from. I’m looking at you, “Cajun shrimp salad.”
Woody Allen once said that he loved New York City because he could get Chinese food at 4 a.m., even though he never stayed up that late. It is for this reason that I have such a fondness for my bodega. Even though I have never ordered a turkey sandwich at 5 in the morning, it’s comforting to know I can, and that it will actually taste good.
In addition, a good bodega should be a cross between a pharmacy, beer store, candy shop, vegetable/fruit stand, cereal emporium, and primo lunch counter. It should cover just about every basic necessity, from those small circular batteries to sliced ham to marshmallow fluff. Graham Garden has all of that, but better. You need jelly or jam? This place has organic varietals from blueberry to apricot, and at prices ranging from bodega-low to Whole Foods-high. Making a grilled cheese? No problem. The Garden has everything from brie to fresh mozzarella to a couple of types of string cheese.
But the dairy section is where the place really blows it away. Not only does the store have the traditional and the organic milks, but its avant-garde milk selections are better than most supermarkets’. I recently ventured onto the plank and tried cashew milk; it didn’t taste like cashews or milk, but it’s low in calories, so I guess that’s a good thing?
The Garden is the only place where I know just about everyone’s name, and they know mine. Just the other day, they inquired if my hair had been cut recently. It had. If I’m a few dollars short on a few groceries, they trust that I’ll remember to repay on my next visit. And I will be back, for this relationship is set on a steady course.