After our day in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, we lodged at a bed and breakfast a few miles away in the unromantically named Mechanicsburg and went to a restaurant that proclaimed it served an unknown cuisine to me, Ukrainian/Mediterranean food. We arrived at seven and were the only diners; when we left, there were two others. Our attractive young server, Mina, who had a slight accent I could not place, told us about appetizer specials, making quite a push for some special meatballs, which I ordered. She told us that the chef would tell us about the main course specials.
Soon he appeared. He (I have forgotten his name) was a talker. He asked where we were from, and after hearing Brooklyn, he told us that he loved New York, visited frequently, and rambled on about how sad NYC was these days in the aftermath of Covid. Hardly pausing to take a breath, he told us that he was from Egypt, had been in the United States for thirty-nine years, and had met his wife, the namesake of the restaurant, in this country. She was from Ukraine, and then the origin of the unusual fusion cuisine became clear.
He asked what we might be interested in eating. I said that I had seen a pork shank and a lamb shank on the menu. He interrupted and said that he had a special lamb shank that night. This was lucky because supply problems were making it hard to obtain this cut. “Even New York restaurants can’t get them.” Because of the present rarity, it was expensive–$49. When I said nothing in response, he started to write this down as my order, and I spoke up saying that was not going to be my choice.
Unprompted the chef told us, “I did not vote for Biden. The government gives away money, and people won’t work.” He went on to complain that he could not hire staff. I bit my tongue. I did not point out that the restaurant was almost empty and did not look as though it needed more workers, and I did not say that the data do not indicate the extended unemployment benefits have been a significant cause of labor shortages. But I could not restrain myself entirely and did say, “This is a great country . . . if you are rich.” I could see Mina watching me with wide eyes, and I wondered what she was thinking.
Mina later told us that she was from Uzbekistan and that she and her family had been in the United States for only a few years. I commented that her English was very good, and she looked a bit surprised. I asked how they had come to settle in this area. She replied, “We had no choice. We are refugees, and we were put here.” I did not find out what agency had settled them in the greater Mechanicsburg area, but when I asked why they had to leave her native country, she simply said, “A dictator.” I thought back to a Jewish Uzbek barber who had told me eighteen months ago that when he was growing up, thirty percent of Uzbekistan had been Christians and Jews but that now it was 95% Muslim. (See post of April 1, 2020. Search Results for “uzbek” – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog). I wondered if this explained Mina’s refugee status.
I don’t remember what main course I did get at this restaurant, but it was a lot of food—the meatballs I had ordered would have sufficed. The spouse and I both had food left, and we quietly agreed that we did not want to look as if we had not enjoyed the cooking, so we had the leftovers packed up to take with us, even though we knew that we would not be eating them. We threw away the containers the next day.
The next morning we went to an antique store in the modest downtown. I bought a Christmas coffee mug I did not need but will use in the festive season. Then, in a who knew? moment, we went to a Rolls Royce museum. A woman on the phone told us that it was not officially open and we could not get the usual guided tour, but we could stop by and look around. She was not there when we arrived, and a man told us that the museum was closed. We explained our phone conversation, and after a few moments while he fruitlessly looked for the visitors’ book to sign, he waved us in and retired to an adjoining shop area where a Rolls Royce was being restored. On display were a dozen or more vintage Rolls Royces and Bentleys. I don’t care much about luxury cars, but they were beautiful. As we slowly walked around each car peering in to see details, but never touching as we were cautioned, the man came out periodically from the workshop, told us some things about the car, explained the Rolls Royce drivers club was headquartered here, and said that the museum was part of the Rolls Royce Foundation. Who knew? A Rolls Royce Foundation. He indicated with no irony that this was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization for automobiles for the ultra-rich.
As we were nearing the end of our stay, the woman who had answered the phone returned from lunch. I have seen many women these days with purple hair, but this was the first time I had seen someone whose blouse perfectly matched her hair color. Did she change the color each day depending on what she was going to wear? Another question I will never have answered.
She brought us over to her favorite car—a relatively modern Rolls with a sparkly, blue finish. She explained that a cult leader in Oregon had his followers give him the expensive cars instead of money. When the guru was found committing crimes, he was deported back to India and the government seized his assets. The sparkly Rolls (frankly ugly), one of the dozens he had owned, ended up in the museum.
Before leaving, we stepped into a separate room—an art gallery—containing hyper-realistic oil paintings of vintage Rolls Royces, including one adapted for desert use by Lawrence of Arabia, who in real life was not nearly as handsome as Peter O’Toole.
I won’t say that that this is a destination museum, but if you are in the area, it’s worth a detour.