Byzantium

It’s early evening and I’m in the backseat of a limousine driving through Central Park. I’ve just finished a television interview and my driver’s taking me back to my girlfriend’s place in Harlem. Growing up middle class, being chauffeured in a limo usually meant someone died, was getting married, or going to the prom. Today, however, it’s just a pleasant perk of being in the media spotlight.

“So, why they interview you on the television?” my driver, a bullet shaped man encased in a black suit, asks me.

“I wrote a book,” I reply. “So I went on the air to talk about it.”

“What kind of book is it, please?”

“It’s a book about waiting tables,” I reply. “I talked about bad customers, crazy chefs – that sort of stuff.”

“I see,” the driver says, nodding. “Working in a restaurant, yes?”

“That’s right.”

“I worked in a restaurant near my home,” the driver says. “Hated it.”

“I don’t blame you,” I reply. “Where’s home for you?”

“Turkey.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Istanbul.”

“Ah,” I say, remembering a line from a poem, “I have sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium.”

“Byzantium!” the driver exclaims. “Yes. That was the old name, before they call it Constantinople.”

“I heard you can still see the old cannonballs the Muslims used to batter the gates outside the Hagia Sophia.”

“Yes, yes!’ the driver says, excitedly. “Mehmet the Conqueror! You know about Turkey?”

“A little bit,” I say. “My Dad was a history teacher.”

“You must go there,” the driver says. “Turkey is a beautiful country.”

“One day,” I reply. “How long have you been in the States?”

“Twenty years, sir.”

“Like it?”

‘I love America,” the driver says. “It’s hard making money sometimes, but my kids are born here. It’s a great country.”

“Cool.”

“I work hard to learn English,” the driver says. “I watch American movies all the time in Turkey.”

“You have any favorites?” I ask.

“I like Chuck Connors movie Go Kill Everybody and Come Back Alone. That’s my favorite.”

“That’s a spaghetti Western.”

“Spaghetti Western?’

“Like Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood.”

“Clint Eastwood!” the driver shouts, “Dirty Harry! I love that movie. Do you feel lucky punk?”

“That’s a great line,” I reply.

“I love Clint Eastwood!” the driver says.

“So, is this your car?” I ask, looking around the scrupulously clean limo.

“Yes,” the driver replies. “I drive down from Yonkers and the company sends me the pickups.”

“Do you take fares?” I ask.

“No sir,” the driver says, waving a finger. “It is illegal for me to pick up fares. Some drivers do, but I don’t.”

I smile to myself. It’s obvious this driver takes pride in his work. “Ever drive any celebrities?” I ask. 

“A few,” the driver says shrugging. “But mostly I pick up executives and take them to and from work.”

“Really?’

“Yes,” the driver replies. “Sometimes secretary work late, the company doesn’t want her get mugged, I take her home.”

“Take many people to Harlem?”

The driver looks at me over his shoulder and shrugs apologetically. “Connecticut, yes, Fifth Avenue, yes. Harlem? Not so much.”

I laugh. “Don’t sweat it.”

The driver gets a phone call, excuses himself, and turns on his Bluetooth headset. While he’s speaking in rapid fire Turkish, I look out my tinted window and watch the young and beautiful people as they jog and cycle alongside the limousine. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a view of New York City that I’ve never seen before. I’ve been welcomed inside dazzling corporate palaces and have looked down on the City’s streets from the soaring heights of glittering media towers. It’s all been pretty heady stuff. Now, as I drive though the Garden of New Byzantium, I remember how Mehmet brought the old city down with cannonballs the size of boulders. Everything changes. Today is today. Tomorrow will be tomorrow. My driver will forget all about me, his children will be another day older, and I’ll be back riding the bus. Nothing lasts forever. But that’s okay, I’m enjoying the ride.

Now all I want is to get back to Harlem.


Comments

Byzantium — 78 Comments

  1. If you like Turkish history, you should read ‘The Historian’. A modern day Vampire horror dealing with Vlad Tepes and his dealings with the Turks.

  2. Congratulations on your success Steve. I’ve been reading your blog from the very beginning and have read your book. Can’t wait for the follow up… I’m sure your editor and agent are already bugging you about that. What’s next, a Food Network guest spot to leverage into a show?

    Best wishes and I wish you great success. It’s great to see one of the “good guys” succeed.

  3. Wow, great post. (Is it normal for me to still want to write, “Great post, Waiter” rather than “Great post, Steve”??)

    I love your perspective especially at the end of the post; a glimpse of the world you’re now seeing and your thoughts about it. It must be quite the whirlwind. Enjoy the ride and take care of yourself. And glad to hear about this girlfriend! :)

  4. By the way….I read a news headline this morning that Rocco DiSpirito is one of the newest Dancing with the Stars contestants for next season. My first thought was, “Wonder what The Waiter thinks about that?” lol

  5. I agree Tasha I feel like saying “waiter” still, though now we know your name! It must be fun to see New York from the other side, but with all the years of ironic stories and today’s post it doesn’t seem like its going to your head. Enjoy all the success that your writing can bring you Steve!

  6. Girlfriend? What girlfriend? Did I miss something? I don’t remember reading ’bout a galpal. Cough it up, Waiter Steve – want details. Ya know, where you met, how long, what she look like, what’s she like inside, etc., etc., etc.

    And congrats on your 6th printing! I hope this is a ride that will take a while…

  7. Yeah…what they said! :-) Girlfriend?? I don’t remember any mention of a girlfriend!! Way go, Waiter Steve!! What does Buster think of her??

  8. Sorry, I wasn’t as impressed with the Historian as others. Felt like it was vampiric porn for librarians.

    Congratulations! Only commented a few times and haven’t said that yet. It’s fun looking in on the other side of things. Please keep it up.

  9. Glad to see your still writing! I was concerned that all we were going to get were short Twitter like blurbs of who you happen to be rubbin elbows with today! Nice tale and I think Turkey would be a Great adventure!

  10. I finished the book. I really like your writing style. Not as simple as journalistic but not pretending to be literary. You fit in the middl ground where most of us live. That’s what makes you a great read. I’m more than impressed. I’m flattered that you share all these stories with the rest of us.

  11. Ah, thanks for returning back to your old style of writing little stories! They are such little gems.

    I love this one. Your writing lulls me into a daze for a few pleasant moments. :)

  12. Fabulous! FABULOUS!! I’m SO glad everything has worked out this way. In a world brimming with people never quite grabbing hold of that brass ring (and over-run with those who have, but didn’t earn it) – it’s nice to know the good guy really did end up on top this time. May this be the first of many such successes, my friend. It’s been fun reading your work these last few years – hoping you’d be able to translate all of this into (at the very least) a living. Now it sounds as if you’ve surpassed that in spades. Well bravo! First you, now Shreve from Daily Coyote….hopefully all of this success is catching. So when Calliope’s done with you – send her down this-a-way. Maybe she’ll find a little time for the rest of us too!

  13. Hey! Saw you on Australian tv this morning so just dropping by to say hi! Been following since last year – keep up the good work!

  14. Thanks for the post waiter, enjoy the ride, live the moment and savor it. Thanks for posting a story, I like checking your site while I am at my dreary job and if I see a new post, it makes me glad to forget about working for a moment and enjoy whatever new story you have to tell.

  15. Great post! This is the kind I’ve enjoyed the most over the years, even though your crazy waiter stories were always highly entertaining. You write personal reflection very well. Congratulations on your success!

  16. I was in Istanbul last week. Wonderful city. Fifteen hundred plus years of history. Well worth the visit. And great food and service in the restaurants with tipping limited to a little extra for exceptional service.

  17. Soooo , riding in limos now , eh?

    If I had endured what you did at the Bistro I would have been tempted to “detour” past there and have the windows down to give a friendly wave.

  18. Amazing to have a mention of Turkey. Here in south west Turkey I have been reading your blog for the past two years or so. If you visit Turkey and make it to the south west get in touch.

    Pat

  19. I’ve always thought that the best of America is in its immigrants… being the son and grandson of them, I’m biased, but the love is really there.

    ~Joe

  20. Ah! I’m in Istanbul as we speak! Istanbul is a combination of beautiful architecture, beautiful people, and delicious food. The Haiga Sophia is a modern wonder, sitting across the Blue Mosque. Oh, Istanbul is a pleasant suprise (especially after Jaipur).
    Waiter, come to Istanbul and enjoy the delicious history (and try the Doner!)

  21. A limo AND a girlfriend Waiter, I mean Steve? We want DETAILS!!!

    Congrats on your success Steve. Enjoy and savor every moment, what a story to tell your kids huh? LOVE YA!!!

  22. Wow, you’re officially in my list of ten people who know where Byzantium was. Glorious history in the area, amazing buildings. Hope to make it there myself one day.

    Fun Fact: The Star and Moon symbol on many Muslim flags comes from Constantinople. The moon comes from Artemis, whom the Greek Byzantines worshipped. Constantine added the star when he converted the area to Christianity. The Muslims adopted the symbol when they took the city.

  23. I think its funny how most of the inquiries about THE GIRLFRIEND – DUN DUN DUN!!!! are all from women.

    You have groupies, sir.

  24. I love the post.

    So when are they sending you down to DC for more publicity. Tell your publisher when you come down, I’ll buy more copies for gifts for my several friends who once worked as waiters (Is that a unisex term now?), so you can autograph them. Plus the copy I already bought, read, and enjoyed. It’s the least they can do for your loyal fans down here!

  25. Yes, beautiful, reflective, post. I am so glad to be able to read your “slices of life. They always end up making me think about something new. And, this girlfriend, glad to hear! Tell, Tell!

  26. Beautiful post! I hope your ride lasts for a very long time. I finished your book last week and I loved every second of it! I can’t wait for any future books you might write.

  27. #28 The Fat Lady Sings “In a world brimming with people never quite grabbing hold of that brass ring (and over-run with those who have, but didn’t earn it) – it’s nice to know the good guy really did end up on top this time.”
    A big DITTO, it gives us all hope.

  28. …but what are you gonna blog about now that you don’t have to wait tables anymore?
    Can’t wait to read the book. I’m on the library list. Six weeks. Oy.

  29. Go. To. Turkey.

    I went there a few years ago and had one of the best (and cheapest times of my life). Beautiful beautiful culture, best food in all of the Mediterranean. Leaves italy, greece in the dust. You probably already know that the history is amazing.

    Where ever did you eat in Kansas City?

  30. In your August 31st, 2006 post you write that your father was an english teacher. However, in this last post you state that he is in fact a history teacher? What gives, James Frey?

    Waiter replies: My Dad started out teaching biology, actually. Then he became an English teacher, (He was a journalisim major) and segued into teaching history. So I got heavy doses of literature and history as a child.

  31. Overheard in New York – Wednesday One-Liners

    Girl on cell: Oh my god, seriously. My mom is *so* nasty whenever we go out to eat somewhere. I’m not kidding. Like, she is *never* happy where we get seated, and she’s like, “This silverware is smudgy! This glass has grit in it! The lighting is awful! The tectonic plates of this location are shifting, I demand a patio table!” I try to be as nice as I can to the wait staff to make up for her. Seriously. I’ve seen waiting. Please don’t shave your asscrack hair into my food because my mom was a douchenozzle.

    –jet blue terminal, jfk

  32. cant help but think your blogs have gone downhill since the book. Dont get me wrong.. congrats.. you ahve obviously worked your ass off for it.. but, lack of posts.. of content that it started off with.. makes this unappealing now. best of luck with all of your future successes.

    Former reader
    sarah

  33. Pingback: Round Table: The Return | Raging Server

  34. Saw you on the Today Show. I screamed out loud and went for the volume button as if I have known you for years. So proud! You made it!

    Enjoy the ride. This is the first of many successes for you, I’m sure.

  35. Great post, Steve. Thank you for not abandoning us groupies.
    I really enjoy watching your interviews, it’s a strange feeling – as though someone I know personally has become enormously successful and I am really proud (I hope this doesn’t sound creepy).
    Anyway, I hope you get to see Constantinople as a popular bestselling author (who doesn’t forget his blog) in a limo, with your very lucky girlfriend etc.

  36. I’m relieved that I managed to snake a first edition of your book since it’s now in its 6th printing! : ) I just finished reading it yesterday and thought it was just terrific–I enjoyed it as much as your blog but in a very different way. Congratulations! I look forward to your next book. And I’ll talk up your book on my own blog, for whatever it’s worth. Cheers!

  37. You know, I don’t think I’ve actually taken a moment to tell you how happy I am for you that things have worked out so well. Reading this post and enjoying your reflections on how very far you’ve come is wonderful. Keep it up and really, congrats again on the book and your success. You are incredibly deserving of it.

  38. guys, I remember there being a girlfriend, most recently mentioned during the trip to Dallas, there have been other mentions, just not too often, as if our little Steve, wonder waiter, now global author were preparing himself, and those around him to be in the limelight, and doing that chivalrous shielding thing he’s always done. And they say chivalry is dead. Waiter,(for to Us you will always be Waiter) you are indeed a noble man. Once again kudos on all the success, you deserve it bro, you deserve it. But, and this may end those that struggle with this, would we have gotten to know you, would your blog have developed this loyal a following, and would the book be flying off the shelves if it had been called “Steve-Rant…”?
    just a thought
    take care and God Bless

  39. #52… Nah, just start at the beginning, see how Waiter’s writing matures, and enjoy. Some really great reading, and some so touching it can make you weep.

    #28… Well Said!

  40. SPOILER ALERT!!!!

    DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED THE BOOK!!!
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    I suspect the girlfriend is the woman that gave him her phone number near the end of the book!

    Care to comment, Steve?

    Wonderful, masterful writing, and a fantastic read, cover to cover. Congrats!

  41. You have arrived. You can’t beat taking a limo to Harlem!

    I love that you know what Spaghetti Westerns are! We watched them every Saturday afternoon with my dad. He loved them!

  42. Ride the bus? Shouldn’t you be getting the big bucks from that book? Maybe you should move to Oklahoma where we never ride a bus unless your in school and live in the country or you don’t have a car.

  43. Heh.. I love random conversations with taxi drivers. I’ve been away a lot this year, and it seems every time I get in a cab it’s driven by someone who’s from a place I’ve just been or am going – there was a Turkish guy when I got back from Istanbul (awesome, btw, definitely worth a visit – we were laughing over the total absence of street signs in Istanbul, which leads to situations where a cab driver will take you from one side of the Bosphorus to the other, then find another cab rank and hand you over to someone more local – God knows how the postal service copes), a Spaniard took me to Gatwick for my flight to Madrid, a Hungarian chap brought my cat and me back from the vet not long after I went to Budapest (he was way less terrifying than cab drivers there, too), and a Greek guy who’d just spent four years Down Under took me from Heathrow to my home when I got back from a trip home to Oz. All made for fun conversations and good travel tips!

  44. I’m with a bunch of others… What Girlfriend???? I feel cheated out of a great story of how you met and the flirtation and her saying yes…(unless #59 is right, then I already know…)

    But really… WAY TO GO STEVE!!! You are an inspiration, and from what I can tell, extremely talented!

  45. Hey, if you haven’t seen Turkey yet, I invite you to come and see. Here in Turkiye everything is expensive but when it comes to $ tourists they say Türkiye is cheap. So it is easier for you to have a trip in Türkiye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


five + 5 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>