October 31, 2002

Finger Lake'n Good

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“Don’t cross the tracks,” an alumnus warned.

“Oh, you never know what might happen to you if you go over the Railroad,” a senior told me.

“Many students come back, well, ‘changed,'” my roommate said.

Well, I recently crossed the tracks. You see, when you cross the tracks, you not only enter into the town of Ulysses, but you are transported into another realm. I found myself zapped onto a highway back in 1974. My buddies and I were, all of a sudden, wearing flannel shirts and tight jeans. My guy buddy was sporting a mullet and my girl buddy had a perm. None of us were quite sure what had happened but we as we drove up route 89, our stomachs started to rumble. We spotted a place that fit the 1974 motif to a tee. It had a linoleum roof, and it looked over a body of water. In each of its windows was a different neon sign advertising a different beer. The parking lot was packed and considering that there were no other cars on the road, we wondered who we were going to run into — perhaps Sam and Woody behind the bar, and Norm and Cliff throwing back cold ones? We entered.

Glenwood Pines was filled with old beer advertisements and pictures as fuzzy as the memories of the people in them. Video games, a pinball machine, and a pool table cried out to my friends and I as we decided — eat first. The two women behind the bar nodded to us that we were to pick a place, any place, to sit. We wandered back to the next room.

Our sweet-as-sugar waitress brought us over the menus and left to get us water, winking before she walked away. Since it was a Monday night and all of our ID’s said UNDER 21, we skipped the innumerable beers and the famous Bloody Mary. The menu was packed so full that you could come here every night for at least a month and never order the same thing. Juicy steaks were the priciest thing on the menu and range between nine and 17 dollars. I watched as the big guy at the next table smothered his pork chop in applesauce and devoured his stuffed baked potato. The Haddock Fish Fry, their famous fish dish, also looked fantastic — the plaid covered man eating it seemed to think so too.

Alas, my friends and I were on college-kid budgets. Not a problem we soon found out. Although the steaks and fishes sounded great, our eyes wandered to the other side of the menu where everything was — hooray for us — under five dollars. Our waitress came back and I ordered the World-Famous Pine’s Burger (voted number one year after year). We also hit up the meatball sandwich, “cold slaw”, fries, and these bizarre little critters called dinobytes. You see, being transported to another realm really stirs up an appetite.

The food came as quickly as we hoped it would and we realized that for $3.95 a parsley sprig is about as fancy as the presentation gets. But we decided the sacrifice was well worth it when we tasted the food. The Pine’s Burger lived up to its title. A huge slab of meat on French bread with all the fixin’s, including Ithaca’s famous white American cheese (where has all the yellow gone?), the burger was definitely one of the best for miles. The meatball sandwich was just like mom (had she been Italian) used to make. We devoured the coleslaw, which was crunchy with a peppery kick, and it wasn’t swimming in mayonnaise. My dad taught me to ask for my French fries well done, or they never will be. I decided to give the Pines the benefit of the doubt. Right choice. Although we added salt, the fries were perfectly cooked, no undercooked soft potato sticks. The dynobytes, which turned out to be broccoli and cheddar somehow fried-up into little balls, were surprisingly sinful. We decided to “sin all the way” (that’s Pines talk for get dessert) with the Kentucky Derby Pie. It was basically a huge, hot, raw piece of chocolate chip cookie dough. We finished it in ten seconds. Flat.

When our bellies were full we knew we had to go back. We packed our things, re-tucked in our flannel shirts and promised the ladies behind the bar that we’d be back soon. Somewhere between there and Ithaca we changed back into our uninteresting selves. And, I realized, I like what happens when I cross the tracks.

Archived article by Alyssa Cohen