Week 48: Subway Magicians and Cuban Diners

Those who frequent the New York subway are bound to encounter a vast array of colorful characters trying to play for, dance for, beg for, and extort money from those New York commuters with more traditional sources of income. Ranging from teams of teenagers with legitimately impressive hip-hop acrobatic skills to that dude Llamar who has been trying to get seventeen dollars for a bus fare for the last, like, seven years, one is rarely bored with these panhandlers. However, just the other day, one subway performer transcended all others in my mind.

While aboard the L Train, stopped at 1st Ave, an old man rolled a box on wheels onto the subway car. I noticed him immediately, for his inhuman stride and the slight grin on his face that was disturbing for reasons unknown. Once the doors closed, he removed a wand from his jacket and used it to tap the flat circle black circle in his other hand. It instantly became a top hat.

The commuters exchanged glances but said nothing. Perhaps the most unnerving part was, neither did he. Without introduction or explanation, he opened the wheeled box, removed a deck of cards, and proceeded to do a few innocuous tricks. It was met with a mild, if slightly-confused applause. He held up one hand, then took off his top hat. He showed us the inside of it. Empty. Then he tapped it once and a brilliant white rabbit emerged from it.

One woman released a quick scream. This wild hare on the subway was clearly a terrifying phenomena for her. This trick was met with no applause, only a quiet hush, as people began to wonder if this subway magician was indeed a master of the dark arts, and applause would somehow bolster the devil’s craft.

He had a choke-hold on the attention of the subway car by this stage in the game, and yet, we had yet to arrive on 3rd Ave. Perhaps, I wondered, we are all in purgatory and this is our torture.

He reached back into his terrible box. From it, he withdrew a handkerchief, showing a bit more teeth in his grin. The bald man next to me squirmed in his seat. The sinister magician turned the cloth both ways to show it was, in fact, just a regular handkerchief. That was, of course, until he placed it on his fingertips, removed it, and revealed a dove, perched atop his knuckles.

At that moment, the doors opened, and numerous people sprinted off the train, as if it were about to combust. I was not far behind, narrowly escaping as the doors closed behind me. Those poor souls still lingering within the haunted cart. I watched as his grin became a full-fledged smile and he reached into his portable chest of horrors for a fourth time. Breathing a sigh of relief, I realized I had been spared the wrath of his satanic powers.

Then I went and got Cuban sandwiches.

Week 48: Coppelia

Even after living in New York for a year and a half, the city constantly surprises me with its sheer limitless quantities of awesomeness. My latest discovery was Coppelia, a Cuban/Latino 24-hour diner located in Chelsea.

With deference to my New Jersey homies, diners don’t usually have the best reputation for things like “quality of food” and “places I want to spend my hard earned American cash.” However, Coppelia smashes down the hammer with jaw-dropping food, helmed by chef Julian Medina, the maker of the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had.

Cuban sandwiches are always the same, a combination of roasted pork, ham, Swiss Cheese, pickles, and mustard. However, most Cuban sandwiches make the two exact same mistakes:

1.) Thinking low quality ham, pickles, mustard etc. are acceptable.

2.) Drying the shit out of the roasted pork until it tastes like pheasant

WIthin this diner, the ingredients are all top-notch; they skimp on nothing to bring the illest of the sandwich construction. The roast pork, however, is the game changer. I never understood the word “succulent” prior to my adventure to Coppelia, but now, I fully comprehend. When one bites into perfectly roasted meat, it should ooze gorgeous meat juice like an orange getting squeezed by a roided-up ninja. That, my friends, is succulent.

Not to mention, the Torta de Milanesa, a breaded chicken cutlet balanced by black beans, guac, lettuce, and chihuahua cheese, and topped with chipolte mayo and rajas, is fantastic.

Or, the glory of one of the greatest starters I’ve ever experienced, the Mac and Chicharron, a macaroni and cheese fused with pork belly, sambal, and chicharron (and if you don’t know what those last two are, they’re super hot red peppers and the crispiest of pork rinds possible).

For a place with a liquor license that is open 24/7, with live DJ’s and a super friendly staff, it’s a crime (but also a beautiful surprise) that I am just discovering Coppelia now. Better now, of course, than never, though.