Cash only, please

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Money escapes my pockets in this city. I never understand where it travels, but once it’s withdrawn from the cash machine, it migrates to another place.

Is living in Manhattan really that costly? Unfortunately it is.

A Monday begins with three 20-dollar bills, but by Wednesday morning, my wallet contains just a few pieces of George Washington. Remarkably, I have little to show for my spending spree except one bunch of asparagus, a box of Raisin Bran, two rolls of Bounty and a package of Nice ‘n Easy.  At least I’ll be healthy, clean, and my grays will be gone.

I always carry cash—don’t tell the muggers, but I do. New York is a cash city, and inevitably when I run short, I need cab fare, a bottle of water on the street, or something or other from the hole-in-the-wall spot where cash is required.

Although taxis now accept credit cards, cash is my preferred method of payment. Some New York establishments have tightened their rules and require a $10 minimum on credit cards too, but the almighty dollar is always welcome.

The other day as I was waiting in line at the Hot & Crusty, a woman wanted to charge a cup of coffee. The cashier looked at her in disbelief, probably thinking to herself, “Who charges $1.25?”

Meanwhile there was a bold sign hanging adjacent to the register, reading—“$10 minimum on all credit cards.”

She asked to pay later, gripping her paper cup tightly. “Can I come back? I live right around the corner.”

 “You and five thousand other New Yorkers who carry cash for their coffee,” the cashier continued to look at her in disbelief.

The woman left without her cup of joe. Obviously, she had trouble keeping cash in her wallet too.

Recently, I made a date to go to Barney Greengrass  at 87th and Amsterdam. I have talked about eating at this 100-year-old institution since I moved to the West side of town. I am not a huge fan of chopped liver, or gefilte fish (who is?), but I love some of the other kosher delicacies. A bowl of matzo ball soup wipes even the worst possible troubles from my mind.

We had a short 15-minute wait, and took our seats. After a brief description of the menu, we ordered what seemed like one of everything. With more plates than what could fit on the tiny 2×2 table, the waiter insisted on the latkes. These were a weekend special and NOT on the menu. Our arms were twisted, but we agreed. Whatever we couldn’t eat, we would take home for later.

Soup, potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream, scrambled eggs with nova, bagels, bialys and a whole lot of shmaltz—what more could any New Yorker want for weekend brunch? There is absolutely nothing nouveau about this restaurant, and I love it. It is a slice of the city from a different time and place.

I devoured our smorgasbord of Jewish soul food in what seemed like minutes. Those latkes were long gone, and there would be no leftovers. As I took my last bite of bialy with cream cheese and gravlox, the thought of cash started to cross my mind. I didn’t notice anything on the menu or see any signage, but often these oldies but goodies don’t accept credit cards.

This wouldn’t be a 20-dollar tab considering Michael & I ate most of the menu, but if we put our funds together, we could pull it off. We spotted the manager on the way to the cashier, and he assured us that it was definitely CASH ONLY.

We got to the counter and we emptied our wallets. The bill was $53.65. With pockets turned inside out and coins included, we had $52.35. How embarrassing! We stood there in a packed Barney Greengrass, pulling fuzz out of our clothing while searching for spare change.

Luckily, our bank was just two blocks away, so hubby made a mad dash, while I held the check.

Then I had a thought. I bet this happens all of the time. How many other Greengrassers have sprinted to the cash machine after breakfast to avoid dish duties or run-ins with Johnny Law?  Furthermore, how often does this happen at other cash-only restaurants in New York City? I have one answer—probably every day.

A week of so later, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Gary Greengrass, the owner. I told him this story and he chuckled. He happened to be on vacation the day we were there for brunch. “Otherwise,” he said, “I would’ve covered you.”

Let this be a lesson to all of us: locals, tourists, travelers, and the etcetera bunch too. Skip that extra roll of Bounty, and always keep a minimum of $53.65 in your wallet. New York is a cash city. And sometimes, those latkes are simply too good to pass up.
 
For more about life in New York, follow me on Twitter , or on Tracy’s New York Life.
 


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