Hanging Out in Rockford: Blame it all on Anthony—part two

My son Drew, his friend Anthony and I are eating and drinking in a Serbian restaurant in Budapest. We have just consumed the largest meat plate in the world. A beautiful blonde Hungarian woman makes a remark to the bartender about the two handsome young men and, before you know it, she moves over to sit with us. I tip the bartender, and she says it is the largest tip she has ever gotten. That’s as it should be for putting up with me. Drew and I leave Anthony with the beautiful Hungarian and make our way to the public transportation that takes us back to his neighborhood. I don’t stop at the neighborhood bar—I am too wound up about going home.

I cannot sleep, and I read my third Paul Auster novel in a week (New York Trilogy). Finally, about midnight, I try to lie down, setting the alarm for 5:30. I cannot sleep, and spend the time thinking about coming home to the USA and all the things I had forgotten to do before leaving. Exasperated by my inability to settle down, I get up and start to pack. I move about slowly, cleaning the beautiful little apartment. I want to leave it as nice as I found it.

About 6:30, I walk to Drew’s place, carrying my suitcase and all the gear he had lent me to stay in the apartment. I ring the bell, and Drew comes down. He suggests we go have coffee at the outside café down the street. When we get to the café, they are not open. We sit on an outside bench, and he calls me a cab to get to the airport. Tears come to my eyes as I hug my son and get in the cab to begin my journey home. I watch as he walks away, and then lose sight of him as the cab turns a corner.

Traffic on the way to the airport is heavy, but we arrive in plenty of time. My trip home is fairly uneventful. Security in Europe is not crazy like it is here. My departure is simple. I sit in the Budapest airport and eat a slice of pizza, and then climb on the Swiss Air transport that takes me to Zurich. The only unusual thing in Zurich is I have to remove my shoes because we are going to the U.S. No one else in the world does this stupid stuff.

Back in America, I am expecting the usual hard time for someone traveling on a foreign passport when I get to Chicago, but this time is different. The man doing customs inspection glances at my papers and says welcome home, and that is it, I am back in the USA. I walk out the front door of the terminal, and the Van Galder bus with “Rockford” on it is sitting right there. Almost too easy.

Once we arrive in Rockford, I ask the woman who is working at the terminal to order me a cab. She says it will be about 20 minutes. An hour later, I am still waiting. She takes pity on me, and tries to help out by calling them again, only to find out they haven’t even assigned someone to my ride. I have her tell them to forget it, and call the Irish Rose to see if someone can come to get me.

The beautiful Katy jumps in my van and drives out to the east side to pick me up. It’s a good thing because I have a present for her from Pecs, a town Drew and I visited. I wanted to show her how much I appreciated her filling in for me so I could get away.

While I am sitting there, a very attractive blonde woman walks up to me and says hi. At first, I don’t recognize her, but then realize she is someone I went out with one night a couple of months ago. She tells me she is getting married and moving out of town (the story of my life).

Katy is going to the market in the morning. She takes my van, and heads off to stay at her sister’s in Chicago. I enter the Rose, and get Nick to take my bags upstairs because I am so tired. I sit there with him and Molly, and we drink the last of the pálinka Iza and Drew brought me on their trip here. Then, we go upstairs to drink some wine. Finally, Molly and Nick leave, and I warm up some hot dogs that are in the freezer and sit in front of the television to eat them. Then, I go to bed and sleep, only to wake at 5 a.m. I am still on Budapest time.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the June 20-26, 2007, issue

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