Hanging Out in Rockford: Mike goes to Budapest

I have been threatening to go to Hungary again for some time now. The last time I was there was four years ago. My biggest obstacle is, of course, who is going to replace me while I am gone? I know many people think my only job is sitting at the last stool at the little bar at the end of the larger bar and watching what happens. But that isn’t true, for the most part. Actually, what I do is mostly accomplished by the time we open.

I am the one who solves all the problems, all the problems that aren’t related to the computer. Where that is concerned, it is Katy Larson who does the lion’s share. Katy, my right hand. Katy, who is going to replace me while I am off in Hungary having a good time. Katy can handle it, unless it is refrigeration, and then it is time to punt.

We start the training course a few weeks before. I take her with me to the market. This makes all the men at the market very happy. They will not want to see me come home. They are happier with the beautiful Katy. She worries about loading the cases of produce. Don’t worry, I tell her, that will take care of itself, and it does. There are endless offers of help. Frankly, I think they cannot wait to see me get out of town.

We have to transfer things like payroll, but she is a quick learner and, sooner than I would have believed, I pull out my laptop and Google Travelocity. I find a flight for a good price, considering this is the high season. I book the flight, then look at Katy and announce that now she is Mike. Later that evening, I am down at the little bar. Katy has to go behind the bar for some reason or another. There are people standing at the door. She looks at one of the waitpersons and says one word: “Door.” I laugh, because now she truly is Mike.

Finally, it is Tuesday, the Tuesday of my departure. I get up at 5 a.m. to go to the market one last time. I am there and back by noon. I have one last lunch at Café Greco, and then rush back to pack my things. I find I don’t have enough room for all the stuff I have laid out, and I have to do an emergency repack at the last minute. I forget my toothbrush. Katy shows up to drive me to the airport. Actually, I drive. She laughs about her driving making me nervous. She drops me at the International terminal. I am on my way.

I fly Swiss Air to Zurich, and then from there to Budapest. You have to make a connecting flight out of O’Hare; there are no direct flights to Budapest. The seating in economy is small for a big guy like me. Fortunately, some folks don’t show up, and there are empty seats—so it goes better than it might have. I cannot sleep, so instead I meditate for hours. This helps somewhat. The food on Swiss Air is terrible. It obviously comes from some American supplier. (I get a 7-inch stainless steel knife to cut my pasta, so much for stupid American T.S.A. and having to take off your shoes before boarding.) I am going to arrive in Budapest tired and hungry.

Zurich Airport is interesting. Security is minimal. No one checks anything. I could easily have walked right out of the airport. I guess the Swiss aren’t busy making the rest of the world mad at them, so they have little to fear at their airports. My connection to Budapest is a bright pink plane that has some weird .com name. I arrive in Budapest, and the guard looks at my passport for two or three seconds. I am in Hungary. I find my son Drew after I pick up my bags. We take the public transportation to Budapest, where he lives.

Drew and his girlfriend Izabella have arranged for me to have a beautiful apartment only a few blocks from where they live. Drew and I walk there, and he leaves me to take a short nap. The apartment is beautiful with hard wood floors and Old-World charm. That evening, we take the public transport again and eat in a wonderful Old-World Hungarian restaurant, Ezüstponty Vendéglö. We have goose liver with the fat and two fish soups, one carp and one catfish. You can read a review of the restaurant on his Web site at Budacast.hu.

Now it is Tuesday morning, long before The Rock River Times is open, because of the time difference. I am writing this in the hope that it can be included in the Wednesday edition. We are going to Kaposvar and Taszar tomorrow. We are meeting with the mayor of Taszar concerning the Rockford Hungarian Sister City Committee, of which I am part. The mayor is going to pick us up at the train station. I will write more about this next week.

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 6-12, 2007, issue

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