Back in early March, I don’t know if it was optimism or skepticism, but I was holding onto a ray of hope that Covid-19 would be overhyped. The talk of sheltering at home, self-quarantining, maybe this would last for a couple of weeks, but then everything would blow over. Go back to normal.
Then we started seeing the reports from Spain and Italy. My wife’s cousin lives in Madrid and when we talked with them over a Zoom call, we saw the bags under their eyes and this tired reality of being trapped inside for weeks on end. It felt like Game of Thrones. Covid is coming. The “if” became “when” and now it was just a matter of time before the U.S. started to look like Spain and Italy. Normal might not be here for a while.
New York was when it officially felt close to home. The pictures of exhausted healthcare workers with red marks on their faces. Hospitals running out of space. The daily press conferences with Andrew Cuomo pleading for more ventilators. Begging us to take the virus more seriously. Warning us that New York could be the harbinger of things to come.
Life as an Essential Worker
Samer’s family is still in New York City. They kept working at the bagel shop, making special catered deliveries to NYU and local hospitals.
As the cases started to accelerate here in Chicago, Samer was also navigating the stress of keeping his shop open.
“We’re putting our lives on the line,” Samer said. “No matter what. We’re putting on masks, gloves, all of this, but you don’t know who’s walking into the store. There are drivers that we deal with too. They’re putting their lives out there. Everyone’s doing their best part.”
Feeding Healthcare Workers
Sam Hurteau had an idea. This time it had nothing to do with Seinfeld or a pink gorilla. But the starting point felt surprisingly similar.
I received a text toward the end of April. “Hey, wanna run an idea by you…”
His idea: Connect local restaurants with healthcare workers. He’d organize a group of friends to send in donations that would pay for these catered lunches. It was pretty incredible how things naturally started coming together. First – a rehab team received a catered lunch from Hannah’s Bretzel. Then Twenty-five ER doctors at AMITA St. Mary & Elizabeth Med Center received snacks from Left Coast Food + Juice.
I met the idea with a Yes And. Already had a place in mind run by a guy who was the rare combination of doctor and restaurant owner.
After Black & Caspian
After posting the Black & Caspian articles, I reached out to Sammi Saliba (a lot of Sam based names in this story) who serves as the Director of Marketing at the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce. She’d helped me get Long Overdue set up a few months earlier as a new member. I asked her if there were any other local restaurants in Lakeview that might be good to write about. She introduced me right away to Soraya Rendon of Chilam Balam and Samer Asous of Taste of New York Bagels & Deli.
Setup an interview with Samer. Added Sam Hurteau to the call. Had a feeling this would be bigger than a blog post.
Taste of New York Bagels & Deli
I think it was only a week after our call when Samer and the Taste of New York team fed 60 ER + ICU doctors and nurses at the Norwegian American Hospital. Samer wanted to support his mentor, Dr. Ivankovich, an Orthopaedic Surgeon at Norwegian. And Samer, never one to skimp on a delivery, made so much food that they also fed the Telemetry department.
“If there’s anything I can help with, let me know,” Samer sent via text after the delivery. “And please, extend my sincere appreciation to all the donors who helped us cater today’s lunch.”
The “Fun Friday” lunches kept rolling strong. May 14th, Sam collected more donations and delivered lunch from 90 Miles Cuban Cafe to 30 Pediatric Surgeons at Lurie Children’s Hospital, and then 75 ER doctors and nurses were fed at Northwestern. It was inspiring to see this flow of healthcare workers working around the clock to save lives, restaurants working hard to feed the healthcare workers, and friends supporting the restaurants. And it all started with an idea.
Looking Back on How Things Come Together
They say everything happens for a reason and I think that’s almost true. Maybe better put: Everything happens and we try our best to piece together the reasons.
Or what Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
And that’s the great mystery of being in the Flow. In the moment, we can’t see how all of these random things in life – both the good and the bad – will end up weaving together. Then, when you look back on it, there’s this thin line between fate and coincidence. Because yeah, there’s a case to be made that everything from these last four posts was just random coincidences and that – with the benefit of hindsight – I could neatly tie them together into one story. And that might be true. But I think it’s being in the Flow that helps us connect these dots and grow to appreciate the Author of Life.
All that being said, it’s still hard to trust the Flow. It feels too peaceful. Like we need to be working harder. Pursuing a defined goal. Following an established outline. Or, like I did, start out in the Flow, but gradually wander off the path. Not putting family and friends first. Forgetting to ask people for help. In the words of Tim Keller, things tend to fall apart when we let a good thing (in my case, working on Long Overdue) become an ultimate thing.
The funny thing is, whenever I realize I’ve lost the Flow, my first instinct is always to chart a course back. I have to work my way back into grace and flow. But the greatest surprise of all was to see these things had never really left. If anything, grace was chasing after me, not the other way around. The best way I can describe it is like that scene toward the end of Finding Nemo when the pelican comes crashing through the dentist’s window.
Nigel: Your dad’s been fighting the entire ocean, looking for you.
Nemo: My father? Really?
Nigel: Yeah, he’s traveled hundreds of miles, he’s battling sharks and jellyfish–
Nemo: Sharks? That can’t be him.
Nigel: Guess so. What was his name? Some sort of sport fish? Tuna? Trout?
Nigel: That’s it! Marlin! The little clownfish from the reef.
Nemo: It’s my dad! He took on a shark!
Nigel: I heard he took on 3.
Gill: 3 sharks?
Bloat: That’s gotta be 4,800 teeth!
Nigel: See, after you were taken by a diver over there, your dad followed the boat like a maniac.
Nigel: He’s swimming, and swimming, giving it all he’s got, and then three gigantic sharks capture him, and he blows them up and dives thousands of feet, and gets chased by a monster with huge teeth! He ties this demon to a rock, and what’s his reward? Het gets to battle an entire jellyfish forest! Now he’s with a bunch of sea turtles on the E.A.C., and the word is he’s headed this way right now…to Sydney!
When I’m caught in the flow, my face looks a lot like Nemo’s in that scene. I’m amazed by the pursuit and how these little pieces tie together in life. Good times. Hard times. Times when I’ve felt like I had all the answers and times when I felt like I’ve had none. Things that never seemed to make any sense and things that never felt like they would lead to anything good, those all became just as useful as the good stuff from the highlight reel.
Solomon said in Ecclesiastes: “Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” I think that’s where the magic happens; saying yes to the Flow, even a small yes, then letting go. Slowing down to experience the way stories start weaving their way together over and over again. This fills me with an energy to keep writing, keep telling stories, helping others with their stories, which strangely leads me right back to Long Overdue. The answer after all of that wasn’t to stop working, I just had to let the work become fun again.
Because writing, Long Overdue, they’re good things, but they’re not the ultimate thing. They can only point me in the right direction. Back to the Author of Life.
This series will end up being partially a profile of the New York Bagel & Deli restaurant in Chicago, part reflections, and philosophy on how ideas come together. In case you missed Part 1, you can read that right here. And if you enjoy this type of style, you might enjoy the four-part series I did featuring Tango Sur and some Kierkegaard.
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 1)
- Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard intermission)
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 2: The Family Behind Tango Sur)
- Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard Finale)
Despite the name, Medium Rare isn’t normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, every Tuesday, I’ll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support these spots with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts in the series include:
To subscribe to Medium Rare via email, just enter your email address in the box below. See you next week!