The sun was in my eyes as I was driving south on Route 9 that late summer afternoon. “Where are we, Old Bridge?” I asked. Lifshitz, my neighbor who was riding shotgun, was clueless. He’s new in the area and does not know Route 9 that well yet. I tried to stay focused on the road, and decided to make a game out of figuring out where we were based on the local commerce. This is actually more difficult than it seems.
“We’ll if there’s TGI Friday’s, we must be in Old Bridge, or Marlboro, or Freehold.” I said. Trying to help, Lifshitz added: “Wait, there’s a Home Depot, does that narrow it down?” “Well,” I responded: “There’s one Home Depot in Marlboro, one in Old Bridge, but there’s two in Freehold, oh yeah, and one in Jackson, and another in East Brunswick. We must be in either Old Bridge, North Freehold, or South Freehold or Marlboro, but not Manalapan, or Jackson.” I said. Wait, Freehold has Home Depot right across from Chili’s. Old Bridge has Chili’s on the same side as the now closed Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, which is just south of Home Depot. So Old Bridge is, going south, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Chili’s, while northern Freehold is Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club Supercenter, Home Depot, with Chili’s across the highway.
I needed to clarify. “Was it truly a Friday’s across from the Home Depot? or was it Appleees or Chili’s or Ruby Tuesdays? Is it the one with the junk from the attic on the walls, and hanging plants, where they use the aerosol can of air freshener that smells like burning Mexican Fajita oil?” Lifshitz was starting to catch on to the problem: “This is not 20 Questions, and I can’t see the walls with the attic stuff, nor can I smell the inside, but it sounds like it won’t differentiate them anyway.”
Is that all they have around here, Lifshitz asked? “Don’t they have stereo store?” “Ah,” said I, “You want electronics? We’ll we’ve cut down significantly since the Wiz in Manalapan, and Atlantic Stereo and Circuit City in Freehold closed. So now all we have is Best Buy in Howell, Best Buy in Manalapan, which is a veritable stones throw from PC Richards in Manalapan, Best Buy in Holmdel, Best Buy in East Brunswick, Target in Manalapan, and Target in East Brunswick.” Lifshitz feigned concern. “What ever will they do in South Freehold if they are in desperate need of an iPod, or surround sound multi-channel home theater system with flat panel 3D LCD TV?” “Probably buy it online”, I said. “Who wants to sit in traffic for a half hour just to get to the friggin’ store?” (I didn’t actually say “friggin”).
"I'll bet you have some great restaurants around here.” “Sure, we do” I said, beaming with pride. “We've got the clones we’ve already discussed: you know, Chili's, Applebees, Ruby's, Friday's. We're hoping for a Houlihan's and a Bennigan’s, so we will have the complete set. You should also include the two McDonalds, a Burger King, a Wendy’s, and a White Castle, since they are really the same restaurant, but without the wall junk or ficuses.” “and waitresses” chimed in the always observant Lifshitz. “Nothing ethnic?” Well, every shopping center has an Italian place and a Chinese Place. ”Oh, I forget Olive Garden and Pizza Hut, too”
”OK, do you have anything that not Italian, not a chain, and not an Italian chain?”
"Gee, I'm not sure." Diners, we got Diners – 4 of them actually. Do they count?” “I suppose,” he said. I could tell his mind was elsewhere than this fascinating discussion. Changing the subject, Lifshitz thought he had me. “OK Mr. Bigshot, Home Depot, Burger King, McDonalds, Fridays, Home Depot, Best Buy, PC Richards -- all on the same side of the street, Name the towns, and the highway.”
I thought I would throw a wrench in his works. “Which direction, north or south?”
Lifshitz responds, “stop pretending you have a chance at this, but OK, south to north.”
“Oh, that’s easy” said I; “It’s Route 9 Jackson to Manalapan.” Impressed, he was not.
As we pulled onto Windfall Lane (the builder must have been celebrating the money he was making when he named that street) and into the driveway of Lafamiglia Lifshitz, we decided the families would meet later for dinner.
“So 7:30 at Friday’s?” I said.
“Sure, which one?”
“Friday’s in Freehold”
“The one next to the new CVS drugstore they’re building.”
"The one next to the Walgreens they're building."
"You know, the one next to the new Chase Bank."
“The one near the new 7/11”
This could go on all day.