Alex Baum (not at the Bagel)
It’s a few minutes after 7 p.m. as we gather inside the waiting area of the popular Lakeview restaurant, greeting each other with hugs and friendly handshakes. Our ritual marks the end to another weekend and the start to another week in our busy lives. Restaurant patrons push their way around us to get a table as we gather into a tightly packed circle making sure we have a full headcount to give the host a more accurate number. One never knows who will show up late or bring a friend along. We meet at the Bagel in Lakeview frequently, but tonight everybody is in a little brighter mood than normal as we have something special to celebrate.
Every year on the second weekend of October, Chicago is host to 40,000 runners from around the world who take over the city in an effort to achieve dreams, raise awareness, and accomplish a goal they have been working toward the entire summer. On marathon day the streets close and traffic stops as spectators line the streets hoping to get a glimpse of their friends and family as they run through the different Chicago neighborhoods seeking to finish the 26.2 mile route. This year the cold temperatures added additional challenges to the already rigorous course. I was up at 4:45 a.m. to volunteer with my friend Rachel at the Lincoln Park aide station to support and participate in the event. As my fingers and toes became numb, I was already daydreaming about how nice it would be to warm up with friends at the Bagel later that night.
Diego, our favorite host, led the 10 of us back to our favorite table already set up with pickles, challah, and bagel chips. We all make room for our honoree of the night, Brian Berman, who will sit in the middle so everyone can hear his stories of running the Chicago marathon in just over four hours. This is the third year in a row we have celebrated Brian’s triumph at the Chicago marathon with a tasty meal at the Bagel. Every time we meet here it seems we are celebrating new milestones in our lives: weddings, condo closings, new jobs, and completed graduate degrees. Our group of friends has grown through meeting at various Lakeview events such as Makor dinners, Sushi Shabbat and Anshe Emet services. We are Jewish, young, and mostly single.
Sundays at the Bagel started in the cold winter of 2007, picked because of its parking lot, Jewish-style food, and accommodating wait staff. Sam Leopold and couple of his friends started the Jewish dinner club. He envisioned a casual, weekly gathering where everybody was encouraged to invite friends. Every week we would meet new faces from the neighborhood who would join us for matzo ball soup, brisket, lox, bagels, chopped salad, and hot sandwiches. Every week Diego would have to add another table to accommodate the growing Bagel crowd, which topped out at 32 people on one summer evening.
Seeing a bunch of Jewish urbanities order at the Bagel is always an adventure. Before our order is taken stiff negotiations are performed to trade side items for soup, pickled herring and a sip of Sam’s chocolate milkshake. Some rave about the matzo ball soup while others stand firmly behind the mushroom barley soup. Sam always requests an extra thick milkshake; Brian offers up his sides in exchange for a few bites of somebody’s entree, and someone always insists the dressing be put on the side. My personal favorite is the challah French toast, but I also really like the potato pancakes on the coldest of winter evenings.
Conversation is always lively and in addition to hearing marathon stories we touched on a plethora of topics on this particular Sunday night. We discussed how DVR has changed our lives, the effectiveness of the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, “Jon and Kate plus Eight,” and the healthcare debate. It was interesting to know that our parents fell into two distinct categories, those who could text and those who could not. Julie showed off her new Blackberry, Brian his new medal and we all joked about who will be brave enough to join Brian in completing next year’s Chicago marathon. An older gentleman approaches our table and congratulates Brian on his marathon, and he proudly shows off the 2009 medal hanging around his neck. The man’s friendly gesture truly reflects the community atmosphere of the Bagel.
Eventually the night comes to an end and the check is passed around, often turning into an accounting circus with a mix of cash and credit cards flying in all directions to settle the bill. We stall, knowing that the weekend is almost over and it’s time to get home and finish everything we have been putting off ‘til Sunday night. During the week, we will all be connected online, but next Sunday night we’ll have face time once again at the Bagel.