[Note: Please scroll down to Mayo Dispatch 1, and then scroll up for each new dispatch, if you're interested in reading this account of my time a the Mayo Clinic in a chronological way. Otherwise it will just run in retrograde. Herewith, dispatch 10. ]
I have to prepare a last Mayo Dispatch, as I'll be kicked out of my Hilton in less than an hour, forced to roam Rochester's tunnels and skyways until the last shuttle of the day(!) can get me to my plane four hours early. Yes, there's no shuttle to the airport here after 4:15 p.m. on Saturdays. I don't get it either. But one of the nice things about being stuck in the tunnels--or rather one of the decent things I found do to in the tunnels--was traipse about a bookstore the way I once did as a young New Yorker. There's a large one adjacent to one of these tunnels, and I've spent time there, inside its "cafe," drinking subpar mochas while I page through 10 mags and a few new notable books in each sitting--an activity that once made me want to be a writer and eventually led to me meeting my wife. Still, I haven't really done this since moving to Los Angeles--maybe it's the fact that you have to drive everywhere there. In New York, you just often have to kill time on foot--so where do you go? Bookstores and coffee shops. At any rate, it was at the Rochester superbookshop where I noticed a great and large "official" tome celebrating the Sopranos, written by Brett Martin with the cooperation of the cast and producers. Martin, a writer whose works have appeared in some of the same mags as mine (although let it be said, that he has truly outdone the author of this here Shallot with a hilarious and moving output of articles and essays for GQ, among others for This American Life, Vanity Fair, and beyond), seems to have won (hell, earned) the ultimate score here for Sopranos fans, of which I consider myself one. The book is extremely entertaining and does feature some information that has escaped even some of the show's scholars, but I also must admit that I had so much time to kill in the bookstore, that I read the whole thing. The point of all this? That sometimes you need a little distraction, and if your favorite TV show of all time is over, you didn't bring your DVDs, and you're stuck in a bookstore, well, by all means look for the official book celebrating your favorite show and see if it isn't great. Martin's book, for its part, deserves to be purchased wildly as a holiday gift, not just read in a store by word-mooching latte drinkers, so maybe get this one for your brother, dad, mob-crazed sister, or cousin--and certainly get it for anyone needing to dissolve from scary real life into pop culture references and diversions. It's fun to read about how Robert Iler basically got his role as A.J. just by repeating "What? No fucking ziti now?" 30 times in a tiny room on 72nd Street. But Martin has also elevated his book's genre with spot-on cultural criticism and articulate (but fun to read!) spotlights on issues in the show you may have never explored. Kudos.
How has the Mayo portion of my life ended? Well, last night we attempted to give Rochester's one tapas restaurant a try, and ended up with some seriously mediocre and overpriced food, one example of which had to be sent back. (I hate doing this, but honestly the food tasted like dirt, and I cook with sihtake mushrooms all the time, so I love the flavor that was supposed to permeate this risotto.) But Rochester being what it is--you mean my expensive plate of crap isn't great simply for being expensive?--the chef then sent the waitress back to tell us that he thinks the food tastes great and that we're wrong, but that he'll gladly do us the favor of removing the plate from our tab. How kind, I thought. After we just spent $12 on individual drinks (in Rochester!) with perhaps a quarter of an ounce of alcohol and endured your terrible pizza--excuse me, "Neopolitan pie"--as well as picked lemon aside one tiny piece of chicken that tasted like Ajax. One thing that appears certain about downtown Rochester is that while it remains podunk, some uppity entrepreneurs are attempting to upscalify the place and rob monied or simple less podunk Mayo travelers while flauting faux-sophistication.
Have you ever heard of medical tourism? As medical charges increase in the U.S. and people don't necessarily want their procedures done at the nearest facility, it appears that a large group of travelers are hitting new cities and even leaving the country to receive medical treatment. And when these people aren't being cracked open like lobsters, sometimes they want to eat some. It seems like Rochester may be on the verge of turning into a medical tourism hotspot--it already has the built-in traveler base. But as it does, Mayo patients and even those traveling here for business need to be careful. Eating at one of these faux-gourmet restaurants is sort of like asking for psychotherapy from a schizo locked in an asylum. Other restaurants in town have been similarly Emeril-ized, but they aren't as offensive in their attempts to swindle. They either serve over-complicated food or bad attempts at the classics. This is much more acceptable to me. Nonetheless, read your Chowhound, and then still open your mouth with caution.
Mayo Dispatches likely to end now, though I may return with more info and commentary. But I have some nice newspaper articles to run on the west coast tomorrow, and I'd love to get back to some of the day-to-day. Keep your eyes open, however, for a large piece about this experience. It's definitely going to be a part of a forthcoming book as well as a script being developed with a partner right this very second. And yes, we can do this, even during the strike. (Thanks to all of you for writing, too.)
And now I walk out of hell and into the urban. Well, I fly, and it will take more than half a day to get there, but you get the drift. --Alexander Superpatient, Dec. 15, 2007