Weary Traveler’s Spaghetti

Last night, before I fell asleep, I tried to remember all the phases of my 21 hours of travel from the previous day.

I took a bus from the Bellingham airport to the Seattle airport where I rode a mini-train to my gate, waited three hours (during which I bought a Snickers bar which I saved for the plane) and as I finally boarded, I was told that my overstuffed suitcase was too overstuffed to fit in the overhead. During the flight, I had a middle seat but it was in an exit row, which is kind of a mixed blessing. I read a George Saunders story in last week’s New Yorker, which I highly recommend. When I landed in Washington, D.C. (the only place I could fly to make it home to New York before January 3rd), I rode another mini-train to the baggage claim where I was told that I was at Dulles airport which is 25 miles from D.C. proper.

I needed to get to D.C. proper because I needed to get to Union Station where I was going to board a train to New York. Apparently, the best and cheapest way to get there was a city bus which cost $6 and was waiting at bus stall 2E outside. I went to 2E and there was a huge line of disheveled, unhappy people with big suitcases. We all crammed into the bus and kept cramming to the point that, when I got on, there was nowhere to sit or even place my suitcase: I wedged myself in by the back door. A man at the front of the bus who couldn’t get on yelled: “C’mon guys, we’re all trying to get home, can you make some more room?”

Someone yelled, “There is no more room!” for which I was grateful.

On the bus, I heard the sad travails of an Italian couple who’d been trying to make it to New York for three days. Not only were they re-routed to D.C., the airline lost their luggage.

The bus, 30 minutes later, dropped us off at a stop on the D.C. Metro. (Something L’enfant which means “the infant” in Spanish.) I descended into the bowels of the D.C. Metro and quickly learned that in D.C. you don’t block the escalator with your suitcase. “‘Scuse me!” yelled a woman in a business suit. I shifted the suitcase to my side.

I rode the orange train to the red train and the red train took me to Union Station. It was 5:40 and my train wasn’t until 8:45 so I tried to get on the 6 o’clock Acela. The woman at Amtrak looked at me gloomily: “Sir, every train is totally sold out. You’re lucky to have a seat at all.”

Indeed, that same Italian couple that I mentioned earlier was also at the Amtrak station trying to get to New York and when I chatted with them later, they told me they could only get on a train that left at 4:30 AM the next day.

At 8:15 they announced our train was leaving from Gate B. Swarms of people cued up in line thinking we’d board sometime before 8:45. When 8:45 rolled around, no one was budging, no one from Amtrak was saying anything and people were getting restless. We didn’t board until 9-something and when I finally claimed my seat, I couldn’t believe it. I was finally on the train to New York.

We pulled into Penn Station after midnight and I quickly ran my suitcase up the escalator (this time I was the one yelling “‘scuse me” to tourists) on to a 1 train down to my apartment.

When I ascended into the city streets, they were absolutely covered with snow. Here’s a picture I took the next morning:


I leapt over snowbanks, sloshed through puddles, carrying my heavy suitcase over the most precarious obstacles. When I finally burst through the door of my apartment, I was so exhausted, so totally gutted by travel I couldn’t think of anything except food. I was hungry. My cat was happy to see me and I petted her and then I set a pot of water on to boil.

I realize many of you are in or will be in similar boats over the next few days, so here’s the recipe for what I made myself. We’ll call it Weary Traveler’s Spaghetti and I hope it comforts you the way it comforted me before I drifted off into a very deep, thankful sleep.

Wear Traveler’s Spaghetti

serves one weary traveler (double to serve two)


1/2 pound spaghetti

1/4 cup olive oil

4 to 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

4 whole anchovies

A big pinch of red pepper flakes

Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

1. Bring a big pot of water to the boil. Add enough salt to make it taste salty.

2. Drop your spaghetti in: it should take about 10 to 12 minutes to cook.

3. While it’s cooking, pour the olive oil into a skillet and add the garlic and anchovies while everything’s still cold. When you have 5 minutes left on the spaghetti, turn the heat up on the garlic/anchovy pan. Cook on medium heat until the garlic starts to brown and the anchovies melt into the oil; add the pinch of red pepper flakes and let those toast too.

4. When it looks like the garlic is just brown enough (you don’t want it to burn) add a splash of pasta cooking water. Everything will sizzle and splatter: that’s good. You’re making an emulsion. Continue adding splashes of water (I use tongs for this, the same tongs I use to shift around the spaghetti) until your spaghetti is just al dente. (You’ll only know that by tasting it towards the end.)

5. When the spaghetti is just slightly less than done, lift it with tongs into the pan with the garlic and anchovy sauce. Add enough pasta cooking liquid to extend the sauce and turn the pan on high heat, tossing the spaghetti all around until it absorbs all that liquid.

6. Twist the spaghetti on to a plate and drizzle some cold olive oil on top, sprinkle with some more chili flakes and then add as much cheese as you’d like. Take a deep breath, look down and smile. You’re home.

Let's dish!

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