“‘You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.’”
— Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”
If my world were ever ending, I know where I would go — Jreck Subs in Alexandria Bay.
I would order the Italian Combo, white bread, with everything, shakers and oil. I might even get some sour cream and onion potato chips on the side.
I’d sit and eat my sandwich and think back on my life, what I did right and where I went wrong.
And I’m willing to bet that by the time I finished that sandwich, I would feel a lot better.
Because there’s something about the Jreck Subs in Alexandria Bay that feels weirdly timeless.
These are the doldrums of summer. August has always been my least favorite month. And while I know more than a few good people with August birthdays, for me the month has always represented the dwindling of summer, the time when you reconcile yourself to the coming of autumn and responsibility.
It’s no different this year, accelerated perhaps by the cooler weather we’ve been experiencing in the north country.
Even though I have long since graduated from my last educational institution, I still feel the press of September against the waning days of summer.
In the cooler weather, your body picks up speed, sweating the salt that dries on the skin. But until then, there is only the vast expanse of August.
And that is why I think back to that Jreck Subs, a place where it feels like something is always about to begin.
No matter what time of the year I eat there, it feels like late spring in a resort town, the time just before the tourists arrive when there is a quiet expectation in the air.
The decor seems to be late ‘80s or early ‘90s vintage and even the advertisements look as though they are from another age. But I find comfort in their familiarity, in their timelessness.
The booths and the walls and the ceiling have absorbed the thousand laughs of summers past and it is there, among the echoes, that I find solace.
You may choose to doubt any sentiment expressed by a man who chose to end his life with a shotgun in Idaho, but I’ve always thought Ernest Hemingway was on to something with his short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.”
There is something enduringly romantic, or, if not romantic, at least appealing, about a quiet cafe in the evening — the prospect of uninterrupted reflection perhaps augmented by caffeine or alcohol, a chance to catch up with the world, or let the world go on ahead a bit to a point where you’ll catch up with it later.
It may not be a cafe along the left bank of the Seine or anything else conventionally charming about it, but that Jreck Subs is a clean, well-lighted place.