At 2:30 this sunny Friday afternoon, we were on our way to the airport.
The traffic wasn't bad downtown, but I had no idea what was waiting for us on the highway. Would we make it? Would be stuck in some tunnel for hours? As we sped through the city, I scanned the streets, clinging to every detail. Our trip was four days long. Too short.
Mr. A, meanwhile, was tinkering with his cell phone and looking preoccupied.
"Do you think we'll make it to the airport in the next two hours?" I asked the driver, with a tinge of irony he caught and threw back at me.
"I don't know.... Maybe."
"No, no, don't worry -- more like 20 minutes!" (Instead of Mr. A's friend, the friend sent a friend. Talk about sweet. Thanks to you both, gentlemen!)
I nodded. So we'd be there at 3:00. And have three hours to kill. I exhaled, resigned. In San Diego, I fly enough to know traffic patterns on the city's highways -- and at the airport. But this is the kind of stuff that happens when you're a tourist. You end up getting to the airport three hours early and wasting the afternoon in a smoky lounge watching soccer transfer gossip on Romanian ESPN.
We were getting closer fast. I recognized some of the buildings we'd seen on the way in. And then, out of nowhere, I asked: "Are we close to The Hunchback?"
"Really close. It's the next exit. Wanna go!?"
The Hunchback is a restaurant I'd heard about from a bunch of people. It's supposed to be close to the airport, and it's got those scrumptious meech I admit I'm obsessed with (described here), plus legendary french fries.
"Do you want to?" I asked Mr. A shyly. Because he was tired and stressed, and I realized that this ask might seem like a request. I didn't want to sway or persuade, not this time...
"If you do."
"What do you want me to do? It's the next exit!!" the driver hollered.
"Will we make it to the airport on time?" I yelped back.
He made a hard right and a few blocks later, we were there.
The Hunchback's real name is Sandu, a brochure states, but now he is known across Romania as "King of the Grill." As we stepped onto the terrace, I saw him standing a few feet away, at a grill lodged between tables of lunchtime patrons, flipping the meats that made him famous. And his eyes caught mine, a flash behind the fragrant smoke.