You can get pretty much any food item imaginable in New York City - as long as you're not too picky about how far it had to travel to arrive here, or how long that may have taken, or why it seems to look a little bit like it could use some tylenol and a bathrobe and could you please turn the music down and make it less bright in here thanks.
Sure, some things are super fresh - the neighborhood farmers' markets are a great example - but much of the time you just need to squint and/or shake your head on your way out the door of the grocer. Some things are easier to find fresh than others - apples are pretty solid, citrus fruits less so, beef is usually fine, pork is hit or miss.
One of the things that I really, really miss about living in Mobile?
I don't have a Shrimp Guy here.
A few months into our time in Mobile, a friend gave me a phone number and said, "Call Frank, he'll sell you shrimp at a great price."
Now, I'm from Alabama, but not from the coast, and the true Gulf Coast accent is a mystery to me. In its purest form, it can sound like a perpetual vowel marred by occasional half-consonants. And Frank the shrimp-guy spoke about the purest form of the dialect I've ever heard. But after a few fumbling tries, we managed to comprehend each other enough to set up a time and a place where I could meet him to purchase shrimp.
In a Waffle-House parking lot.
Out of a cooler in the back of his truck.
For, specifically, $4 a pound.
That last bit overrode any amount of sketchiness involved in the transaction. Yes, I was meeting a stranger in a parking lot, exchanging cash under the table as though some dangerous narcotic or weaponry were being transferred in ownership. But $4 a pound? For shrimp that had been swimming in the Gulf that morning? That's not even a question.
This is the Gulf. This is where shrimp come from. Therefore it is where happiness comes from.
And what shrimp!
They were unlike any I'd ever had before - overwhelmingly flavorful, just about the best I've ever had in my life. Frank and I met up several more times while we lived in Mobile - never in the same place twice, which made me feel like a secret agent or criminal mastermind because I have an imagination overload problem - and we procured shrimp, oysters, and white-fish from him over and over. All of it was fantastic, all of it was cheap, and I never, ever understood more than one word in ten that came out of his mouth.
Didn't need to.
The shrimp had spoken.
Now I'd be lucky to get shrimp for twice that much, and meeting ANYBODY in a parking lot to make a purchase of any kind is simply not conceivable. But just on the off-chance that I'm visiting Mobile in the future, I've kept Frank's number.