In London this spring, trapped in the maze of the Churchill War Rooms, we were hungry. Granola bars held off the worst of it, but by the time we made it out to street level, the kids were grumpy. I used Google to find a deli where I hoped we could grab a quick sandwich and be on our way. Rated 4.5 stars on Google and mere metres away, we hurried over.
Pickles was a deli unlike any other. If the owner hadn’t been having a smoke break outside, we may have kept on walking – should have, probably. But, not wanting to be rude when he invited us in, we went.
Bright fluorescent lights, four tables – all full save one sticky one near the door. One small cooler with a choice of four meats, one of them bologna. The sandwiches were built on stale white buns of varying sizes. Built implies more than the truth – a small roll of deli turkey slapped on the buns. No mayo. Not even that spicy English mustard. One had lettuce, one didn’t. One had a large bun, one had a small one. That was it. A past-due bun thrown on a plate – they charged extra for eating in. No public bathroom, but my son had the “best ginger beer ever.”
So now, everything is judged in terms of Pickles. “This pasta is bad, but it’s no Pickles.” “This movie is terrible, but Pickles was worse.”
Everything, measured in Pickles.
Until this summer, in Fredricton. Booking a place to stay, I found a place perfectly located on the river, near a Tims and a seafood restaurant. WorkPlay suites posted lovely pictures of their places – bright new kitchens, leather furniture, high, vaulted ceilings. Air conditioning. 4.5 stars.
The ancient place we pulled up to, quite late, had none of those things. By the time we got the warped door open, we knew. It had AC but only on the main floor, not in the cramped, gabled rooms upstairs. The windows could not be opened due to the number of spiders on the wall outside, and the lack of screens. Dirty cloth in the kitchen sink. (A review on Google by a traveller who came a week after us mentioned the same disgusting cloth!)
I won’t go into any more detail, but my kids dubbed that trou-de-merde the Pickles of Fredericton and have sworn to never even return to that city. We made it through one night, then re-booked at the Holiday Inn in Saint John (best shower ever), leaving Fredricton and its misrepresentations behind. The rest of the trip, everything we did was rated in comparison to “Pickles of Fredricton.”
I can’t say that there was a silver lining for Pickles in London – perhaps my son’s new lifelong quest to find another perfect ginger beer, and hey, we weren’t starving anymore – but Pickles of Fredricton forced us to move on to Saint John, a place we hadn’t planned on going. This upended our whole itinerary, and resulted in discovering the mind-exploding Reversing Rapids and one of the most beautiful, lonely stretches of coast I’ve ever seen. We picnicked in a city park, and experienced an incredible creeping fog-blanket over the harbour.
Things do come full circle. While in Saint John, we ate at a Food Network-featured restaurant called the Urban Diner, which is the opposite of Pickles in every way. Seared tuna, Philly cheese, and a peanut butter burger, along with the best fries (I hate fries, pass the fries!) we’d have until we hit Ashton for poutine on the way home.
We made a memory in Fredricton – grateful we didn’t bring that memory home with us in the form of bedbugs – and I’m reminded once again that detours sometimes bring the best surprises.
(A cool thing: A man we met at the Reversing Rapids told us that locals will use the force of the incoming tide to raft up the St. John River, then five or so hours later, float back down as the tide goes out. One day, maybe.)