Every couple of months Chris builds up enough overtime during the week to get kicked out of work on Friday.  Sometimes this penny pinching approach to business takes effect when we have Ivan so we take the opportunity to spend the day in Greenville together. Last Friday was one of these days and this is the adventure that followed…

I volunteer in Ivan’s classroom on Friday mornings teaching a program called Math Superstars.  As “guest teacher” I help the kids work through some word problems and try to relate the questions to what they are learning in class.  This is usually a pretty enjoyable and fulfilling experience for me and I was excited to perform my teaching duties with Chris there as my observer as a kick-off to our day in Greenville together.  As it happened, her presence just allowed Chris to have a front row seat to a first class crash-and-burn in front of 20 first graders.

Prior to Friday’s Math Superstars Ivan’s teacher asked me if I would mind being alone in the room with the class while she and her student teacher met with the student teacher’s professor.  At the time I thought the question was polite but unnecessary; why would I mind and what could go wrong that I would need help with?

Apparently there is more to a first grade class then I anticipated.

Friday they should have changed the name of Math Superstars to “Math: I Couldn’t Give a Crap Less”.  The class usually behaves exceptionally well but on this day I think they smelled blood in the water the moment I walked into the room.  I had about seven seconds between the time Ivan’s teacher stepped out of the room and when they attacked me like I was a baby seal.

By “attacked” I do not mean physically, of course.  I have no doubt in my mind that I could win a fight against all 20 of those kids.  They are tiny and punch like children and their numbers would be irrelevant as I stomped through their masses like Godzilla.  Their weapon, however, is in their volume and lack of attention span.  Without an established authority figure in the room, they were left alone with a defenseless father-of-one and took full advantage of the situation.

Out of twenty children, no more than two or three were paying attention at any given moment.  The rest were randomly screaming out numbers to questions I had not even asked or arguing amongst themselves.  My silly little math problems fell on deaf ears and I spent the majority of my time begging and pleading for their attention.  Things even degenerated to the point where Chris yelled at me to regain control.  Thanks for the tip My Dear, but short of resorting to my Godzilla strategy, I was out of ideas.

Eventually Ivan’s teacher returned and good behavior reappeared as if it fell from the heavens.  The score stood at Class: 20 - Ivan’s Daddy: 0 as I staggered out of the room like a defeated fighter. I resisted the urge to make a beeline to the nearest barstool at 9:30 in the morning as we went on our way.

Fast forward to lunch when the whole “what do we want to eat and what can we afford?” conversation took place.  Somewhere new, somewhere cheap, and somewhere close sounded like an impossible set of criteria because we have eaten almost everywhere downtown and had very little room in the lunch budget.

Enter The Northgate Soda Shop.

Roger’s mom told us about this little joint a few months ago but we had not had taken the time to check it out yet.  We were two blocks away when Chris remembered her recommendation so off we went.  I should note that my wife has the memory of a hamster when it comes to minor details but when we are in a moment of need, she always comes through.  On this day I was thankful for her selectively mediocre memory.

The Northgate Soda Shop is perfectly located in a place I would never look.  It is on Main Street in Greenville but not the part of Main Street you would ever have reason to travel.  North of Stone Avenue Main Street is primarily residential and you might not even notice the tiny old strip mall you pass as you head away from downtown.  Anchoring said strip mall is the Northgate Soda Shop which precisely defines the hidden gems we look for as we explore the Upstate.  It is off the beaten path, I probably would not check it out without a prior recommendation and, most importantly, it is pretty darn good.

This is an old fashioned soda shop so we are not talking about gourmet cooking here.  This is a burger, hot dog and sandwich menu that you can find in a thousand other places in the Upstate.  The difference is that the Northgate Soda Shop does this menu really well and makes me want to come back.  I have eaten at scores of soda shop/diner/meat and three pits of woe in the Upstate and believe me, this is a big deal.  

Chris got the pimento cheese burger with fries and cole slaw.  I got the Philly cheese steak and ate most of her fries.  The Philly was actually made with real ribeye steak instead of frozen meat-sheets and the pimento cheese was made fresh on site. Chris stuffed herself on the burger and slaw and I left debating whether or not I should have ordered two cheese steaks or just added a milk shake. Hindsight being 20/20, I would probably go with a milkshake because this is a soda shop after all and we totally neglected their fountain drink and ice cream menu.  Overall, the food was way better than expected and it alone sets Northgate Soda Shop apart from the rest of their demographic. 

The gravy on the potatoes is that the place is really cool.  Lots of places hang up witty signs and bumper stickers but a few of the Soda Shop’s actually made me laugh out loud.*  The shelves are decorated with old tools, beer bottles and medicine bottles from an era where the medicine was probably more physically damaging than the ailment it was intended to cure.

At the end we both agreed that we just ate a good lunch in a cool place for cheaper than we could have eaten anywhere else in downtown Greenville.  For less than the two of us could have eaten McCrappy's we ate a fresh "home" cooked meal in a place overflowing with nostalgic personality. I could actually name several places where we could have spent quite a bit more money to have a much less fulfilling experience.  Northgate Soda Shop is now officially on my list of lunch options when I am around Greenville during the week. 

We rounded out our day with a stop at The Community Tap and a walk on The Swamp Rabbit Trail.  Exercise and consumption of quality beers seem to bring a balance to life so it was nice to incorporate both into our Friday festivities.  I always enjoy our “adventure days” together when Ivan is in school and this one was no exception.  Even though I was abused by a small army of children the day left me hungry for our next opportunity to pull off a three day weekend.   

I will just keep my fingers crossed that the teachers stick around next time…

The bar next door that I will visit next time the teachers leave me alone with those monsters.
* I mean "laugh out loud" as in the physical act of laughing audibly as opposed to "LOL" which is text and internet speak for “I have no intelligent reply to your joke”. 

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