When you find a great bagel in the Midwest it’s kind of a big deal. Typically in the flyover states we’re stuck with chain restaurants like Einstein Bagels, Panera Bread, or Big Apple Bagels when you want a New York-style bagel. And while they may be okay, they’re not the real deal. If you don’t have any of those places to hit up you’re left with grocery store bagels. Lenders in the refrigerated section, or maybe some weird off brand that you find in the bakery. Sometimes even the bakery may take a crack at the bagel game, but it’s usually a game they just need to stay out of.
I recently found a pretty amazing brand of bagels in a grocery store not more than 15 minutes from me. It’s a grocery store I’ve pretty much avoided my whole life. It sits in the small town of North Webster. New Markert. It was called Augsburgers when I was a kid, but it’s changed hands over the years. Oddly, it still pretty much looks the same as it did in the 80s, which is to say it’s dingy gray and smells of stale cigarettes and broiled chicken.
This past Saturday morning I took my daughter work at the Marina she’s been helping out at in the summer since May of 2020. It’s only about a 10 minute drive from North Webster, and I kind of had a hankering for some fresh donuts. My dad was coming over for coffee around 9am and I thought some pastries would be nice with our dark roast. I thought why not hit up New Market and see what they have. Maybe they get some fresh donuts in from a local baker or something. Well, they don’t. Everything they have is pre-packaged garbage. Pedestrian selection, I tells ya.
I didn’t want to come home empty-handed as I was already there, so I thought I’d peruse the racks of probably stale cupcakes, cookies, and donut holes just in case of a diamond in the rough. I found this rather generic looking clear bag with six bagels in it. The bag wasn’t appealing in the least, but the bagel inside looked promising. They were hard and had a nice shine to the outside of them. They had cinnamon raisin, plain, everything, and blueberry. I snagged a bag of the cinnamon raisin, plus one of their cheese danish as a backup, and got the hell out of that dank, dank, grocery store.
This was quite a find. Not only were the bagels fantastic, the cheese danish was pretty damn good, too. But the bagel tipped the scale. Nice crusty outside, chewy inside, and it toasted up so nice. Didn’t have any cream cheese but these didn’t need it. Some fresh salted butter brought out the flavor. I’d say it’s the best bagel I’ve had since I was in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in April of 2021 to pick up our daughter from her spring work study. Now, this small town bagel wasn’t “as good as” the New York bagel, but for this little shit hole of a grocery to have these quality of bagels was pretty damn impressive.
My wife asked me what other flavors of bagel they had. I told her plain, everything, and blueberry. “Ooh, blueberry. I bet those would be good.” Yeah, I think they would be. I’ve got a special connection to blueberry bagels. They remind me of being at home after back surgery and healing for 3 weeks.
It was after I’d had my initial follow-up, about a week and a half after the surgery at the end of March, 2016. I was home and able to drive and walk, but with strict instructions to “not overdo it”. My wife had been home until that follow-up, then she resumed her job of taking school pictures(for the life of me I’m not sure which school pics she was taking in April, but whatever.) The kids were back in school after being on spring break during my first week of recovery, so I was home for a week and a half during the day with not much to do. I’d gotten into a habit of brewing some coffee, then toasting myself a blueberry bagel. Now these weren’t “great” bagels, mind you. These were Aldi store brand bagels that I bought on the regular. For some reason during my time of healing and rehabilitation I’d bought blueberry bagels.
Once my son and I had finished an episode of the animated series The Batman and he’d gotten on the bus, I’d toast myself a bagel, pour a cup of Dark Roast, and take my pain reliever. At this point I was still taking the Norco I was prescribed even before my surgery. These were the magical pills that were part Hydrocodone and part Acetaminophen. The day that I realized what I was dealing with wasn’t just Sciatica but something far more serious, that was the day I first encountered Norco.
The urgent care physician I saw that morning before work was only doing the urgent care thing part-time. She worked in an orthopedic surgeon’s office other days, and she knew what I was dealing with. Honestly, she’s the reason I think I came out of the other end of this herniated disc so well. If I’d waited any longer or if she’d hemmed and hawed around I would have had serious long-term nerve damage. So, thank you. Wherever you are.
Now, back to the Norco.
It was a miracle drug. It took the pain away and added a sheen on everything around me. Music sounded better, food tasted better, comic books were better, and movies were better. And on those mornings when everyone left and it was just the dog and I left to our own devices, those Aldi blueberry bagels and the Italian Roast were just amazing. I’d just gotten in the mail that week a copy of Pentagram Home Video’s Who’s Out There? on vinyl from Death Waltz Originals/Mondotees. The faux “lost” soundtrack to a “lost” early 80s horror film hit just right. It was low key techno mixed with the sleazy funk of early 80s horror scores. The bagels, the dark roast, and the painkillers all came together as a tool for healing. And I did heal. Back to 100%, to my surgeon’s surprise and delight(I guess he’d written me off.)
(I know, painkillers are bad. Very bad. People get hooked, they abuse them, they ruin lives, etc….I’ve heard the stories and watched Dopesick. I know how people can get hooked extremely easily. I’m one of those folks that took the painkillers when needed and found great relief in them. And when the prescriptions ran out I was fine. I moved on. I went back to buying expensive micro brews. They helped me when I needed the help. They did what they were supposed to do, and I’m very happy about that.)
I hadn’t thought about those oddly cake-like blueberry bagels in six years. Seeing those bagels over at New Market brought that time in my life back. A time that should have been somewhat traumatic, and in the early stages prior to surgery it was. The pain I felt was unlike anything else I’d felt to that point. I can still remember, vividly, pacing the living room at 2 am because the pain was so bad that I couldn’t find any spot in bed or on the couch where I didn’t feel as if my spine was being pulled out of my back with pliers. The fear that Tuesday morning of driving to work and knowing what I was feeling was not normal and deciding to go to the Urgent Care office a mile from my workplace. The relief of knowing someone was pushing things forward by getting me in for an MRI, then to see the Orthopedic surgeon a week later.
All of those memories and emotions rushing back because of some blueberry bagels.
It’s been over six years now and my back has held up. I’ve had days where I was worried I was backsliding; pushed it too far at work or at home or at the gym. Sitting in my chair with a cold pack, then heating pad, then another cold pack to reduce the swelling and pain. I’ll never not be in that stage. But I think the herniated disc stuff is behind me. I know the right stretches when things are feeling tight. I don’t panic when I’m sore. I do the stretches and it helps. No Norco needed. Maybe some Ibuprofen.
And now I know where to go for a great bagel, blueberry or otherwise.