I probably won't get to "Heroes" until sometime midway through tomorrow at the earliest. (Please hold all comments, even vague ones, until then.) In the meantime, spoilers for a burger-iffic episode of "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I put on some Terence Trent D'Arby...
My dad was a scientist. He worked on the team that developed Valium, and was a leader on the team that developed Versed. He had an inquisitive mind, one that I inherited (though I apply it to a completely different -- and far more frivolous -- field), and he believed in being thorough about data, not just with his work, but with life.
One day when I was 11 or 12, I had a doctor's visit somewhere in lower Manhattan. It was a school/work day, and so Dad took the day off to take me. When we were done, we decided to stay in the city to get something to eat. Dad asked me what I was in the mood for; I said pizza. Now, if you've ever been to Manhattan (or watched Seinfeld, or seen "Homer Simpson vs. The City of New York"), you've probably noticed that half the pizzerias are named Ray's, or Famous Ray's, or Famous Original Ray's, or some combination thereof. The way Dad would explain it to me, there really was an original (lowercase), famous (ditto) Ray's Pizza that was so beloved, and yet so untrademark-able that every other place in town adopted some combination of the name in the hopes of fooling people into going there.
"Why don't we," he suggested with a grin, "see if we can find that actual first Ray's?"
I wasn't Robin levels of hungry yet, so I agreed, and we began our search the old-fashioned way: we started driving around in circles, and at every red light, my dad or I would lean out the window and ask pedestrians if they had any idea where the real, famous, original, classic, vintage Ray's was. Even though it was the '80s (the angry, pre-Giuliani New York), and even though we were clearly a pair of suburban dorks in an Oldsmobile station wagon, the natives were surprisingly friendly and helpful -- no doubt because they all wanted to prove that they were smarter and more New York-y than the rest, and did, in fact, know the location of the sacred, holy first Ray's.
The problem, of course, was that they kept giving us different locations; I think we went a half hour at one point without getting the same suggestion twice. But Dad made me dutifully log each one, and even though the locals couldn't agree on the exact spot, a specific neighborhood kept coming up, so we headed there and kept asking. Even there, we didn't get universal agreement, but after we got up to maybe 7 or 8 people mentioning the same place, we decided we were hungry enough to skip past some of the traditional experimental protocols and just eat at that place, dammit.
It was, without a doubt, the best slice of pizza I have ever eaten. After a couple of bites, we looked at each other and Dad said, "I don't know if this is the place all the other ones are named after, but it should be." We wrote down the location on a piece of paper, promised we would come back whenever we were in this part of the city again... and then I lost it. I want to say the place was on 13th and 8th, but I couldn't remember for sure, and the opportunity never presented itself for us to look again.
I tell you that story not because it's so unique, but because it isn't. Everyone I know around here has a story like it -- if not about pizza, then about a sandwich, or homemade ice cream, or french fries, or what have you. Maybe you went to the place once a long time ago, maybe you only hear about it, but you look -- you always look -- and sometimes, if you're lucky, you find it again.
And because of that, "The Best Burger in New York" really resonated with me. It wasn't the funniest "HIMYM" ever -- probably wasn't even as funny as the Barney half of the season premiere -- but there are times when the show really clicks because it feels like it's telling a story out of my life, even though it's the kind of story many people (including, presumably, Bays and Thomas) have lived through on their own.
And there were, in fact, a bunch of funny bits: Robin's ever-increasing despair over not getting to eat ("I will eat your hand!"), the discussion of the Underpants Radius, Neil Patrick Harris getting to ever-so-briefly bust out his Regis impression in front of the real Regis ("I don't know where it is, Regis! I swear!"), the notion that America is obsessed with a game show about coin-flipping (it's no dumber than "Deal or No Deal," which is essentially "guess how many fingers I have behind my back"), and Lily being offended that Marshall could offer such an eloquent defense of the hamburger yet needed to download his wedding vows off the internet.
One minor complaint: all the talk about how gloriously dirty and full of character New York was when Ted and Marshall first moved there is punctured by the fact that New York had already gotten the full Giuliani/Disney/corporate makeover by 2000.
What did everybody else think?