When my daughter was turning nine she told me what kind of cake she wanted for her sleepover party. “A ballet cake,” she said, “with snow fairies like in the Nutcracker. And what would be really amazing,” she went on, “is if the cake could play the music from the Nutcracker and what would be really, really, amazing is if one of the ballerinas on the cake could be made to look like me, out of fondant.”
I blame Buddy Valastro for this --The Cake Boss. Cake Boss is a reality show on TLC and it follows Buddy and his whole la famiglia as they run Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ. Buddy runs the bakery and his four older sisters work for him. Can you imagine growing up and having to work for your obnoxious kid brother, the one who used to fart on your pillow and clamp your nostrils shut while you slept, (or did that just happen in my house)?
Each week celebrities go to Carlo’s and ask for these insane cakes that move and play music and have chocolate rivers and every week it’s the same plot. Will he or won’t he be able to pull it off? Spoiler alert: Buddy always pulls it off.
So I tell my daughter she’s insane and she’ll have to make do with a supermarket cake with plastic ballerinas. But I’m not an unfeeling monster, so when spring break comes along, I convince my husband, Mike Brady,* that it would be fun for us to take our daughter and son on a two-hour road trip from our home in Pennsylvania to Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ.
As we arrive in Hoboken, there are tons of people on the street and I wonder, did a ferry just arrive? But behind that thought is a darker one, one that says, “No, it can’t be.” But it is. We turn down Washington Street and there are over 1,000 people waiting in line to get into Carlo’s Bakery. Mike Brady looks at me and mouths no-fucking-way at the same exact moment our daughter screams, “Yeah, we’re here!”
We get in line and my husband wants to know how long are we going to wait. I tell him Disney time. I calculate the average wait time for a Disney ride without Fastpass during spring break and arrive at 90 minutes. The first 30 go by quickly and we're moving along well. But the next 45 minutes we don’t move at all – not even an inch. Mike Brady goes to investigate and can find no reason for the delay except that people can’t decide between the black & white cookie and a brownie. I start resenting the families walking past us, holding their Carlo’s Bakery boxes, all smug like they just summited Everest.
I yell out to one, “How long did you wait?”
“We got here at 7a.m.,” the father answers, shaking his head in disbelief.
It’s noon now and waiting another four hours is just more than I can reasonably bear. So Mike Brady and I decide we’re leaving. Our daughter starts to get upset, so in an effort to calm her, I promise we’ll come back to Carlo’s another time, no matter how long it takes, no matter how far. Then I go into the plot of The Last of the Mohicans which she ignores.
A couple of weeks later there's a teacher’s in-service day at the kids’ school so we decide to try again. But now we’re smarter. Mike Brady suggests we use our Starwood hotel points to book a hotel room in Hoboken the night before so we can be first in line at Carlo’s the next morning. But unfortunately, the closest hotel we can get with our points is in the Sheraton Newark Airport, twenty minutes from downtown Hoboken.
We drive to the Sheraton the night before and early the next morning we are up and walking to our car by 7 a.m., as is our plan.
That’s when our daughter says, “Daddy what’s that shiny silver thing lying next to the car?”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” he shouts.
Our car was broken into and stuff is strewn about inside the car. My husband is furious and as we drive out of the lot, he stops at the guardhouse (yes, this was a secure parking lot at the hotel with a guard house at the entrance) and yells, “What kind of fucking security do you have here? Our car was broken into last night.”
The guard looks up from his paper and says, a little too casual for my taste, “They broke into a bunch of cars last night. The police are inside. You better go get in line.” A half hour later Mike Brady comes back a little cheerier, saying it could have been a lot worse. There was an Escalade, with all its tires stolen, discovered on four cinder blocks.
So with that auspicious beginning, we continue on our quest. Within 20 minutes we are in Hoboken and 15 minutes after that, we pass through the hallowed gateway into Carlo’s Bakery. We take our number. Buddy’s sister Grace comes out and people start snapping photos. Then Mauro, the head baker, makes an appearance. Very soon, it’s our turn. The young woman at the counter takes our order.
“Two kids’ t-shirts, two cupcakes, and four brownies please. ”
“Okay, that will be $54.”
I hand her my credit card
“Oh no, no. We cannot ring up food and merchandise in the same transaction.”
I'll admit I was more than a little annoyed by this news. Cake Boss is the top rated show on TLC and has a wait time that rivals Space Mountain, yet they can’t figure out how to ring up food and t-shirts together. But it does explain why their line moves at the speed of evolution. I give her the card for the tees, which she rings up for $40.
“Okay, your baked goods are $14.”
I hand her back the card.
“Oh no, no. We have a $15 minimum for credit cards.”
I open my wallet and all I have is a ten-dollar bill. Mike Brady is nowhere to be found. I send my son to look for him. Meanwhile, I can feel the anger of the people behind me building because now I’m holding up the line. While I’m waiting, I notice multiple handwritten signs stating, “Please check your order before you leave,” and “No refunds given once you leave the store.” So I look in my bag and see the cupcakes but no brownies. Maybe Buddy should put a sign in the employee break room that says, “Please double check orders before giving to customers.”
My son finds Mike Brady outside the store talking on his phone with the insurance company about the break-in and returns with a $20 bill. I get my forgotten brownies, hand over the $20, and quite frankly, I’m just exhausted by the whole Carlo’s Bakery experience. We leave the store and go in search of a place for an early lunch and a beer.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if tell you I thought the cupcakes and brownies were delicious or crap, if they were worth the $70 in gas money, the two days of travel time, or even the $250 deductible to the insurance company for the damage to the car, because to my daughter they were the best cupcakes in the world. And I need to have my head examined.
*Not my husband’s real name, but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for this post.