Everything is an adventure around here, it seems. Including Paczki Day (Also known as Fat Tuesday).
The first thing you should know about me is that I’m not really a planner. In the writing world, they call me a pantser (because I fly by the seat of my pants — though I prefer to say skirt because I’m too precious for pants unless, of course, they’re yoga pants).
The second thing you should know about me is that I love being Polish (My mom would also like me to point out that I’m also Irish, English, and German, with a general American mutt quality that some might find endearing, and I love being all of those things too — most of the time).
So I prefer to get my paczki (pronounced poonch-ki) on the day of instead of pre-ordering. When I was fresh out of college, I would just hit up the local grocery store and get the imposter version of this sweet Polish donut, but as I got older, my tastes became more discerning. I would get paczki from a magnificent bakery near the bar I worked at or find another bakery close to home that was selling them on the day (pre-orders be damned) and pick up a few or ten. When I worked in the city, I would pick up boozy-filled paczki from a bakery that was on my way to the office and share them with the work fam.
In more recent years, I found a bakery that allowed walk-ups, where it was usually a breeze to snag whatever I wanted with minimal lines. I imagine Heaven is a place where there are no lines.
But we’re still living in a global pandemic, damn near 11 months after our first lockdown. And so things have changed with these here bakeries. Pre-orders, it seemed, were the way to go for some, while others navigated uncharted waters with weird systems and poorly updated websites. I had all but given up on eating paczki today.
Enter Michelle, one of my friends who spends every year perfecting her definitive guide to Chicagoland paczki. I haven’t seen Michelle since the Before Time, and standing outside in the open air while collecting paczki near my stomping grounds seemed like a winning idea all around. So I put on real pants, grabbed a meat stick snack, and left the warm comfort of my house around 11 am.
Michelle told me where she was and I made my way there through the sludge and snow of winter. I parked in one of those angled parking spots on the street directly across from the bakery and got out to look for her. She was nowhere to be found. Apparently, our wires had crossed and she was at a different bakery. No mind! I would meet her where she was because this bakery wasn’t ready to sell their paczki to the non-pre-orderers like me anyway.
I walked back to my car and was about to get in when a woman who was parked across the street called out to me, “Hey! Did you see the car that hit your car?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Oh I thought you saw it. The car next to you got your car. It shook the entire car. I tried to flag them down but they drove away. I got their license plate for you.”
Oh random stranger, you delightful gem. I looked at my car, and sure enough the bumper was solidly dented and the back panel had some scuffage as well. I took down the license plate (which had the word “rock” in it — I’m not usually one to judge a person based on their vanity plates, but this guy fucking hit my car and drove away so…)
So I called 911, gave them all the details, and lived that fun life of dealing with the after effects of an accident without the presence of the at-fault driver. (I also looked up the license plate in one of those websites that lets you look up people’s information, because I may not be a planner, but I’m thorough when it comes to vengeance (and by vengeance, I mean making their car insurance company manage the damage to my car, just in case you were worried I was going to go all vigilante in the suburbs — which sounds like a great band name btw).
It was almost noon, and I still hadn’t procured a single paczki, or really eaten anything but a meat stick. Michelle showed up, and we kind walked around the block a bit, waiting for this bakery to open up their online ordering form (which they would only put up after they finished giving out their pre-orders; no in-store ordering allowed).
I got to have a lovely conversation with Michelle (in person, though without hugging) even though we both kept checking the bakery website religiously. Unsure whether she would make it in time to her final stop (the first real bakery I ever got paczki from), she called to make sure they were still stocked. They let her place an advanced order and when she said, “key lime” I was all…well I wasn’t GOING to go all the way there…but there are few things I won’t do for key lime anything. So I placed my own order, and we decided to abandon ship in Glen Ellyn, IL.
I popped over to Starbucks on my way (I needed something more substantial than a meat stick and also something warm and liquidy). While I waited in the drive-thru, I noticed the website was finally taking orders. I placed mine (albeit without two of the three varieties I really wanted) and made my way to the Downers Grove bakery about 20 minutes away. I snagged my box and Michelle and I drove back to the first bakery for our orders.
By the time I got home, it was coming up on 2 PM. I had spent a total of $11.53 and nearly 3 hours driving through suburbia plus one minor car accident for 4 paczki. Was it worth it?