Gut Instinct: Holy Moses – August 5, 2009

A dirty secret and devout dishes for JOSH BERNSTEIN and his crew on a trip to Flushing’s Hindu Temple Society

LIKE EVERY JEW worth his weight in gefilte fish and matzo balls, I put my full blind faith behind Moses.

“You have my personal fun guarantee,” proclaims the bearded Moses Gates, that is. The miracle maker is a licensed tour guide, a fearless investigator of sewers and subway tunnels, a climber of bridges, an urban explorer of the rusty and the forgotten. His municipal mania even extends to trying to walk every NYC census tract- 2,217 in total, including 783 in Brooklyn.

Moses knows New York. And today, a sticky, humid Saturday – are there other kinds come late July? – Moses shall share his city secrets on arts organization Flux Factory’s “Going Places, Doing Stuff” tour. Elementally, it’s an adult field trip, school bus included. About 40 thrill-seekers convene at Flux’s Long Island City headquarters, carrying water, snacks, whiskey and healthy curiosity. Itineraries are secret till departure, whereupon folks are whisked to, say, a crumbling Hudson River castle or Centralia, a Pennsylvania mining town devastated by a burning coal seam.

Flux’s voyages are so fun, you’ll kick yourself for missing the 9:30 a.m. departure.

“Hurry, hon!” I shout to my girlfriend, her eyes as lidded as Snoop Dogg’s on a smoky Friday night. She is not a creature to be denied caffeine.

“I am hurrying,” she says, pulling on a green tee. “Button your pants.” Barn door sealed, we boogie to the B48, then the B61 buses. Forty-five minutes later, the route, if I may utilize this word, terminates near an abortion clinic. “Can I rub your belly?” I ask my girlfriend, as we pass pro-lifers planted in lawn chairs.

They’re applying sunscreen as if it were a day at the beach. “Not funny,” she says, my wit falling as flat as days-old Diet Coke. “Maybe I should tell them we like our eggs scrambled, not fertilized,” I mumble, dreaming of my missing breakfast. With minutes to spare, we reach the vegetable-oil-powered bus – French fries faintly perfume the air – and squish in beside dreadlocked hippies, artists in patched pants and lesbians in love. Moses cues up a musical clue to our first stop: frenetic guitar riffs and rock, rock, Rockaway Beach.

“Watch out for the poison ivy,” Moses says, leading us through thick brush and poking branches to the Promised Land. It’s a rusty hatch, like the kind found on Lost, leading us to an underground nuclear-missile bunker. “It was New York’s last line of defense,” Moses says, pointing to a waterlogged launch platform that could kill commies with a fiery flourish. The nuclear apocalypse: so close to home! Back through the brush, back to the bus. “Listen up,” Moses says, playing a song with sitars.

“That’s Hindi!” someone shouts, the school bus bringing out everyone’s inner teacher’s pet. “Correct,” Moses says, as we steer toward Flushing’s Hindu Temple Society, North America’s largest such holy house.

Here, families and the devout make offerings to many-armed Ganesh statues and, like us, head downstairs to gorge at the underground Temple Canteen (45-57 Bowne St. betw. Holly & 45th Aves., Queens, 718- 460-8493).The fluorescent-lit mess hall welcomes all religious affiliations to tear into its crisp, paper-thin dosas- southern Indian crepes crammed with chutneys, curries and other meat-free marvels.

“It’s… all… vegetarian food!” my girlfriend says, happy as a kid on Halloween. Even sweeter? Nothing is more than $6. We overdose on squiggly idiappam rice noodles; savory, doughnut-like vadas swimming in yogurt; pastry-flaky potato samosas and two kinds of dosa: the fiery Hyderabadi, kicked up with green-chili chutney, and the four-alarm paneer. The buttery mess of spongy cottage cheese is such a tongue-scalder that I steal sips of my girlfriend’s cooling mango lassi. “Don’t drink it all,” she cautions, grabbing back her creamy concoction.

Full to bursting – and rubbing our bellies in a far more appropriate context – our gang waddles upstairs. I sneak to a bodega to buy a 24-ounce Bud Light Lime. It’s an artificially flavored abomination that, despite my avowed craft-beer love, I turn to during torpid summer afternoons. It’s my dirty little secret, like ordering General Tso’s chicken from bulletproof-window Chinese dive Ho Wong when I’m hungover. I sip my Lime (sleeved in a brown bag) while Moses reveals our next stop. He’s song-less, but his words remain music to my ears: “We’re going gambling at Belmont Park!” Belmont is a horse track, a classy alternative to the shabby Aqueduct. Kind of. Whereas the Aqueduct costs a buck, Belmont charges two. “And the track lets us bring in coolers of beer – which we have in back.”

The travelers roar with approval, before boning up on the differences between win, place and show. “Moses,” I tell my tour guide, grabbing a Tecate and entering Belmont to blow this column’s paycheck, “you have delivered on the fun.”

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