On a brisk spring day, while I walked along a quiet stretch of Lexington Avenue just a block or two from where the street collides with Gramercy Park, I came across a sight rarely seen in today's New York City - a knife grinding truck. While the truck itself is hard to miss, with its lightly faded bright red paint job and cartoon images of a lawnmower, ice skate and hedge shears painted on its side, it wasn't the sight of the truck that first got my attention, but rather, the ringing of a bell.
I approached the passenger side door and encountered an older gentleman wearing a puffy gray coat and winter hat sitting in the drivers seat. He sat patiently in the mid-afternoon peace and quiet and entertained my small talk with short answers and minimal eye contact. It clearly wasn't the first time he had to deal with a curious observer pestering him with questions.
As I hung around longer he began to slowly open up and eventually extended his hand and introduced himself as Dominic Del Re. He explained that he had begun practicing his craft back in the eighties following a stint on Wall Street as a commodities trader. His work day entails driving the truck from his home in Staten Island, across the Verazanno Bridge, and eventually settling on a street in either Brooklyn or Manhattan. When I told him that I had never been to Staten Island, he replied, "You're not missing much." Del Re will park his truck in a variety of locations and neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, ringing his bell while he waits for customers to wander up with dull blades in need of sharpening.
Intrigued by the prospect of getting to watch him in action and no longer having to cut with a dull knife, I asked Del Re if I were to run home a few blocks to grab my kitchen knife would he wait? His reply: "Five minutes."
At a pace that would be best described as somewhere between a walk and a jog, I hurried home, grabbed my knife and made it back to find the truck parked in the same spot. He seemed a bit surprised that I cam back, as I imagine over the years he has grown a bit skeptic of people promising to return with their dull cutlery. I handed Del Re the knife and he observed it carefully, immediately pointing out flaws, the result of my own failed attempts at sharpening the blade. He retreated back inside the truck, fired up his equipment and put on a pair of safety glasses before going to work.
I stood in the doorway and observed Del Re as he held the handle of the knife in his left hand and gently moved the edge of the blade along the grinding stone. Years of experience dictated the pressure, position and angle that would ultimately produce a finished product capable of cutting with ease. After several minutes he powered down the equipment and held the blade in front of me for inspection. Trusting his judgment, I gave a nod of approval, and handed him the agreed upon payment in exchange for my newly sharpened knife.
Before leaving, I chatted with Del Re for a while longer. He provided me with some insight into where he will park and ring his bell each week, and before long opened up about his family. He spoke of his two sons the way a proud father does. I told him that I was engaged and he extended his congratulations. He mentioned that young people wait too long to get married these days, a fact that seemed to disappoint him. Before long, another curious pedestrian wandered up to the open door and started inquiring about Del Re's services. I took that as my cue to say goodbye and move on.
As for the knife, the first cut was like night and day - no longer sliding off the surface of tomatoes or requiring a vigorous sawing motion to get through a breast of chicken. It now glides effortlessly through whatever vegetable, fruit or meat sits on the cutting board. And while some time has passed now since Del Re worked his magic, the edge remains sharp, but with that being said, as soon as I get the first hint of dullness, I know exactly who I'm going to go try to find.