Axes and Ohs

Brian extended a very kind gesture toward me today. “Who’s Brian?”, you ask. He owns a local axe throwing house close by. I met him eight months ago during a casual hour of moderately sharp tool-tossing after a five-minute introductory session. Underhanded, over-toss, … certainly not sideways, and – for sure – the forbidden backward mistake throws were all covered by his trainers. In front of me stood the forbearing circles of unproven manhood I was to carefully consider without stepping beyond lines at my toe tips. The only caveat was allowing axes to be thrown by all before retrieving mine. As an aside here, I’ve had knives in my back, figuratively, but would know to wait … (darn insurance company regulations require the disclaimer, probably). Oh, and did I mention alcohol is allowed as well? Yes, BYOB in an axe-throwing building.

Alcohol and axes. Local Paul Bunyons and their Big Barcelo Rums chasing the blues away in a small city block building close to a set of railroad tracks near Altoona, PA. Brian runs his business quite well. It’s as professional as any I’ve seen – for this type. Granted, how many mildly-blunt forestry implement flinging establishments have I been in? One. His. Every precaution has been taken for the safety of his guests. There’s sign-in ahead with call-in appointments recommended and professional staffing from entrance to exit.

Two weeks prior to my visit, Brian stopped by my concession stand to introduce himself. Why not, right? At that time, I was only a few blocks away and surely scents dancing on air – from the finest sausage grease and hamburgers in town – caught his nose-tice. Simple marketing. Meet-and-greet as we used to say pre-internet. Being not overbearing or abrasive, he became an instant friend of mine. I didn’t pretend, or assume, we’d immediately start to attend family goldfish burials together or send holiday cards back and forth, however. It wasn’t a bromance in the brew pot … just a real nice guy.

As the weeks continued on from there, I would look out my concession window and see Brian order two hot dawgs once a week – no onions. “Hey, how’ve you been?” moments in passing … hoping each one of us respond with positive reports. We did, then moved on with our next six days or so.

Today I noticed his company vehicle pull up – which, of course, wasn’t unusual. I knew fresh hot dawgs were grilled up ready to go with his favorite chili-cheese steaming in the cooker. Before I had a chance to ask how things were, he set a hefty box on the cold serving counter just outside my window.

“Here, Doug. This package is for you!”, he gleamingly gave voice to his benevolent demeanor. Stunned, I noticed a rather plain box with the words: Exterior String Lights, 49 Feet.

He continued, “A buddy and I came by the other night and measured the exterior of your trailer. There are enough lights to go around here …”, he continued, pointing excitingly to the far left side, “…all the way across the front, around the end then behind. All the sides cars will see you in the dark. Those nights when you are open, hopefully these will help you get some increased business, right?”. I, in a breathless manner, replied, ” Uh, yeah …”

“I’m sorry, Brian. I’m at a loss for words. Thank you so much. Let me pay you for these”.

“Absolutely not. And we’ll let it go at that.”

“Ok. At least allow me to give you these two dawgs for free?”. He agreed.

I was taught to accept gifts with gratitude and compliments with grace. Both, when done with sincerity, are given from a kind and gentile place. Brian, in that moment, exemplified his kindness toward me. I accepted – with a little push-back, of course, because I’m Doug.

Two weeks ago, Brian came by – at night – and apparently made a mental note that my exterior trailer space is dark. Save a few small lantern lights setting on the very shelf he placed his wonderful gift today, the customer experience after sundown is less than ideal. I have certain priorities – exterior lighting hasn’t been one of them. My casual friendship to Brian was a priority to him during this past week and I am indebted to his goodwill. He lit up my emotional small 160 square feet footprint today.

In a few days, I’ll be able install these lights. For now, Axes and Ohs go out to you, Brian. You threw one and hit dead center today, my friend.

B.A.D. in Delectably Virtuous Way

OK. So, we’re stuck here. Here? Yeah. Freakin’ 2020 … behind masks – out of our favorite restaurants and away from loved ones for many blips on digital calendars. That time being about nine months to date since the droplets hit our shores. Wow. What a tidal wave of emotions and opinions those little molecules turned out to be. This month last year, none of us saw the tsunami coming across magnificent oceans. Seemingly, we were immune from these viral outbreaks happening elsewhere.

Not so fast. Near Seattle, Washington state, then eastward bound … ashore it was – as we were unsure of our future. New York, hit hard … state-wide lockdowns, worry, concern for the elderly and immuno-compromised. All of it so new.

Firmly planted now with so much more knowledge and vaccines to help us, we still remember those lost in the mess of mis-understanding. They have no Christmas or holiday to celebrate with us because stubbornness overtook logic and reason, politics became a barrier – not a bridge, and habitual day-to-day living was too difficult a lane for some from which to turn.

This virus is a nasty sort. It takes from and gives very little back. We are in complete control of those facts. I also know you are aware life has a positive side, too. As we end 2020 – a year of absolute, mindbending twists we never knew possible – this seven day stretch between the 25th and 31st is absolutely B.A.D. in a delectably virtuous way. Remindably so every time a plateful of sweetness slides onto your decorated holiday table already stacked with fudge, brownies, cookies, and cakes lovingly baked by neighbors and friends.

It’s a season of giving, not of taking – the outright opposite of the selfish viral objective. It took so much from us; however bleak, our neighbors, friends, and loved ones are taking this week to turn that bad into a new version of BAD. A most excellent version all of us need.

Lovingly Bought. Acquired ingredients with you in mind. Sugar, spice, and everything nice … oh, and chocolate for sure. If not raw materials for scratch work, maybe time invested buying carefully selected candies from your favorite confectionaire? Whatever the outlay of kindness on your behalf, it was for you …

Lovingly Accepted. You can’t help that full feeling in your belly. Not the over-stuffed, jammed turkey graveyard push-away from the table at Thanksgiving full, but the overwhelming joy – smelling the deep, dark chocolate sitting only inches away. That snickerdoodle, powder cookie, peanut-butter icing waft-wonderful scent waving at you is too irresistible for you to not value the time and energy invested. Waving back through the cellophane or tin seems not enough at the moment. A return call or text within a week or so is appropriate, but first you must …

Lovingly, in a kindly gentile way, Devour. Head first, anything chocolate head of the line, no holds barred, all plates emptied by 12:01 a.m. January 1st, 2021. You’ve done your very best playing by the rules since March 15th. All of us have, and will continue to do so on behalf of our neighbors and friends. This week, alone with your family and that table full of sweetly chunkiness, dive in! Let the crumbs and sugar pieces fly. Rumba later.

For now, enjoy what’s in front of you. If that’s two cookies at a time? So be it. Be B.A.D. for once in your lockdown life this week – Oreo’d in between thorough, stiff rules designed, yes, for our collective safety, but really hard to emotionally handle. I get it. I’m right there with you looking at a tin , now happily half-full of chocolate covered popcorn and pretzels graciously sitting on a table only two feet away (within a comfortable three feet range from shoulder to tips of my very sticky fingers) Ugh. Those little sweet treats are so freakin’ delicious! Absolutley NOT going to last until 2021.

Oh, but don’t worry. I have more around, as I’m sure you do. Bags, plates, and pans – because I have to guess concerning your sweet situation. You’re not supposed to be good right now. I expect you to be bad in a delectably virtuous way. Eat all of it. Lick the plates with passion, tap every nugget, and don’t let this week pass without enjoying every single crumb.

Someone out there is mixing up ingredients for you to appreciate the moments. We can’t see what they’re folding for our futures, but we know there must be something special we can count on being magically injected into the dough. Gobble up a lotta love the next time they knock on your door.

I will because I have awesome friends who know my lack of restraint when piles of cookies remain open in my path. Heartfelt heaps that not-so magically disappear between the 25th and 31st of December. A week when all of us probably bought sugar and spice to make treats for those we love and respect as well.

Today is about giving of ourselves to others. Not only today, but also this week … this month … and especially this year. We’ve given our time, effort, resources, and love to those who need it the most. For some, the virus has been extremely cruel … all take and no give. That’s what it does.

We aren’t that. Our ingredients, mixed in, are virtuous, respectable, and shared in such a good way – on a plate for everyone we admire, and even those we may not. To give of ourselves is the highest honor one can grant to another. A goodness not found in one droplet these days, but found in a tsunami of sweetness as every wave of kindness comes ashoredly on our hearts this season – and across our palates in the form of delectable, really BAD treats.

But, oh they’re so good. Chocolate chip cookies with nuts … just in case you’re stopping by.

Ghee What a Ghal!

Ghosts and ghouls are past us by about two months during which gharries possibly arrived carrying ghastful gharials.

Admittedly, I knew three words starting with “gh” used in the above paragraph. The other two? Yep. Google. By the third grade – or sooner, if the chalk dust and marvelous marker smell has cleared my mind – I also knew these are the consecutive 7th and 8th letters of our 26 developed from the Etruscan alphabet sometime before 600 BCE (also Google 😄). It takes a bit of brain power to engineer opening paragraphs around the letters G and H and I’m not sure this little engine in my skull is puffing up hill effectively. Most likely won’t know until I’m looking down over my connected paragraph cars to the conclusion caboose. If everything is intact and there’s been no derailment, the G&H Line has been a success!

All I’m sure of is those two letters meant something to me today – and that’s all that really counts. So, hop aboard and let me tell you about my nice conversation today.

There’s a station in life where we stand. These weirdly words slapped on us are defined by society and there’s not much that can be done about it. We’re either married, or not. A pastor, or not. Have 12 children, one, or none. Maybe you’re one who employees hundreds, an employee, or not an employee at all. Ok, so we can do something about them, right? Get married, employed, or pregnant if so desired … but all these do is change the station. You’re still assigned a station in life, regardless. The life train comes and goes – in and out of your station … day after blessed day. We have to find a way to enjoy that station upon which we stand. Somehow enjoy the freakin’ show we see as people walk up and down, across and between our paths every. Single. Day.

I had that experience today. The happy human I conversed with is enjoying her station in life. Circumstances being what they are, I’m sure she would hope for better days ahead. Being careful on details for obvious reasons, I will bind this together like a coal car and engine gracefully tying their couplers for a wonderful journey ahead.

We met for less than an hour this morning. She, a purveyor of a service I needed to tie up a loose end for a holiday present, and I talked over health, religion, family relations, politics, music, and oddly enough, a little witchcraft. There is a small, friendly, historical connection between us as our pasts intertwine ever so gently. I do believe our chit-chat session could have extended beyond the time we spent before I had to leave for other engagements. This was, simply, a nice conversation with a nice, sincere person. Someone who is face-to-face with some real things as she stands on, and in, her station.

I drove away thinking about that. Moments later wrapping some presents … thinking about … that. Boy, what a waste of time arguing with a “friend” on Facebook when that time could be better spent talking to someone about their life’s struggles in person. Laughing (six feet away) from a relative stranger who needs a good joke rather than sharing a goofy meme seems to be far greater. In-person vs. Out-impersonal?

I know it’s tough, probably. My business affords me the chance to interact daily with folks. Without it, especially during this pandemic when we’re forced into distancing and lock-down situations, I’d be lost. Today’s wonderful conversation may have been a one-off’er because of the holiday need. Regardless, she certainly stepped up and lifted my spirits this morning while giving me a little hope in the midst of this rather bleak 2020.

She’s definitely on the right track for what she believes in and who she trusts. Her station in life is on pretty solid ground from the little I know, anyway. She believes in herself and trusts in herself to make the best decisions for herself. I’d say that’s a pretty good place to be. From where I stood, “Ghee What A Ghal” is pretty darn accurate…

…and her initials – engineered to be identical to the company name emblazoned on the side of her engine that CAN – is all the information you’re going to get as you watch her get up that hill. The “G & H” Line proudly steaming ahead as an example to all of us of what humanity, grace, and honesty looks like in the midst of life not being particularly kind.

Yes, two letters and not much of a start to any words, really. Didn’t expect them to be. Then again, I didn’t expect to be talking about broomsticks and Wickens this morning, either.

Turducken, the Day After

Every Thanksgiving I feel older. The Friday day after feels farther away from holiday Thursday as the years calendar on … but …

I’m not that old … yet. You know, the old when huh? and what’d ya say? replace “You know it, girlfriend!” and “Way to go, bro!” in everyday conversations. Sure, I’m not thirty-something anymore, either.

Consider me one of the middle-of-the-late middle aged road, semi-aware guys plodding along life’s car pool lane. Every once in a while I get to shift the conversation in my head to creative ideas that automatically pop up – and these, then, exhaustively blow out my mouth pipe. Those along for the ride have no choice but to listen because I swerve my words into their ears. They’re stuck. Seatbelted into a friendship with me, they are … and, by the way, they love it.

“Turducken” blew out the other day followed by juvenile laughter. I saw it resting in a meme right in front of my eyes. I knew immediately this word was destined to be in one of my blog posts someday – and said as much to my friends sitting across from me. No sooner did the black smoke clear when one shot back, “Please, don’t. Why would you? It’s just a stupid word.”. “Uhm, yes, I know … a word … a funny word, and I don’t really know what it means – to be honest.”, I immediately replied, defending my youthful, inner sense of third-grade humor. To annoy even more, “turducken, TurDucken, TURDUCKEN!” … each one louder than the one before – just to secure my position among the least mature at the table.

I’m not that old … yet. Words like turducken can amuse me still. So do Lumpuckaroo and Cringidabingus, two words I have NO idea the meaning of and never took the chance to ask my, now, deceased grandfather. I chuckle thinking about them coming from his mouth every time he made a diagnosis of a personal illness or an American political problem. One of two things. Yep. Had to be Lump’ or Cring’ … this was his way-about. I think I got a bit of his genes, btw.

Unlike the aforementioned unprofessional, medically paternal funnery, I’ve come to learn turducken is a real thing: a turkey stuffed with duck and chicken – which makes the word increasingly more hilarious when followed by the definition … Or, is it just me?

Could be. Not going to argue the point.

Don’t want to disagree, or agree, whether you should like a savory three-meat at a time dish. I’ve never had it. Never spent valuable moments forking my way through it – if memory serves me well on my soon to be silver haired platter. I like meat separated, one at a time … unless on a club sandwich, bacon cheeseburger, or pizza.

Or, should I say, a Cluburgerizza.

Now, there’s another word I can spontaneously shout out someday. Unfortunately, it isn’t as funny as turducken, but I can make it so with a third grade snicker and twinkle my eyes in the direction of my friends. They’ll get aggravated and tell me to go sit somewhere else. That’s ok. I won’t because I know they need me around. In their mind, they’re saying, “Way to go, bro!” while refusing to say it aloud. Why? That’s what real Turduckenaires do. The folks who are so unique, so out of the ordinary, … you can’t help loving them once you, uhm, … meat them.

Hop in our car. There’s plenty of room.

Thankful Evolutions

Back in March of 2005, I started. Just what at the time? Not real sure. It was the beginning of 10,000 baby steps that continues to this day. Over fifteen years later, I haven’t yet matured into adult strides, i.e. grown-up thinking about my business. My attitude is still childish, – like opening up a Christmas present every time I unlock the door to my concession trailer or slide the window wide open to greet a customer. Every day is new. Fresh. Exciting. Record sales or rainy, blah days, I’m ok. Five-thousand, five-hundred days flipped over on the calendar since diving in this unknown pool of figuring out how to stay financially afloat, I’m ok.

In this type of business – as in all I suspect – a re-investment of capital is necessary to grow. What’s left over after the bills are paid (not including our own paychecks early on) goes right back in for development, research, new(er) equipment, advertising, employee benefits/incentives, etc … all the stuff to help urge our businesses along. As owners, we have to stay positive. We must never lose our energy, drive, or focus. These are the intrinsic qualities fueling the engine. Cliche? Absolutely! True? Most assuredly.

Since that day in 2005, I lost a lot of money. Two failed restaurants within two years, a depleted savings, and lessons I didn’t want to learn but needed to. Everything was right at the start, however, I sucked at picking locations. Sucked. “If You Renovate It, They Will Come”, right? Shoeless Joe … you there? Purchased equipment sat lonely with me as cars swooned by at the second location, and people hastily walked by at the first. My recipes were (and continue to be) tasty, customer service is “me”, and cleanliness exemplary. I knew what I sucked at and had to admit it: location.

Everything else being fine, why not go mobile? Go to the customer. Problem fixed. Enter small cart #1. Then cart #2 shown above. Then the trailer seen far right … fifteen years later. A van, one commercial kitchen, two carts, one trailer … and one guy who is still pretty excited about his business.

Why these words a day before Thanksgiving, 2020, from a simple hotdawg selling, piano-playing, blog-writing, strangely strange fellow? Because, I’ve learned being thankful is a process, an evolutionary operation, with baby steps under foot. In the business of simply being you, be thankful for all the little things along the way contributing to your magnificent self.

I could list all the crappy stuff – even today – that isn’t right in my business. But, that’s today and all of it will right itself sometime soon. None of it has to do much with the pandemic shut-downs or customers not willing to be out. Heck, I live in an area where a larger than normal number of people don’t mask or social distance anyway. Our numbers are going up. Period. Whether you’re a believer in the science or not, the local hospital is experiencing an increase in cases and inpatient admittances. Too many haven’t been willing to take the necessary baby steps since March. But, I digress.

-My thankfulness comes in the form of each 4316-9. That is the current number on my sales book today. Every customer is a baby step. Without them, I don’t survive as a business.

-My thankfulness is for each supplier of the goods I provide. I can’t process hotdawgs, sausage, steaks, or chicken. The rolls nestled around these juicy delicacies don’t just appear in my hands, either.

-My thankfulness is extended toward all the landlords who rent spaces to me so I can be open. They are my lifeblood. Customers and suppliers are not relevant if I can’t set up anywhere.

-My thankfulness wraps around money provided to me in the form of credit and financial services offered through the local banks. Personal service and help when needed has been so valuable.

-My thankfulness to all the local businesses who have allowed me to set up and serve lunch to their employees on site. Word of mouth through these lunches has been a tremendous asset.

-And, finally, thanks to all my family and friends who’ve stepped in to help over the years in many different ways. You know where I am. You know how things are. You’ve been there for every baby step.

Everyone above is so important. Investing in them is as important as placing one dollar in a new refrigerator, ad campaign, or employee’s IRA. They are the process of my being thankful. I’ve evolved – in no small part – with the help of their support and encouragement in spite of my stubborn nature and crazy ideas.

Find those people in your life that have been part of your thankful process. You’re magnificent today because they were there for you – maybe when you didn’t even know. In those silent moments you felt encouraged, they sat away thinking of you. That amazing business phone call you didn’t expect? That was their referral. A customer stopped by because they heard … through the proverbial grapevine ….? Find them. Thank them. All.

Some friends, as they look over silly FB memes of mine … listen to goofy jokes, or my pontificating about political punditry so ever-present in our world today, assume I haven’t matured at all. I proudly wear this jacket emblazoned with young, fancifully unsophisticated lettering embroidered on my soul. It is because of who I am, I can appreciate where I’ve been and what the future looks like as it evolves.

So, tomorrow is a weird 2020 Thanksgiving holiday, but it doesn’t have to be. Stay socially distanced and masked if that’s what you feel is necessary. I am. That’s me.

The day isn’t weird at all if you take a minute, or a baby-second’s time, to ask yourself a simple question: “Who, in this process I call my life, has been there for me?”.

The answer(s) may not be sitting across from you – especially this year – but I guarantee they are thinking about you. They always are because of who they’ve evolved to be: folks who want you to be the very best you can be – even if you’re not real sure what that is when you open a business and have no idea what lies ahead. It may be 10,000 baby steps or more, so be open to anything.

One Day

The Ohio river flows 981 miles from the southern edge of lake Erie to its mouth on the great Mississippi river, passing through – and by – two hall-of-fame sports cities along the way: Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Combined, the two have 19 championships as follows: Steelers – 6, Penguins – 3, Pirates – 5, and Reds – 5. Unfortunately, the Bengals are one of a few NFL modern era teams yet to score a Lombardi, but hey, there’s time.

In 1975, nicknames were flowing for the Superbowl winning Steelers and World Series Champion Reds. For the Reds and Steelers, these nicknames were off the tongues and typewriters of sports writers … fluently-friendly they were – these words with the heft of a linebacker and the grace of a finely tuned, well-executed fast ball. The “Big Red Machine” including Bench, Rose, Morgan, Pérez, Concepción, Foster, Griffey, and Gerónimo took care of business pretty much the whole decade, not just that year. The “Steel Curtain” nickname came easy as well for the quartet of the Steeler’s defensive front four, L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White.

Yep, 1975 was a year to celebrate the Ohio river’s glory. “La Belle Riviere”, as this magnificent body is so aptly nicknamed, has outlasted – and will continue to – the hoorays and cheers of those years. Forty-five years and millions of heart-breaking moments later, we have memories and, maybe, a few autographs and game day programs. The players are retired, coaching, or, well, … dead. This applies to many of us, too – the fan base who held on to our dads’ hand while walking into a stadium for the first time as a deep, rich announcer’s voice echoed throughout.

1975. Ohio river and two teams. Also the year a sit-com taught us one really valuable lesson. Not through really bad acting (which there was), or quite mundane script writing (which there was) or, kinda bad wardrobe choices (which there was), or my complete disdain for Bonnie Franklin (which there was), or my wish that the writers would never develop a plot around Mackenzie Phillips (which they never honored), or my sincere love toward Valerie Bertinelli (which WAS honest and for true 😍)… It was the title: ONE DAY AT A TIME.

This is a saying I toss back and forth once in a while with a wonderful friend of mine. Certainly not an original phrase, it has been twisted, turned, modified, memed, run up and down the motivational speaker pole, and shouted from the pulpits of every denominational oratoty. I claim no originality in posting it here. “One day at a time” has no greater meaning than it does today, or any day for that matter … especially in 2020.

My friend, with whom I transfer this glorious pentaword phrase, sometimes approaches her days cautiously, but even then, undaunted with silent resolve is she. Under the black light of a pandemical petri dish as all of us are, she’s a survivor’s survivor.

When we were born, the maker of our forms placed a timer on our spans. The width between coming and going we don’t know. All we’re guaranteed is that it’s significantly shorter than 981 miles and less important, overall, than the Ohio river to our great American society. Yes, collectively, we add up to a great team if we played as one; However, if 2020 has taught us anything, we ‘ain’t all wearing the same jersey, are we? Each one if us, simply, were given one-day-at-a- timers and it’s up to us to use them.

Those timers are the other people in our circle who make a difference and can help us when we need help. Friends who we reach out to with a text saying, “I’m sad today and here’s why …”, or “My job is frustrating me. Can we talk for a few minutes?”. These co-breathers, especially now, are the real champions in our lives. They go to bat for us. They stay under center when we seem to be running all over the field.

We have no fancy nicknames for these heroes in our lives, nor are there hall-of-fame buildings erected in their honor. Timers must suffice for now. No sit-coms will ever come close to script the lines, fashionably drape a cast, or hire a lead actress that will ever gratify my need to priviledge the timers in my life. I’m so ok with that truth.

Heading down one of the greatest unknown rivers in the past 100 years, we need all our friends to help us stay afloat right now. Reach out to a champion. Our world is not a bell-bottomed, steel curtained, big red machine forty-five years later, for sure. We have each other, though, and also one day at a time.

Both, together, make any show worth watching and walking into a stadium with a dad, for any day’s game, a championship moment.

“Dare to be Square”

Before diving in, I must give proper credit. The above tag line hangs below – and is, most likely, registered to – one of my favorite sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and dough places in town: Best Way Pizza.

It’s been a family stop of ours for decades. Today, during a busy run-around day off, I find myself here enjoying an extra slice of restful time. Lines at grocery stores and pharmacies, advertising signs blown over from last night’s Pentecostal winds, and messages on my phone all demanding my attention earlier have been tamed. I’m the only one here. Humming soda machines keep me company … no human contact save the occasional really nice employee wiping down the counter over to my right. Expected for the 2:50 p.m. off-lunch, pre-supper time.

This was my pleasurable view only minutes ago. Not so now. I’ve wiped my hands clean of the grease that remains from what is now marching to my heart (thanks, Drew Carey, for your bit on Johnny Carson years ago!). There’s more ice than Pepsi left in the plastic cup and a few less pepper flakes to carry back in the shaker. Over and over this cycle of inhumanity toward my health has been repeated throughout the decades of my life. The pattern of plastic predictability won’t be officially complete until I top off the cup with more empty calories on my way out.

It’s just hunger satisfaction without tofu, veggies, or soy. That’s all. Easy-peasy. Their soda machine calibration is spot-on, by the way … 👌

“Dare to be square”, right? My parent’s generation probably used the word “square” in the 40’s/50’s to mean “not hip”, or outside the cool crowd – a sort-of conventional dude who went about life inside the accepted borders, following all the rules, obeying the laws, driving the speed limit in the family car while just pulling out of the white picket fence lined driveway.

Square could also mean getting right with someone – settling a debt, perhaps. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll square up later.”, I see as a variation of usage. Does this make the person square? Eh, who knows? Just an idea.

As any of this relates to really good pizza, example #1 most likely is what the LeCrones mean. The original owners, in a twisted way, dare us to be normal by eating pizza that is square … in a “pizza is cool only in triangles” world. Maybe they were convinced, decades ago, we were destined for black eyes in dark alleys by going against conventional circles cut into triangles … in square boxes as the popular memes on social media purport?

Geometrically speaking, the above meme is funny. Three shapes in one Friday night, teenager driven delivery. Best Way doesn’t deliver. If memory serves me right, they were one of the first in the area to offer drive up service years ago as a pizza business. Innovation with simplicity. Quite a success story. As of today, they have multiple locations and franchises in numerous counties surrounding and including Blair County.

May I suggest every writer of a blog and, by extension, every reader of every blog could write a similar story of their favorite pizza joint? Yep. My short break today isn’t that unique to anyone else’s American story.

If you told me back in the 80’s I’d be doing this today, … well, pretty sure you’d get a different response than, “In 2020, during a pandemic, I’ll have a day off from my concession business and be typing out my blog entry for the day inside a Best Way”. I didn’t have a 40 minute plan let alone a 40-year plan just getting out of high-school.

What I was sure of? … my hometown was always a place to love, family was here … and we always had Best Way Pizza on Friday night if we could. Later in life, it became a Sunday night tradition.

I’m a professional pianist … sell hot dawgs and food out of a trailer, and write on a blog. So far, I haven’t been beaten up, so all is good. I must be cool in a square kind of way.

The pizza was really good … as usual. Next time you’re in Hollidaysburg, Pa. stop by. Dare to be square yourself.

Prince Demetrius and the Leaves of Loretto

It’s a few short minutes drive up the mountain from home, but I don’t go often enough. Prince Gallitzen State Park. Named in honor of Prince Demetrius Gallitzen, a Russian nobleman turned Roman Catholic missionary priest who founded the nearby town of Loretto, the park is home to Glendale Lake – a 1635 acre man-made lake. This state park is near PA Rts. 253 and 53 close to Pattton, Pa. This picture is very familiar to my friend you’ve met here before … a skilled photographer with an eye for the beauty around us.

This location is familiar to me. Our family went there early on in my life. A significantly larger group than today’s remainder met there for smotherings of hugs and non-judgmental gatherings back when divorces were less common and death seemed less familiar to me. A space where old and young kin folks talked, laughed, and played games around checkered tablecloths on splintered tables, and swarms of bees chased us little ones into the woods. Bees that, unfortunately, are as distant as the memories I have to this day.

My dear friend sometimes captures these memories of mine as I look at her pictures she posts. This one above is one of many from her collection labeled, “Glendale Roadtrip 2020”. Her gift is walking along our memory lanes with us without knowing she’s beside our footsteps.

There are times she strides alone, I suspect. She, like all of us, need those days when no company is desired. A picture taken during a solitary saunter can mean a lot when life requires self-reflection from a pond of either regret or satisfaction. Her roadtrip reasons are for her, alone, to settle into her personal picnic basket of emotional needs. She feeds her soul without the need to justify any fruitful endeavor to us. We’re just the fortunate viewers of her gift.

This photographic journey trip to a princely park is worth writing about because today’s breaths are better spent on leaves and a wonderful friend’s keen eye than election what-ifs and presidential prognostications. A small, quaint Loretto, Pa, leafy fall picturesque lake only a few minutes drive from the hustle of Altoona is soul settling – even if only looking at it on a Facebook page. A railroad city where empty buildings sit – in contrast to empty park benches quietly remembering a family’s reunion forty-five plus years ago – can never replace the images in my mind. A grandmother, with her arm around me, saying, “Look at the lake. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Why, yes it is … yes, it is.

Over the benches and through the leaves, we see the reflection. Black against blue is my favorite contrast in all her photographs. There are no people in this photograph like there are in my memories stirred up by looking through her album. Granted, you can’t see my mom with her frosted 70’s hairdo, or my now bald dad with a crew cut back then. My sister, brother, and I together throwing a football, frisbee, or half-deflated ball from the Murphy’s five-and-dime store is a memory once locked up, but free again. Uncles, aunts, cousins, … all mostly removed from my life now due to unpreventable reasons. Events the trees at Prince Gallitzin and Glendale have seen over and over, family by family, generation by generation.

Life moves at a remarkable pace. Quicker than I ever imagined years ago staring out over a lake years away from my first driver’s license or first date. This is where life is.

I don’t know where you are, nor do I know what ever happened to Prince Demetrius. A quick Google search would turn up the answer, but I like the mystery of not knowing. We shouldn’t want to know everything even if everything is accessible and at our fingertips.

The mystery of the leaves of Loretto included.

I do know I have my memories and a well-respected friend who helps me reach back to grab them every now and then with her pictures.

Life is a shared journey. A Roman Catholic missionary, local State Park, picture, friend, my past, and I – all on the bench beside a calm lake are we … bound together by that unbreakable understanding that life is one picture at a time. One day at a time. One virtual hand-hold together down memory lane.

Today is a good day.

Dave and 200 Pennies

Without doing any research, I have to assume Dave is one of the more common male names in America. Doug certainly is the most important 4-letter name starting with D that comes to my mind, of course. Dave is a close second. A second, just to be clear.

Being Vice-President in this non-farm 4-D category is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re Dave, Dale, or Dick. To be in the same category with a Doug – any Doug – is nothing short of wonderful. MacArthur, Flutie, Fairbanks, … the magic of Henning and I welcome you into our group. Open arms and happy smiles …

… and a moderate amount of humility at times.

Seems fitting, on the day when a new President has been declared by the A. P., I am writing about the self-sacrifice of one man. The giving of a gift from a heart of a man without any expectation of anything in return. The America – personified in one man – I knew was here, but haven’t seen for some time. Benevolence in one man with nothing, compared to another who, seemingly, had everything but chose to serve only himself while giving the appearance of compassion for others.

Let me introduce Dave.

Dave is close to homeless. Whether or not he chooses to be this way, I’m not sure. His situation requires the social safety nets we, as a compassionate society, must provide. Those, like Dave, stricken with misfortune – either economic, emotional, or mental – must be cared for by us. Some in our community (associates and friends) tried to help and, understandably, have been frustrated by Dave’s cognitive unease, laziness, or incomprehension of his actual situation. So, we find our local community folks watching him go about town on his bike, collecting cans, sitting on a bench fake-playing a little Casio keyboard, or shuffling by on a cold winter’s day. This is his normal. Day. After. Day.

His day … intermixed among my busy, go-about days of money-making ventures. A maze of where-to-goes and what-to-do’s, not giving a single thought about anyone else with four letters in their name starting with a D – notably, anyone else who has no warm meal waiting for them at home or a soft sofa to sit on while watching commercials laden with products they may want to buy.

My life compared to a younger, less fortunate man’s life? Almost none. No gray area where our lives did intersect, really cross. I’ve known Dave a while. Being a “street vendor” in town, I was a convenient stop-by here and there for him. A chat every few weeks at his discretion – when he had something to say and then he was on his unshaven, over-dressed, way. Never a nuisance and always respectful, he respectfully begged for my attention, never money, and earned my respect.

All this to say, one day last week Dave paid for my $2 iced tea at breakfast without my knowledge. Whether it was all coins or dollars, I do not know. I wasn’t hungry that morning, so that’s all I ordered. I don’t know what Dave had in mind that morning if I would have ordered my normal breakfast. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. The 200 pennies he sacrificed on my behalf was worth more than breakfast at the White House with any President.

I chose sacrificed on purpose. Ten minutes later, outside the very familiar window under which I sat, I saw Dave shuffle by – clear plastic bag in tow.

At that moment, I became a clear Vice-President of the 4-D name club. Dave showed buckets full of humility, grace, and compassion, with a simple $2 nod toward a guy who sees him as invisible most of the time.

I don’t know why Dave did it. I’m not asking him. To do so would take away the marvelous magic I want him to have. No assumptions are going to come forth from my fingers at this moment.

I wanted to acknowledge one simple act of generosity. To man who thought he had a life of important things, a gift given from one person who has a small amount of things to give in life can make a lot of cents all of a sudden.

To Dave and his 200 pennies: I thank you.

Lady, Luck and Me

This is a lady on Lady.

I had the pleasure of seeing them trot by at a local event last Saturday night. It was a late night corn maze and there wasn’t much business to be placed inside freshly purchased buns, unfortunately. Blame it on rescheduled trick-or-treat plans, cold weather, or Covid fatigue … any number of possibilities … it was simply a slow night. A really. Slow. Night.

Local isn’t really honest. Bedford county is 35 minutes due south from Blair, my home county, and more rural. I set up in a field of worn grass next to a wooded, rather scary, tree-bone graveyard off a well traveled route between two small towns. The folks were banjo friendly in a Nicholson kind of banjo-picking way. Nice, but looked at my hot dawg, northern self like I just stepped off a yankee canoe.

Charles, the folkman in charge of the entire event, was kindly nice and welcoming, however. His gentle demeanor didn’t represent a gruff, wheat stick between the teeth personality as he led my efforts to set up and prepare for the crowds anticipated arrival (not). In fairness – even with over 20 years’ experience running the corn maze and haunted woods – he couldn’t know the effect of Covid or rescheduled trick-or-treat night in the surrounding communities. With that, it was a grueling 4 hours in the cold with little to show except food waste, spent propane, mud in worn tires, and a late night of travel back to a more familiar Blair county.

There was a positive. Meeting the lady … and Lady. In my horse petting haste, I neglected to harness the rider’s name: the lady on Lady. The lady was a very nice person who filled my ears with wonderful information as I ran my cold hands over Lady’s still head a little above her nostrils. This looked to be the only place where she didn’t have a costume part draped over her. Bless her heart. She stood still in silence. Only the white, warm steam rose from the end of her exhales. There was no other movement except my hand – which she seemed to enjoy.

I was told she was a quarter horse. From what I can gather, American Quarter Horses get their name by being quick sprinters – in races of a quarter mile or less. It is one of the most popular breeds in the country and I can see why. I believe we had more of a connection between us than I had with some of the kind kin folk in those parts. Lady didn’t talk much. Heck, she didn’t talk at all. I asked her twice, “Are you a wonderful horse, Lady?”, and she nodded her head in agreement … twice – both times I asked. Don’t tell me we didn’t make a love connection, ’cause we did!

I’m not lonely. Don’t look at this the wrong way. Very seldom do I get to be around large animals, let alone really nice ones, OR ones I have time to pet while freezing my petunias off. Those of you around horses all day long won’t find this encounter of mine wonderful. I get it. For the same reason, I wouldn’t find your writing about an encounter with the most magnificent hot dawg exciting. It’s all what we’ve done, who is with us, perhaps, and possibly what large animal is involved that makes for an interesting life to one vs. another.

The lady’s outfit was interesting to me … especially the way she posed for my picture. It had a middle-eastern flare. Play around with this picture, adding the Abbasid Palace in the background, and it would make for a wonderful picture (although, with apologies to the culture, I’m not sure women are allowed to ride horses). The combination kept my eyes busy most of the evening because there wasn’t much else to do. Lady and the lady rode gently by every 20 minutes or so and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Lady belongs to Charles. He owns four horses. The lady is kind enough to saddle up and ride Lady during these corn maze and haunted woods events to entertain the crowds. Crowds, evidently, that show up only on the nights I’m not there.

That said, some really nice folks did arrive. I can’t say there weren’t. Those who did stop to buy a hamburger, or two, discussed pleasantries with me as I suffered my way around a steamy grill. Charles bought three – yes, three – sausage sandwiches that totaled up to most of my sales. Stuffed in among these slid a few dawg sales and maybe ten sodas. Not a very good night by any standard.

Doesn’t matter much because I try to always find a good nugget … something to stabilize the bad.

And, out of the stable came Lady. She was a few minutes within a few hours. This time became a sliver of my life. A cold guy petting a warm, friendly horse. Not much, by some standards, I humbly admit, but in the midst of a crazy later-mid life, I’ll take what I can get.

We should spend more time looking for these smaller moments that matter. The big ones just aren’t often enough and are fleeting, anyway. I believe “Lady luck” reigned me in Saturday night … if only for a little bit. Worth the drive down south over the county line. I’m not much for banjo playing, however, I may get a hankerin’ for some more soon. Lady may need some Doug affirmations again.