Hot Chocolate Thoughts

She deserved a nice tip. The young lady behind the beverage bar – nested in a separate room inside Allegheny Creamery and Crepes – mixed up a fine warm chocolate brew for me. This, alone, could have been enough for my asking to break a ten dollar bill. In addition to her perfectly mixed hot refreshment, sips of pleasant conversation accompanied my Saturday evening as I had forty-five minutes to wait.

It was a cold evening in Hollidaysburg. Across Allegheny street, a substitute organist sat on the church bench as I enjoyed a week off. This wasn’t a time to eat a wonderful meal prepared by culinary masters. Due to a meal planned for later in the evening, I didn’t want to over-saturate a growling stomach … just appease the monster within. It was a time to wait for my father to finish up at church. He needed a ride home, … and I needed some alone time to think.

She deserved the tip. I deserved some hot chocolate time. Alone with warmth between my fingers and occasional, sweet conversation across a beverage bar, I sat on a comfortable square stool – deserving a few moments to think.

If you live a life similar to mine, these moments are rare. There is a concession trailer a few miles away – full of supplies, but empty of motivation. Life here has been hectic. If you are a follower of my posts, there have been few this past month. I’m not one whose bucket fills with excuses, so there will be none here. Life … just … is.

This recent hot chocolate moment without staring into a phone screen (except to capture a picture) was worth every second. I was hoping it would be when I Skecher-crunched my way across a dark, snow-covered Allegheny street that Saturday evening. There’s never a bad time to enter Allegheny Creamery either. The service is exceptional, succulent servings on the menu never disappoint, and the owners are very kind and genuine.

Allegheny Creamery and Crepes
505 Allegheny St, Hollidaysburg Pa 16648

So I sat and thought.

I considered the unending, unknown universe while thinking about what has ended in my life recently and “things” I thought I knew. Hot chocolate ponderings I haven’t taken the time to consider over the previous thirty days.

Notions about what I believed should have been normal, but never came to pass, blew through the steam as it wiggled its way up past my nose. Loss -not quite settled into my existence – sat quietly in the not yet consumed white squiggles atop the rich brown chocolate. As I thoughtfully tapped on the comforting cup with each acceptance, the warmth on the side continued to hold hands with great friends and family who’ve always been by my side.

We don’t take enough time to examine, and possibly affirm, the wonderful and not-so good drop-ins that happen to us. Sometimes, we push forward. I did. The past few weeks, life took over.

All of the “stuff” is still here, of course. Part of managing is stopping behind a cup of hot chocolate, alone, and acknowledging the ugliness and beauty of the frayed tapestry that is us at times.

It is said over and over: life isn’t perfect. We shouldn’t want it to be. Reminding ourselves of what is good, and possibly not good, at the moment – at whatever age – can be a sweet transformation, however. Being real with yourself is “what is” … There’s no getting around it.

I have a road to travel. A simple forty-five minutes accompanied by a delightful bartendress, a cup of hot chocolate, and my thoughts won’t solve the larger picture that is my life.

It did tighten up a few threads dangling from a decorative tapestry, though.

And so, she did deserve a nice tip. The moments could have gone by with a less-than stellar beverage and sour chat. As it happened, I was beautified with a perfectly mixed chocolate beverage and a few moments of sweet dialogue.

The Allegheny Creamery and Crepes was a place to be that Saturday night as I waited. I walked in anticipating only few moments out of the cold. A cup of hot chocolate, however, offered something more … time to examine loss, change, and anticipation of good things to come.

If you have a Creamery where you are, sit. If ever in Hollidaysburg, find 505 Allegheny Street. Heather and Kirk will welcome you with open plates and pleasures.

I highly recommend their hot chocolate, by the way, for the gentle reminders it can offer you. I waited and found warmth in a simple cup.

The Phantom and the Hinge

It’s hard not to be an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. As a musician, I’m drawn to his music. Also, as one who enjoys a good cook-out and one less “b”, I can enjoy a Weber grill as well.

A connection beween the two may seem a stretch, but give me some latitude here … A lot of space, please. It’s been a long week.

Take Raoul from Phantom of the Opera.

I feel so connected to him right now. Unhinged. More on that word association soon. For now, a mask would be warranted. Oh, and it wasn’t a Weber grill, either. Doesn’t really matter, though. The chamber full of propane, I inserted the flaming end of a lighter into said grill and saw half my life flash in front of my eyes in a nano second. The screen in the top of a once calm concession trailer blew out as a loud bang took off facial hair and solar flared all the moisture out of my right eye – at least this is what my optometrist friend said ten minutes later when she graciously stopped by at my blurry insistence.

Look away, I’m hideous. I should be masking my idiocy. Raoul I’m with you, my friend … Artificial tears run down my rosey, now shaven cheek as I think of you. Where is MY mask hiding this scorched half-face of shame?

Yeah, ok. I’m dramatizing the moment. Everything is fine. For a few moments, however, I was worried. My vision was blurry and the smell of burnt hair overtook the usual sausage and hotdog aroma inside my trailer. Blinking sucked. No tears were available for my comfort.

I am now comforted knowing time will give rise to more follicle frolicking. Eyebrows coming back full and robust, a salt-and-pepper semi-beard surrounding a smile, and lashes blinking to awaken a moist eyeball will all befriend me again. Time is the healer of bangs both hairy and gaseous.

I will be extra cautious in the future. Uhm, that’s what I said the last two times, anyway. So, how’s the weather in your town?

Speaking of weather, the Pentecostal winds whacked my concession window cover yesterday. Yes, those higher than average gusts lifted not my spirits, but a heavy, hinged swing roof causing two hydraulic arms to snap off. Hinged? Well, I was able to generate tears from one eyeball, anyway, as the roof slammed itself down against the concession window so elegantly holding a menu sign and my last nerve. No cracks after a quick scan and no patience remained in my already winter season ending, battle-weary skeleton of a body.

Yesterday was my last day at that location. In ten days, I will be relocating to summer spots. An ice cream/shaved ice concessionaire guy will be plopping down where I’ve been these past months. As planned, scheduled maintenance days appear ahead in my book … alas, I will be abandoning those for repairs to my trailer. Back and forth I shall go. Best to forget what I had hoped for and live for what is: fate.

Fate has me paying more money for repairs I didn’t plan on and extra work not scheduled. Fate waited five months for me to flash-freak my face with non-serious, look-back, kinda funny, now, blue flaming frivolity. Fate also gave me a schedule off-site event to cater with my smaller concession cart during a beautiful Saturday in March. A day in which I could not have opened, anyway, with a damaged 20′ trailer and slightly bruised ego.

Tomorrow, that large trailer will be back home for a clean-out before going to the metal shop for repairs. Scott, the proprietor of the fabricating shop, assured me he can fix the damage. I have confidence he can. A spit and polish after replacing the two hydraulic arms with a tweak and pull here and there … I’ll be back in business in no time.

Gosh I hope so. There is redemption at the end for the Phantom. Sure, Christine dies from an accidental gunshot … yada yada … go see the show sometime to appreciate all the twists and turns. Love, intrigue, and … exceptional music as only Andrew Lloyd Webber could write.

I could send him some ideas for his next opus. Perhaps a pianist who reignites his passion for excitement and high energy bursts of gale force winds? “The Unhinging of a Man”?

I do have years of experience in music theory and arranging, one good eye, and one hell of a story to tell so far.

Mother Hubbard is Crackers

This morning’s breakfast fare started with two Full Circle Market Organic Classic Round crackers … and, as of this point in time, ended there. I’m out of options with my favorite hotel cafe closed on Saturdays and Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards open, but as the poem goes, “the poor Doug has none”.

Anticipating no baker, fruiterer, alehouse, or undertaker in my future … no tailer, cobbler, sempstress, or hosier, the remaining three hours of my day before opening my business look to be quite cravingly mad. Throw me a bone here, please. I’ll take anything.

Sarah Catherine Martin, to whom that poem is attributed, could walk through my office doors at this moment. Unless she’s carrying a tray full of bacon, rye toast, … a chocolate Clif bar, two over-easy eggs, and two glasses of iced tea, I’m not interested in what a two-hundred and fifty-two year old woman has to say. Granted, it’d be nothing short of a Guinness World Record miracle to have such a bicentennial-plus moment here in my humble hovel, however, I need food in my groveling belly.

I’ll survive. As they say, “such a first world problem”. A small trip down the road to one of many grocery stores – full to the ceiling with food – would work all this out. My beat up Honda doesn’t have to disengage as I have the option to casually drift through a drive-thru as well. Both of these choices, unfortunately, require I step out. Step out of very comfortable material surroundings such as the cotton garments keeping my apologetically happy appendages warm at the moment. Twenty-five degrees with a slight breeze outside. Yes, I’m not one to step out into that weather at the moment.

There was a time when cold and hunger didn’t matter. Youth and inexperience colored in the pictures – between the lines drawn by warmth and the need for nutrition. Days without a nugget or morsel tapping around in my belly were common. By choice, mind you, I pushed forward motivated by the words of Zig Ziglar and Earl Nightingale. These men didn’t advocate starvation as a means to an end, of course. I was busy making sales calls, talking to prospects, enjoying my work … that’s all. Youthful exuberance shuffling along with a fantastic company environment. Ah, the late-twenties and mid-thirties in our lives, right?

Enter Old Mother Hubbard in the winter of 2021. Bifocal nose-sliding syndrome is upon me as we speak, the back tweak has returned after a two day respite, my arms are sore after yesterday’s 7-hour work day, and quite honestly, I’ve had just about enough of this year already … with 357 days to go. I’ve gained three pounds since January 1st and since unfollowed a lot of folks on Facebook. Engaging, enlightening political conversations with friends and family aren’t happening anymore and eggshells are strewn everywhere I trod. Looking down at the slight pudge below, my core may be labeled certifiably, organically classic round … just like the box says. “Perfect for Entertaining”?, well … don’t know about that.

The local and national world I live in is crackers. I’m just one of many varieties. Organic classic round as it turn out to be. Tomorrow? Who knows. Would love to be Ritz. Hey!! Speaking of that, I bought a Mega-Millions ticket last night. Better go check the numbers. Odds are pretty good I didn’t win and will be sitting here tomorrow, again, in my cotton clothes wondering if Sarah Catherine Martin ever considered a career in food service. She’d make a great cracker salesperson.

Who Ate My Brownies?

Yes, this is my adaptation of, “Who Moved My Cheese?” – the 1998 best seller written by Spencer Johnson. On this early morning of December 12th, 2020, who ate my brownies?

In my real life story, there is no Sniff and Scurry. Oh, and certainly no cheese; although, I’ve become fond of monterey jack on crackers lately. No Sniff and Scurry. Here in my tale there are only two humans. One who baked the delicious treats and one who thought the sweet, brown squares were, mostly, sitting around for his earlier birthday celebration. This was not as expected. Apparently.

As human #2 reads this, a majority of the brownies – that were in the container previously – may shift in her belly the same way my hopes did last night. Where there were many, few remained. This isn’t a serious indictment of her impulses. All of us have them with sweets, right? More to the crusty, delicious point: unspoken expectations.

Decades of birthday observances have been compressed into a head nod and slight grimace the morning of. That creaky walk into the kitchen when the first item on the agenda is no longer a bowl of Coco Puffs, but a few amber bottles accommodating little white pills and where-are-they bifocals located somewhere I can’t see. Nothing pleases me more than the sarcastic, self-generating, “Geez, it’s just a number” calculated response to my age being subtracted from the actuarial number I know waiting for me at the end of all this. Look, we know life has an end, right? I’m not a fatalist by any means. Life is wonderful. Every year we’re one year older, though, … someone ate those brownies.

Well, to be fair, not all of them. MOST of them. There were most a few days ago, then last night?… little. Expectations being what they are – unspoken, I should have known. Earlier, I did buy a few dozen cupcakes to hand out to my friends. (This is a tradition started many iced moons ago by my mom. She’s gone now, but I still try to keep it going). As compadres go, they scooped them up immediately, fist fulls at a time, as the hard plastic container in my hands wafted its sweet aroma into the world. For all intents, this was my birthday, candle-less, cake. I assumed as much that day until arriving home to see a pan of freshly baked, uncut, brownies on top of the stove. Oh, they (it) smelled so good. As an aside, one big whole pan like that is really NOT a bunch of brownies until cut into individual squares! It is, really, one big brownie birthday cake, uhm, ….

…Or, so I thought.

I can be pushy, assumptive, presumptive, stubborn, and/or obdurate (love that word). Human #1, obviously, knows this. Under those conditions, human #2 is placed in a rather strange shaped pan when baking some sort of life with me. Admittedly, it’s not my ingredients, but our recipe. She baked and filled the pan. I don’t know why and never asked. There’s cosmic stress these days in her job and I’m aware chocolate has a way of realigning her planetary system, albeit temporarily until the next covid meteor screams through her workplace universe. With that perspective, I’m telescopically aware she probably baked for her peace of mind without actual verbal confirmation.

And so we meet at last night’s problem. Someone ate what I assumed to be my birthday cake/brownies that were, alas, not. Days away from the actual celebratory day of my birth, my inquiry into the nearly empty pan was met with the snacky supercilious, “Hey, you snooze, you lose!”. Where there were many? … one. When I challenged the math, there appeared to be some high level backward, algebraic, formulaic back-stepping. I didn’t push to see the solution on paper because I want to see another birthday; however, after a challenging few days it would have been nice to, MAYBE, enjoy more than one brownie.

She said, I said. All about expectations and unspoken assumptions. Will I live not eating most of the brownies? Sure. She can have them … well, she did … not withstanding the wrangling we’re going to have once she reads this. Her numbers and mine will not agree, I’m sure of this. I’m also pretty confident I will walk away satisfied as the winner of a dispute I didn’t win.

It’s not about the brownies or my birthday, is it? Spencer Johnson was – and continues to be – right. Who moved the cheese? Goals, expectations, and assumptions. Today is 19 days away from 2020 being over. If anything, it has been a year of the unexpected popping up as every assumption and goal slowly drains down into the garbage disposal. Fatalism? Nah, just a crappy, stupid, disastrous, sad, scary, unpredictable year. A year when all our brownies – or cheese – haven’t lived up to our expectations.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of delivering a letter to a retired Home Economics teacher in our area. This note was sent to me from a former student of hers who wanted to express an appreciation for the kindness and love given to her years ago. Being in a better position to hand deliver the letter, I agreed. Unable to meet in person, I slid the note in the mail slot while talking to Mrs. C on the phone. I don’t know the contents of the letter, but can assume – based on my previous texts with my friend – it had something to do with recipes still being used from the late 70’s/ early 80’s, when classes such as these were still being taught.

Maybe, just maybe, there was a brownie recipe in that envelope and Mrs. C could mix up a batch on the sly for me. Nobody needs to know, right? Her family and mine have been friends for years. Human #2 doesn’t need to know. This way, all expectations are met, all assumptions graciously kissed, and goals achieved … conveniences 2020 doesn’t have in abundance.

I’ll gladly lick my fingers after each pleasant bite while sitting back watching everyone else chase their cheese. Expect me to share? Yeah, ok. I’ll think about it. Seeing as how I got less than my fair share of the last batch, odds are pretty good you don’t even have to snooze to lose.

“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.