Change is Hard

“Hello?”

This phone has its share of problems. I think of them often as my early morning weekday and Sunday evening body walks by this corner. On a not-so nuanced angle where a pizza shop meets a cigar emporium, I consider the hang-ups I have and unanswered calls for possible solutions to challenges lingering about this brain of mine. Most have connected to the same fate as this coin eating relic: a dead dial tone of silence.

This is ok. My receiver is busted, too, and it takes more than five or ten cents to make me work these days. To coin a phrase, those little dimes and quarters are made of metal because … change is hard. It really is. Most likely explains why this Allegheny street artifact is still bolted to the wall after years of neglect and abuse. Our borough doesn’t move quickly on matters such as this. I don’t blame them. After all, had this worn and whacked push-button recluse been systematically pile-heaped, I’d have no friend to write about today.

It is a friend. Yes, a beaten down, torn up, knocked around friend. One I pass a lot while headed to see my human friends who have their share of problems. A Sunday night dad in a pizza shop, or a group of air-breathers sitting patiently inside The Capitol Hotel. All of them burdened with their own basket of problems. Oh, and I have mine as well. All of us do, right?

We don’t want change, but it happens. Just like my broken friend, change is inevitable. Small bits forced into the slots demanding calls we didn’t want to make. We hope upon hope what we are urged into doing IS the right move – the right call for that moment in time. Is it worth the heightened pulse in our chest and sweat in our brow? Will there be an answer at the other end of the experience? Are the words we speak being received … across a possible, impossible emotional divide? Is the connection even there, anymore?

I think it is. At least for 3,000 of us Americans. According to Google, there are 100,000 operational phone booths in the USA with 1/5 of those in NYC. That means roughly 3,000 folks can pick up a street receiver and number poke a friend. The odds are pretty good no creature under, say, 35 will be doing such dinosaur digit-driving due to their lack of experience in the matter, but those of us who frantically dug into our pockets for dimes and quarters can certainly relate. The connection is there. It may be lint, gum wrappers, or twist ties, but it’s there …

Even though this one friend is broken beyond repair, all is not lost. Connections are never lost forever. Temporarily down, perhaps … but not gone. Change, however hard as it may be, is still in the belly of the beast … just like it is if someone mistakenly slips a few coins into this busted machine. Adjustments and evolutions of self take place over time. Time is what we have until it is no more. Time has been graciously given to my friend – patiently feeling its tone year after year .. and I’m glad the borough decided to give it extended existence.

I’ll pass it again this morning and again Sunday. Nothing will change. Today as has been, the receiver sits half-broken, number buttons have been without finger prints for years, and the “o” remains partially covered with a wonky, pinkish “ok” sign. Those are the only guarantees, I suspect. Everything else swirling about in my world – and the world of my friends and family – will be different. Transitions in small ways will occur and calls to make big changes must be answered. This is life. This is all of us every day.

We have our share of problems. I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Challenges make all of us unique. Isolated unto our own individualism, yet together in our ability to help one another through. Friends through and through.

This phone is my friend. It may be broken, but so are my friends … and so am I. Once we realize nothing is in perfect working order and change is hard, life becomes easier.

On an modest corner where many have passed, I think about my life. Yes, only for a minute or two. Nevertheless, these are the moments I can ask the universe, “Hello? Anyone there?”, and feel someone is actually listening…

… and to know a few steps later there will be … inside a very familiar, comfortable hotel cafe or pizza shop. That’s what friends are for.

“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.