Rumors had been circulating for weeks. There was a buyer from out of town who had put a bid in on the pizza shop. It was commonly known that Al was looking for an offer and ready to get out of the business. Al’s only problem was that he was close to his staff and didn’t want to create a situation that would cause any hardship if he shut the joint down. But heck, a lot of the staff was high-school aged kids anyway and they’d be leaving soon enough. He knew “his boys” all had college plans.
Al’s “boys,” three high school seniors that had been with him since they turned 16, were sitting at the back table with him. The place had closed hours ago, but the boys usually stayed to close down the joint, scrub the floors and pizza ovens and do the general prep for the breakfast/lunch crew that came in at first light of morning. Al typically let them have a draft beer or two on the house and clearly the boys were convinced that their jobs were their entrance into the grown-up world and the shop was their sanctuary. The boys were awesome workers though, it was true. When the pressure was on and the dining room full and the customers were stacked five deep in the carry-out line, Kevin, Marc and Douglas would come alive.
The underlings that worked with the boys (dishwashers, busboys, waitresses) didn’t ever voice a complaint when the boys were humming at top speed. Pizza dough was sailing through the air, the evening meatloaf specials were stacked and plated and ready for the microwave and gravy by the obedient cook and there was never a line at the register. “Get em in, stuff em, get em out,” Al would whisper in the quiet corners of the kitchen as the boys smiled, high-fived and thrived on doing something so well.
But soon there were visible signs of change. A series of folks who were clearly not regulars kept showing up at dinner time and they would order the oddest array of foods including some items that no one ever ordered. Kevin was first to figure that one out. “Those are spies,” he said. “They’re here to evaluate the place, the food, the service and report back to that buyer.” Kevin was right in that it seemed the potential new owner took very calculated risks and he wanted to see what he was getting into. “I respect that,” Kevin said. “This guy sounds smart.”
“I already hate him,” said Marc. “They should just leave us alone and let us do what we do.” Douglas piped up. “Hey Marc, aren’t you leaving for college in the fall anyway?” Marc frowned. “Yeah, so?” “So wrap it up and let Al make his money. What’s it to you anyway?”
Marc wasn’t sure why it felt so personal, but one evening as they finished their 2 a.m. beers, he could wait no more. “So are you dumping this old girl, Al?” Marc asked. He was very direct but he wore his passion on his sleeve. “It’s a strong possibility, boys,” he returned. Marc walked away from the table. It was more than a possibility. Two weeks later it was done. The place was sold.
Summer wore on. The boys were now working under new ownership but the radical changes they had been expecting weren’t happening. The “upgrades” had been subtle. One evening they were all gathered at the gas station across the street from the pizza shop sitting on the bench in front of the service window just staring at their one-time sanctuary which had now become a victim of simple, indifferent efficiency. A tracking device at the register had recorded how often each menu item had been ordered in the last 30 days. Anything with a frequency code of less than 5 was taken off the menu. The boys' “team efficiency” was a thing of the past too. “Too much talent on one shift,” the new owner said. The boys rarely worked together at all anymore.
“Place has no personality these days,” Marc whispered. “We need to tell management how we feel,” Kevin agreed. Douglas smiled. “Guys, we’re a bunch of high school seniors. No one in there is going to take us seriously. We had a good run and a great gig through high school but it is over. Things are different in this era, man. Sentimental favorites just don’t carry any weight.”
Douglas walked over to his bike and said, “Let it go,” and pedaled home. Marc asked Kevin if he wanted to go to his house and talk about it some more. Once there, they sat down and compiled a “List of Observations and Suggested Changes.” Over the next 2 days, they refined the list and made an appointment to sit down with the new manager. The appointment was set and Marc and Kevin wore neckties and came in with their two-page list and action plan. They spoke with great authority; after all, they had been the backbone of the business for 3 years . Management listened, nodded, made some notes and thanked them both for coming forward. They stopped by Doug’s house on the way home to tell him how wrong he had been. He smiled at them and shook his head. They headed out for the ice cream shop together as all three were leaving for different colleges the next day.
As the evening broke up Kevin said, “Hey, I’ll see y’all at Christmas okay? The owner of the shop said we could all put in some holiday hours when we come home for break if we need some cash.” Douglas shook his head. “Don’t count on it.” Marc chimed in, “Douglas you gotta believe, man.”
College began and the boys worked hard on their studies. Through email they made plans to get together on the evening they got home for the holiday break and they decided to go get a pizza at their famed stomping grounds.
When they arrived at the spot, the pizza shop was gone but there were 50-75 cars parked there in the newly paved parking lot. The neon from across the street turned them around, though. Harold’s Super Service did car repairs, oil changes while-u-wait, sold pizza and was open for breakfast, too. The three of them stumbled in the front door with their mouths agape. Well two of them did. Douglas was just laughing. They looked at the menu posted on the wall behind the workers; all the favorites from the old joint. They scanned the guests, many of them the old crowd from the former joint.
“Well, what do we do now?” Marc asked to no one in particular. “Order a pizza, old-timer,” Douglas grinned. Marc and Kevin just stared at him shaking their heads.
I’ve observed an entire human life now. My son turned 18 last week. I’ve watched the first years of his life and been able to compare it with my own. I was aware of the last half of my father’s life and again, was able to compare it to my own. I’ve had accomplishments, disappointments, misdirection, lucky breaks, blessings, extreme highs and extreme lows. I’ve learned that you should certainly live your life with good intentions and forward-thinking plans but there’s no guarantee the picture will fill in like you expect it to. It’s therefore dangerous to “over-plan.” If you’re in the midst of doing something well, enjoyable, or that simply makes you happy--embrace it. It’s a great moment. There will be a time when it runs out and you’ll have to find pleasure elsewhere. If you’re in the middle of something bad, it’s probably not SO bad and it will pass, maybe painfully, but you will move on from it. So cherish the moments both good and bad; you never know how long they will last but they are all there for the learning. You will encounter the pessimist, the realist, the follower and the leader--the trick is in becoming all of them and reacting differently to each of them as you become your own man.
Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a BS in Business from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace University and has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990.