Sunday, December 26, 2010

Remembering Mr. Coffee (not Joe Dimaggio)

One of the things about working at Frank's Pizza as a teenager, were the constant cast of characters that came in to talk, flirt, pass time and occassionally eat. Among the most interesting, aside from the litany of ER patients that managed to stagger across the street, were patients from Perry Point Veterans Hospital, located just across the Susquehanna in Perryville. I didn't fully come to be interested in military history until well after Frank's became just a place for stirrups without horses. I look back now and wonder what some of those psychiatric patients might have endured during their time in the military.

One of the regulars was simply known as Mr. Coffee, because, well that is what he ordered. All the time. Coffee, black usually the first cup as we unlocked the door. Mr. Coffee usually was awaiting us at the door when we came in, often talking to himself. No, that's not quite right, often carrying on a conversation with himself, telling jokes and laughing in the next breath. You could never understand what he was saying, thereby ensuring the joke remained his and his alone (or whoever was talking with him in his head). He was always polite, cleaned up for himself, but kept to himself and from what we could tell, kept himself amused.

Margie started calling him Bill. Whether he told her that one day or it was a name of her own invention escapes me now, but Bill Coffee seemed to fit. The guy would somehow take a cab from across the bridge, wearing the same clothes regardless of the weather. He had a full beard, weather-beaten face, nicotine-stained fingers and looked like the dude on the Kansas albums. Most people would say he looked homeless, but to me he just looked lost. I see guys that look like him now more and more often. I wonder what their stories are sometimes.

It must have been the Christmas of 1987, Margie Kline asked us what we thought about buying Mr. Coffee a winter coat with our tips. The tip cup was usually pretty full and funded parties, video games and libations. However, that year we unanimously agreed to buy Bill Coffee a coat. When Margie gave it to him, it was the only time I ever saw him smile. He wore that coat pretty much every day I saw him until Frank's closed and time moved on. I can't come off an interstate anymore without giving a good, long look at the guy at the top of the ramp with a sign. I keep hoping I will see Bill Coffee with a sign that says, "Will Work for Coffee."

Monday, December 6, 2010

And Introduction to a Place Where Everybody Knew My Name

This blog has been a long time coming. I kick myself every time I think back to 1986 (that was the year I got hired at Frank's Pizza and Subs in Havre de Grace, MD) and have no video or even a diary. Sure, video cameras were like a million dollars then and ate batteries like Mr. Coffee drank...well coffee, (more on him later), but some actual footage would have been invaluable as proof.

I don't have a specific agenda for this blog. Much of it will be nostalgic for those who may be inclined to read it for enjoyment, after all I plan to get as many of my former co-workers to read this and hopefully contribute.

Let me start by saying that Frank's Pizza was an authentic pizza and sub shop located right across the street from Harford Memorial Hospital. Today it is a medical clinic. Rumors are that stirrups are set up right about the place where I used to cook cheesesteaks on the grille. Somehow that makes me smile even as I write this. But more than anything, it was the place where I had some of the best times of my life or to be more precise, those times usually started or ended with the wonderful cast of characters who made up my youth and became the standard of every friend I have had since. Not everyone I hope to write about in the blog worked at Frank's, but friendships, chance encounters and even some short-lived romances made it a hangout of sorts.

Lynn and Marge were managing partners and I think paid some homage to the actual Frank. Frank DeLorenzo was a quasi-mafia wannabe who bathed in Hi Karate cologne, sported a gold "King of Pizza" chain with matching white chest hair and actually managed to do jail time for cocaine trafficking. I will have to let Wayne get specifics (hopefully I can get him to blog as he is one hell of a storyteller), but I only saw the guy (Frank) twice and the last time it was just after the FBI had run all of his illegal Italians out the back door when they busted his other store in Aberdeen.

There were two specific times, clock-wise, if you closed at Frank's: Movie Time and Soup Store Time. Movie Time was Marge Kline's take on how a movie lasted two hours, so we started cleaning up two hours prior to closing. Soup Store Time was when either Lynn or Marge would take orders for the liquor store for those of us under 21. As a 16-18 year old, this was a pretty big perk. I always wondered what One-Stop Liquors or Post Road thought about those two ladies, then again I have never known a liquor store clerk to lose too much sleep wondering about the personal lifestyles of their bread-n-butter. It's amazing that I never drank, not even beer appealed to me, but as it turned out it was my role to drive everyone else. It's been a lifelong role and one thing that I am pretty good at doing.

I am rambling. It's precisely why I have procrastinated in writing this blog, I just don't know where to start...or stop. So maybe it's my cue to stop, re-read, maybe edit and finally post it. There is much to tell, hopefully some people to catch up with and some things that I hope will make you who read this smile or at least equate to something in your own past. I will close with this, Stephen King wrote in the novella, The Body, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?" Yeah Steve, I did....I hope I still do. I don't see them much (we might exchange Christmas cards or occasional emails), but it doesn't mean that I don't think about them and hope they are doing well. All that is left to say is, let the stories commence.