The Fettuccini Brothers

IMG_31245:31 p.m. – The pizza is fresh from the oven and The Superintendent (six) and The Conductor (eight) sit facing each other discussing toppings. It’s pepperoni for The Conductor, but The Superintendent doesn’t like tomato sauce or melted cheese so it’s not pizza on his plate but “cheesy bread” with the cheese meticulously removed by his mother.

His palette may be conservative, but The Superintendent is not shy in his entrepreneurship.

“We should open a pizza restaurant,” he tells his brother.

6:03 p.m. – They are huddled with crayons and paper on the living room floor. Large corporations pay boutique agencies millions but don’t get this level of creative branding. “Papa Fettuccini’s” will be family-friendly with quality food at reasonable prices. The logo takes shape in Crayola Mahogany and Electric Lime. The menu is drawn up in magic marker.

The flagship will be the “Texas Pizza,” a large pie with cheese, bacon, pepperoni, hamburger, and a crust stuffed with parmesan cheese and more bacon.

“I’d like one right now,” I say, and I mean it.

“Sorry Dad,” says The Conductor. “You’ll have to wait ‘til I’m out of college.”

6:47 p.m. – The crayons and paper are supplemented by Lincoln Logs, and a mockup of the first store is unveiled. They peer at it while lying on their bellies on the living room floor, propped up on their elbows with their feet in the air.

I see them against a hazy orange sky early in the morning. They are wearing blazers and hard hats, their chinos are breaking over muddy work boots, and tubes of plans are under their arms. The Superintendent’s index finger taps a blueprint unrolled on the hood of a pickup truck while The Conductor gestures toward a crane several stories over their heads. Someone snaps a photograph. Framed prints will sit on each of their desks for the rest of their professional lives.

The Conductor says, “It’s going to be a sit-down place but there will also be a drive through. It’s going to be very fancy.”

7:06 p.m. – A steady stream of Matchbox cars parades in front of the Lincoln Log drive-through window. The grand opening was a smashing success, with free slices of Texas Pizza and garlic bread (no cheese). Now the word is out, and everybody who wants pizza wants Papa Fettuccini’s.

While the Monday Night Football pregame show commences in the background, new locations are announced in rapid succession – Buffalo! Pittsburgh! Denver! Kansas City! Green Bay!

In the movie, here will be the montage with the spinning newspapers and magazine covers with their photos on them, headlines announcing “Fettuccini Bros Serve Up Pizza Perfection.”

There are big houses and Ferraris and a Gulfstream G650 (Papa One) and The Superintendent lands a recurring guest spot on CNBC where he counters the hyper stock analyst with sober insights like, “Don’t get so excited about the dip in oil, Jim, we’ve had three straight quarters of GDP growth.”

7:28 p.m. – What goes up must come down.

“For a limited time only there’s a free chocolate-chip-cookie dessert pizza when you buy a Texas Pizza and garlic bread,” The Superintendent declares.

The Conductor’s head snaps around and he glares at his brother.

“That’s not even on the menu,” he says. “Everybody has a chocolate-chip-cookie dessert pizza. We need something different.”

But The Superintendent loves those chocolate-chip-cookie dessert pizzas, and even though it’s made them both millionaires the Texas Pizza was his brother’s idea and he’s always resented it. Desserts are his, and he won’t cave on this one.

“People like dessert pizzas,” The Superintendent says. “We’d do just fine if that’s all we sold.”

7:32 p.m. – The Conductor has retreated to the couch to watch football, while The Superintendent starts over with the paper and crayons though his heart is not in it.

Here’s another montage with spinning newspapers, only this time the headlines end in question marks:

“Can The Superintendent Have His Cookie and Eat It To?”

“Courts to Decide Pieces of Texas-Sized Pie?”

“Who Wins in Fettuccini Bros Split?”

In the end, nobody wins.

People like dessert pizzas – that’s true – but a dessert-only pizza place doesn’t support a Gulfstream lifestyle. The Superintendent turns more and more to his media appearances and before long he’s just another talking head, one of five or six on the screen, his face boxed in the upper right with the words “Los Angeles” under his chin while the others shout over him.

The Conductor, distracted and no longer balanced by his brother’s sober insights, clings to “we need something different” and leads Papa Fettuccini’s through a disastrous rebranding campaign. The Texas Pizza becomes “artisan” with a red-wine and balsamic glaze that turns the crust purple. Without a strong dessert lineup for support, sales tumble.

7:41 p.m. – The original store is bulldozed. Mom wants to run the vacuum but the football game is on so a deal is struck to get it done during a commercial. Somberly the Fettuccini Bros pile the Lincoln Logs into the tin, wordlessly acknowledging the end of an empire.

High in his office on the West Coast, The Superintendent wipes a tear from his eye and with a trembling finger touches the photo on his desk, the one of him and his brother at the construction site.

In Manhattan, The Conductor is doing the same. His reverie is broken when his telephone rings.

“Hey,” says The Superintendent.

“Hey,” replies The Conductor.

“You wanna go run trains?”

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ModelStory: Cup of Joe

There’s a tiny coffee counter in a corner of the Salvation Point depot where, my wife says, they make the best skinny vanilla latte west of the Rockies, though I wouldn’t know, I never touch the stuff. I can’t tell the difference between “good coffee” and “crap.” It’s all crap to me but 50 million Elvis fan’s can’t be wrong.

Anyway, sitting on the platform at the depot this morning, sipping our drinks (mine’s a hot chocolate with caramel – room for whipped cream? Oh yes!) we overheard some drama brewing in small-town coffee.

joeHis name’s Daniel (NOT Dan – Daniel) and he just signed on with National Roast as a junior regional rep. Today he’s shadowing Joe (yup), who’s been schlepping beans throughout the Four Corners for thirty-three years. A good mentor to a kid new to the coffee game?

We’ll see.

(Yes, there are regional coffee reps. The family diners, the donut shops, the counter in the depot – they all buy their coffee from big conglomerates, and there has to be someone to sell it to them.)

Joe is two cups – black – from the Oster drip maker with the newspaper in the morning. Daniel is a half-caf-soy-macchiatto-165-degrees-no-whip while his free hand skates across his tablet on the train.

Daniel doesn’t see Joe as having much of a shadow and he plans to grow out of it swiftly.

Joe’s comfortable book of business is mostly sleepy lunch counters with three kinds of pie and one kind of customer: hardworking southwest folks with enormous bellies over enormous belt buckles. The proprietors count on Joe for caf and decaf, and to make sure it’s good, abundant, and the coffeemaker’s working.

To ease the new kid into the routine, Joe has planned visits today to his gentlest accounts.

But then Daniel unlocks his tablet and reads from his notes: “Do you track unused seasonal blends and what do those returns tell you about market opportunities?”

Joe blinks. “Track?”

“Something we should really be doing,” Daniel says authoritatively.

“You know, our customers aren’t usually that sophisticated,” Joe says, bemused. “Tracking their unused grounds goes like this: ‘Don’t give me that pumpkin spice crap again.'”

Daniel (NOT Dan – Daniel) nods patronizingly.

“Well that’s because they don’t know what they want,” Daniel says, thumbing the tablet again. “Here’s a study showing preferred hot beverages by region and demographic, relying on a survey of forty-six-hundred baristas. Your customers could optimize profits by focusing on drinks with a steamed-milk base.”

There’s a long pause.

“Steamed-milk base,” Joe repeats slowly, ignoring the glowing graphs on the tablet.

He imagines visiting Clark Vasallis at the Stop Here up on 191, where truckers can get chicken-fried steak, a shower, replacement taillights and black coffee twenty-four seven. He imagines discussing Daniel’s study over Clark’s cluttered desk, imagines Clark repeating “steamed-milk base,” then imagines ducking as Clark hurls a Peterbilt mug at Daniel (NOT Dan)’s forehead.

Joe smiles.

“Change of plans, Dan. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

(Preiser figures, Walther’s Pella Depot.)

ModelStory: Grade Separation

IMG_3040“You are shtopping? No no no, why are you shtopping?”

“I like ze view here, and I am carrying ze pack so I am a little tired.”

“But I said we are going to ze top! I want to get to ze top!”

“Why ze top? Here you see ze railway, ze river, it’s shady and cooler…”

“But ze top is ze best. From ze top we look down on ze railway, ze river, this, this shady schpott. Ze top. Ze top is always ze best.”

“Why look down on this shady shpott? I am comfortable in my shady schpott. No need to look down.”

“Well I always go to ze top. It is ze best.”

“Well I like it here and maybe I stay where I am.”

“Well maybe I go to ze top on my own.”

“Well.”

“So.”

“Well.”

“So.”

“So maybe we are not talking just about ze hiking.”

(Carved foam insulation and joint compound, hand-painted Model Power figures, Midwest Products Scale Lumber, natural sand from Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ.)

ModelStory: The Alphabet

???????????????????????????????“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, sir!” sang the cheery desk clerk as Al spelled his last name, checking in to Salvation Point’s luxurious Hotel Delsman. She recited it back to him as she keyed it into the computer, “A-B-D-E-R-K-O-W-I-T-C-S-Z.”

He forced a smile at the pretty blonde, but her comment sent his mind elsewhere. Fifty, sixty, was it seventy years ago?

He sat across the desk from Dr. Pickering at the Brighton School for Troubled Boys. The old shrink thumbed his file, sat forward.

“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, son,” he said. “Maybe we’ll call you that.”

Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz has resisted the nickname since.

???????????????????????????????Lucky Luciano.

Bugsy Siegel.

Machine Gun Kelly.

Once they gave you a name, it was all over but the shouting. He didn’t stay on the outside, didn’t survive, didn’t play this game well into his eighties by making a name for himself.

He succeeded on anonymity.

Succeeded at what?

“Personal finance,” he would tell you, barely holding back the mischievous grin.

It was the usual stuff, the ABCs of organized crime – protection rackets, bank jobs, running a little booze way back when. He was one of those guys who worked harder keeping his shady schemes straight than he would have at a legitimate job, but the crooked money always spent sweeter.

The money, the power, the life – all sweet. Now, at eighty-seven, a great-grandfather four times over, the sun is setting on Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz.

???????????????????????????????Surveillance vans in poor disguise are appearing regularly outside his New York City apartment. Wherever he goes – even in Salvation Point – black SUVs whisper to a stop a block behind. The noose is tightening, but so what? It won’t be a grand jury, it won’t be the FBI or the DEA or some ladder-climbing prosecutor bent on putting both their names in the paper that will spell The End of The Alphabet.

They need another year, maybe two to take him down. The tumor on his thyroid will do the job in four months.

But there’s one loose end that needs tying up before he goes. He left an item of immense value high in the hills of Many Lost Ways, a legacy for those four great-grandchildren. He tucked it away when he was a younger man some fifty years ago, and if he can get it back before his time expires his great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will never answer to anybody, never lift a finger for their bread.

Of course it will mean the end of Many Lost Ways as we know it; Salvation Point and the FCFL will be changed forever. But he holds no special place in his heart for any of that. Him and his – nuts to anything else.

All he needs is a sturdy back that knows how to stay quiet.

Hey, you look up to it, pal. Whaddya say? Wanna score some quick cash?

(Preiser figures, Design Preservation Models Hilltowne Hotel, Atlas vehicle)

ModelStory: Idaho

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For the better part of an hour, he more or less had the full attention of a very pretty girl from Idaho.

Idaho.

Staggeringly exotic to a boy from Cincinnati and now that she’s gone, here he sits with a swelling heartache and a kid sister to look after until Mom and Dad come to retrieve them.

Mom and Dad. So pedestrian now, so khaki shorts and white sneakers.

He won’t be able to look at them.

Her name was Belle and it started like all summer vacation romances must, with an errant volleyball.

“Hey, little help?” Belle said.

He scooped up the ball and lobbed it back.

“Thanks.”

She flashed smiling eyes as green as kelp.

“Sure,” he said, suddenly sheepish about kneeling in the sand holding a purple plastic shovel with flowers on the handle.

He gestured toward his sister.

“She, ahh,” he shrugged. “She likes to play in the sand.”

Belle’s smile widened, soft cheeks dusted with cinnamon freckles.

“It’s sweet of you to play with her.”

She held up the volleyball and nodded toward her brothers.

“You wanna?”

Ignoring his sister’s protests, he trotted into the water.

They worked through the formalities – both 14, both going into high school, both visiting Many Lost Ways with their parents. No, he’d never been here before. Yes, she had, almost every summer. Two older brothers for her. Him, just the little sister.

For a while they batted the volleyball, then sat in the sand with waves splashing their feet. She sat right next to him – touching him – her bronzed hips framed in black bikini bottoms, red sand clinging to her and highlighting adolescent curves that fascinated him.

He found it hard to speak, but remembered his uncle’s advice to always ask a girl about herself. (“Keep you out of it, they don’t care.”) So he asked flattering questions and made her laugh.

For an hour.

Once he had talked coherently, smoothly, to Kaylie Schupel for ten minutes at the spring dance but an hour? With a girl like this? From Idaho?

Belle leaned against him, rested her head on his shoulder, traced his arm with her fingertip. Tingling sensations rippled through him, something deep in his belly tightened.

Things like this did not happen in Cincinnati.

But then her dad arrived, by boat of course – no minivan, no car-top carrier – a sleek, modern boat gleaming with chrome, the bow marked with an Idaho registration number he’ll remember until he’s 30.

She stood, crouched gracefully in front of him, held his face in her hands, and kissed his lips.

“See you around.”

She didn’t look back as she waded to the boat and effortlessly boosted herself aboard.

His parents won’t understand his obsession with Idaho this winter. Why on Earth would he write a term paper about the Shoshone? And why does he want to go to Coeur D’Alene? Next summer is Disney – they’ve talked about it – it’s always been Disney.

(Preiser figure, EnviroTex Lite “water,” Woodland Scenics ground foam, natural sand.)

A Folk History of Many Lost Ways and Salvation Point

The National Park Service explains the phenomenon of Many Lost Ways with some blah blah blah about topography and watersheds and how people who can’t find their way instinctively follow water downhill, and so for 10,000 years those who are lost have been turning up here.

It makes sense – the hills above the Benjamin-Henry River do form something of a giant natural funnel – but that’s overly simple for what happens here. It doesn’t explain the spiritual wayfinding that gives the park its name.

native woman

“Young lovers who found each other along the river.”

The Native lore is rich with tales of great chiefs who found direction in these cliffs, young lovers who found each other along the river, fathers and sons who found understanding under these starry skies.

Many lost ways.

There’s something here – call it a True North of the Soul – that helps them get found.

It’s still happening today.

IMG_3040

“Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.”

Not sure if you should marry him? Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.

Not sure what to do with your life? Come to Many Lost Ways and the answer will go home with you.

Year after year, new stories of people who arrived with a vexing problem and left with clarity and peace. The locals talk it up with the tourists:

“Did you hear about this couple?”

“Did you hear about that guy?”

“Did you hear about the family?”

Many lost ways. Found.

Of course the most famous lost people to get found here are Lieutenants Benjamin and Henry. They deserted John Wesley Powell just before he fell 1,800 feet down the Colorado River and landed fortuitously in the Grand Canyon. Had they stuck with him they might have survived to experience that glorious discovery, but instead they wandered around the Colorado Plateau for some weeks before instinctively following water downhill into what is now Many Lost Ways National Park.

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“A fertile little valley on a navigable river.”

They washed up starving, broken and in despair on the bank of the river that now bears their names. They were taken in by the indigenous people and after a good meal and some rest realized they’d discovered a fertile little valley on a navigable river.

Stick that in your rapids and raft it, Powell.

The FCFL still follows the lucrative trade route they opened, anchored by Salvation Point.

Speaking of Salvation Point, no one’s sure if it was Benjamin or Henry who put quill to parchment, but the line from their log is famous here:

“We need not return as condemned deserters. We need not return as failed expeditioners. Today we have redeemed ourselves. Today we have reached our salvation point.”

So the name doesn’t have a particularly religious provenance, and that’s disappointing to some visitors. There are more bars than churches here.

Now you know.

On Consuming the Outdoors – Take a Hike!

The little SUV is fine I guess, for a rental, but he wishes it was bigger, more lumbering, more … omnipotent.IMG_3031

He doesn’t feel like he owns the road. He’s not consuming it and that’s what he does after all, isn’t it? Consume?

You should see the mighty vehicles in his garage outside Chicago. Three-story jet black behemoths you can really lean against while comparing the rest of your stuff with the neighbors. (“Go Cubbies” stickers in the rear windows? You bet.)

Passionate consumers like him don’t do well in places like Many Lost Ways National Park.

You encounter dozens of them on your way to the trailhead. They roar up, park haphazardly, and leap out – leaving the doors open so you wonder if they might be paramedics – but no, there’s Alpha Male with the camera stretched out in front of him directing the entourage into the frame. Two, maybe three clicks and back they go into the A/C and on down the road, tailgating at 25 mph to the next brown sign.

Consuming the place. Or trying to.

That was Chicago’s plan: Snap photos of the boys at all the scenic overlooks and when he got home he was going to have the guys over for beers and casually pass around the digital vacation.

“Oh is this the new iPad Air?”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t think it was supposed to be out until next month.”

“It’s not.”

They’d be scrambling for weeks to catch up to that one.

But Chicago’s frustrated with his pictures. The colors look bland on the screen. The kids look bored. He frowns to himself – geez, his trophy wife isn’t such a trophy anymore.

What poor service, he thinks, to buy a park pass and not get what he paid for!

He needs to take a lesson from the Europeans.

I don’t like seeing men in capri pants any more than the next guy, but you have to hand it to them when it comes to enjoying our National Parks. Descend the South Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon much farther than Ooh Ahh Point and you realize English is no longer the primary language.

These people understand that to get the full benefit of a place like Glacier or Bryce Canyon or Many Lost Ways, you have to let it consume you.

When your socks are full of exotic-colored sand and the switchbacks zigzag up, up, up, painfully beyond where you can see, and you remember they weren’t kidding, all the signs about plenty of water – you lean against the rocks and close your eyes and melt into the place.

The sun is real on your face, the stone is real beneath your fingertips, the gravity is real under your feet. You feel infinitely small but also that you may be standing on the very hand of God. The trees, the bugs, the quiet, the Earth. There you are consumed by it, and that’s when it becomes yours.

Take a hike, Chicago.

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