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?”

ModelStory: Darn Good Soup (inspired by actual events)

It’s soup season in Many Lost Ways National Park. The nights are cold and the days are gray, and the hearty winter campers are fortified by gallons of sturdy soup – freeze-dried chicken and rice, canned vegetable beef, and one very special batch of frozen, homemade split pea with ham.

It was brought by a young couple who, in a stroke of efficient genius, decided to use it rather than ice to keep their cooler cool. I watched them board the steam train at Salvation Point for a long Valentine’s weekend in the park: Two large backpacks, one tightly rolled tent, one sleeping bag, one large cooler on wheels.

They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.

soup

“They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.”
(Woodland Scenics figures with aftermarket winter clothing added, custom-painted Micro-Trains 40-foot steel boxcar, Play-Doh luggage, scratchbuilt styrene coolers.)

They don’t know it yet but this trip will be their last as a young, carefree couple. Not long after they get home, she’ll find out, then tell him:

“I’m pregnant.”

There will be excitement and fear unlike anything they’ve known before.

They’ll bump along through the not-easy process of growing a family, and they’ll know the immeasurable joy that comes with all that pain.

They’ll never have the time for each other that they do now.

They’ll think back on the life they have now – the seemingly grown-up-enough work of paying the bills and looking after each other – and wonder how they filled the hours.

They’ll have thousands of sunny days. Take dozens of family trips more fun than this one. Eat lots of extraordinarily good soup.

But they’ll never again taste anything like the split pea with ham they brought on that last trip when it was Just The Two Of Them.

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

16-oz dried split peas

1 large ham steak, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

6 or 7 carrots, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 2-3 hours, stirring regularly.

(Love ya, Nik.)

ModelStory: Pallets of Faygo Rock & Rye

The transportation industry is filthy with shipping errors. Someone once told me the Union Pacific, on any given day, misplaces something like 500 freight cars. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, and I’m not at liberty to discuss FCFL’s statistics, but who cares because today I’m talking about a happy, bubbly error in my favor.

There are things in life so good, so simple, as to achieve mythical status. Good-fittin’ jeans. A first kiss. All great songs and no commercials on the radio all the way to work.

Faygo Rock & Rye.

“Faygo whodidwhat?” you say.

Faygo Rock & Rye, son.

There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.

So what is it?

It is officially “cream cola” according to Faygo. It’s soda. Or pop. Or sodapop. Or if you’re far enough south, it’s just Coke.

rock n rye

“There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.”

But I’ve had Coke, and with all due respect, Coke, you’re no Faygo Rock & Rye.

Coke is manufactured by a global corporation and distributed across the planet by a monstrous infrastructure geared for peak efficiency.

Faygo Rock & Rye is brewed and bottled in secret caves deep beneath Wyandotte, Michigan by thousand-year-old elves who pledge to guard the formula with their tiny lives. They produce a fresh batch only under the New Moon, and distribute it exclusively to Michigan supermarkets via an impenetrable network of runners and safehouses.

We spent a lot of time in Michigan when I was a kid, and Rock & Rye has a central place in some happy memories. I can’t buy it at home, so whenever I’m in Michigan, which is about once every two years, I stock up then ration the stuff like a Londoner during the Blitz.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for today’s unexpected stash, but delivery error is not how I like to get my Rock & Rye. I don’t like to buy it online, either. Sure, I can order a case from Faygo.com and have it on my doorstep in 48 hours, but there’s something lacking in the experience.

I much prefer my Rock & Rye to come from a Michigan grocer – Kroger or Meijer, Farmer Jack if possible (but I think they’re all gone now).

I go into the store and take an empty cart straight to the soda aisle and clean them out, if necessary sending my firstborn on his belly into the shelves to retrieve the 12-packs shoved way to the back.

The cashier looks at me like I have four heads as she passes case after case over the scanner.

“That’ll be $273.50.”

A bargain at any price.

What’s your Rock & Rye?

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, custom-painted resin casting of boxes on pallets (from on-hand collection, manufacturer unknown), kitbashed Rix two-stall enginehouse.)