Monday, November 22, 2010

Just hangin' round a roadblock

On Thursday, I was sitting in my office and I was distracted. I knew somewhere, 39 floors below me, was a Philadelphia soft pretzel calling my name. I jumped from my desk, hastily put on my gray Phillies hoodie and my denim jacket, darted down the hall and made a determined bee line for the elevator.

Philadelphia soft pretzels are my Kryptonite and the pretzels of my dreams are sold at the Philly Pretzel Factory location just inside Suburban Station, a sprawling network of tiled walkways snaking underneath downtown Philadelphia. Besides offering access to various routes of public transportation, Suburban Station boasts an array of shops and services and fast-food establishments.

In the lobby of my employer's building is a long, steep escalator that deposits riders at an exit, one level below the bustling street. This exit leads to a tributary corridor of the train station. Once though a set of revolving doors, I am just a Dunkin Donuts, two short stairways and a water ice stand away from pretzel pay dirt.

I hurried to the pretzel vendor. From the size of the queue line inside, I was not alone in my cravings of a mid-afternoon pretzel. I spotted a few familiar faces in line. Faces I regularly pass as I make my way from my morning train to my office. Some were permanent residents of the train station, who had managed to scrape together a few coins to trade for a snack (or in the case of some, a long-awaited meal).

I took my place in line behind a man wearing a dirty and frayed jacket. He gripped a loaded plastic bag from Shirt Corner, a mens' clothing store that is thirteen blocks away. From the size and heft of the bag, it obviously did not contain shirts. I inched closer to the counter as each customer's order was filled. The man in front of me placed and received his order. He meticulous traced the surface of his pretzel with complementary mustard squeezed from a plastic bottle. When his doughy baked knot was properly anointed, he exited the store. I gave the counter girl my order, got my pretzels (three and an accompanying Coke Zero — the Number Three Combo) and headed back to work.

When I got to the first small stairway I had to scale, there was the pretzel guy who was in front of me in line — just standing and eating his pretzel. He had not made it very far from the front door of the pretzel store. He was standing equidistant from either wall and dead-center before the stairs, blocking anyone who might be walking in a straight line. Among the "straight-line walkers" who were prohibited from pursuing a direct route were me and hundreds of other people. He was oblivious to the world around him, aware only of the mustard-covered yeasty ambrosia he was apparently enjoying. And he apparently chose the perfect place in which to experience his enjoyment to the fullest. I jockeyed my way around his girth and was followed by a parade of similarly inconvenienced walkers. I glanced back and pretzel guy was still transfixed in his moment of zen, as hunks of pretzel tumbled around in his head.

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