If You Have to Ask, You Can’t Afford It
I’m in a quandary. I want new stores and services to come into my neighborhood, but I get nervous when they do. I can’t help but wonder, is this how the gentrification starts? Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and pale people in skinny jeans pretty much signal the beginning of the end in any neighborhood-of-color here in New York City. But Pizza Hut didn’t seem too threatening. I was actually glad to see it give some competition to Domino's, Papa John’s, and Little Caesar’s.
When I was finally in the mood for pizza, I made a special trip to the Hut. It’s not a full-service, dine-in location, just a corner outpost. That was fine. It fit in with the evening’s Netflix plans. I parked, went in, perused the menu, and noticed there were no prices.
Sometimes, I have a habit of not seeing things that are right in front of me. When I was a kid my parents chided this tendency calling it inattentive and lazy, but I think it’s my brain’s way of dealing with information overload. It can’t take in everything all at once. So it doesn’t.
Of course there were prices. There had to be. Sure, it had been a while since I’d eaten at a Pizza Hut. But I didn’t think in the interim it had become an upscale eatery. I wanted mushrooms and pepperoni, not lobster and diamonds.
It had been a long day. I figured my brain just needed a minute. So I took a breath, blinked*, and looked at the menu again; still no prices. (*I am well aware that blinking is a no-no for Doctor Who fans. But considering the paucity of marble angel statues in the hood, I took a chance.)
I said to the guy behind the counter, “Um… is it free?”
“What?” he said.
“Is it free? The pizza? There are no prices on the menu. Is everything here free?” Not an outrageous question really. Perhaps this was Pizza Hut’s way of giving back to the community. Nothing says love like carbs, cheese, and processed meat.
Now it was his turn to blink.
He said, “I don’t know how much to charge you. But if you order on line I can give you a better deal.”
Better than what? I didn’t know since I had nothing in hand to compare it with. Was he serious?
He was serious.
So it was my turn to blink again. And so I did, more slowly this time: First the left eye, then the right, then together. Okay, maybe it was more of a twitch. I considered calling in my order but I had the surreal image of me standing there at the counter, phone ringing in my ear and in the shop and the guy in front of me not answering.
I felt foolish for stating the obvious but I said it anyway: “Why would I order online, when I’m right here in the store and there is no line?”
And he said, “But it’s easy. Do you have a smart phone?” Of course, I have a smart phone but technology is supposed to facilitate not aggravate. And this exchange was facilitating my aggravation. Clearly I wasn’t blinking enough.
I thought of my Dad who by choice has one of those basic lifeline phones. It's not smart enough to order pizza. But apparently I wasn’t smart enough to order it either. I foolishly thought there might be posted prices for people who walk in off the street and dare to order the old-fashioned, 3-D, live and direct way. There wasn’t. And so me, and Pizza Hut’s designated representative just stood there blinking at each other. (I began wondering what was taking the angels so long. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have one of them zap me back to the recent past to just before I made the decision to visit this Twilight Zone outpost?)
When my brain finally grasped the unreal reality of the situation it suggested that I instead go home and have a salad. Nothing says true love like fresh salad fixin’s from the market. Sure I could have gone to one of the other suspiciously numerous local pizza purveyors but the moment had passed.
A few weeks later I dropped by Pizza Hut again, mainly to see if Rod Serling was still skulking about. There continued to be no prices on the paper menu but they now had a menu and prices on the flat screen display installed on the wall above and behind the counter. That had not been there before. I swear. I know I miss stuff but it’s hard to overlook a bright, big ass flat-screen. And if it had been there before, the Pizza Hut Guy would’ve pointed it out instead of giving me blither-blather about ordering online. But now, I was no longer in the mood for Pizza. Just walking in gave me a sudden and inexplicable craving for salad. Where’s a Whole Foods when you need one?
The Urban Erma, the longest running column on StageTimeMagazine.com, was created and written by stand-up comedian Leighann Lord. Listen to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Watch the video edition on YouTube.com. If you enjoy The Urban Erma share it with your friends. (Share it with people who are not your friends and maybe they will be.)