I love me some wings. At least two types.
The first type are those that are on airplanes. Particularly passenger airplanes from history. That said, just a few nights ago I was chatting with an elderly man who opened up to me about being a B-47 pilot with SAC after the Korean War. Don’t know any of these above aviation references? Look them up, go ahead, I’ll wait, sure Wikipedia will do…ok, you’re back…Pretty interesting stuff he was telling me regarding his exploits in that cigar tube with wings. I’m pretty much a peacenik, but aviation history is aviation history, warplanes or not, and this man had a story to tell about flying, re-fueling aircraft, and protecting our freedoms. Thanks, Mr. Christensen.
But I got off onto a tangent, didn’t I? Maybe I’m avoiding the confession-to-be concerning the “other” wings.
Barbecue, garlic, not too hot, baked, broiled, fried (not good for you, but…), yes stereotypes die hard here. I’m both proud and not proud about my affliction...sorry affection… ok, both - around wings. And sin of all sins, when I’m feeling low or high, happy or sad, when on the road I’ll occasionally order a box and head back to the hotel room with them, a bottle of water, and I’ll proceed to absolutely ruin one of those small washcloths with sauce and grease. I apologize, Motel 6. It is indeed me, Vance Gilbert, that has caused a few of your small washcloths to be forever orange-tinted. Will you still leave the light on?
One night, and I don’t remember what city it was, I had finished my evening of performing, packed my car, and I was heading from the hall to the hotel down whatever Main Street I was heading down, and I saw it.
The pizza shop.
I knew they’d have wings.
Big-assed sign in the window said Pizza, Roast Beef, Wings. A sure sign a place will have wings.
So I parked the car across the street from the pizza shop and I locked it. It didn’t seem to be the highest brow of neighborhoods, with 2 pawn shops and 2 check cashing places within 2 blocks, but the place had wings. It was a few minutes before closing, like 10:30. Man, I hoped the fryolator was still on.
Folks were busy inside, the staff seemed to be comprised of a husband and wife, some workers, and I thought I heard some Italian or Greek spoken or at least an accent. A few people were picking up orders, a policeman got a few slices, people came and left while my wings were cooking, yet there was this 40-ish Black woman standing off to the side of the counter looking hopefully and patiently at the same time to be waited on.
You know me. I was starting to get a little pissed.
Now, I was in my nice shirt, performance clothing abounding and such, so I looked “ok” while this woman was dressed in jeans, had a somewhat dirty bag, and a sweatshirt. Someone on staff doused the neon in the window, shut off the back-lit menu over the ovens, and a straggly haired young man began mopping from the back heading to the front. The light switch operator twisted the black thermostats on each of the four ovens to zero, I paid for my wings after some increasingly stilted small talk with the man at the register - remember I was getting more and more pissed by the moment that this woman wasn’t having her order taken - when the man who seemed to be the owner told the kid mopping “O.K., go ahead and lock up the front door”.
Just as they were killing the lights in the seating area with the reddish plastic chairs, just as the mopping kid pulled up the black floor mat at the front door, just as I was about to say something, the owner, without ceremony, swept the remaining 5 unsold slices into a box, and took an unclaimed order of what looked like manicotti and put it in a white paper bag, handed it to this woman, wishing her, by name, a good night. She thanked him, not quite profusely but for real, and headed out and down the street. Not a cent was exchanged.
I speechlessly left to cross the street to my van, where I sat for I don’t know how long. I did however sit long enough to have tears run down my face, humbled that my preconceptions of race and relations were challenged once again, happy that I had means, and in awe of my grand fortune to be in presence of such goodwill happening in real time. Or on the wing, as you might say.