The decision is made at 2 a.m..
It is an easy enough one, sitting as we do, a mere road crossing away from that warm, greasy beacon known as Pizza X. The X, a crossroads of listless second wind energy and thoughts impaired by a veil of early morning fog. The X, marking the destination of a moment of amusement, a reason to stay up ever later than anyone should.
Easy enough to slip on coats and boots or jackets and flip flops, whatever gear deemed appropriate for the weather outside – inevitably colder than you’d want or warmer than you can stand. We make the voyage in groups – no one journeys alone. We pool our resources, dig change out of wallets or debit cards out of phone cases and set out for that golden place.
We come to a crossroads. Carry straight on and over a parking lot stands the formidable SRSC, filled with rows and rows of ellipticals and strength machines, crisscrossed by running tracks and pool laps. A promise of subtracting the calories we hope to add. Perhaps it is our last chance to make a good decision, but in that exact moment, at 2 a.m., the SRSC’s doors are closed tight, and we cannot make that better decision.
So we turn right and carry on. We pick over pavement dotted with dents and holes seemingly carved out by a great, immortal hand. If it has rained recently, these holes become dank lakes for us to tiptoe over, wary of whatever foul microbes might be lurking beneath the surface.
And then – there it is.
A vision in neon, the warm glow of the insides spilling out onto the beaten pavement. Our skin is suddenly bathed in yellow light as we push open the doors, step into the garlic and parmesan air.
It is always much smaller than we picture in our minds, a space no wider than a hallway. Two normal TV screens hang over the counter, displaying the names of the treasures we seek. In fact, on this journey, one of the TV screens is inexplicably missing, but it matters not. We know what we have come for.
One person is Chosen, and they step forward. The Cashier waits. It is 2 a.m. and yet, impossibly, we have been brought together, the Cashier and us. The earth turns, the wind blows outside, somewhere, in some vast forest, a mother bear herds her cubs into the safety of a cave. And yet we are here, facing each other.
The Chosen person says the words.
“Cheesy bread. Large.”
Cheesy bread is not an item on the menu, but the cashier knows what we want. And now, perhaps the most important of decisions – what sauce must accompany this bounty? Shall we choose pizza sauce, the classic? Pesto, the bold? Ranch, the wise? Nacho cheese, the foolhardy? Shall we dip into the more exotic options? Alfredo, buffalo, mojo, salsa, sausage gravy?
Whatever we choose, the order is processed. A mysterious process takes place in that vast back kitchen, and we are left to wait. Three plain stools sit in front of a bulletin board bearing information on all manner of events – concerts, classes, study sessions, animals for adoption. It is here we discuss our lives. Having braved a perilous journey, we are frank and honest with each other. Truth is closer to our grasp at Pizza X.
And then, it is done. The Cashier calls the name of the Chosen, and the prize is handed over. A warm brown box. The Chosen holds it tightly, thanks the Cashier for their service. And then we push into the elements once more, goaded on by the glittering gold in our pizza box.
Back over the teeming puddles, the pockmarked pavement, the roar of 10th Street. Back home, to the flat green couches we call home. The box is opened, and we observe our treasure for the first time.
Impossibly large, glittering with mozzarella, the cheesy bread greets us like old friends. We rip it apart along its pre-cut edges, and scatter to the corners to devour it. No matter what cold we pushed through to get here, it is hot, and depending on the sauce we have chosen, the flavor is bold or comforting, spicy or sweet. We have chosen to be here, and here we are.
Inevitably, we eat too much, and suddenly the magic of 2 a.m. is gone. It is 3 a.m. and we ache. The energy has left us. We speak not, retreat into our beds to think about what we have just done. We promise never to take on such a task again.
But one day, 2 a.m. comes again. And Pizza X glitters in the distance, always. And we will take that journey again. It is simply what must be.