In March 1972, a high-school sophomore was six months into his driving career, having earned his license the previous October.
That same month, after being informed that he would need to start paying for gas if he planned to drive the family’s only vehicle — a Buick LeSabre — he was offered a good job at the local grocery store bagging groceries and assisting customers to their car.
One day later, the teen was told that he’d made the varsity baseball team as an outfielder and could get his coveted uniform No. 5 playing for the Bloomfield (Conn.) Warhawks.
It was the perfect storm for this young man.
For the next 24 hours, he anguished over what he should do. He WANTED to play baseball, but he NEEDED to have his own money because he HAD to be able to use the LeSabre on weekends. It was his first real conundrum in his 16 years of life.
For 23 hours, he let the options pinball around his head. Several times he thought he’d made a decision — each time it was different than the last one he thought he’d made. Finally, he decided to talk with his dad about it.
Within minutes, the boy was seeing things clearly. There was no way he could work AND play baseball, and there was no way he could drive the car AND not pay for gas. High-school baseball wasn’t going to pay for gas, so …
The teenager took the job and turned his back on the No. 5 jersey he’d so wanted to adorn his back.
But there was a silver lining.
The grocery store,located near the town’s downtown, was two doors away from a new pizza place — Park Avenue Pizza. It became his hangout when he had dinner breaks and weekend lunch breaks. And soon it also became the place to go for the weekend softball team he became part of (No. 5 jersey, of course).
Park Avenue Pizza was where the boy fell in love with New York-style pizza, as well as where he could listen to his favorite music on the jukebox. Music by Neil Diamond, the Jackson 5, Elton John and the Bee Gees.
And every trip back to his alma mater to visit friends he’d graduated with always included a gathering at Park Avenue Pizza. By 2000, the grocery store was gone but the small pizza joint had more than doubled in size.
In 2012, the boy, who was now 55 years old, made his last visit to Park Avenue Pizza. The pizza and the music were as good as ever — though Neil Diamond, the Jackson 5, Elton John and the Bee Gees had been replaced by the likes of Maroon 5, Tim McGraw, Katy Perry and One Direction.
But before he could get another trip to Connecticut, the news was released last month that Park Avenue Pizza was closing.
Emails and texts spread like wildfire between all of the high-school friends who called Park Avenue Pizza their place while attending Bloomfield High and beyond. It also elicited numerous memories of those years, originating more than four decades ago.
I never played baseball for the Warhawks, but never regretted my decision. I drove that LeSabre everywhere, and managed to save enough to soon buy my own Chevy Blazer. And in the 45 years since, the taste of Park Avenue Pizza has never left my mouth — or the sound of the Bee Gees from my ears.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.