If you’ve ever had the joy of sinking your teeth into a Philadelphia soft pretzel you know it’s not like one you'd find spinning round and round inside a glass case at the movie theater. Philly pretzels have no beautifully symmetric curves surrounding a little center knot.
They don’t have a perfectly browned, shiny outside sprinkled with salt that tempts your tastebuds and invites you to bite. A Philly soft pretzel is more of a squished figure eight, like a little baked and kosher-salted snowman.
Philly soft pretzels are the awkward adolescent of snack foods. They’re not particularly pretty on the outside, you have to rip them away from their friends and they’re a little rough around the edges. But if you give ‘em a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
After my divorce in 1991, I quickly realized one job wasn’t cutting it for me financially. A group of my friends and I collaborated to create our own Soft Pretzel Mafia. Our Pretzel Godfather would drive to the bakery at 5:00 a.m. to pick up enough freshly baked, still warm soft pretzels for all of us. We’d meet him at 6:00 a.m. at a designated pickup spot along Route 422 and pay him thirteen cents apiece for however many soft pretzels we needed for our accounts.
After stacking my car’s back seats with green plastic racks of Philly’s famous salty treats, I’d head back down the highway to deliver them to my waiting customers. Dropping off the fresh soft pretzels in the break rooms and cafeterias of about 15 local businesses as if I were running a race. I’d toss out any leftover pretzels from the day before, dump the coins from the locked “honor system” coin boxes into a zipper bag, reload the container with fresh pretzels and drive to the next stop.
The earlier I arrived at each business, the more pretzels I was likely to sell. I finished my route at 11:00 a.m., headed to the bank to convert my coins into cash, then home for a nap. At 2:00 it was time to get up and go to work at the restaurant. I continued working my little pretzel business right up until I moved to Atlanta in 1996.
You might I wonder why soft pretzels are part of my 50 / 50 project. Selling soft pretzels is not only one of the most unusual ways I’ve made a living, but more importantly, it was a catalyst to my life-changing move south.
I don’t know where you live, but on the east coast, the months of December 1993 through February of the following year were brutal. We experienced seventeen ice storms in three months.
Rain and sleet fell during the day, then froze overnight. More rain and sleet fell and froze on top of the previous storm’s ice. More rain and sleet fell. And so it went. Tree limbs heavy with ice cracked and fell to the ground everywhere.
Power lines came down. I was in a predicament.
My front steps and sidewalk were barely visible through a thick layer of ice. I couldn’t walk out of my house safely morning, let alone drive. To meet the Godfather at 6:00 a.m. I would have had to drive on solid ice. And by the time the salt and cinder trucks got out and the temperatures rose, it was much too late to deliver pretzels. Nobody wants their morning snack at lunchtime.
In a few short months the winter weather had single-handedly killed half of my income. And that was my moment of clarity which inspired me to leave my home state, and begin a new chapter of my life.