The Ghost of Pizza Past, Redux

December 23, 2011 at 9:46 PM | Posted in Fiction | 5 Comments
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Chuck had a flash fiction challenge this week for something Christmas-themed, and he wanted it in less than 48 hours. Time to cheat. I took an old blog entry I had written and gave it some much-needed editing. I feel certain that anything I can say in 1600 words I can say better in a thousand.
You have to pick that thousand carefully.
Anyway, what he wanted was something about Christmas in an unusual setting. Nothing is more unusual to me than a pizza place.
To see more catch a one-horse open sleigh and slide on over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Christmas in a Strange Place

Christmas Eve and of course I am working.  My son is too.  It kind of helped, because if I was going to be there late, they would start without me at home, but if it more than me—like my son, then they would have to wait for us.  Christmas is a family time.  And Domino’s—well, Domino’s cared about family.  But not employees.  Where is the supervisor?  At home with family.  Where is the franchise owner?  Three states away with his family.Where is the director of operations?  Probably at a strip club.
In our area there was a local joint which closed about 4 pm.  Pizza Hut and Papa John’s both closed at 6 pm.  Up and down the main drag, as snow was falling, stores were closing, and the streets slowly emptying of traffic, as lights of businesses shut off and people went home.  It was serene and calm outside.  Blissful.  A Christmas choir sang.
Inside my store was chaos.  EVERYBODY else was closing, leaving only us to serve the masses.  We start getting busy as everyone realizes this is there last chance for pizza.  People also call just to ask how late we are going to stay open.  I quickly realize these are the ones who want to wait until the last minute.  We are supposed to stay open until ten, but if they asked we told them nine.
As predicted, the last hour is the busiest hour.  We no longer had the 30 minute guarantee, but we still tried to deliver timely service.  With the snow and the business volume, however, it got to be too much, and we were telling people 45 minutes to an hour, with emphasis on the hour.  Hopefully the fuckers were at least tipping well.
My son, Mike, comes back from a run about 9:50.  I send him with a three-stop that was already getting old.  The last run leaves a little after ten, and then I am counting the money and directing the cleaning, trying to get everyone to help and get them out the door.  We were still getting phone calls, and telling them we were closed, and it tapered off.  At ten after someone calls and wants to speak to the manager.
“Domino’s Pizza, I’m sorry we’re closed.”
“Yeah, I ordered a pizza over an hour ago, and it’s not here yet.”
“I’m sorry.  What’s the address?”
“Number one Happy Street.”
“Let me just look that up for you.  Okay, sir, the driver is on his way even as we speak.  It does look like it has been only 40 minutes, though.  And we did tell everyone an hour or more.”  Customers cannot tell time.
“This is ridiculous.  Why is taking so long?  I am a valued customer!”  All customers think they are valued.
“Well sir, we are a little busy because of the holiday and the snow. But the driver should be there any minute.”
“Just cancel my order.  Call him up, or whatever, and tell him I don’t want it.  I’ll call somewhere else.”  And all customers think they are smart.  This was 1994; I could count on one hand the number of cell phones in a ten-mile radius.
“Sir, I have no way of getting in touch with him; feel free to tell him when he gets there.”  Yes, please tell my son you don’t want the pizza.  My son is six-foot-eight and three hundred pounds.
“Fine!  This is bullshit!”  He hung up.
I didn’t get the chance to tell him that—or tell him that no one else was open. I would have tried–I wanted to help.  Because I care.
About 9:30 my son returned, and he had the pizzas.  The dickhead actually refused them.  I guess Mike arrived at the asshole’s door right after I talked to him.
Being pissed off dragged us down, but we were well on our way to getting the place cleaned up. Generally we close with three people, but we had more people that night because of business, and we were able to share the wealth and get it done more quickly.
In all the rush, I forget to lock the door.  About 9:40, and older man, a black man, came in.
I said, “I am sorry, sir, we’re closed.”
He seemed crestfallen.  “Oh, are you?  I just needed to get some food for my grandkids before I take them home.  We got a ways to drive and nothing is open.”
Suddenly, I had a thought and I said, “Hold on a second.”  I looked at the pizzas Mike had just brought back from the fucker that refused them, to make sure no one had yet dug their greedy little paws in them.
They were untouched.  I said, “Sir, how about a pepperoni-sausage and a ham-bacon?”
He perked up.  “Oh, anything, it doesn’t matter.”  He started to reach for his wallet and said, “What do I owe you for these?”
I said, “Hey, don’t worry about it.  Take ’em, feed your grandkids.  Merry Christmas!”
He smiled big and bright, and shook my hand.  He said, “Thanks, I will.  And Merry Christmas to you!”

Now, I originally thought that this story was about me getting a little revenge on a customer that was a jerk—because I did–or that it was about me brightening up some old man’s Christmas, because I did that, too.
But it is actually about what the old man had done for me.  I deal with several hundred customers in a night, and it only takes one, just one, grind me all the way down.  Here it was Christmas Eve, and look what he did to me!
But when the old man came in and needed a little help, and I was able to do it for him, it put the wind back in my sails.  I truly felt the spirit of Christmas.
And knowing that other guy was fucked for pizza really helped.

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Welcome To The Jungle (I’ve got your fun and games right here)

June 18, 2011 at 9:56 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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[Spring 1997]

And so, I left Steak n Shake, and came back to Domino’s Pizza again.
Except I never really left; I had continued my employment there as a part time driver for Romona in Hazelwood. It was easy for me to jump right in again as an assistant manager and pick up the hours I needed between two stores: Hazelwood and Cross Keys, the store I most recently managed before being sentenced to the fourth level of Hell that was Blackjack.  (I don’t want to over-exaggerate; everyone always says “seventh level.”  However, with the experiences I’ve had, I had some perspective.)
Bunny was managing Cross Keys and she was my friend. Romona was my friend also, and gave me more hours. I was in the middle of an estrogen duel, two women vying to have me all to themselves. I wanted to say, “Ladies, please! There’s enough of me to go around!”
But it wasn’t about me. It was about power. Bunny was an aggressive upstart, and Romona was a battle-weary warhorse. Who would win this battle of wills?
Ultimately Romona did; she was promoted to supervisor.
Now that she was the new North County supervisor, she had–
Well, it depends on how you look at it. If I were an optimist, I would say she had pull. If I were a pessimist, I would say she had problems.
Since I’m a realist, I have to say she had…problems.
One of those problems was Store #1539, Berkeley. It was a problem store in a problem area. It was ghetto. It was hood. It was bad. How bad?
Unless you know the St Louis area, it’s hard to summarize. Part of Berkeley was a small village called Kinloch. Kinloch doesn’t exist anymore because there was a buyout by the airport for a politically-motivated expansion that was never necessary but proceeded anyway, despite the fact that Lambert lost a couple of major hubs and air traffic decreased significantly and an airport was also built in the Metro-East that stands basically deserted.
Kinloch became a synonym for crime,
The major economic factor in Berkeley is drugs. The local government is part nightmare and part comedy. Businesses shut down left and right. McDonald’s a few other chains closed their doors and tucked their tails between their legs, cutting their losses.
Just look up the Wikipedia article for Kinloch, Missouri. Kinloch is attached to Berkeley like a tumor.
Domino’s was desperate to have success at 1539, although the definition of success varies. They made a deal with a manager: she would take over the store, be given free reign, “support” from marketing, and half the profit of the store, instead of the usual 15-20%.
Again, class: What is 50% of zero?
Correct.
This project was touted as a bold initiative, a new direction to create a brighter future and be model for future–
Blah-blah-blah. She lasted less than two months.
It probably wasn’t fair to put a (more or less) innocent suburban white chick in a situation like that. Luckily she didn’t get killed or raped, she just locked the doors in the middle of the day and walked out.
I don’t know if I was necessarily in the right place at the right time, but here’s what happened:
Changes were made, as always. Note the passive voice, to release upper management of responsibility. Jay was the farm-boy supervisor for the area, living in Illinois. He was returned to the cornfields from whence he came.
Does that sound harsh? Jay was a good guy, a quiet, by-the-book, no-nonsense sort of bloke. Yeah, humorless as well–those types usually are. Here’s a story about him:
As a supervisor, he came by Berkeley during dinner rush to do whatever the Hell it is supervisors do. You know, watch other people work. Make suggestions based on hindsight, unrealistic expectations, and fairy tales.
It was dark, so the mag-lock was on. Don’t make explain a mag-lock again. Most stores didn’t turn it on until after 10pm. Berkeley did it as soon as it got dark. Drivers come up, we buzz them in. Customers of a superficially non-threatening nature would approach, and we would buzz them in.
So it’s about 6pm in the winter, and it’s dark. A Friday night, so there is some business going on. A customer approaches, and instinctively Jay reaches toward the button to buzz them in–
A driver slaps his hand away from the button.
The “customer” was a large black male with a ski mask over his face and a shotgun in his hand. He bounced off the door, shook the handle a few times, and disappeared.
It was for the best that Jay returned to the green, green grass of home.
Romona was made supervisor, and now it was her problem.
I can’t believe that I was actually allowed to interview for 1575. Hazelwood was a cherry, and everybody wanted it. I was the only MIT that interviewed; the others were seasoned managers. However, I was a seasoned manager also, who happened to be an assistant at the moment.
Well, of course I didn’t get Hazelwood. I forget which numbnut they gave it to, and it doesn’t matter. Fine, I’ll continue as an assistant–whatev.
Over the course of several days, Romona hounded me. Berkeley was still open, and she was getting desperate. The store needed a manager. Actually it needed a SWAT team. She made offers, she pleaded, she made promises–
I swear to God, if I had held out longer I would have gotten a blowjob. I still remember the day I walked in when she was a manager, and she was sitting at the desk taking a break. And eating a corn dog.
You don’t forget shit like that. She owes me.
However, it was my completely misguided sense of duty that won over, and I accepted the position. I would take Berkeley.  I never did get that blowjob.

Why I Make the Big Bucks

April 26, 2011 at 10:09 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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November 1986

Jonathan’s wife is hot.  Too hot for him.  He’s a short, chubby, slightly Mexican-looking dude.  She looks like a model.  I’m a tall, chubby, basically Caucasian-looking dude.  What gives?
Ah, well.  I already have a girlfriend.  She’s not young and hot, though.  She’s old but still pretty.  The lesson I’m sure that I need to learn in life is to not always let my dick do the driving.  But there’s still time—I’m young.
I’m finally able to put some names to the faces, and remember the faces.  I thought two of them were the same guy, but it turns out they are brothers, Ricky and…the other one.  Ironically, they have a Latina last name but don’t look it, while Jonathan doesn’t, but does look it.  There’s also Marty and his brother as well–didn’t catch his name.  There are others, like this cocky football player-looking dude, some tall guy I hear people calling “Mabes,” and a random assortment of others.
Oh, and Thomas just rolled onto the scene.  He’s new here but he’s done this before, he said.  After a fashion he kind of latched onto me, so I guess I have a friend.  Thomas is a good guy, a little insecure, and a loud talker.  Don’t tell him I said that.
During one conversation with him, he said that from some source (I wasn’t really paying attention) he learned that the secret to making more money—getting a raise or what-have-you—was to act like you were already earning that money, and worth it.  “If I want to make 3.60 an hour,” he said while we were both sweeping the floor, “I need to work like I’m already making 3.60 an hour.”
Minimum is 3.35 an hour.  I couldn’t see much difference in the effort for 3.35 and 3.60.
Besides, that was a quarter.  Nobody got a quarter raise.  He might get a dime or fifteen cents.  Not a quarter.  I kept quiet; my personal belief was that with delivery, you made your own raise by getting better and more efficient at it, taking more runs and kissing the customers’ ass more.
I had no idea how to do that.  Man, I wish I did.  That jackoff football player-looking dude—Jeff—always made out really good in tips, or at least he claimed to.  If so, he was much nicer to the customers than he was to anyone here in the store.  I had to make up for what I lacked in social skills by driving fast, and running hard.
We all run.  We run to the car.  We run to the door.  We run back to the car.  We run back into the store.  When the phone rings, we run to it.  Two rings, max.  Always.
So I run.  I’m not built for running, so much, but I do it.  Plus I like to get high while I deliver.  I didn’t do that so much at first because I wanted to get used to the job and learn the area.  But after a few months of driving up and down these streets all over the place, I rarely look at the map, except to figure out the right hundred-block.
Getting high kind of slows you down, but I have a solution.  I take some mini-thins.  For those of you not hip to the drug lingo, that’s speed.  Actually, they’re just caffeine pills.  But three minis will get me through a close, and I can still get high.
I was having a pretty good Saturday night—I was closing.  It was just after dinner rush and a few drivers were cut.  It would start to open up for me.  I came back from a run, and Tom grabbed me and said, “Hey, come in here a minute.”  The office.  He closed the door.  Hell, I didn’t even think this broom closet-sized office had a door.
We had a quick meeting.  “Bubba, I just wanted to tell you, that you’ve been doing a really good job, and I’m impressed.  I really didn’t think you were going to make it—“
Which is always nice to hear.  Did I suck that bad when I started?  I guess so.
“—but you’ve proven yourself, and you have integrity.”
“Aw, well, hey—thanks.  I appreciate that—“
“Starting Monday you get a raise.  Three-fifty.”  He raised his furry eyebrow, letting it sink in, because 15 cents is the highest increment raises came in.  I had only been there a few months.
“Awesome!  Thanks, Tom!”
“And Bubba—listen:  don’t tell anyone about it, okay?  Not everyone is getting a raise right now.  Just keep it to yourself.”
I nodded.  But I had a question.  “Why you calling me ‘Bubba’?”
He was taken aback.  “I thought—“  He grabbed a clipboard and flipped back a couple of pages.  “Every time you sign the daily—see there?  You’re signing ‘Bubba.’  I thought it was your nickname.”
“That’s just my initials.  BB.  I didn’t really want a nickname.”
Tom looked down sheepishly.  “Yeah…it might be too late for that.”
Fuck me.  But I got a raise, so what the hell.  We exited the office.  Joel caught my eye.  “Bubba, you’re up.”  That fast?  It happened that fast?  Christ in a—

So I continued to have a good night, and I was happy about my raise.  It wasn’t the money, really.  Fifteen cents over thirty hours, or sixty, on a biweekly paycheck—was going to be…a couple of bucks.  The difference between a couple of decent tips and a couple of good tips.  But it was a marker, like proof that I got a pat on the back.  Recognition for a job well done and all my hard work.
In the course of having a good night I may have celebrated a bit, like taking a few hits from my bat—my one-hitter.  The mistake, of course, was that this was some serious skunk weed, and had an odor to it.  An odor that lingered, and clung to me.  Imagine my surprise when later, about 930, Tom caught me and had me come into his office again.  He had a somber expression on his face.
“What’s up?”
“Bubba, I need to ask you to not get high anymore while you’re working.”
Fuu…
You know pot makes you paranoid, right?  Getting busted doesn’t make it better.  I was shaking on the inside, so I froze, held completely still.  I may have held my breath.  Tom continued.  “We can smell it on you, and a customer called—“
“Oh…”
“Yeah.  So don’t—don’t do that anymore on the clock.  When you’re off I don’t care what you do.  But I don’t want to catch you high on the clock anymore.”
I nodded.  “Okay.  No more.  I promise.”
And I meant it, too.  He would never catch me.

Things That Go Bump In the Night

April 26, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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The 80s…

Uhm…
Maybe if I wait long enough to tell this, the statute of limitations on any alleged crime might have expired.
I hope.
It was just another typical night in the spring, and I was working.  I may have gotten high, too.  But it was a nice night, I was having a good night, I was in the groove, and things were clicking for me.
Maybe I like to take a hit or two off the one-hitter during a long Saturday night close.  But I also took a couple of mini-thins—caffeine pills—to get me through the night as well.  A nice buzz and a loud stereo—now what could be better?
I don’t know.  Maybe a mirror.  I have a mirror.  Maybe I just need to use it once in a while.
I’m on this run…I’m not going to say where.  It’s pretty late.  It’s past 10 pm.  I park on the street.  My e-brake is a little weak and there isn’t much of a curb, so I shut the car off.  I had parked right in front of another car.  It looked like a classic, like an early 60s Rambler or something like that.  It wasn’t mint, but it looked pretty good.  Okay.
I get up to the door before I see that this is not the house.  Fives and sixes look similar in some typefaces.  This was actually an eight.  At least I didn’t bang on their door and wake someone up like I did last week.
Well I’m not going to get back in the car to go down three houses.  I walk.  I deliver the pies and walk back to my car.
When you do what I do—take a lot of deliveries in the course of a night—that’s a lot of times in and out of the car.  You get into a routine, and much of it is automatic.  Of course, sometimes you unknowingly take shortcuts in your routine.
I got in, toss the bag over, and write the tip down on my pad.  I had turned the key and stepped on the clutch first, however.
And I had ever so slowly rolled backward.
I heard as well as felt the dull thud.  I looked up, and behind my panicked face in the rear view mirror I saw the Rambler, right behind me.  Oh, fuck.
Oh, and panic I did.  I looked around quickly, I unplugged my cartop from my lighter, I started the car and took off.  And I did not turn on the lights until I was two blocks away.
I kept looking behind me.  Yeah, I chose that time to start using my mirrors.  In it, all I saw was me.  Man, did I look guilty.
I never heard anything about it; I never got in trouble for it.  I got away clean, except for my conscious.  Luckily I have a short attention span and a bad memory.
But it feels good to confess, as long as I don’t have to make up for it.

Scream

April 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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October, 1986

I’ve been here at Domino’s about a month now.  I really feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it all.  I must be doing a good enough job because I’m working more hours.  Not quite forty—maybe thirty—but the money is good.
I get cash every night, my tips and mileage.  I was so used to just that—
Imagine my surprise when I got a paycheck also.  Hell yeah.
And I was now getting to close two nights per week.  I come in sometimes at 430 and sometimes at five.  You never know when you are going to get off unless you are scheduled to close.  It could be two hours, it could be four hours.  Whenever we slowed down, people were off.
If I closed, I stayed until we were done.  We closed at 1am during the week, and 2 on Friday and Saturday.  We want to get out as soon as we can after close.  The manager deals with the money and paperwork, and the last two drivers do the cleaning.  Usually one does the dishes and one does the front, and they both sweep and mop.
This is my first experience with time management, I guess.  In between runs and when we are slow, we try to do what we can without interrupting the flow of business.  Maybe this is obvious to all of you, but I’m new to this.
The first couple of times, closing seemed…hard.  Now, after a couple of weeks, I’m a real pro.  Okay, not a real pro.  But I am getting the hang of it.  I’ve learned all kinds of important tricks, like what I learned the other night.  I learned that you can’t pull the mop bucket along by the mop, because the wheels don’t roll well and you’ll tip the mop bucket over.
And spend an extra fifteen minutes mopping up the water while the manager and the other driver bitch about it.
And after close, one driver follows the manager to the bank while me makes a deposit in the night drop.  The first time, Joel just said, “Follow me to the bank, okay, Guy?”
Sure, okay.  I follow him, pull up along side of him while he makes the drop, and I just sit there.  Now what?  I feel silly now, because he had to get out of the car and come over to me and explain that it was procedure, for security, and I’m supposed to hang back in the parking lot to keep an eye out, not stick to close to him, and now that he made the drop, he would just wave me off as he was done and we would go our separate ways.
Ya know, I’m from the country.  Security is as alien a concept to me as paved roads.  But he only had to tell me once, and I got it.
The same went for most things:  the first time, I am out of my element and struggling to understand it while I follow along blindly trying to grasp the situation.  After I go through it once and I get it and see the purpose, I have no problem.

For instance, what is the deal with this “borrowing drivers from another store” thing?  What gives?
Well, Snidely, I’ll tell you what gives.  We have the thirty-minute guarantee, right?
Right—30-or-free.
And we want to avoid giving away free shit, because we aren’t a charity.  We schedule to anticipate business, but sometimes shit happens, and who ya gonna call?
Not Ghostbusters.  But you can call another store in the franchise.  I was unclear on this at first, but the company I work for is Domino’s Pizza, yes—but it is not a corporate store.  There are no corporate stores in the whole metropolitan area.  They are all franchises, and the franchise I work for—A&M Pizza—owns about seven or eight stores, something like that.  Who owns the rest?  Other franchises.
A&M also owns the stores in the Springfield, Missouri region.  Art, the A in A&M, is here in St Louis over these stores, and Marty, the M, is in Springfield.  I have yet to meet Art.  I don’t understand the hierarchy…I guess there are managers, and then there is a supervisor, Scott Wilson, whom I have seen.  And then there is Art.  Okay, I guess I do get the hierarchy.
Anywho, what with this being an urban-suburban area, the stores are fairly close, and if one gets busy they can call another one for help that is usually only ten or fifteen minutes away.  If you look at the map here, you see our area outlined in marker.  To the north is written the phone number to the store that covers that area.  To the west and south, the same thing.  To the east is the Mississippi River, and generally we don’t deliver there.
So it’s not mandatory…but we are strongly encouraged.  I’m always up for some excitement, so I have gone to both Spanish Lake, to the north, and Ferguson, which has a monstrously large area to the west.  To the south is Baden (technically the City of St Louis) and that store is owned by another company, so we don’t have to go there.  Thank God; Baden is a shithole.  North St Louis?  You don’t want to be there, brother.  Not as a white boy after dark with a brightly lit sign on the roof of your car that says “I have money and food, come and get it.”
There are details and protocol to the whole idea of lending and borrowing drivers.  A store gets busy, they assess the situation and realize they need help, even for a brief period of time.  They make a call or two.  If a store has someone, they’ll send them.  Or they will ask:  “Want to go to Ferguson and take a few runs?”
Sure.  What the hell.  I wasn’t sophisticated enough to know there was much of a difference between these neighborhoods.  I would clock out here, at my home store, and drive to the other store.  I would take some runs, or sometimes one run, and then go back.  Then I would clock back in.  The stores would communicate—that’s what we have all these five-line phones for—and the borrowing store would pay my labor for the travel time as well.
And the time clock is weird, but it makes it easy to do the math.  If you leave your store at 606 and come back at 654, the time clock says 6.1 and 6.9.  You were gone for .8 of an hour, and the math is easy.  Is this metric time?
There isn’t someone available all the time to make the trek.  Sometimes everyone is busy—and sometimes no one wants to go, especially if it’s to a shithole like Normandy.  In that case, sometimes the drivers are coerced, bribed, blackmailed, or just forced to go, and take one for the team.
I think I just learned my first adult lesson about working in the corporate world:  Being a team player means taking turns getting fucked in the ass.  Coming up next—it’s mine turn to bend over.

Jacob’s Ladder

March 20, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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April 2009

It was like some kind of horrible Vietnam flashback—
But I didn’t have to go.  I had immunity.  I had…a day job.
Still, I felt compelled to attend this “mandatory” manager’s meeting, for three reasons.  I’ll start with number two if that’s okay with you.
2.  Curiosity.  It had been a while since I had been to one, and never had I been to one with this company.  I wanted to see if they were everything I remembered.
1.  The bosses knew I had a day job and I was excused—and I was the only assistant with this affliction.  They didn’t like it; they wanted me to have “both feet in or both feet out.”  Logical, from their vantage point:  how can they control me and inflict harm and punishment upon me if I can just bow out, like the second string at a gangbang?  How could they squeeze all of my hopes and dreams and aspirations from me?
Too bad I had none left at this point.  Sucks to be them, doesn’t it?  Still, I didn’t want to throw it in their faces.  Absence may be the better part of valor, but it would actually be easier for me to be invisible if I showed up.  That’s irony right there, I don’t care who you are.
3.  I had loyalty to my team—the management at the specific store I worked at.  It would be a show of solidarity as well as—perversely—a bit of spying on the enemy.  And by enemy I meant upper management.  If you don’t understand that calculating mindset or the skewed reality behind it, you’ve never been in management.
At my day job, I made arrangements to be off for the meeting.  Actually, all I did was take some time out of my day, as for a doctor’s appointment.  The meeting was at 9am, so I went to work at my usual 7, left about 830, and got back around 11 because it was over at 1030—everyone had to get to their stores to open them.
Subdued surprise that I showed up—
Shaved, clean, dressed well, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  For most of them, this was too early in the morning, and on average they had been awake for 43 minutes.  I had been up almost three hours and had had two cups of coffee by this time.
There in the big conference room of the home office, the tables were set at the perimeter and we took seats like it was a UN function.  Coffee and donuts were had, and handouts and booklets were passed out.  In the middle of the room, center stage, Supervisor Tom and Director of Operations John tag-teamed us on the important items.  That is, they read the pamphlet to us.
It wasn’t a meeting in the sense that you might think there is a give-and-take and an even exchange of ideas and balance.  No, this was more of the Moses-hands-down-the-new-commandments-of-pizza-making type of meeting.
I wanted to remain low-key; I am not always the seeker of attention that many of you may believe.  However, once the floor was open, if someone among our ranks spoke and I had something to add, I would.  Overall, I was fairly quiet.
Except for this one time that makes me sound like an arrogant ass.  In other words, I showed my true colors.
Tom was speaking, and talking about product quality and consistency.  I sat with Dina and Stan, my people.  Tom said something about the irregular pie quality he has seen in the stores.  “I should be able to look at a pizza and not be able to tell the difference.  I should not be able to tell who made it.  Everyone should be making pizzas the exact same way.”
I snorted quietly to myself, and whispered something to Stan.  He let out a chuckle.  Tom heard.  “What?  What is it?  Is there something you’d like to share?”  Seriously, what was this, sixth grade?
“Well?”  I guess it was sixth grade.
Stan was still laughing.  “Tell him.”
I said to the whole group, “I’m not going to lower my standards.”
There was a mixed reaction from the crowd.  Some laughed, some oohed and aahed at the perceived challenge.  Who was this guy, anyway?  They didn’t know me.  They had no idea that I had made more pizzas than probably all two dozen of them combined, or that I had been doing this for as long as the average age in the room.
Tom said, “Really?”
I shrugged.  “You’ve seen my pies.  I’m just sayin.”
So much for invisibility.

Training Day

January 17, 2011 at 11:00 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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October 1986

The Great Experiment at Domino’s Pizza was in full swing.  I was to learn that it shaped everything, from how we did business to how we arranged our priorities, to how we handled problems–
To how we judged a person’s worthiness.
The infamous 30-minute guarantee.
When others practice warfare with paint guns and rubber bullets, we used live ammo.  Joel trained me my first night.  He made a time card for me and I clocked in.  I gave it a passing glance and didn’t understand it–and that was going to set the stage for my evening.
“Okay, Guy, let’s get you set up with a cartop and a hotbox.”  I followed him and he showed me the drill.  In the backroom stacked randomly were both pieces of equipment.  The cartop was a big heavy plastic box with the logo on the outside and a couple of lightbulbs on the inside.  Suction cups on the bottom so it would stick to the roof of your car, and a cord to plug into your cigarette lighter.  I was informed that whoever wore the cartops got an extra 15 cents per delivery for advertising for the company.  Woo-hoo!  This is in addition to the 48 cents we got for “mileage” or “reimbursement,” or whatever they called it.  The terms seemed interchangeable.
Plus we got minimum wage–3.35 per hour–and we got tips.  I was told that most drivers make up to seven or eight dollars per hour.
Then Joel got me the hotbox.  This is a crucial piece of equipment, as I understand it.  A big aluminum box, big enough to hold six pizzas, probably, with a perfectly safe asbestos blanket connected to it with a stiff wire.  We needed the blanket because first I had to light a small can of Sterno and put it in the box.  This all gets strapped into my front seat.  I’m ready to go.
But first, I’m going to shadow Joel for most of the night.  He drove a little Volkswagen Golf, and his hotbox was in the backseat so I could ride shotgun.  “Ready, Guy?”  I learned that was his thing–calling everyone “Guy.”  Good thing–I thought it was going to be my nickname.  I really didn’t want a nickname.
While we were setting up, business started picking up.  Phones were ringing, people were coming in at the start of their shift, and Tom was right on it, directing people and events to make things go smoothly.  “Here, Guy, here’s your bank.  This is fifteen bucks, you use it to make change with.” It was a five, 8 ones, and two bucks in coins.  It was always that much.  Small plastic containers with the banks made up were tossed to drivers as the clocked in and got set up.
“Joel, you’re up!”  Tom yelled out.
Joel went, and I followed.  We went over to the heatrack, and Joel was moving fast and explaining as he went; I tried to keep up and pay attention.  I caught bits and pieces of the information.
“Okay, we’re going here…and here.  We take the yellow off the box–follow me–and we come around back here.  I’m number seven, so I clip them here.  You need to pick a number that isn’t taken–”
“Twelve?”
“Taken.  Here, take twenty-three.”
“Uh–”
“Okay, the streets are Green Acres and Saint Cyr.  So we go to the map, here.  Here’s the guide, and the grid matches up with the map coordinates.  See?  But I know where these are.  Here.  And down here.  Got it?  Okay.”
We went to the rack, and he put the pizzas–sorry, “pies”–let’s get into the lingo.  He put the pies in a hotbag.  “Make sure you check for all the items.  Right here, in this corner, is going to be a number if there’s more than one.  Right here–see this–always check for sodas.  This one has two Cokes.  Grab them.  There.  Okay, Guy, we’re set.  Time is important here.  The big clock up there is the official time.  Always call out the times when you leave, and when you come back.  Always.”
He looked at the clock, then at the labels on the boxes, and did some quick math.  As he heads out the door he says, “Let’s roll.  Twelve and fourteen, two Cokes!” He yelled the last part to the store as I followed him at a trot out the door.
As I get in the passenger side, he opens his back door, pulls the pies out of the bag and puts them in the hotbox, throws the hotbag on top of it, and hops in the front.  Not wasting any time, he started the car, shifted and gunned it out the parking lot and up the street.  He never stopped talking the whole time.
I learned a lot that first night.  I was shown a lot that night.  Christ, I hope I remember it.
Everything was a blur.  When we came back from the first run, Joel yelled, “Seventeen, twenty!” as soon as he opened the door.  One of the things that I did catch was that I was supposed to pay attention to how old the pie was when I delivered it and repeat that time when I came back.
But the rest?  Something about checks–get some information on them.  Yeah.  Makes sense.  He would show me the address, but I would have only time to look at the coordinates and as I would turn toward the map, he would say, “Let’s go, Guy!”
I technically lived in Florissant, and this was Bellefontaine Neighbors.  My girlfriend lived here, and I stayed with her.  I had a rudimentary knowledge of the area at best:  main roads, the way to the highway, and the way to the store.  Everything else was a mystery…
But as we drove around, I could sense some of the mystery unlocking for me.  I was making connections, and the roads were beginning to make sense for me.  I could *get* this.  I could do this.
“Well?”
“Huh?  What?”
“I said, ‘I think you’re ready to go solo.’ Do you?”
“Yeah.  I’m ready.”
I took six deliveries that first night, and made about ten bucks in tips.  And that was just driving for a about an hour and a half.  Of course they were all singles; I was the newest of the new.  I was a real FNG.  But on my own I was able to figure things out on my own terms.  It was coming together for me.
And then it was time to go.  I brought my shit in and “checked out.”  Tom grabbed the keys and unlocked the drop box for me, and I got out my money.  After every delivery, I’m supposed to drop my cash.  It says right on my nametag “Driver does not leave store with more than $20.”  So it must be true.
I straightened out my money standing up while Tom sat in the one chair in the office and filled out the sheet, called the daily.  Tom wrote down my name, and added up my slips, then counted them.  Forty-eight cents times six in one column, and six times fifteen cents in another.  He wrote the totals down, and quickly his stubby fingers ran over the ten-key, then handed me my money.  Fourteen bucks.  Wow.  I can see this working out for quite a while.

The Last Picture Show

January 17, 2011 at 12:40 AM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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Fall 1991

It was a beautiful fall evening in the suburbs, and everything seemed normal and quiet and I surveyed my domain.  I wasn’t sure how much longer this car would last, though–
But for now it was running well; I just had it back on the road after replacing the shifter.  I buzzed around in the little Toyota with the sunroof open–of course–and enjoying the weather that was still warm enough to do so without looking like a crackpot.  It was after 9 pm so the major rush was long over, but for the few drivers left we still had business, and business is good.
I dropped off the first order of my double without anything remarkable happening, and headed off to the other stop.  Once I found the house, I park against the near-nonexistent curb and cut the wheel.  It’s enough of a bump to keep the car from rolling away, since I don’t have a parking brake–this way I don’t have to turn the engine off.
It’s a standard house in the subdivision, but I remember it had cedar shingles.  Close to the end of the dead end part of the street, so there wasn’t any traffic that didn’t have to be there.  I knock on the door and a guy answers, and holds the door wide for me.  “Pizza man!  Alright!  Come on in!”
Yeah, I know we aren’t supposed to.  If I had a nickel for every time I didn’t follow the rules, my tip average would be higher.  I step in.
The dude that answered the door disappeared to find money–I hope.  I was standing in the living room, and there were three people on the couch.  Two dudes, and a chick.
The dudes looked like dudes.  A little older than me, but that’s not saying much.  One had long hair and a 3/4 sleeve concert shirt, so I assume he was a time-traveler from the 70s.  The other guy looked like a truck driver–hat, slight beard, flannel over a greasy t-shirt.  The chick in question–let’s call her Bethany–Bethany was cute in an escaped-from-rehab kinda way.  Plain face, no makeup.  Revealing top that her boobs sprang out of because she needed to accent her best feature, and straight, flat, dirty blonde hair.  They just sat there, watching TV, then they would one by one glance at me, then glance back at the TV.  They did this a couple of times.  I turned towards the TV.
They were watching porn.
Three guys and one chick, watching porn.  Somebody is getting lucky tonight.  And somebody is getting an STD.
The guy came out with the money, and hesitated, as he caught the eye of the long-haired dude, and some unspoken communication passed between them.  The girl glanced my way, and then at the other guy.  Long-hair nudged her, I think.
I hope I’m better at concealing my expressions now than I was then.  My interpretation is that they were maybe hoping to barter a piece of ass for some pizza.  Maybe they didn’t know how to go about this either–I mean, it always looks easy in the porn movies, because they have a script and everything.
But the uncomfortable moment passed, and the guy paid me money, giving me a three-dollar tip.
It’s probably for the best, anyway.  I was married at the time, and as much as I crave to be the center of attention, performing in front of others in that way might be awkward.  *Might be*?  Shit.  Plus, would it all be male on female?  I like surprises, but I don’t want to be mounted from behind.  I guess it’s a fine line.

Six Weeks

October 30, 2010 at 3:56 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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November 1989

I had been out of work for six weeks.  The longest period of unemployment in my life so far, and in fact since then–knock on wood.
Six weeks is a long time for someone used to working.  I had been fired from the warehouse job, due to my inability to look behind me when I back up–what am I, an owl?  It had less to do with what I did than when I did it–we had moved to a new facility and they needed to set a standard, and I was made an example.
Or possibly the owner’s wife had cast my horoscope and decided it was time for me to move on…
Either way, I was SOL.
A week later, I went by the warehouse to pick up my last check.  My wife and I were down to one car, which worked well when I was working third shift.  It worked even better when I didn’t have a job.  On this day, I took her to work so I could have the car.
I walked in, said hi to a few of the people, but I didn’t know these guys.  I worked thirds, and rarely saw these people.  On the way out, I happened to cross paths with Bill Henry–owner, operator, and CEO of Henry’s transportation.
We chatted briefly, and I tried to remain calm.  There was something I wanted to ask him, if he gave me an opening.
“Can you give me my job back?”
He looked away, averted his eyes, and made some answer that was essentially a no.  But he couldn’t look me in the eye when he said it.
Not when I had my 18-month old infant son asleep on my shoulder.

I had applied for unemployment, and I did receive some.  But then there was a hearing, because I had been fired.  Henry’s wanted to deny my claim.  I didn’t go to the hearing.  I received four weeks of 138 dollar payments, and then had to pay back about two or three hundred dollars.
We were hurting for money, and I was looking for work…but I don’t think I was looking very hard.  I don’t know what happened.  But we did call our bishop from church, and he hooked us up with the storehouse, so that we were able to get food.
I didn’t have to do anything when I went there, but of course I felt obligated.  I would help out for a few hours, packing up other orders, helping load a truck, and things like that. After that I load up my own order in the car, about half a dozen paper bags full of groceries and staples.
It was into November, and still no work.  I talked to people I knew–no leads.  Well, I had done pizza before, I can do it again, I thought.  While we lived in Jennings, we would frequent Florissant because that’s where my parents lived, and I could mooch a few things from them.  On Lindbergh there was a Domino’s–but I had done that before, so why would I want to do that again?  Across the street was a Pizza Hut and also a small chain place called E’s Pizza.
The manager at Pizza Hut was almost hostile.  “Sorry, not hiring right now.”  He brusquely turned away to other matters.
At E’s, I asked for an application and got one.  Okay, that’s a start.  I was hopeful.  I turned it in a few days later.  I let it go a couple of days, then called, asking for the manager.  He’s not in.  Click.  Fuck me.  I’ll try again tomorrow.
The next day was Friday, and I called E’s again.  Can I talk to whomever is in charge?  I got an assistant manager on the phone.  I explained that I had put in an application a few days ago, and was there any prospect–
“Yeah, I don’t really know.  I don’t think we’re really looking for anyone right now.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have put all my hopes and expectations in one basket, because they just got crushed.  I had my head in my hands, sitting on the couch.  Baby Mitchell sat on the floor playing with something I probably shouldn’t have let him have.  On the coffee table in front of me was the Yellow Pages, opened to the page with E’s Pizza on it, because I had to look up the number to call them.
I looked at it, and saw the ad for Domino’s Pizza.  I don’t want to go back there, I don’t.  And would they take me back?  But…the process started to roll through my brain…the franchise I had worked for didn’t own ALL the Domino’s.  That one in Florissant, for instance, was owned by another company.  What could it hurt?
I got the number, but I wasn’t hopeful about the prospects.  It was about 1 pm on a Friday, and I didn’t expect the manager to be working dayshift.  Hesitantly, I made the call.
“Domino’s Pizza–”
“Yeah..hi.  I was hoping to maybe talk to a manager, or–”
“This is Keith, I’m the manager.”
I perked up.  “Oh, great.  I was wondering if you might be hiring.  I was an MIT for A&M before, but I was looking to drive, or something like that.”  I tightened up, expecting to get the big blow off.
He said, “We had back to back 75 pie hours last night, and we expect to be even busier tonight.  You could work inside for the weekend, and drive when your MVR comes back in a few days.  Wanna do that?”
Holy shit, do I ever!  “Yeah!  That’d be great!  When do you want me to be there?”
“Between 4 and 430, so we can get your paperwork started.  What’s your name?”
“Bryan.”
“Alright, Bryan, we’ll see you around four.”
“Terrific!  Thanks, I’ll see you then.”
Holy shitfuck, I just got hired.  Over the phone, no less.
Of course, I had just been hired for a driving job.  And we had one car.  How am I–Never mind.  I got a job.  I’ll work out the details later.  For now, I had to make some calls.
The wife was excited, too, and happy that her shiftless, directionless, lazy husband had found a job.  I was going to have to go pick her up, bring her and the baby home, and then head off to work.  I needed to–
Geez, I needed to take a shower.  And shave–I looked like I was preparing for deer season.  How do you do this with a baby?
Mitchell was happy–I was happy, and he responded to my enthusiasm with baby laughter and a big smile.  I swooped him up and put him in his high chair that I brought into the bathroom, playing and talking with him as I did.  I gave him some cereal to eat or play with, his choice, as I talked to him about my new job in an excited voice while I shaved and took a shower, and kept an eye on him.  I thought I was pretty ingenious for figuring out how to do this.  I got dressed, got him changed and cleaned up, and we were ready to go.
I believe this was about two weeks before Thanksgiving.  I still had my khaki pants that I wore when I worked at Domino’s before.

First Day

October 11, 2010 at 11:05 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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September, 1986

There I was, fired.
The warehouse job I had was a good time, and so obviously it couldn’t last forever. I would return at some point, and that wouldn’t last forever, either.
I was out of work and young, and consequently not too worried about it. But I did have a car payment. I needed to do something. I guess. I didn’t have a clear indication of what, but I knew I needed money, because cash is the lube that greases the wheels that make the world go around.
At the time I was living with my old girlfriend–and she is old, too! Ba-dum, ching!
I was twenty-one, living with a forty year old manic depressive alcoholic. It was an interesting year. My very own “Year of Living Dangerously.”
Coasting as I was through life, I didn’t pay attention to most things. Like this poisonous relationship I was in, or what I was going to do with my life, or what I was doing now.
And so on one of our several trips we would make to the local small grocery store to buy beer for my girlfriend and our underage friends, it was actually one of them that noticed the sign in the Domino’s Pizza next to the Riverview Dairy.
“Check that out,” someone said from the tiny backseat of my Escort.
“What?” I was busy driving, navigating the decaying parking lot. All I saw was people walking in empty-handed and other people walking out with beer. It was really little more than a glorified liquor store that also sold some groceries. But this was the clientele they served: Lower middle class stiffs that weren’t quite rednecks, living just north of the city in a quiet, out of the way satellite town. Right on the river–hence the name–and not a cut-through to anywhere, so it was a low traffic area and it had the isolated feel of a small town with all the crime of the big city…sort of the best of both worlds.
The Domino’s Pizza in the small plaza had a sign that said “Now Hiring.” I believe it was meant for me personally.
Still I put it off for a few days, talked with my dad about it, and weighed the pros and cons. He told me something that just hadn’t occurred to me before: “You’re going to put a lot of miles on your car.”
Hmmm. That fact had completely eluded me before. Still, with the choice being between working and not working, I leaned slightly towards working. The next time we made a trip to the Dairy, I stopped in.

Had I never before been in a pizza place before? It’s very likely. I grew up in a rural area where these places didn’t exist, and once we moved to town, ordering for delivery meant I didn’t have to set foot in the place.
I didn’t notice much, however, when I walked in. I was too nervous and excited, and not really sure what to do. The few jobs I’ve had prior to this someone else got for me–like the warehouse job, where my dad worked as a truck driver.
Obviously I walked in when they were busy, because I was clueless about these things. People were bustling about–making pizzas, answering phones, and other things I couldn’t describe. It seemed like chaos.
Out of the madness, a young girl behind the counter said, “Hi, can I help you?”
“Uh, yeah…I saw the sign that says ‘now-‘”
“Hold on,” she said, interrupting me. Over her shoulder she called out, “Joel!”
Someone appeared from behind some apparatus and came up to the front. Smiling and cheerful, but obviously harried, he said, “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I saw the sign that says–”
“Terrific. Here, Guy, take this application and fill it out and bring it back. Have you ever delivered before?”
“No–”
“That’s fine. You need to have proof of insurance, and we run an MVR on your license. You can’t have more than three moving violations in the last three years. Okay, Guy?”
Cautiously, I took the paper. “Just bring that back when you have that done.” He disappeared into the chaos again.
And I disappeared back into mine.
A few days later I brought it back, filled out as neatly as I could manage. There seemed to be a lull in the business this time, so the manager had time to talk to me. This was a different person than last time. I think his name was Dave. He seemed to be just on the peeved side of disinterested, but we talked for about three minutes and he said, “Okay, as soon as your MVR comes back good, I’ll give you a call and we’ll start you. Takes about three days.”
His demeanor was so low-key and monotone that it took a moment to sink in: I got the job!
Dave called me on a Saturday, my MVR was good. He said to come in on Wednesday to start training, told me what to wear, and told me to make sure I had shaved.

The Riverview store, Store #1591, was a night-time only store, so it opened at 4:30. I showed up a little after four, and the door was locked. One person inside–
A different person. I think. He saw me and unlocked the door and stuck his head out. “Sorry, we don’t open till 4:30.”
“I’m…I’m supposed to start today.”
His eyebrows went up slowly. “Really?” He let me in. Just then someone else came up from the back of the store, and stayed in the background watching out of curiosity. “Do you know who hired you? Who did you talk to?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really know–”
“What did he look like?”
“Well, he had on a red and white shirt, and a hat, and a mustache.”
The guy just looked at me. “You’ve just described all of us.”
He went back in the office and looked, and my story was confirmed. It seems that this was the new manager, Tom. The old manager had been moved to another store. As I would discover is often the case, no one knew until Monday morning. I thought I was about to fall through the cracks.
“Okay, no problem. Let me get you set up here, and when Joel gets here, I’ll have him train you.” I was in. I was on my way. That was October 1st. That was my first day. I had no idea what was going to be in store for me–for the next twenty years.
But there is a memory I have, a sense memory–whenever I smell a certain combination of pizza smells, it reminds me of the first day I walked in. A little black olive, a hint of green pepper, and fresh-baked dough–to me they smell like the promise of an exciting future.
I must have been high.

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