Monday, September 19, 2011

Pizza Fly-By


During my first couple years at USC, I had found work in the summertime at a Dominos Pizza in Sherman Oaks.  The store was on Woodman Avenue and Moorpark Street in a little strip mall.  The store was actually hidden behind another building and didn’t have much street exposure.  I always found that odd that a company as large as Dominos, even at that time, would have selected such a low profile location to set up a store in one of the wealthier communities of the Southland.  It has since moved to Van Nuys Boulevard in a much higher area of exposure.

This store had a motley crew of workers.  The owner at the time was constantly doing cocaine either in the manager’s office, or just off site.  He would come in completely blitzed, full of energy and with a faux sense of camaraderie with all of his workers, including me.  I don’t recall him ever offering me any cocaine, but I’m sure that if I had ever been interested in that sort of thing, it would have been easily available.  This time was smack in the middle of the 1980's when everyone seemed to be 24-hour non-stop partying.

There was also a manager who worked there that was straight out of the movie, “Dazed and Confused.”  He wore corduroy pants at a time when no one did anymore and was always under the influence of pot at work; red eyed, lackadaisical, asking his workers if they wanted to go toke up as soon as the store’s open signs were turned off for the night.  His multitasking ability was impressive as he was able to count the receipts from pizza drop offs and tally the money at the end of the night enough to satisfy the coked-out owner.  I supposed the owner probably didn’t know the difference.

There were a few girls who rotated in and out of this Dominos as well.  Two of them in particular, who were younger than me, were “fast” as they say.  One was sleeping with the coked out manager, and a second one was brand new to the store and clearly wanted to date me.  I took her out one night to dinner, and then we drove to a street called, Del Gado Drive, which was a cul-de-sac overlook and was kind of a mini-Mulholland Drive where you could gaze at the lights of the San Fernando Valley.  It was a well known make-out spot for dates, and so we ended up kissing for a while.  But within weeks, she had dated pretty much every guy in the pizza place and then some.  She became pregnant by one of them (I always guessed it was the dazed and confused manager) and then announced the news to the store one day while kneading pizza dough by singing Madonna’s, “Papa Don’t Preach.”  She eventually become too pregnant to make pizzas efficiently and left our Dominos.  

My job was generally two-fold; the first was to answer phones and take pizza orders.  These were not difficult tasks.  There were a finite number of items any pizza could have, so with the exception of those customers calling who had not decided anything and made us workers wait on the phone an inordinate amount of time for their decision, most phone orders were completed quickly.  There was the occasional walk-in customer who somehow found our store tucked away behind the Raldo’s Hot Dog Stand, but these were far and few between.  I still remember a few things about taking orders on the telephone.  One was that “V” on the order sheet stood for black olives, not to be confused with “O” for onions.  I have no idea why this has remained in my head all of these years. 

And back then, when asked how big our various sizes were, we would answer with the diameter of the pizza, such as, “That one is ten inches,” rather than with how many slices that particular sized pizza has like they do today.  Saying how many slices a pizza has doesn’t make any sense to me because you could slice up a pizza into a million pieces and it still doesn’t tell the customer how large it is.

My other task was to deliver the “pies.”  I found that term, pies, kind of antiquated.  It seemed to me to be a hold over from the 1950’s when the neighborhood pizza place was delivering to squeaky-clean, ”Leave It To Beaver,” households.  But somehow, the wholesome term, “pies,” didn’t sit right with me in the drug and sex induced setting I was working in. 

At that time, I still owned the same dark blue 1972 Camaro that I had bought during my high school days.  It had a shark grill and hot wheel rims.  It also got very low gas mileage.  Yet, gasoline was still around $1.00 per gallon at the time, so it balanced out. As I recall, I got paid some amount per hour for my work, but mostly worked on tips from the deliveries.  A lot of customers just sort of threw me some change during a delivery, so I had a plastic tub on the rear floorboards of my car in which I would toss loose change from each delivery.  It filled up faster than I could spend the change, and I recall many friends of mine looking at the tub in amazement of how solid and heavy it was with coins.

The trick to pizza delivery was, and I’m gathering still is, to deliver as many pies as possible on each trip out.  Part of this skill involved being able to route out your drive on a huge map of Sherman Oaks on the wall of the store, then put it into action.  We all had our Thomas Guides handy in our cars as well for those hard to find addresses up among the winding hill roads.  Back then, Dominos had the "30 minutes or less" campaign still running.  I suppose not enough people had died at the hands of speeding Dominos drivers around the country trying to beat the clock to end that campaign yet.  There was incentive to speed because, although the $3.00 off of the pie was ultimately paid by the store, we as drivers were pressured to not turn in more than one or two slips per night to the manager with the late charge attached.  We had control of how many pies we took, but when the store got extra busy we were often asked to grab an extra two or three pies on top of the three we already had.

I knew the neighborhood very well. I had grown up on the boarder of Studio City and Sherman Oaks, so I had a fairly well internalized sense of where I could drive to in thirty minutes, and, as with today, I really liked to drive.  Like running, driving allowed me to see what’s going on in the neighborhood and feel a part of it, rather than staying inside one building throughout a whole work shift as I had done at previous jobs.

There were a few memorable deliveries I made.  One was to a young blonde woman.  She was a little older than me at the time, but thinking back, she was probably about 25.  Her address was in a duplex near Fulton and Ventura Blvd., and she answered the door in a sheer white, see-through nightie with nothing underneath.  It seemed like it could have been the clichéd intro to an adult film.  "Eh, you asked for the extra salami miss?  We're full service and I'm happy to oblige." But I delivered the pizza, collected the money from her, and got back into my car (that’s all I did) and proceeded to be completely unfocused on my work tasks for the remainder of the night.

Another delivery I made was to a really gnarly address off of Van Nuys Blvd.  The house was totally un-maintained and overgrown on the outside.  I knocked on the door to find a front room full of guys who were partying to the fullest on this Saturday night.  The interior was an absolute mess. The person who had ordered the pizza was very long-haired (like to his waist), thin, druggie-looking guy who by my non-professional profiling abilities must have owned a Dodge Duster or two in his life.  He was nasty to me, saying I had delivered the pizza late, though it had only been 20 minutes since he had ordered it, and insisted on a discount.  I took the pizza, drove to a nearby phone booth since there were no cell phones in those days and I called my manager.  He told me to just give the guy the discount and get out of there.  I went back to the house and did as told.  The guy took the pizza, handed me the money, berated me, calling me a woman, and then slammed the door in my face.  Wow!  Not a nice guy.  I’m guessing he’s been incarcerated a few times since then.

But my favorite story, or rather then story that has always stood out for me, but which I am not completely proud of, was one late night in which I was given two orders to deliver.  One was up Woodman just a ways from the store, and the other was a large order on the farthest point of northwest Sherman Oaks that we delivered to.  The second order, the farther order, was a large one, and so the pies took up one whole large insulated warming bag, separate from the first order.

I got my order into my Camaro and then made my way up Woodman Avenue.  As I was driving, I saw something fly by my back window, which grabbed my attention.  I looked to my back seat to make sure my warming bag was in my car and that I hadn’t been left it on my roof as I had gotten my keys out to get into my car.  Yes it was there. Well, one of them was there.  Oh God!  Where was the other warming bag?  I looked in my side view mirror to the street behind me and saw the other warming back lying in the middle of Woodman Avenue.  It was late, maybe 10:30pm, so there was almost no traffic.  I hooked a U-turn, went back looking out of my driver’s side window and confirmed it was indeed my other warming bag laying in the middle of the dark boulevard.  I flipped the car back around, drove up and grabbed it back into my car.

I opened the warming bag, pulled out the pizza box, opened it up, and found the pizza totally undisturbed.  It was a miracle.  The warming bag hot not only kept the pizza hot, but had insulated it from the fall from my roof as it frisbee'd onto the asphalt at forty some-odd miles per hour.  I closed the box, put it back into the warmer and then proceeded to deliver it to an older couple in a large apartment complex up there on Woodman.  I know....I know....food....how could I?  And no matter how undamaged it was in the middle of the boulevard, it had been IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOULEVARD.   Just bad judgement...I know....I've tortured myself over this for years...   However, please be comforted that at least I did refuse the tip from them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Key to Fitness

What a day!  After a full Friday’s worth of work, I decide to drive to a trail not too far from my house and do a six mile run.  I start at about 4:15pm and all goes well with the exception that I keep having to pull out my cell phone from my hip pack.  I use my cell phone as a radio player with earplugs, and since I stream radio shows from the Internet, I occasionally lose the 3G signals on the trails and have to stop, pull out the cell phone, and get it started again.  This happens quite a few times during my run.

I take a rest at my three mile out point, my turnaround spot for the day, and I happen to open my hip pack and select a new radio program when I discover that the car key that I keep in the hip pack has slipped out, and isn’t anywhere around me to be found.  It’s fallen out during one of the earlier radio adjustments.  Oh shit!  Well, I have a pretty good sense of the places where I stopped and fumbled around with the hip pack, so as I run back, I keep my eyes to the ground scanning for my key in all of those spots.  One stop after the other and nothing turns up.  Towards the end of my run I resign myself to the fact that I will be doing some walking today.

I get to my car, vainly try to open the door just in case I serendipitously left it unlocked (I have another key inside the car), but of course the car is secure.  How could it be otherwise?  I’m Fred; totally anal-retentive about making sure everything is locked.  Well, I had to try anyway, right?  So in my wet shirt and with the sun dipping down past the hills, I start walking...home.  It’s like my childhood friend, David Murray, used to say.  You get stuck somewhere and have no other way back, so you point your body in the direction of home and start walking, step by step.  It’s not the ten miles in the snow that my parents apparently had to walk to school in their childhood, I know.  And so you might ask me, “Well, Fred, you just ran six miles…why not simply keep on going and run home?”  Because I just run six miles, it’s humid, and I’m tired!  That’s why!  When I meet my exercise goal for the day, I’m not out for much more.  It’s like the timer on a stationary bike; when it goes off, do you ever keep on pedaling???  No!  And therefore, I’m done running for today!

So, one foot in front of the other, I do.  The walk is long.  From the point of my car to my front door is (I measured it afterwards) 1.97 miles.  And walking is slow when you’re supposed to be driving effortlessly in a car chugging some Gatorade and getting some tunes on.  I walk past all of the things I normally blur past; a young guy walking his dog, a woman sweeping her porch, a lady doing end of the day plant-watering.  There is one forty-something year old man, sort of an accountant looking type in pressed olive shorts and leather sandals carefully manicuring the edge of his lawn next to the street curb with a pair of sheers the size of scissors.  The site is a little odd to me, and yet, I appreciate how important this process must be to him.  Maybe it’s like his mediation after work.

I am now on the main straightaway to my house.  Maybe a quarter mile left to go.  But then I realize that the traffic signal I had been doggedly staring at is several blocks back from where I thought it was.  I haven’t been noting the street signs.  That would be like watching a pot of water boil.  Man, two miles is just a long way to walk!  Across the street, I see some kind of gathering forming at a park.  Maybe ten people setting up for something.

Finally, I make it back home, but without any keys, and my girlfriend out of town.  Thank goodness I had the sense of mind to hide a key for myself sometime in the past.  I get back in the house, and having decided I would Rollerblade back to my car to quicken the time, I dig around in my closet locating my big white Disney “Tarzan” tote-bag in which my Rollerblades and wrist guards reside.  I throw off my trail shoes and grab a pair of white socks, make sure I have my house keys, and head out side to put my Rollerblades and accessories on. 

I tend to keep my wrist guards inside my Rollerblades when storing them so I don’t lose them, so as I pull them out, I discover that in my always being prepared, I had kept an extra pair of white socks in the bottom of each Rollerblade.  So now I have two pair.  Do I want to go back inside the house and put a pair of socks back?  No!  I’ve got to get back to my car.  As I finished my run and checked to see if there was a way into my car, there had been five or six teens on bikes and on foot starting at the trailhead.  Maybe having seen me slink away from unsuccessfully trying get in my car, they might consider it abandoned and break in.  I am obviously tired and a little paranoid now; I’m aware of this.  But it’s time to get a rollin,’ and so I’ll roll up the extra pair of white socks and just hold them in one of my hands as I skate back to my car.

The light is starting to fade from the sky as I Rollerblade down the sidewalks so as not to get hit by any inebriated or straying rush-hour drivers, and as I do so, I discover that the ramps for disabled people at intersections, which are all over Burbank, are convenient in the way that they allow me to get through the street and back onto the next piece of sidewalk.  However those blue rough-dotted pads on the ramps that give wheel chairs some traction are very jarring to Rollerblades and make me almost lose my balance more than a few times. 

Almost all of my Rollerblading has been accomplished, to my detriment, on the long, slick ribbon of almost flawless cement that is the Strand of Manhattan Beach.  So I’m not used to having to negotiate uneven the asphalt to cement seams along streets as well as dodging rush-hour traffic.  I pass that group by the park again, and now they look like they are going to film something.  I hear one of them on their cell phone say something about not worrying about the Burbank Police as long as no one tells them they’re here...maybe avoiding paying for a production permit?  This crowd has also grown, and some of them are blocking the sidewalk.  “Excuse me! Comin’ up!”  They move out of my way.  I’m 6’1” plus whatever the height with Rollerblades on, so I’m a formidable object of motion that none of them wants in their lap or up their ass.

I am not half way to back to my car when I have a terrible epiphany.  Can epiphanies be terrible?  ‘Cause this one was.  It was the worst kind of epiphany I could have had in that moment.  I realize that when I was back at the house, I had forgotten to dig out the extra set of car keys.  I had been so focused on making sure I had my extra set of house keys and had therefore let that override the need for my spare car keys.  Uggh!   And, so-help-me if I am making this up, but right at this very moment…the moment of my terrible epiphany, my right Rollerblade breaks!  The top strap that kind of binds the whole skate onto my foot snaps, and whole thing comes loose and wobbly.  I am crossing a little street at this time and so I get myself to the sidewalk, find a shallow brick wall of a residence’s front yard and sat down.  I say to myself, “You’ve GOT to be kidding!!!” as if some grand game of chess was being orchestrated from above. 

So, I’ve got to now go back…walk back to my house…carrying a broken pair of Rollerblades the whole way.  Rollerblades are heavy when they’re not on your feet.  Like ten pounds each.  The weight of ski boots.  No way!  I’m not carrying them back.  I hide the two Rollerblades behind the shallow sitting wall.  So much for my anal retentive need to keep my stuff safe…I’m just not carrying them back!...well, I’ll keep my wrist guards on…at least I won’t lose those.  And I start to walk with the white pair of socks on my feet, my black wrist guards on each arm, and holding the extra rolled up pair of socks in one of my hands.  You have to understand that no matter what kind of creative residential route I might come up with to avoid being seen, I have to walk through two major intersections looking like this.  I can feel the stares and comments from within the cars waiting at the signals.  “Is he homeless?”  “What’s with the socks and no shoes, and those black things on his arms?”  “What is that, another rolled up pair of socks he’s carrying?”  “People are weird here in Burbank! I thought this was supposed to be a safe, conservative city”  I want to tell anyone looking that there’s a shaggy-dog story unfolding in progress…but what can I do?

I pass by the gathering at the park, this time I’m on the opposite side of the street.  It has grown yet again, and there are two people with white bullhorns.  But now it doesn’t like a film shoot, but rather a gathering that they happen to be videotaping.  There is a man telling some sort of ironic-style story; though the words aren’t clear, I can tell from the twist in his voice and the sporadic laughs that follow. 

I’m back in my house again, this time digging out my spare car keys, rather than my roller blades.  My dog, Susie, hasn’t been out since about 3:00pm, so I might as well take her for the walk back to my car.  Two birds…  She’s happy to go.  I check for BOTH sets of keys this time; spare house and spare car.  All are in their place in my pockets.  Leash, doggie poop bag, my worn black house sneakers, and up, up and away!

Susie and I head down the much Fred-trodden sidewalk, past the gathering; a lady is now telling some strange story with the bullhorn.  The story this time sounds like one of self-acceptance.  “So I said to him, you either take me this way, or not at all!”  Well, she sounds confident, and that can’t be bad.  It’s Friday night now; no longer afternoon to be sure.  It’s dark out, still humid and warm with just a slight illumination in the western sky.  I’m heading the other way. 

It’s about this time that I realize, as slow as each of my previous two walks have been, this one is several times slower.  Susie and I have made it about five blocks and I’ve just noticed that Susie has decided that she needs to inspect the smell of every telephone pole, every tree, every hedge, and every lawn that we’ve come upon.  “Susie, come on!  We’ve got to go!”  She follows, but then in short order reverts back to her continuous stops.  Again, time to resign myself.  It’s a nice evening, nice houses I can look at, other people walking their dogs. The wisdom of David Murray resounds through my head. This is just going to take a long time, and that’s okay, we’ll eventually get there.

About three quarters of a mile out, Susie decides to lie on the grass of a lawn we are passing.  I see how this is going now.  She’s decided that it’s just too long of trek, and she’s not aware that we’re only about a third of the way to my car.  That’s okay; she’s a small Cockapoo.  I’ll just carry her.  I pick her up and start walking briskly.  She’s also a HEAVY small Cockapoo!  It's those treats at night.  Susie always looks at me like she's going to starve if I don't give her one more treat when we're watching TV.  And now I understand the impact it's had on her mass, and on my arms. "Foof!  You are heavy, Susie!"

I make a deal with Susie.  I’ll walk about three blocks, and then she’ll walk one.  It works.  We cut across a park, which is soothing to her feet and has a little hill she can trot down.  Then, again I carry her for a few blocks.  It’s really amazing how expansive a small place like Burbank becomes when you’re walking through it….over and over.

Susie and I make it to the last and final street that will lead us to my car and luckily there’s yet another downhill in this last patch.  I put Susie down and walks this last section with me as we make it to the car.  Keys open it up, we get in, I open the cooler with my Gatorade that I needed about two hours before. We stop to grab my broken Rollerblades from behind the shallow wall of somebody's front yard, finally arriving back home at 9:51pm.

The journey, one so close to home, started out as an exercise workout.  And exercise I did.  A six mile run with a five mile walk, a one mile Rollerblade, and the carrying of a dog for a portion of it; the latter three unintended of course.  The next day, I’m sore, and Susie, I suspect is sore as well.  She’s been sleeping most of the day.