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 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.