I come from a small town. I know. You think I come from Chicago because that’s what I tell people because it gets their attention. No one takes you seriously if you say you’re from Mt. Morris, but if you say Chicago it makes people think you are a force to be reckoned with and you know where to find good pizza. In reality, I grew up in a small place two hours west of Chicago. The population is around 3,000. When I left for college, there were no red lights, two grocery stores, several bars, and one pizza place.
It wasn’t a Dominos or a Pizza Hut either. If you wanted one of those, you had to drive fifteen minutes away at least. This little place is called Ciminos, and I remember sometimes my father would put a quarter in the prize machine while we waited for our pizza and Fred Flintstone would call out, “Yabba Dabba Doo!” and an egg with a sticker or some other trinket would fall out of the little door at the bottom. Good times.
So it was with great nostalgic anticipation that my sister, my niece, my daughter, and I all went for a walk on a quest to order a Ciminos pizza when I visited my old hometown last October. Here’s how it went. I walked in the door to the tune of the old bell and was greeted, by NAME, by the person behind the counter.
“Hey, Karin,” she said, getting out a pen. “What can I do for you?”
“I need a pizza delivered to my house with sausage, pepperoni, and mushrooms, please,” I explain, while she nods and writes that down. While I’m waiting for my credit card to go through, two other people I know enter the restaurant and greet me. We share pleasantries until we are interrupted by the cashier.
“Do you still live at the same place?” She asks, and it’s my turn to nod. “Ok, we’ll be there right when you get home.”
So my sister, my niece, my daughter, and I walk back to my house in the lovely Midwest sunshine, and true to their word, the Ciminos delivery guy arrives just a few moments after we do.
“Hi, Karin,” he also greets me enthusiastically, and we exchange more pleasantries as I tip him and take my pizza goodness in its convenient and comfortably warm cardboard box. Twenty minutes. The whole thing takes twenty minutes, and I have a hot pizza in my hands, modestly priced, and made with small town love. I didn’t have to give my address. No one had to check my ID. They just knew me because we all grew up together. The pizza was wonderful, by the way. It tasted like childhood.
Meanwhile another pizza delivery was supposed to be taking place thousands of miles away in Pasadena, California. This one did not go so smoothly. Before I left on my vacation to Illinois I called what was supposed to be a reputable pizza company, Big Mamas and Papas, and tried to order a pizza to be delivered in a few days. I was asked to call back the day I wanted the pizza delivered.
Which I did. I called from Illinois that morning and gave my order. I want two pizzas delivered to Caltech at 11:45 am today. They assured me it was fine. I paid for the pizzas. I gave them three phone numbers to call in case things didn’t work out. My boss’s office number. My boss’s business cell phone number, and my cell phone number. Then I didn’t give it another thought until I arrived home and found out that there had been no pizza delivered at all that day.
Big Mamas and Papas swears up and down that they were there with the pizza on time. My boss swears up and down that they were not. Since my boss pays me, I think it’s pretty obvious whose side I’m on. It turns out that even though the pizza people told me they would deliver, it is against their policy to bring a pizza into the building even though they have done it for us several times before. They maintain that they called the number on my address, which isn’t good because that is my office phone, and I was not at my desk to receive such a call. What happened to calling the other three numbers I gave them? No one had an answer for that. My boss was put in an awkward pizza-less position for a meeting he was hosting, the pizza place refunded our money grudgingly and with bitterness declaring that they kept our pizzas all day waiting for someone to come claim them, and I looked like a bad administrative assistant who can’t get pizza delivered on time. I ended that fiasco by swearing I would never order a pizza from Big Mamas again, even though the pizza is good (when you get it!) and they even make one that is 36” across and will feed either a small tribal island or a moderately sized group of starving microbiologists. Tragic.
I should have been done with the pizza, but it wasn’t too long after my return home from Illinois that my husband and I found ourselves craving one on a busy weeknight. We decided to call Pizza Hut, and I looked through the phone book to find the closest one from my house. I called the number, trusting that this would be an easy transaction. Things were going my way when a cheerful voice answered and began to take my order. We don’t get very far before it becomes clear that even though my house is literally blocks away from their location, they cannot deliver to my address. I’m given a number for an alternate Pizza Hut that can. We hang up, and I dial the number I was given to try again.
Another cheerful voice greets me, and we go through the ordering process one more time. Again, we reach a snag when I want the pizza delivered. Nope. The person tells me. That’s out of our area. (Huh?) But wait! He has a number of a Pizza Hut that is closer to me who can bring a pizza to my front door. I wait for it, pen raised to write it down, only to throw it across the room when I am given the number for the first Pizza Hut that I called. I’m not the sort of person who is going to be fooled by endlessly dialing two Pizza Huts back and forth, so I stop the well-meaning employee and explain that I had already called that location and they had sent me to his. I am given a third Pizza Hut number.
Michael answers the phone, and I tell him that he’s my only hope. That even though the area is drenched in Pizza Huts, I inexplicably still have No Pizza. That in the Land of Plenty I am going to waste away with nothing because California is actually some sort of torture trick where you see the pizza, smell the pizza, are spoiled for choice on the pizza, and yet, no matter how hard you try, you cannot ever Get the Pizza. He doesn’t understand, but recovers quickly and encouragingly responds that he sure will do his best. I give him my address first thing and ask him if it would be too much trouble to have someone drive three blocks to my house and drop off a pizza. As I ask, I wonder why I didn’t just go out and get it myself. Perhaps I was trying to prove a point, who knows? Maybe if I want to be lazy and not go out of my way to make dinner, I want to continue to be lazy and not go out into the California road system to pick it up. But getting the pizza delivered was starting to be a bit of a crusade with me.
Luckily, Michael is just as dedicated as I am to the cause of having pizza delivered practically into my lap as I stretch out on my couch. He assures me that the pizza will be delivered for a nominal fee. We understand each other. Money is exchanged. Pizza is successfully delivered an hour later. Everyone is (mostly) content. I say mostly because it shouldn’t have been that hard.
Yet it IS hard. Nothing is more difficult than having tomato sauce covered dough delivered on time in California. I think of myself as an intelligent person. I learn from my mistakes. So when my boss requested pizza for another meeting he was holding, I kept my face calm and sweetly said, “Of course. Anywhere in particular?” Because that’s what administrative assistants do. We Make It Work! I wasn’t given an exact place, so I thought back to all my pizza experience and decided on a place closeby, a place with an excellent reputation, a place with good pizza that just about everyone likes. The day that he wanted it turned out to be a day I had to stay home with my poor baby, who was sick. I didn’t want to drag her all over Pasadena getting pizza, but knew it would be short notice for anyone else to take over the task. I decided to trust the pizza people, sort of. I would have the pizzas delivered.
The second the pizza place opened, I was dialing their number. The gentleman who answered the phone spoke perfect English, and I was delighted. My pizza problems would not plague me anymore! This guy was going to get the job done. Still, I needed to be very clear.
I explained the situation. I needed two pizzas delivered to this address at precisely this time. The time that I gave was forty minutes before I actually needed the pizzas. I re-emphasized the address, my phone number, and the time. I asked if this would be a problem.
“No,” I was assured. “We deliver to Caltech all the time.”
“Are you sure?” I pressed. “I need two pizzas at this address at Exactly This Time.”
“You’ll have them.” Sort of satisfied, I gave him my money over the phone and went about my business until about an hour before the delivery time when I sort of had a slight panic attack about the pizza and called the place a second time.
“It’s me,” I identified myself, repeated my order and went over again that I needed it delivered at a certain place and a certain time. “How’s that order coming?” The man talking to me seemed surprised.
“It’s fine, ma’am,” he told me, slowly. “It will be there.”
“Are you SURE? Nothing unexpected is happening? No drivers have called in sick? No accidents on the route you’re going to take there? You have been to the building before? You haven’t run out of cheese? Everything is one hundred percent fine?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the man drawled again, speaking like you would to someone you’re trying to talk out of jumping out a window. “No problem.”
I relax and go about my business again. My business being to freak out about the pizza delivery. I lament that I should have gone to get it myself. What was I thinking to trust these people who make their living selling pizza with my pizza? My pizza is too special for them to do this. Ten minutes to delivery time, I call again.
“The pizza is out for delivery, ma’am,” I’m told in a voice that is starting to sound a little rough around the edges. Like what he’d really like to do is tell me exactly what I can do with my pizza and where I can do it. Like maybe I’m taking this thing too seriously, that maybe I’m a paranoid freak. I dismiss his tone. You can’t be too anal about the pizza.
“Are you in touch with the driver? Nothing happened, right?”
“It’s out for delivery.” I let myself hang up, but it’s still not good enough. There’s nothing for it. I put Ezri in her car seat where she immediately checks out and drive to Caltech. I know deep in my heart that only my physical presence at the delivery site is going to make this pizza thing happen. I will be a guiding beacon and if I am not there, it just won’t work. I set foot into the meeting room at precisely the time the delivery guy was supposed to be there.
It takes me nanoseconds to notice that I am alone in the room. There is no pizza. There is no sign of the delivery guy. I take heart, knowing that the meeting is still forty minutes away. There’s still time. Of course I knew that the driver would be a few minutes late. They’re always a few minutes late. That’s why I ordered it with a buffer. I take my sleeping baby in her car seat up the stairs to wait in the lobby. Surely, any moment a slightly dazed looking delivery person will come through that door with cardboard boxes for me.
I almost pounce on the first delivery person through the door, rushing at her with outstretched arms and open mouth to take her (late) offering until I realized that she is not wearing the uniform of my chosen pizza place. She’s here on a different mission. I let her walk past me, arms still outstretched, mouth still open. I want to call after her and ask her when her pizza was supposed to be delivered. If she were on time or early I would have tipped her myself, probably shed a few tears in her presence, and vowed on the spot to never order pizza from any other place except hers for as long as I work at Caltech.
To her credit, she barely glanced at me.
With Ezri sleeping, I start to pace. Where is my pizza? There’s fifteen minutes left until the meeting starts. I call again and receive no answer. I start to get really paranoid thinking that they know my number now and have decided not to talk to me anymore. I dial again and someone picks up. I bring myself up short of demanding where my pizza is and instead ask politely when it will be coming. They don’t know.
Why don’t they know? All the assurances and of courses and it’s fines and they don’t know? I have one moment where I triumph that I KNEW they couldn’t do this right until I realize that this means my boss will have TWO meetings with no pizza delivered unless I Fix this Right Now.
I should have made the pizza myself.
The meeting starts with no pizza. I assure my boss that it is coming. I pace some more. I call one more time and at last am given the number for the driver. I dial and hear a slightly dazed, not-so-clear, heavily accented voice answer. I ask for my pizza.
“Oh yes,” the driver responds with a Chinese accent thicker than the sauce that’s supposed to be on my pizza that’s supposed to be in that meeting, and I can hear her nod over the phone. “In parking lot. Pizza right here. I don’t find you. Was ready to leave.”
“You stay right there. I’m coming out.” With Ezri in tow, I head out to the parking lot, locate the driver, try to restrain myself from snatching the offered pizza boxes, and sign her receipt. She does not offer an explanation or apology. She does not offer to help me carry the pizza. She does try to admire the baby, but I had to cut that short.
With the car seat draped on one arm and the pizzas precariously balanced on the other, I head back inside, miraculously open the door with my foot, and march down the basement to deliver the pizza. The meeting has been going on for twenty minutes. The pizza is one hour late.
Even though I called the moment they opened. Even though I explained the situation. Even though I gave them the verbal equivalent of a GPS navigation system so they would find the right place. Even though I called them five times – the pizza was still an hour late and I still look like an administrative assistant who can’t get stuff done.
The next time my boss asked me to get some food for a meeting and suggested pizza, I did something that administrative assistants aren’t supposed to do. I met his gaze, smiling, shook my head, and said, “How about something different? How about burritos?”
I never have a problem picking up burritos.