The Doc comes clean; Pizzeria Aroma

The Doc here.

I don’t mind admitting it: I struggle with the food thing.

Mind you, I’m pretty active. Ridiculously active, actually, compared to many in my peer group. I run a minimum of twenty miles a week, and often up to 25 or 30. On my non-running days, I’m in the gym, without fail, usually working on my cardio, but periodically making sad attempts to develop an effective strength training routine. Literally the only days I’ve missed workouts since January 1, 2006, have been days when I’ve been hospitalized, such as my recent five-day incarceration for the pulmonary embolisms. The day after I was discharged, however? I was back at the gym. Hell, I was back on the elliptical the day after I ran my first marathon. I don’t miss gym days, and every day is a gym day of some sort.

The eating thing, though…woof. That’s a problem that I have yet to definitively solve.

The problem is pretty straightforward, in at least some of its facets. It boils down to, I have a particularly hard time saying “no” to experiences that entail pleasure, especially immediate and emphatic pleasure. I also have a hard time saying “yes” to experiences that aren’t immediately gratifying or interesting, such as meal planning, grocery shopping, and putting foods in my mouth that don’t spike the levels of dopamine and serotonin in my brain in short order.

Mind you, I’m not using my brain chemistry as an excuse. It’s true that my brain pretty transparently is dysregulated in its ability to produce and circulate dopamine, the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is responsible for motivation and drive toward gratifying experiences. I have a pretty clear cut diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which pretty much boils down to impaired ability to plan, self-discipline, and otherwise put attention where it needs to go, when it needs to go there, and these symptoms are directly traceable to my brain’s chaotic relationship with dopamine. The reason why stimulants are so often prescribed for ADHD, in fact, is because they solve the problem of dopamine dysregulation by, basically, flooding the brain with dopamine.

Which is great, I will attest, for the times when your brain isn’t producing and circulating enough dopamine. Though chronically flooding the brain with dopamine via artificial means also has a tendency to destroy the normal function of dopamine in the brain, i.e., to help us identify and move toward experiences that are pleasurable, gratifying, and otherwise enhance our ability to live and survive. You know, like eating.

More to the point, eating things that are high in sugar and carbohydrate, because the are the foods that our evolutionary ancestors most needed in order to survive. That is, foods that immediately spike our focus and energy levels (because they spike our blood sugar), thus alerting us to predators and other threats in our environment, and also pack on the pounds, thus helping our cave-person ancestors make it through winters in which resources were scarce.

Anyway.

So, I happen to have neurochemistry that works against me in our modern world, where high sugar, high carbohydrate food is readily available, where packing on the pounds is actually a long-term disadvantage to our ability to survive and thrive, and cultivating wildly variable blood sugar levels doesn’t contribute to our ability to focus and thrive. It’s a family trait. My dad struggled with addictive tendencies his entire life. My mom has one of the most profound cases of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD I have literally ever seen in my life. I always kinda chuckle when people go down the “ADHD doesn’t exist” route with me– evidence for the dysregulation of dopamine in peoples’ brains is far more robust and consistent than the evidence for, say, complex trauma disorders that are conceptually removed from Cluster B personality disorders.

Which doesn’t mean I’m doomed to always overeat, or to always choose foods that actively work against my effective functioning in the world. The fact is, no matter how our neurochemistry inclines or affects us, it can’t make decisions for us. Our brain chemicals, much like our past experiences, can whisper in our ears, try to nudge us toward one behavior or away from another, but our behavioral decisions are still our own. We don’t have to do what our feelings are telling, or sometimes begging us, to do. As I recently covered on my personal development blog, UseYourDamnSkills.com, our feelings are only one source of information, for us to use as we see fit.

However…defying what our neurochemistry is inclining us to do is a bitch. It’s a real, real bitch.

I defied my neurochemistry for a relatively long time, from a period from early 2006 to, eh, call it about 2010 or 2011. During that period of time, I made some hard decisions about my eating and exercise behaviors, and went from a fairly sedentary grad student to an every-day exercising, mindful-eating, processed-sugar-and-carb eschewing health nut. It was a switch that was, in some ways, kind of Draconian, but the bottom line is that in the long run, I dropped over 70 pounds, and kept it off, all the while acquiring the taste for running which has subsequently blossomed into my main hobby and interest outside of psychology, Star Wars, and DC comics.

Then…I got…I don’t know. Lazy? That feels…kind of unfair to say. It wasn’t exactly laziness that led to me slowly starting to make exceptions to my Spartan eating approach sometime in 2010. Did I get, maybe, cocky? Yeah, that sounds a little more accurate. I got it in my head that, hell, so much of my diet was so healthy, and there was the no-exception, no-excuses daily exercise I had going for me, what harm could, like, one cheat meal on a Friday night do? And hell, once you’ve crossed that line, it’s a short little jump to “Well, lots of reasonable diets recommend taking one cheat day a week, so I shall take one cheat day a week.” Which, then, of course, opens you up to, “Okay, what, you’re telling me one piece of cake/pack of Skittles/slice of pizza is going to derail my entire self-care regimen? Don’t be a black and white thinker, Doc!”

And before you know it…your pants are suddenly tight. Which, granted, isn’t the end-all, be-all criteria of physical fitness or self-care; but it’s also not an incidental development, insofar as the thickening of abdominal fat in men approaching middle age has been shown to have fairly strong correlations with things like heart disease, diabetes, and, well, I’m just gonna take a shot in the dark here, because I don’t know for sure, but I’ll betcha…pulmonary embolisms.

It’s not really that I fantasize about being a particular body shape, or having a particular body appearance. I think I’m both about as secure and insecure about my physical appearance as anybody of my age, gender, and background probably is. It’s more about the feeling of fucking uncontrollability that comes along with losing my edge with the eating thing. More to the point, it doesn’t feel like I’ve made a rational, mindful, coherent and consistent choice to loosen the reins with my eating. I feel like the decisions I’ve made that have contributed to the re-thickening of my abdominal “spare tire” have been impulsive, emotionally-driven…a microcosm of the worst way my dopamine-dysregulated brain makes decisions, in other words.

So. There’s all that.

Now. I told you all of that to tell you this:

I ordered a S’mores Pizza from Pizzeria Aroma on Berwyn in Chicago last night, and it was fucking outstanding. If that thing doesn’t INDUCE Type II diabetes, your pancreas is doing it wrong. Dopamine and serotonin FLOODING the old bean in response to the dessert pizza. The only thing, in the realm of dessert pizza, that I’ve had that rivals this is the apple cinnamon pizza that Pizza Hut used to have on its pizza buffet (at least at one location in DC that I used to frequent before the Great Lifestyle Change of 2006).

The BBQ pizza I ordered along with the s’mores pizza arrived in…unfortunate condition. Cheese having slid halfway down the pie, too much BBQ sauce making the thing messy to eat with your hands, the whole thing just too damn hot. Tasty enough, and I realize sometimes these things just happen in the course of pizza delivery, but still.

“Should” I have ordered those pizzas last night? Well, I tell my patients, when they’re beating themselves up with “should” statements (or, in the words of the late, great Albert Ellis, “shoulding all over themselves”), ask yourself the simple rebuttal question, “Why?” Why shouldn’t I have done this thing? That question will clarify whether the “should” statement to which you’re currently genuflecting is something that’s nudging you in the direction of your goals, or just trying to make you feel bad. In this case, when I ask the “why” query of my own “should” statement, I’m forced to concede that, no, ordering those pizzas last night aren’t in line with my goals– either my goals for my physical health, my goals for being a decision maker, my goals for scheduling and managing my pizza intake so that it doesn’t become a habit too problematic to continue at all.

No, I shouldn’t have gotten those pizzas, I suppose.

But the s’mores pizza from Pizzeria Amore is pretty goddamn tasty.

 

It’s Not Delivery, It’s…Oddly Disheartening Pizza.

The Doc here, kids. And tonight I’m mulling over a question that has vexed me for literally decades: why is frozen pizza so…depressing?

Tonight I had a Home Run Inn frozen pizza. I’d say I go for frozen pizza, eh, at least once a week. It’s usually pretty cheap; it’s straightforward to prepare; and, by its very nature, it doesn’t invite disproportionate expectations. Frozen pizza is emphatically what it is, no more, no less. No matter how much money DeGiorno’s pumps into advertising campaigns designed to make us think their product is indistinguishable from delivery pizza, I think we can all agree that failure to make such a distinction does not point toward some kind of amazing frozen pizza. It points to potential brain damage on the part of the evaluator.

That said, even with the diminished expectations that accompany frozen pizza, there is still often something oddly…depressing about it. And I can’t put my finger on exactly why.

Maybe it’s the way it just kinda lies there, limp, lifeless, comatose, before, during, and after the cooking process. I mean, at least with delivery pizza, there’s a pseudo-dramatic moment wherein you open up the box, and TA-DAH!, there’s your pizza, hot fresh, delicious. There’s no TA-DAH! moment with frozen pizza; you’re seeing it from the moment you slice it out of its plastic body bag, to the oven rack, to the removal from the oven and the slicing into pieces. (Side note: I own a pizza slicer, and literally every time I’ve tried to use it to slice a frozen pizza into pieces, it’s tuned into a fiasco of cheese adhered to the slicer tugging on other cheese seemingly from the other side of the goddamn pizza, until chaos and tomato sauce reign supreme, and not in a good way. I’ve had far better results using a pair of plain ol’ scissors to carve slices out of freshly heated up frozen pizza). Maybe I’m just grousing about the fact that frozen pizza, as far as pizzas go, contains fewer surprises and less drama than I need in order to keep my pizza experience interesting.

I suppose there’s also the fact that, by giving me the reigns of my pizza experience (i.e., by putting me in control of how long the pizza goes in, what oven rack it rests upon, how many slices and even of what shape to make those slices after cooking, etc.), frozen pizza introduces an element of Personal Responsibility into the pizza experience that somehow turns me off. I’m a psychologist and a Libertarian; I spend all day helping people find and nurture their instincts toward Personal Responsibility. But with pizza, what I want to do is surrender control, and let the experience wash over me– I don’t want to carefully monitor the thing to make sure the cheese achieves the optimal shade of golden brown. In all seriousness, I suppose it activates a different set of neural networks in my brain that, well, I want to be nowhere near when I’m about to enjoy some pizza. It’s not that it’s too much work, understand– it’s too much responsibility. Maybe responsibility’s a drag, and maybe that’s what’s blowing my trip.

But I don’t think so.

I suppose there are connotations to having frozen pizza vs. delivery pizza. As in, it’s easier to conceptualize delivery pizza as a social experience– we’re often ordering delivery pizza to have with our friends, to accompany something fun we’re about to watch, or even as a reward (my girlfriend fondly remembers BOOK IT, which I wrote about in one of the very first entries in this blog). Frozen pizza, on the other hand, more easily conjures images of a lonely man, baking his lonely pizza, in preparation for a lonely eating experience. Is that it? Does frozen pizza taste like loneliness?

Maybe.

But if so, then why do pizza rolls taste goddamn delicious, EVERY SINGLE TIME? Hell, I don’t think you can even GET pizza rolls delivered, and they’re infinitely easier to prepare than frozen pizza proper. If there’s Sad Lonely Person food, by all rights, pizza rolls should accompany frozen pizza on about the same point in the spectrum. But they don’t.

Meh.

I do acknowledge exactly one exception to the Frozen Pizza Bummer Rule: Totino’s makes this kickass, single-serving pizza, with this kind of crisscross, flaky crust. It seems to me that the name of the product has something to do with “party,” but that’s kind of nonsensical, insofar as this is definitely a one person product. Nobody’s having a party, except with one’s self, with this pizza. But this pizza blows my mind. As an undergraduate, I’d go entire weeks (and I mean that, entire stretches of at least seven days) primarily subsisting on Totino’s pizza. I stopped eating it around 2006, when I made some major changes to my lifestyle which included, for the moment, giving up pizza altogether; and it has literally just now occurred to me that, in the time since I’ve gone back to my sinful carb-o-holic ways, I’ve not remembered to go back and try out Totino’s again. Man, now I have something exciting on my to-do list as I recover from those blood clots.

Anyway. Readers of the Maestro and the Doc’s Chicago Pizza Project, I turn this question over to you: frozen pizza, yea or nay? Any favorites? Any cautionary tales? Does frozen pizza taste like loneliness to you, as it does the Doc? What about pizza rolls? And why the hell can’t I make my pizza slicer work?

Yep. These are the things I think about when the Maestro’s out of town. Let us publish!

Kickin’ back at the Maestro’s place with Chicago’s Pizza.

The Doc here.

So, the Maestro is in Delaware, as he usually is this time of year, conducting an opera that I cannot pronounce, which I usually cannot at this time of year. And last night, because I am a Good Best Friend, I dropped by his Chicago condo in order to water the plants and make sure that things were otherwise as he’d left them, i.e., no one had touched the massive collection of CD’s and VHS tapes that he keeps in his living room.

While I was over at his place performing these important tasks, I also ordered a pizza. Chicago’s Pizza is a local chain that is fairly popular, and known primarily for its deep dish. I’d normally have gotten the deep dish, insofar as I’ll generally take any opportunity I have to order a deep dish pizza, but last night I felt like playing against type. I got a thin crust pizza with mushrooms and goat cheese, as well as some fried veggie appetizers.

The pizza was…okay. Goat cheese is always something that makes pizza, or pretty much food in general, taste better. And mushrooms, my default topping on most pizzas, are only ever bad if they cross over into “kinda slimy” territory, which these mushrooms did not.

The crust, however…I don’t know what to tell you about this crust.

I’d ordered thin crust. What I’m looking for in my thin crust pizza is usually kind of a cracker-like consistency. If I’m ordering thin crust pizza, I want it to crunch. I want each bite to be a self-contained, easily chompable bite of crunchy goodness. Chicago’s “thin crust” pizza was…well, I mean, it certainly wasn’t, like, thick crust. Like, it wasn’t pan pizza, by any means. But it was…kinda tough. Chewy, Doughy.

It wasn’t terrible. I mean, I have no complaints about what this pizza was. But, if I’m being honest, I have some qualms about what this pizza was not– notably, the toppings-on-a-cracker thing I prefer in my thin crust pizzas.

The fried veggies were okay, pretty standard. Though I did order this broccoli-and-cheddar bites thing that was surprisingly awesome. Imagine a fried nugget of broccoli and molten cheddar cheese, and the cheese kind of exploding in melty goodness when you bite into it. I’d not have thought of this as an appetizer, and I’d ordered it because the description on the GrubHub menu had intrigued me. I was not disappointed.

This is what you get when the Doc is your best friend: he will, in the course of checking on your condo when you’re out of town, kick back and eat pizza while watching the new Louis CK stand up special. And you will thank him for the privilege, because, c’mon– he’s the Doc.

The Pizza Memory Superhighway

Hi, kids. The Doc here. And sadly, I don’t have any high-speed go karting stories for you, like the Maestro regularly has.

As you may or may not have heard, the Doc has been suspended from anything that might make me bleed, internally or externally, for the time being, insofar as I spent the better part of a week in March in the hospital recovering from two pulmonary embolisms (i.e., blood clots in the arteries of my lung). These things hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. And I mean that literally, that’s what it felt like– a sledgehammer to the lower right portion of the chest. The treatment for which is a course of blood thinning medications, which makes it supremely easy to bleed out when, for example, crashing into shit at relatively high speeds, which is pretty much the leitmotif of the Doc’s go karting style.

My docs literally laughed at me when I asked if the blood thinners meant I couldn’t pursue my hobby of high speed go karting.

So I, the Doc, will not be talking about go karting for a minute. But, you know what, I have an idea: I’m going to talk about, like, pizza, on this pizza blog. Just for a second.

You know, it’s not really even that I have anything profoundly pizza-related to talk about, at least not at this second. The last slice of pizza I had was from my favorite place in Chicago, a local chain called Tortorice’s. The Maestro doesn’t care for chains, as a rule; but also as a rule, I tend to be a little friendlier toward them, a dichotomy that reflects my liberal best friend’s and my own Libertarian views toward business in general.

On the face of it, Tortorice’s is pretty much a boilerplate Chicago pizza place. I like them because they do deep dish pizza the way I like it– red sauce on top, very bright, tangy tomato taste, crust that’s thick and buttery. You practically have to use a goddamn snow shovel to move a slice from the pie to your plate; then you generally have to use the same set of tools to eat it as Michelangelo used to carve the Pieta.

As pizza qua pizza, it’s pretty fucking great, in other words.

That out of the way, let me tell you something about Tortorice’s deep dish pizza: it was the first Chicago pizza I shared with a girl named Susan Michelle, who is the love of my life. And that makes Tortorice’s deep dish the best pizza on the planet at any given time, within a certain measure of statistical significance that I once knew how to calculate in grad school.

I’ll tell you up front, it’s not a particularly action-packed memory I’m savoring here. We’d come to Chicago from the east coast, where we were then living, to look at offices. I was in the process at the time of expanding my practice from one office in Washington DC, to having locations in both DC and the Windy City. We were staying in this ultra modern hotel on Clark Street called the Aloft; the place feels like a space station (not a moon, Obi Wan; a space station). And, in our true, respective, workaholic fashions, we’d kind of run ourselves into the ground in the process of looking for offices. We were exhausted, and had returned to the hotel late after a full day of looking at offices that were just a little too big, a little too small, a little too HIPPA-noncompliant, a little too handicapped inaccessible, a little too…I mean, you get the idea. It’d been a long day.

We came back to the Aloft, and both flopped on the bed, and agreed, in principle, that the way to assuage a long, busy day was with pizza. This was not a hard sell for Susan Michelle. It shouldn’t be a hard sell for anyone, really– pizza makes long, busy days bearable. I didn’t really have any method to my madness in picking Tortorice’s for our pizza that night. I think it was probably what GrubHub served up as the closest place where we could get some deep dish.

See, kids, the magic of pizza is that it’s one of the things in life that doesn’t really change, and it’s one of the few things in life that such a statement can be made about in a positive sense. I happen to believe that life, living, is all about change. As the trite observation goes, the only constant in the whole universe is change. We’re never standing still. We’re either growing, improving, becoming more free and healthy and authentic; or decaying, forgetting, stiffening, sinking. Waxing or waning, getting busy living or getting busy dying. What we never really are is standing still. But pizza, its tastes, its textures, its aromas– it pushes buttons in our lizard brains, in our central nervous systems, that usually were installed a long time ago. Pizza doesn’t change so much in a lifetime that it doesn’t remind us of something, somebody, somewhere. The only comparable phenomenon I can think of is the scent and taste of movie theater popcorn.

Susan and I got deep dish pizza at the Aloft that night and it was good. It’s a memory that isn’t particularly profound; it certainly wasn’t the first time I realized that I loved her, it wasn’t the first time I’d had Chicago deep dish, it wasn’t the first time I’d stayed in a nice hotel. The night I’m remembering right now wasn’t even a particular turning point. I have no reason to remember that night other than I had a good slice of pizza with a woman whom I’d know for some time was my soulmate.

But I love that silly little memory. Love is kinda the best, guys.

Wherein Maestro goes culo sopra bollitore – Andersen Race Park, and Caragiulo’s

We’ll start with the easy stuff. Caragiulo’s in Sarasota FL has some pretty amazing pizza. It’s very old school Italian restaurant, and is just basically missing checkered tablecloths and cheesy music. Their menu too sometimes goes off the beaten path, and for years one of my favorite dishes was a seared salmon on a bed of spinach. But their pizzas are really the reason to go there (that, and they serve the real mints).

I have to admit straight up that I have never tasted the pizza that bears my name, but that’s because I cannot stand the thought of combining broccoli-rabe and pizza.

So I almost always go for the DA VINCI $8.95 | fennel sausage + mushroom + pepperoni. It is a steal. It’s definitely enough for one person (a serious pizza person), yet you can still leave a little for leftovers, and it heats up quite nicely. The fennel sausage is a nice touch because it mixes well with the mushroom. Mushrooms can get a little dicey in a pizza if they’re too slimy, but these mushrooms are just right, and the combo with the fennel sausage makes it taste like you’re just eating another meat.

It’s definitely a thin crust pizza, and I’d go so far as to say more of an authentic Italian pizza, which, I haven’t found a FL pizzeria yet that has the kind of stuffed pizza we have in Chicago (and I don’t mean Chicago style pizza, I just mean the basic base-level anti-NY style pizza we have).

Pizza taken care of. Now let’s talk karting. Although FL is home to about 9 serious outdoor karting tracks, I only had time to visit Bushnell Motorsports, a quick trip to Miami and I was reunited with Miami GP (check back in the future for a rundown on that one), and Andersen Race Park (which apparently is so often misspelled as “Anderson” that both spellings will eventually take you to the same website).

I’m mainly going to talk about my experiences (including a near death one) at Andersen. It became my go-to go-kart track because it was so near to where I was living and working for the last three months. The track itself is deceptively difficult. This is the basic layout:

Anderson Race Park Palmetto FL Map

As you can see, there are basically three major turns, #3, #5, and #9. And truth be told, if you can really nail those 3, then you’re golden. #3 was, is, and forever will be my nightmare. Mostly because I had already skidded out about 5 times before I realized that I was getting on the gas way too soon after the turn, so I’d always end up in the grass on the south side of the track before #4. Like all good turns, one sets up another, so if you blow #3, then #4 is not going to be good, and then you’re screwed trying to gain speed into #5. Blah blah blah. Anyway. I can get #3 now about 50% of the time, but it’s still screwy.

In the beginning I had no idea how to handle #5, but once I figured out the trick it was not that bad. #7 requires moxie, and #9 I got early enough that it was never a real problem. Until it was.

There are two reasons to go to Andersen Race Park. One is Matt, the other is Chris. They’re there almost all the time. They both teach racing, and I had two classes with Matt, who was a more than able teacher. It turns out he also was a musician and played double bass for a number of years, so he was able to relate racing to music in a lot of ways. Most of it came down to: “the way to get better is not to look for a silver bullet solution, but rather to put in a lot of time, doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.”

Basically: practice.

The one on one coachings were interesting. For the first three laps I would follow Matt. He’d go slowly so I could see the line, and immediately I picked up on the following things.

  1. you need to ride on the curb. You can’t see it so well in this picture, but in later pics, you’ll be able to discern that there is a white and red striped curb all over the place. Right out of the gate Matt was on the curb, and the idea is simple: you need to use as much available track as possible. So when you are tracking out before a turn, you have one front and one back wheel on the curb before you turn. I say “curb” and you’re all thinking of like a city curb, but it’s barely elevated at all, and it’s just a tiny bump to get on. But since you never think to drive an actual car on the curb, your mind initially rejects the idea of putting wheels on anything even remotely elevated. But it turns out that it helps enormously. Going into the turns you want to cut it as close as possible, meaning you’re going to want to get up on that curb to make it even tighter. That’s really how you know you hit a turn correctly, if you can get back on the curb quickly.
  2. you have to play psychological chicken with the wall at # 5, and yourself at #7. If you look at the track again you can see, right before #5, where google maps has written “Andersen Racing Team” in white, there is a wall along that side of the track. Like most karting walls it looks intimidating as hell, but in actuality it’s just plastic. The trick to this one was to basically look like you were going to go through the wall, kool-aid-man-style, and then at the very last second turn, even after you’ve hit the brake.
    When I watched Matt do it, it was kind of horrifying, but I learned that the later you turn, the better the turn is. So the closer you come to actual death, the better it is for your lap time!
    #7 is a little different because you don’t have to brake. You do have to come off the gas just a touch, and you have to turn in a lot earlier than you think you do. If you turn in too late your line will suffer, and if you turn in too early (something I did exactly once), you’ll go in the grass.

 

So for the first 3 laps I would follow Matt, the remaining laps he would follow me. Then we’d convene and he’d tell me where I was braking too soon, too late, where I was getting on the gas too soon, too late, etc. Just basic stuff. We did that twice, and for the last race, (each lesson is a 3 race lesson), it was all about overtaking, or passing. He said “we’ll start out like the other races, and then at a certain point I’m going to disappear. And then I’m going to hunt you down.”

That was, by far, the most fun part of the course. I started out the last race following him, and then him following me, and, like he said, he just disappeared. I kept looking for him everywhere, and he was nowhere to be found. Then out of thin air, he’s on my tail. At this point I had deluded myself into thinking that I was pretty good at this. And if you look at the times of other people there, I didn’t do too shabby (My fastest time is a low 59, but the track record is a low 57), but the people that are better are consistently better. So Matt would completely overtake me, and then he’d make a “mistake” and I’d have the opportunity to overtake him. I say “mistake” because all of his errors were completely planned, and I have no doubt that he could’ve just lapped me many times over. I mean the guy races a lot, and even seemed to escape near death around the 2:19 mark in this video:

So he was an excellent teacher. Hands down. I never took a class with Chris, so I can’t speak to his abilities, but he was a more than able track emcee.

I had a lot of down time once our show opened, so I spent a lot of time at this place. You know you’re spending too much time at a go-kart track when you run into someone you know from another go-kart track in Delaware.

My times were improving, little by little, and eventually some of my friends asked to come along. So one fine Friday afternoon, as the sun was going down, 3 of my friends and I went to the track. I think one of the friends had done this before, but the other 2 were new. Usually I take people to this kind of thing and they have some fun, and that’s kind of that. They’re not going to probably do it again. All 3 of these maniacs were instantly hooked. I hadn’t seen that kind of instant need to do this again since I took the Doc, almost 2 years ago.

So we all went out on the track, and it was great. I really started to nail the line between 7 and 10:

andersen crash 1

you can see the curbs now. are you happy?

Like I said before, 7 you gotta come up for a second and then just go hard left. 8 is no problem, but you need to set up to get #9 well. Since you haven’t taken your foot off the gas since right after 7, you’re going into 9 pretty quick, and you hit the brake at the yellow X. For the first 6 or so laps I nailed this turn every time.

Then at what turned out to be the last lap for me, and everyone else, right before 7 I heard a click in my kart. I thought maybe I had gone over a pebble. I went into 7 just as I had before, and then right after 7 I saw my friend (represented below by a terribly hand-drawn green kart), and I had to keep my foot off the gas to avoid hitting her, so I was going into #9 slower than usual. Which, it turns out, probably saved my life. Because when I went to hit the brake at 9, my foot went to the floor and nothing happened. I had about a 10th of a second to decide what to do and decided to swerve the car as much as possible and go into a fence instead of going into a tree. The whole thing kind of played out like this:

andersen crash 2

it was less fun than this looks

I truly thought I was going to die. As you can see in this ground photo I took after, if you go off the track, there is a little hill that becomes not so little when you’re going as fast AF, and I’m told I caught air. My little green friend who I passed had a front row seat to what she described as “simultaneously hilarious and terrifying,” because what she saw was a guy in a little go kart go sliding off the track, go a few feet into the air at the top of the hill, and then disappear. The whole thing kind of looked like a cartoon to her:

andersen fence 2

it seemed so much more dramatic at the time

Did I mention that I thought I was going to die? I went slamming into the fence and was immediately ejected from the kart. I was in shock, so initially I didn’t feel any pain.

Now I’ve seen people go off the track, and usually Matt or Chris will see it happen, and they’ll mosey on over in a golf kart, and get the person back on track, and it’s never really a big deal. As I got up off the grass, and started stumbling around to make sure my bones weren’t broken, I saw my little green friend stopped on the track, looking up in what I can only assume was amusement/horror behind her helmet, and I saw Matt running as fast as I had ever seen him run. I think he, like my friend, like me, thought that I had died. He came running up, and I had my helmet open and was spitting onto the ground to see if my teeth were still there or if I had any cuts in my mouth. I have no idea why I was doing this.

MATT: Are you ok?
ME: Yeah. uh, the brakes went out.
MATT: I saw that.
ME: Like totally out.
MATT: right.
ME: so should I just go back to the pit and get in another kart?
MATT: oh no, the race is done. You were on your last lap anyway.

In the meantime he had brought all the others to a standstill with the dreaded red flag, which signifies “for the love of all that is holy, STOP!”

I can’t say that I escaped without a scratch, because as I was walking or wobbling back to the pit, I noticed the my right inner thigh was really starting to hurt. But there was no blood on my pants so I figured I was ok. During the drive home, as the adrenaline started wearing off, the thigh started hurting a lot more, so I began eating ibuprofen like they were Boston Baked Beans. When I got home I noticed that I had what looked like a very surface gash on my thigh, and three days later it turned into a very extensive bruise that covered most of my upper thigh.

I’m not going to post a picture of that.

The next day, Matt wrote me and said “are you ok?” and I confirmed that indeed that I was. In fact I was more than ok. It turns out that last lap before my ridiculous accident was the best lap I ever did.

2 days later I was back on the track.

The Grand Go-Kart (& pizza) Tour 2016 – The Maestro’s Take Pt. 4 – Bushnell Motorsports Park. The Walhalla of Go Karting

As the doc and I left Northern Florida on that Monday morning, truth be told, we were kind of go-karted out at that point. At least I was. But Bushnell Motorsports Park was 1) on the way to where we were going and 2) had graciously let us come in on their day off. Turns out most GoKart tracks in Florida are closed on Mondays. We contacted a number of them, and Bushnell was the only one to get back to us.

So we got to the park, and even the parking lot was the best parking lot we’ve been to. The owners Bret (one T) and Rebecca (sp?) were there and they signed us right up and got us out on the track.

Before we get into the track though, I want to talk about what a class act place this is. Everything from the sign on the door, to the first-time-talk-through, to the quality of the karts, to the damn bathrooms, is first rate. Bret and Rebecca built this place from scratch. It’s clear that Bret’s family has a real love of racing. His dad (Bil?) was there and talked to the Doc about that, so, I’ll let Doc handle that part. But this place was kind of their dream, and everything is done with real attention and care.

Other things that make them unique: They have a froyo place. A FROYO place! I just got to try it the last time I was there, and it was delicious. And it’s a nice thing to have while you’re waiting for your heat to start up, and the place has a nice view of the track.

They have the architectural blueprints for the actual track lovingly displayed on the wall:

IMG_0615

more on this anon.

To the left of this picture is an architectural blueprint for a hypothetical track that (I’m assuming), the father wanted to build in 1979. It is accompanied by a sign that says “This is what we wanted to make happen in 1979.” And the above picture is accompanied by a sign that says “This is what DID happen in 2015.” Kind of a nice story. Also, the 2015 track is a huge improvement on the theoretical 1979 track.

They also have a mascot. Finley!

IMG_0612

Who’s a good go-kart mascot? That’s right. Finley is.

Such a sweet dog. I cannot speak highly enough of this dog.

They have very competent track marshals, Kyle, and Ryan. I hope the Doc has pics of them, because these are some great dudes. They know what’s going on. They pay attention to the track (because it can be damn dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing), and they’re very helpful at giving pointers to first timers.

But most importantly the place has Bret and Rebecca. You can tell this place is their baby, and they’re rightfully proud of it. The prices are reasonable, and the karts are great. You know a place is serious when the pedals are just little metal bars, and there are NO SEAT BELTS, which if you think about it makes sense. A seat belt isn’t gonna really help you if you get in an accident. If it’s a really bad accident (if Maestro mom is reading this, skip to the next paragraph) the car will probably explode into flames, and you’ll need to get out of there as quick as possible. So the no seat belts thing is actually a plus!

They have league nights, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to get out there for that yet.

So let’s talk about the track finally. Here it is:

bushnell overhead

There is a lot to unpack here. Settle in with a nice glass of wine, and let’s get started.

My eye was of course first drawn to the part that I’ve labeled “WTF,” because, seriously WTF, is there like a stop sign or stop light there? How in hell does the track cross over its own self?

“That’s a bridge and an underpass,” Rebecca explained.

MIND BLOWN!

Even the incredible Atlanta track which had over 40 feet of elevation changes didn’t have a bridge and an overpass. In fact, in all my gokarting experience, the only place that I’ve been to that had anything remotely like this was Speedway Indoor Karting in Indianapolis, which is a solid indoor track, but it’s still an indoor track.

Rebecca and Bret claim that this is the only outdoor track in North America that has a bridge and an underpass. Now that in and of itself is kind of cool, but it’s what the bridge sets up that is really incredible.

This is also the track with the most challenging sets of turns that I’ve been on. Most tracks you do and you can figure out that there are 2 maybe 3 turns that are gonna cause you to sweat, and the more you do it, you can narrow it down to 1 turn. This has easily 5 turns that I’m not solid on yet. But I am getting better. So let’s take the turns one by one.

When you first go out on the track you come out by turn # 6, so for our purposes we’ll start there. 6 is easy and you don’t need to take the foot off the gas if you’ve done 5 right. Before you get to #7 you’ll notice what looks like a series of little turns, but which in reality is just a chicane, but it’s a good chicane. You have to slow down at some point coming out of it if you’re going to have a prayer getting around #7.

#7 was and is the bane of my existence. Bret tells me that the secret to the track is “late apexes,” and nowhere is that more true than here and #2. I almost never nail #7, and part of the problem is that I’m so jazzed to be going through the chicane at top speed, that I never slow down enough, and I always turn too early. If you turn too early then you track out and go into the dirt, which a lot of people do.

A lot of this depends on your brakes. Even though I want a kart with really responsive brakes, when I get one, I can’t seem to handle it and usually spend half the race trying to figure out that sweet spot between slowing down and spinning out. When I had a kart with less responsive brakes I actually did better (see below), but with this turn I’ve got to remember to brake earlier (or at least come off the gas earlier), and turn later.

Which sets you up for # 8, which should be an easy turn, but again, you need to turn late. Much later than you think. This is the turn where more people end up in the dirt than any other turn. Even people who’ve clearly been there before. But it’s also the turn where, if you nail it, you can sail past people.

# 9 is no problem and you can sail right through it. # 10 is kind of tricky in that you don’t necessarily have to brake, but you do have to come off the gas, and you have to turn earlier than you think. If you turn too late you are in the dirt (actually this one is sand. I went so far off the track on Sunday and went through so much sand, that I’m still finding it in my shoes), if you turn too early it’s not going to be pleasant for other reasons, and you have to find the courage to really just gun it as soon as you’re coming around that corner.

A word about the curbs. Some places have curbs that you can and should ride on.Dallas Karting Complex comes to mind, as does Anderson Race Park, both of which will be covered in later editions of this pizza blog. What? you didn’t realize this was a blog about pizza?

But the curbs here remind me of the curbs at Gopro Motorplex at North Carolina which, I was warned, will “make your teeth rattle in your head” if you go on them. They are, for lack of a better word, “ribbed.” You know how if you drive just enough off the side of the road on the highway that the road has grooves in it to sort of shake you awake and say “hey buddy, get back on the road?” This is that x 1,000. I still can’t figure out if you’re supposed to drive on them, because it would seem like the right thing to do, you’d be using up more track, but at the same time, the grooves are so aggressive, that I can’t believe you’re not losing time on it. Have to ask Bret next time.

Anyway, I labeled #11 as an actual turn and not just a chicane, because I don’t think you can gun it all the way through. I have to take my foot off the gas just a little as I enter the beginning of the chicane, just to be able to make it through the next part and set up for #12 which is a turn I hate almost as much as I hate #7. I think again, the trick here is a late apex. Because more often than not I track out too far on this one, and there is a little grooved indentation at the end, which on a good day is filled with sand, and on a bad day is filled with water, and if you go off the track you’re either gonna get a fistful of sand or water in your underpants. It’s not pleasant. Also, it’s right before the transponder line (which measures your time), so you really want to nail this corner.

Now for the big boy stuff. You go around # 1 easily enough, and then start going up a damn hill. A HILL! And it’s not a small hill. But the most amazing thing about this hill is that as soon as you reach the top, you start descending and barreling toward what is easily the most scrotum-tightening turn in the whole track, #2. Because not only are you going downhill at full speed, but if you take this turn too easy (which EVERYBODY does) you will go off track into a wall of tires. I’ve seen 5 car pile ups at this turn. In fact, when they do league racing, I’m assuming that everyone lines up at the finish line right before #1, and then when they get the green flag they all take off from that point, which means, you can conceivably have 12 or 13 karts, going tip to tip, as fast as they can up and over the hill and into that turn. I can’t even imagine doing that, with that many other karts around.

This turn I feel like I’ve gotten much better at. You just have to turn late. And you have to turn so late that you feel like you’re going to go into the wall. It’s like a trust fall this damn turn. It’s not the hardest turn on the track, it’s just the most terrifying.

#3 and #4 I can get about 50% of the time. It requires a pretty early turn in on 3, and if you get it right, 4 kind of takes care of itself.

That leaves only #5 which should be pretty easy if you just tap on the brake enough to get you to smoothly go around it into #6. Although, now that I think about it, there is a big curb between #5 and #6, and if one didn’t brake between the two, one could conceivably go onto that cub, and use it as available road. Even though the ribbed grooves there are intense.

 

The first time I was there I got about 71 seconds as my best time. This last weekend I shaved it down to the low 68s, and that was with a kart with almost non-responsive brakes. But the fact that I had to really aggressively go at the brakes made me take the turns a lot more conservatively, which, at the end of the day, is what this is all about. No matter how fun it is to squeal around a turn, every time you do that, you’re losing 10ths of a second. Watching the best racers is so frustrating, because it looks like what they’re doing is boring. They’re smoothly going around the turns. No funny business, no hot dogging or burning rubber. Just business. And they’re damn consistent.

In closing I’ll say that if you are in central Florida, you’ve simply got to hit this track. And if you do, and if you are more courageous than I am and decide to use the curbs, just know that you might lose a filling or two.

 

 

 

The Grand Go-Kart (& pizza) Tour 2016 – The Maestro’s Take Pt. 3. HOTLANTA!

When we last left our heroes, they were checking into a snazzy Sheraton Hotel in Atlanta. The very next morning the Doc ran some kind of race. I stayed in bed. By the time he came back we had to leave the hotel, and I was particularly bummed, because one of the most amazing courses that we were going to check out, the Atlanta Motorsports Park would have to be skipped because the weather was awful.

But the Doc and I had to eat, so we looked for a decent IHOP. I momentarily forgot that it was Sunday, and that one simply cannot get a seat at an IHOP on a Sunday around 10 a.m. I think we went to two different IHOPs, and I put my foot down on a Waffle House, so we found a really nice place called Leonardo’s House of Pancakes. Sounds fancy and Italian, right? Well it wasn’t really fancy, and it definitely was not Italian, but oh my god it was delicious.

I had fried tilapia with scrambled eggs, and I’m pretty sure the Doc had “cheesecake pancakes.” I’ll let him describe that. It was freaking delicious, our waiter was superb, and it put me in good spirits. But the thing that put me in even better spirits was casually looking at the weather forecast, which had slightly shifted. It was now 11:00. According to the weather, the town where the Motorsports Park was had a little mist, but no real rain until 12:30. That meant that if we hauled ass right then and there, we could make it there by 12:00 and maybe get a lap or two in.

This seemed miraculous. All morning I had been checking the weather in the hopes that this would happen. We got out of there as quick as possible and I floored it pretty much all the way there.

The Motorsports Park is actually several tracks, some even for real cars. The karting track is in back, and it’s designed by a Formula 1 Architect.

I don’t even know how to describe the track. As a course there are really only 3 big turns.

The first one happens as you’ve descended a very long hill. It’s so treacherous that they have signposts for when you should probably think about hitting the brake so you don’t go slamming into the field beyond. Then you climb a hill and at the very top of the hill, when you can’t see a damn thing, you shimmy a little to your right and set yourself up for the 2nd big turn, which is very tight, so tight, that the kid working the place that morning told us that he slid out and went into a tire wall. Yikes!

The final turn is incredible, after a very quick and steep descnt (4 stories!), you immediately have to take a sharp right and then climb all the way back up the hill.

Verbal descriptions are kind of useless, so I suggest you watch the following, keeping in mind 1) these are shifter karts, and we were using rental karts, and 2) this looks like a nice day, and the track was definitely a little slick by the time we got there.

 

Since it was misty and starting to drizzle we took it real safe the first race. This is also when the Doc started mixing it up with his racing name. I believe he went with “L. Ron Hubbard” for this track.

The experience was incredible, but he and I had opposite experiences from our first Gopro Motorplex outdoor track, in that he was emboldened by the slick track conditions, and after 2 races, I was out. He kept going for another two, and I believe I got a little video of him somewhere on my phone, but I can’t seem to find it.

Anyway, it was completely worth it, and would definitely return in a heartbeat.

We had more time to kill so we checked out Andretti Indoor Karting and Games, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. Indoor Karting facility, video games, and zip lining.
There are two different Andretti facilities in Atlanta, we were lucky enough to pick the one that had gas karts. No electric karts for these bad boys.

I can’t put a course map up, because the courses change every 3 months or so. They use big white and green plastic barricades to make different outlines. The top time in this configuration was something like 23 seconds. The first race, the Doc and I were running 25 second laps, and by the second race I was comfortably in the 24 region.

Since the courses were made by these plastic barricades, any time you whammed into one of them, the course slightly shifted. It was one of the better indoor tracks though, and we definitely had a hoot.

For some unknown reason, the Doc decided to try zip lining after. I am not sure I understand what that was all about. I’ll let him tell you.

Two important things were going on in Atlanta around that time. 1) the Atlanta football team had just won the pennant or something, and were on their way to the championship sportsball game. So the whole city was pretty psyched. 2) There was an actual, literal tornado ripping through the city. We had no idea about that, and only figured it out after lots of people were texting me saying “GET OUT OF THERE!”

Before we left Georgia though, we stopped off at the world’s most depressing Target and the Doc bought a portable bluetooth speaker so we could listen to stuff on the rest of the drive since my CD player was morto. My eye had been pretty good all day, but it was starting to act up again, so I had the Doc drive, and we listened to, among many things, Marc Maron’s epic “Weird Al” Yankovic interview that was funny, interesting, and surprisingly touching.

The WAZE app had us going through some pretty backwoods road though, and at one point after we had turned off the highway and were driving for about 13 miles, we came across a bunch of police cars in the middle of the road. They basically told us we had to go back to the highway because there were power lines out, and basic flotsam and jetsam everywhere.

So we backtrack 13 miles, get back on the highway, get off after about 20 miles onto another WAZE recommended Deliverance backroad, and sure enough, after about 10 miles we see more cop cars. The Doc pulls over into a gas station, and we confab, and decide to talk to the officers. As we pull up to them, we notice that cars are allowed to pretty  much go wherever they want. They asked us where we were going, and waved us through. So like why were they there in the first place?

We finally got into the panhandle, and to our hotel at about 1:30 a.m. I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment the next morning, so we just wanted to sleep. But the tornado had made its way through a lot of the area, and the hotel had JUST gotten its power back. The poor girl at the counter checked us in and gave us our key. We rolled our bags to the end of the hotel, but our hotel key card wouldn’t work. I went back to the girl, she ran it again, I tried it again. It still wouldn’t work.

She tried to give us a key to a different room. That room didn’t work. Her master key didn’t work. This went on for quite awhile. She finally got us into a room, but the only catch was that the room hadn’t been made up, and it looked like people had had all the right (for them) or wrong (for us) kinds of fun, and there was no way we were sleeping in those sheets. So again, the poor receptionist had to go get us clean linen, and we basically just told her don’t worry about it, and made up the beds ourselves. Poorly.

We really only had one more track to hit the next day before I dropped the Doc off at the airport, but it would turn out to be one of the most memorable ones.

To be continued…