The pizza crawl seemed like a good idea at the time.
I mean, let’s be real: there’s only so much, in the end, you can say about the similarities and differences between slices of pizza at various joints.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily rhapsodize all day about how good pizza is. Don’t think I won’t, dude. You’re talking to a guy who had gone weeks (yes, I said “weeks,” plural, that wasn’t a typo) eating pizza daily. You’re talking to a guy who has MICROWAVED PIZZA ROLLS TO SNACK ON WHILE WAITING FOR HIS PIZZA.
I know. I’m your hero. (Lookin’ at you, Molly Suter.)
But you, dear reader, you don’t tune in to this blog to read me write about how good pizza is. You know it’s good. You tune in to this blog to get a slice of life. To hear a little bit about what it’s like to be the Doc. What it’s like to sit in a car with the Maestro, as he groans, “Ohhhhhh dude, I’m gonna vomit. That’s it. Wallace and vomit. Oh God.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. That only happened at the end.
The point being, the pizza crawl, the brainchild of the Maestro, was designed to switch things up a bit. Give us more to write and think about than, “Hey, it’s pizza! It was pretty good! It had cheese and sauce! Do you think there will still be pizza after whoever wins the presidential election, because that’s the only issue I care about personally?”
This was the idea: multiple pizza joints, in progression, down Harlem Avenue in north Chicago. One slice per joint, BOOM, on to the next one. Quick takes. C’mon, it’s not like we haven’t had five slices of pizza at a time before. This will be easy.
Oh, we scheduled it for fucking rush hour on a Friday, did I mention that?
JOINT ONE: Mr. Beef and Pizza.
See, the beautiful thing about being a vegetarian, besides not feeling obliged to put any part of a corpse in my mouth, is that it makes certain decisions overwhelmingly easier. Much has been written in the psychological literature about what geeks in my field call the “paradox of choice.” The gist of it being, in this world where we can get, for example, basically any media we want at any time, we’re in this odd position of watching the same ten shows on Netflix all the goddamn time. Why? Because our brains didn’t evolve to keep up with having literally hundreds of novel options to pick from. There are too many variables. We can’t process it. We have no idea what we want, we’re not used to having to take responsibility for it. As it turns out, we miss the days when there were all of three TV channels and MAYBE HBO or Cinemax for movies, and if the president was giving a speech that night, you were screwed.
That’s how I imagine meat eaters must feel when getting pizza. Sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, actual bacon, prosciutto, goat, elk, Ewok? All of ’em? Half and half? Quickly, quickly, time is money.
When you’re a vegetarian pizza lover, you get cheese.
Well, sometimes you get veggies. But at a little kitschy place like Mr. Beef, which somehow reminded me of Dex’s diner in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (don’t ask the Maestro to confirm this, he has blocked the prequels out of his mind entirely), you get cheese.
Perfectly serviceable slice of cheese. A little too hot for my mouth at the moment, and it did do the thing where the cheese slid off of the crust as I bit into it, leaving me with a mouthful of cheese and a chunk of crust with pizza sauce. But, a lot of too-hot pizza does that.
I do recall the guy taking my order did so with an unusual amount of seriousness. “Slice of cheese, Diet Coke,” he said, while carefully writing it down. He then turned to the employee behind him, and intoned solemnly, “Slice of cheese, Diet Coke.” “Slice of cheese! Diet Coke!” the battle cry resounded back through the chain of command. “Your order will be right up,” the dude earnestly said, turning back to me. “I believe you,” I said solemnly back.
Did the Maestro mention in his post that our Research Assistant had blocked out all of these restaurants to be on the fucking left (East) side of the street, that each place was juuuuust far enough away fromt he last place to not be within walking distance, and that the Maestro zips around on one of those speeder bike things from “Return of the Jedi?” Because that seems relevant to understanding the experience of the pizza crawl.
JOINT TWO was Coluta’s.
You know those vape shops that, within the last five years or so, have sprung up in every strip mall in America, possibly in the same retail space that used to be occupied by, like, cheap cell phone stores that all went out of business? The vape stores that, in turn, pretty much go out of business within six months? Coluta’s occupies a strip mall-esque space that looks like it was left when the vape store that replaced the cell phone store that went out of business, went out of business.
That is, no frills here. Though they did have some sort of European advertising art on the wall that was recognizable to me as the same print that an ex-girlfriend had had up in her condo. Kind of this terrifying clown peddling…I dunno, coffee, or something. But come to think of it, why would that be in a pizza joint?
I’m pretty sure my ex had it in her place because it was European, and she wanted to look smart. Because that’s the type of girl I date.
Anyway. I liked this slice of cheese a little better. Big, gooey, salty globs of cheese. I snarfed it.
It was at Coluta’s that the Maestro figured out that he should probably slow down if we were going to make it through the pizza crawl. “Save room,” he advised.
I looked at him as if he had advised me to watch the prequels before the original trilogy.
JOINT THREE was Geo’s, which was notable for two reasons: I thought I’d lost my fucking wallet, and the Maestro got catcalled.
Both of these are improbable, but true.
I have ADHD. I’m constantly losing shit. It’s one of the reasons I’m almost always late, as well (which isn’t an excuse, but an explanation– truth is, I hate that my lateness annoys and inconveniences other people, and I’m always aspiring to be better).
When you have ADHD, it’s like…your brain has severely limited wattage to spread around to various cognitive tasks, and it knows it. So it chooses to skimp on stuff like “where you left your wallet” or “do I need ten or twenty five minutes to get there in traffic,” in favor of, say, “What did I learn in graduate school that will help this suicidal person not kill themselves for another week?”
It picks and chooses your attentional priorities based on a scarcity model, in other words. Attention to the ADHD’er is a scarce resource that we’re never fully in control of, especially when lots of shiny objects are competing for our attention. Now excuse me for a moment while I go look at some Internet pornography.
Anyway. I had just lost my stupid wallet the week before. I swear I have a memory of coming from the gym, buying stuff at CVS (so I know I had my wallet with me then), putting the stuff away in the kitchen, seeing my wallet and keys on the counter, thinking “Hey, that doesn’t go there, I should put those where they go before I lose them”…and then…it gets hazy. All I know is that the keys made it back to the Place Where the Keys And Wallet Go, whereas my wallet (contents: driver’s license, debit card, health insurance card, key card for The Doyle Practice office, and a prayer card from my father’s funeral last December) did not.
Fuck a duck. I’d tuned my apartment upside down looking for the stupid thing. I couldn’t imagine any physical place in my condo where I had not looked for this thing. The debit card was fairly easy to replace, insofar as my bank had recently sent me a new, chip-enabled one that I had yet to activate; but for identification, I’d been hauling around my Passport and my Washington DC psychology license to do things like, say, pick up prescriptions at Walgreens.
And let me tell you, when you try to pick up stimulant medication at Walgreens with non-standard ID, they just LOVE that. Love it.
Anyway. Long story short, a week later, my girlfriend found the stupid thing inexplicably wedged between cushions in a chair in my living room that, I swear to God, I never, ever sit in. I cannot imagine any procession of physical movements that resulted in my wallet ending up in this stupid chair.
Suffice to say, when I arrived at Geo’s, and realized I didn’t have my goddamn wallet, especially after having lost and found it in idiotic fashion the week before, it was…upsetting.
Called Coluta’s. Yup, they’d found it, at the booth where the Maestro and I had been sitting. Which means I fucking got up from that booth, left my wallet on the table, threw away my napkins and and stuff, picked up my iPhone and keys from that very same table, and walked out of the restaurant, blithely leaving my wallet behind in plain view.
So. The Maestro and I jumped back into my car, went back to Coluta’s, and I sheepishly regained custody of my wallet. The concept of a “wallet chain” had never made much sense to me until now. Now…I kinda get it.
We go back to Geo’s, which, as the Maestro noted, isn’t even a hole in the wall. It’s, like, a slight indentation in the wall, into which somebody inserted an order window, a bench, and a couple trophies, one of which was capped by one of those little baseball batting helmets that– you remember this?– Dairy Queen used to serve soft-serve sundaes in.
(I didn’t notice what the trophies were for. Bowling or something, I assume. What else do you get trophies for, karate I guess? Winning the 20-Man Invitational Battle Royal at WrestleMania IV?)
(Editorial note: Maestro, it was at this point in writing my entry that you texted me with the hilariously autocorrected line, “Yes, work fist in there.”)
When we got out of the car, though, something magical happened: the Maestro got catcalled by a woman in a passing car on Harlem.
“HEY HEY HEY!” she shouted, clearly provocatively, clearly at the Maestro, as the Maestro got out of the passenger side of my car and we headed toward the crosswalk.
He and I stopped, dumbfounded, and just kind of stared at each other for a second.
“Did you just get…fucking…catcalled?” I said.
“I…think so.” He seemed kind of dazed.
We weren’t quite sure what to make of it. The pizza crawl was not a Safe Space.
I offered to hold him while he cried. He said he thought he’d be okay.
I know we’re committed to the Maestro and the Doc’s Chicago Pizza Blog being an erstwhile positive pizza space, but really, Geo’s was nothing special. We scarfed our slices out of styrofoam containers in my car, insofar as the place didn’t have tables. The sauce tasted, like, oddly metallic. It was like microwave pizza that had been in the microwave juuuuust twenty seconds too long. Or a minute.
I finished the slice, of course. I’m not a barbarian.
JOINT FOUR: Amato’s. It was…the most commercial of the places we’d been. By which I mean, “most like a Pizzeria Uno’s.”
Which isn’t a bad thing, I mean. But we’d just gone from a place that resembled Elwood Blues’s apartment in “The Blues Brothers”— both before and after Princess Leia blew it up with a bomb— to this place, which had a cozy, family-friendly vibe. You know, the kind of place that you go with your High School Buddies in their Varsity Jackets after the Big Game, jeepers!
They served me a massive slice of, like, quadruple cheese, which was glorious. Helped get the taste of Geo’s pizza, which in retrospect was kind of like a hot triangle of garbage, out of my mouth.
I do believe this was the first moment when I noticed my best friend, across the table, turning green.
“I, uh…” he started, taking deep, bracing breaths. “I dunno if I’m going to make it.”
“Hm?” I asked, cheerfully chomping down on my slice.
“I feel…sick.” His cheeks puffed out a little bit as his eyes began to look a little glassy.
“Hm,” I said with concern, merrily chewing the gooey, cheesy goodness.
“Let’s go finish this.” he grunted. “While we still can.”
“Hm!” I enthused, swallowing my last bite. He dolefully looked at the 3/4 of his slice he hadn’t been able to finish. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Barber’s “Adiago for Strings” started to play.
JOINT 5: Sorrento’s. About the most nondescript pizza place I can imagine. We’d ordered our slices before heading down to Amato’s, and had been told they’d be ready for us within twenty minutes. When we returned and waited for our slices to emerge, several people came in to get their orders, and I couldn’t help but notice: each pizza that was being picked up was the size of goddamn Wrigley Field.
Huge, huge pizzas. I mean, I assume they were for parties, or such. Or very lonely men.
Very lonely men eat a lot of pizza, see.
And sure enough, when our slices emerged? Not only were they unusually big, but they were, like, these oddly shaped kind of wedges. They seem to have given us double slices (they also did this at Geo’s, which, really, don’t do us any favors, guys), but they looked like they had, say, baked one huge pizza in the back and then just kind of whacked off chunks at random, threw ‘em in boxes, and sent ‘em out the door.
None of which impacted the taste, mind you. It was actually pretty great. Pizza sauce that had a little sweetness to it, which is my favorite. As we sat in my car (Sorrento’s not having any tables inside either), I enthusiastically chomped on my pieces, while the Maestro ambivalently, carefully, took baby bites of his.
“Dude. I can’t. I’m gonna ralph.”
“Not in the Mustang,” I said through a mouthful of cheese.
“Do you want a cannoli?” he weakly asked.
“Mm!” I enthused, before taking a bite.
“You’re an animal,” my friend opined.
So. Pizza Crawl 2016, kiddos, in the books. Mind you, I don’t think snarfing five pieces of pizza in fairly quick succession is really that much of a chore— and I KNOW I’ve seen the Maestro inhale more pizza than that at a sitting, so it’s not like he’s a lightweight when it comes to packing in the ‘za. I do think that there is a quality to take-out, hole-in-the-wall pizza that makes it kind of homogenous, though. I mean, once your tongue’s been scalded by too-hot ‘za and the inside of your mouth has that fine coat of grease going on, it becomes kind of hard to tell one slice from the next. Barring, of course, significant spikes or dips in quality.
I do wonder whether the Maestro ever gets catcalled on that little scooter thing of his, or if it’s only when he’s getting out of a black 2016 Ford Mustang GT. I think it’s a reasonable question.