The trouble with storing pizza is rooted in two main issues: heat maintenance and steam release. These two issues are linked, as too much steam release will make the pizza cold, and too little steam release will make the pizza soggy. The founder of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Monaghan, solved both of these problems, working with a Detroit-based cardboard company to develop the first modern, corrugated cardboard pizza box in the mid-1960s. Once developed, it wasn’t long before the boxes became the industry standard.
These newly invented pizza boxes, much like the old ones, shipped flat, unfolded. This meant they had to be folded, cracked into shape, brought to life in the third dimension by the hands of a pizza shop employee. Two summers ago, I was such an employee. Mechanically, I would pull a flattened box off the stack, crack the cardboard into right angles along the creases, fold the sides over themselves, tuck the tabs into the precut slits, and throw the box on the store’s pile.
I was 16 years old, about to enter my senior year of high school, and had just began working as a pizza delivery driver for my local shop, “Gusto’s.” My friend Kevin had referred me to his boss, Kasim, just one week earlier. It was to be my first real job, and I was a bit nervous, but Kevin had assured me the application process was easy. It was. When I drove over to the shop to “apply”, all Kasim did was ask if I had a car, to which I said yes. I was hired on the spot, having filled out no paperwork whatsoever, and given my first shift. I learned quickly, and felt very comfortable working at Gusto’s in no time at all.
Despite my job title, I had a slew of other responsibilities which kept me busy when there were no deliveries to be made, and late when I had to help close shop. In addition to driving any deliveries that came in, I was expected to do all the dishes, sweep the floors, fold pizza boxes, make chicken wings and gyros, and help the pizza maker, a twenty-something year old Latino man named Leo, roll the dough for the next day’s pies.
Leo was reserved, and didn’t speak much English, but he was a good man, and a very patient teacher. I didn’t know it until I worked at Gusto’s, but pizzas are made from balls of dough which are pulled and folded with a certain technique that leaves no creases at all on the outside. Leo taught me how to do this solely through demonstration, taking his time to show me just how to hold the dough, where to place my hands, the right technique to use when pulling it with my fingers, and the proper way to press a finished ball into a seamless disk. We did this for some time each night, filling up trays with disks of dough, six on each. During this part of the night, I would often converse with Leo. He could comprehend English quite well, but his speaking was far from mastered. I asked him many things, and, through gesticulation and broken English, he answered. He told me about how he was sending his wages to his family in Mexico and to his sister, a college student in New York City. He asked me about my family. I told him about how I had grown up in town, and how I liked my high school.
One evening, as I was just getting off an afternoon shift, Leo asked me to do him a favor. He pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket, gave me two twenty-dollar bills, and asked me to buy a birthday cake for the woman who was working the register, Ashleigh. I think he had a little bit of a crush on her, and when he found out it was her birthday, he saw an opportunity to act. He wanted me to get her a cake with her name written on it. Leo’s money in hand, I ran from Gusto’s over to Hannaford’s, a local grocery store. I made my way to the bakery and picked out a nice little cake with some decorative flowers, had “Happy Birthday Ashleigh” written on it in pink frosting, and grabbed a pack of candles for good measure. I checked out and ran back over to Gusto’s, making sure to sneak in the back. I then gave Leo the cake, the candles, and his change and wished him the best of luck before leaving. I’d like to think we were friends, though I often wonder if I could’ve done more.
At the end of the last shift of my second week, I helped Leo with the dough, shook out the carpet, swept under all the tables, cleaned the glass pizza case on the front counter, and clocked out. As I was walking towards the back of the shop to leave, Kasim told me to wait up. I didn’t know what for. I came back inside and watched, clueless, as he knelt down and opened up the safe which sat across from our Fry-O-Lator. I had never really been told about any hourly wages; all I knew was that I got to keep my tips. As it turned out, I had been making a decent hourly on top of my moderate tip income, and as I watched Kasim count out $180 all in tens, happiness bubbled up inside me. Something about being handed an unexpected wad of cash empowers a young man.
That night, I walked, cash in hand, from the back door of Gusto’s to my ’03 Honda Odyssey, with a special route home in mind. I started the car, plugged my phone into the cassette-tape aux cord, cranked up the volume, rolled down the windows, and drove out to the countryside just south of town. I made for Unionville-Feura Bush Road, or “308”, my favorite road in Albany County. 308 is a winding, two-lane road with a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit that runs along the first of the rolling hills that shoot up outside the valley. It’s a fun road to drive, with plenty of dips and breakneck turns, even a few views of Albany’s skyline if you know when to look. I know the road well, and on that night, I showed it off. With the dark silhouettes of trees looming all around, farm fields periodically flying by on either side, warm air buffeting my face, my eyes reduced to watery slits, I pushed the accelerator lower and lower to the floor. I was a madman. Sometimes, I would turn my headlights off entirely. It amused me. I was different back then. I may have seen my fair share of deliveries and folded my fair share of boxes, but I didn’t understand then what I know now: I will never have delivered or folded enough.
Noah Coates, a Freshman at Geneseo, hails from a quaint suburban area in Delmar, NY. In his free time, Noah enjoys driving his minivan around his town at speeds far below the legal limit. His inspiration for this piece, cut out of the story itself, was a simple pizza box, flattened out in parking lot J on the south side of Geneseo’s campus. He stopped when he saw it lying there, unfolded, cast aside, left as refuse in the shadow of a pickup truck. As he stood over the flattened box, it brought back many memories of his life as a delivery boy, which he has always looked back on fondly.