When I Was a Superhero

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The added benefit of my Zen detachment was that it insulated me from criticism. I was merely the courier. If the pizza itself was bad or had the wrong toppings, I never lingered long enough to hear about it and couldn’t be at fault. Some schmuck back at the store had to take that call, although I might have to return with the corrected order, for no additional tip. The worst I personally could do was get lost or arrive late, and that never happened.

OK, it happened once, and the memory haunts me to this day. The delivery was to a Days Inn—or maybe a Quality Inn or a Hampton Inn or a Comfort Inn—and Williamsburg had three or four Days Inns (and Quality, Hampton, and Comfort inns). So, I drove to the Days Inn I thought was correct and attempted to make my delivery. I had the wrong hotel. Thinking it might be another Days Inn farther afield, I drove down the highway and tried again. Wrong hotel. My third try, a failure. My fourth, too, which is when I phoned Domino’s for help. Come on back, they told me—the customers had been calling to find out where their pizza was.

At the store, my manager walked me to the wide front windows and pointed across the vast strip-mall parking lot to an agglomeration of hotels and motels just visible a quarter mile away. Peeking out from among the brownish buildings was a sign that read “Days Inn.” With a pat on my back, he indicated the fresh, hot replacement pizzas he’d prepared and let me go deliver them. Surprisingly, he wasn’t angry. It was just pizza. They were just tourists. We ate my errors together that night.

As the end of the summer approached, I prepared to return to college. With the money I’d made, I’d bought a portable CD player, which I connected to my car stereo and which skipped with every bump in the road, and a TV for my dorm room. Meanwhile, a coworker had bought a new Honda Civic that got 50 miles to the gallon—the perfect pizza-guy steed—and I considered starting up a newsletter for Domino’s Pizza guys to share advice about cars, deliveries, how to perfectly balance a stack of pies on a canted bucket seat. Such information, I knew, would be useful—valuable, even.

But I did nothing. I went back to school and during winter break picked up a few more shifts at Domino’s, but I could tell I was done. There were other, more grown-up jobs to get—video-store clerk, English teacher, copy editor. I couldn’t be a pizza boy forever.

Except that a part of me has remained that 19-year-old pizza boy. Throughout my complicated grown-up career, with its lows (getting laid off from Fox News) and highs (travel columnist at The New York Times), I’ve wished at times for the utter simplicity of the Domino’s gig. I missed the solitude of my Toyota, the look of joy and relief on my starving customers’ faces, and the confidence that I’d done all I needed to do simply by showing up.

Matt Gross writes frequently for the New York Times travel section and for Saveur, is a contributing writer at Afar magazine, and blogs about parenting at DadWagon.com. His last piece for Gourmet Live was My Life As a Freeloader. Follow him on Twitter @worldmattworld.

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