One of the paradoxes of pizza delivery is that all the times a man might want to have for his own are positively the best times to be doing his job. That is, whenever normal people want to be doing normal things, one of the normal things they want to do is order pizza. Basketball games, Saturday nights, and all the drinking holidays, none can be missed if I wants to scrape together a tuition payment.
Inclement weather always means big business, and very little weather is worse than a snow storm. What will prove to be the biggest storm of the year has already put almost four inches on the ground during the day before I show up for the Saturday evening shift. It is Thanksgiving weekend and Winter has come early this year.
"We're staying open," Murph says once everybody has shown up, "but anybody who doesn't feel safe driving can go home."
The store manager, Adam Murphy, is a genuinely sweet guy. Two or three drivers grin a bit and head back towards the office to give back their banks, the lucky bastards.
"For everybody else, thirty-minute delivery is obviously suspended. We're going to give a one to two hour wait time on the phone. I suggest you say it first thing when you answer so they can hang up if they don't want to wait. Since school is out we'll stop taking orders at midnight instead of three."
"How about some hazard pay?" somebody asks.
"Afraid not. But the tips should be great with the weather like this."
The phone rings, and I walk over to answer it.
Murphy was half right about the tips. The snowfall takes a break for an hour an hour or two at dusk, and the customers balance between feeling sorry for me delivering in the weekend's sudden freezing cold and being irritated that their dinner took an hour plus to arrive.
When the sun stops heating the asphalt, the slush freezes over in spots. Though the sand trucks have been out all day, the ground is still treacherous, even with with front-wheel drive. Cars skid out past stop lights and have to creep back behind the line almost shyly. Pedestrians shuffle along like cheap import robots, making some progress but with an occasional software glitch that results in full ground-body contact.
My final delivery for the night -- long after the storm has started up again -- is to one of the girls' scholarship halls. A boys' hall and a girls' hall stay open through Thanksgiving for the kids who don't have anywhere else to go. The order is for five pies. I have the feeling that this is movie night, probably with some real tear-jerkers.
Due to school being out for the holiday there has not been a delivery to campus all night, which is good because the hill is going to be a rough climb for anything less than a snowcat. The scholarship hall is at the top of 14th street, which is itself an alarmingly steep approach to the hill. Covered with snow and ice glittering in the streetlights it becomes almost comically insurmountable, towering in front of my car like Mount Everest in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
There is an unlit alleyway that cuts a diagonal pathway up the hill, which I take. This has the advantage of driving on at least a layer loose snow rather than strictly ice. Also, the alley has a short wall on one side and a curb on the other; unlike the street there are not rows of cars on either side to crash into if I lose control of my car.
When I am about halfway up the hill the tires slip for a moment so I gently press the brake pedal. The car's wheels lock up anyway. I can feel down in my viscera that I won't be getting control back for a bit, so I hold the steering wheel straight and give gravity the initiative. They say that people often perceive events in slow motion during times of extreme stress. I am surprisingly relaxed about pachinkoing down the alley, though, and it happens in literal slow motion, with a total of maybe a full circle worth of turn and five collisions over two hundred feet, all at one mile per hour. When the Honda stops moving it is conveniently pointed towards the exit of the alleyway.
Falling down on heavy snow is painless and easy. Even though I land in some especially ridiculous positions trying to keep all five pizzas upright, it doesn't hurt at all thanks to all the padding on the ground. I store for future reference the fact that worn-out sneakers are a poor choice for this kind of outdoor activity.
The girl who answers the door looks faintly alarmed at my condition, eyebrows raised behind her tortoiseshell horn-rims. She invites me inside to warm up while she goes upstairs to collect the money. I try to brush some of the powder off myself before I go in so it won't end up on their carpet. Company policy says that drivers are never supposed to go inside, but seriously, who cares?
I had been expecting it to be subdued in the house, sad even. Like taking the boredom of being trapped inside on a Saturday multiplied by the loneliness of being with strangers on a family holiday.
Instead it is just the opposite.
The girls have gotten the Christmas decorations down from the attic. They are going to decorate the entire house to surprise the others when they get back. There is a fire going in the fireplace and an enormous fake pine tree in the corner beside it. It looks like the group responsible for decorating it has momentarily moved to the couch to make garlands out of popcorn. Somebody wearing a nightgown sees me and blushes and giggles a little as she hurries down the main hall, carrying a half-dozen wreathes on each arm. The scene is all very Norman Rockwell, oh yes.
"I didn't realize how late it was when I called," the girl in glasses says as she comes down the stairs. There are curlers in her hair, an anachronism that I hadn't noticed before. "I tried to call back and cancel it but I guess you had already left."
"No problem," I say. And to my surprise, even with the car and the hill and all the damned snow, it honestly was not.
"Anyway, sorry to drag you out so late in this awful weather." She hands me a wad of bills that I stuff in my front pants pocket without looking at.
"Really," I say, smiling to her and nodding a bit, "it was my pleasure." Again, truth in a well-worn platitude.
"Well, thank you. Have a safe trip back."
As I gather my pizza bags and turn to leave, she takes a step forward and brushes a large handful of half-melted snow off of my back. Then, after quickly glancing both ways, she stands on her tip-toes and gives me two quiet, soft, brief, warm kisses on my frozen cheek.
In years of working delivery, it is the best tip I have ever gotten.
Cleaning the store when I get back goes by like it never happened. My sleep schedule is so jacked that I am still wide awake when I get home at one-thirty. My roommate, Graham, has been up all night working on physics homework and really only sleeps during the day anyway.
He and I get in my car and take one of the easy roads onto campus, to the dormitories. The snow stopped for good an hour ago and now the entire city is hushed, hushed, sound asleep under its white blanket with a Milky Way crib mobile hanging overhead. The act of waiting at a stoplight becomes surreal when there is not a single other car on the road.
Driving up in front of the main tower we roll down all four windows. I shift the car into reverse and turn the wheel all the way to one side. The city's silence is broken when I gun the engine, and we whoop and holler and take turns doing backwards donuts in the empty parking lot.