Earlier this month I escaped Seattle’s damp, chill grasp and ran away to my sunny hometown of Gainesville, Florida. I had 4 goals: see some relatives, ride with my homies on the country roads of Hogtown, do a bike race, and see a girl. No one’s really interested in my relatives, and so let’s skip to my friends. Goals #3 and 4 will be an entirely different entries.
My three best friends and I all used to deliver pizza by bicycle on the University of Florida campus and also raced on the university club, Team Florida. Basically we were all slackers who found the one job that allowed us to ride a bike, avoid the real world, and eke out a meager existence in a college town. I’ve delivered pizzas to Heisman winners and hooligans, stoner frat boys and stellar grad students, and all manner of beautiful girls who usually looked at me with a mix of awe and revulsion. I rode my bike into the ICU of the largest hospital in the southeast and been clocked by UPD at nearly twice the campus speed limit. A rainy night during finals week was like a constant 6hr sprint workout until 2 AM. I’ve been a bike messenger in DC, but I can tell you that pizza delivery was crazier on a peak night. We rode all manner of bikes, stacking the pizzas in insulated bags on top of the handlebar until we could barely see forward, and our un-laden return trips to the restaurant had people diving for safety. And I was never happier than when I was foaming at the mouth busy.
There are so many stories I could tell. When you factor in the inside restaurant crew and the corporate goons upstairs at the student union, the whole atmosphere was like a movie combination of Quicksilver and Half-baked set in college and written by Kevin Smith, with just a touch of Office Space. One story that I will share is that several of the drivers (we were always called drivers even though we were on bicycles) kept lists of students’ names whom we either liked or despised, so that the next time we knew to whom were delivering. If we didn’t like you, your pizza was likely going to be cold or crushed and the last thing we would deliver on that run. And if you really pissed us off¦well, let’s just say that one should never f*#k with people who make one’s food (I’m talking to you Steve at Broward Hall 1999-2000¦.how d’ya like them apples?!). We also kept lists of people we liked, and our good graces could be bought by ostentatious tipping or the smile of a gorgeous coed.
The name at the top of my all-time fav list belongs to a girl who lived in the old Hume Hall. Back then I’d be stuck with a crappy early Saturday shift (the night shift was money), and the first order would be a gentle, sleepy voice on the phone. This lithesome redhead with a nose piercing would meet me promptly as I rolled my Schwinn Madison to the dorm’s central stair. She was always game for a little chit-chat and always that smile. What a cutey! And I’d see her dancing at raves, which probably explains why she was always still dressed in pajamas when she paid for her pizza at 2PM and why I was still sucking on blow-pops and smelling faintly of Vic’s Vapor Rub. Oh, it was a crazy time for me, but even years later and living on the other side of the continent, I still remember her name and face.
And so it was that on my last night of my vacation in Gainesville, after doing the fast Tuesday group ride from the Hippodrome Theater, me and one of my buddies stopped by Leo’s 706, locally famous for their pizzas and especially their desserts. I was feeling pretty good since I had managed to stay with the fast group despite being horrendously under-geared on my fixie. In fact, I hit 35mph in a 42x15 with reserves of speed left. One second I’m at the back of the pack, and the next I’m shooting past riders like a nuclear hamster wheel in overdrive. That’s what years of pizza delivery on a track bike have given me: a pathetic job resume, an addiction to diet cola, good friends, and the ability to spin at an inhuman cadence.
Stepping into the restaurant, my homie is sizing up the peanut butter pie while I’m inspecting the hostess. Shorter hair, a little thinner in the face and distinctly pregnant, but the nose piercing and smile are still there. I tap her on the shoulder.
Hey, did you use to live in Hume Hall?
Oh yeah long, long time ago in the old Hume Hall before they torn it down. How did you know?
I used to deliver pizzas to you for the campus Lil’ Caesar’s, by bike.
Oh my god, yeah, I remember.
And your name was, hmm¦ I feigned as if I were actually straining to remember, but of course I knew it before I had even spoken a word to her. It’s Cherisse, I said with a smile.