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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Today In The Mailbox ...

I have a nephew who will graduate high school next year. He's looking at several colleges and wants to make some visits this summer. Did you know that the average B+ or better high school student will receive approximately 1,300 to 1,500 pieces of college recruitment literature in the mail between the end of their sophomore year and graduation? And I though I got all the junk mail. I hear trees weeping.

Anyway, since I've been to three universities, I've been invited along for my "expert" opinion. Now, I don't want it to sound like I was a drop-out of a discipline problem. I attended one university for my undergraduate studies and a larger institution for grad school. I also spent a summer at an extended writing workshop at a third college.

I have lots of college stories ... most I would never tell my nephew or his parents ... or anyone without a weapon pointed to my head. But through my experiences, after juggling programming options and placement rates with campus facilities and scholarship opportunities, I know there is one important factor often overlooked in the college selection process ... the quality of local pizza!!

When I first started my freshman year with 16,000 other students, I was a fresh-faced pup raised on franchise pizza like Pizza Hut and Domino's. I'm not knocking them, but they don't always have the best or consistent product. And my hometown had two small pizzerias, but one didn't deliver and the other used the used motor oil from a nearby car dealership to grease there pizza pans ... so I heard. I was ripe for a new dough-and-sauce experience.

For a good-sized college town, there were at least 20 pizza shops that warily delivered to campus ... eight within easy hoofing distance. One of the high points in my deep-dish life was the day my three dorm mates and I walked into the door of Sons of Sicily Pizza Shoppe. The lighting was dark, almost like a moody live-music club. There was an area of tables-for-two as well as larger seating options and a much-coveted corner booth with torn red vinyl seats. That day, we grabbed the booth and dined on fresh garlic bread and am extra-large pan pepperoni/sausage pie. The sauce was thicker than any I've tasted, heavy with oregano, sage, and rosemary. And the owners insisted on a mozzarella/provolone blend. It was fabulous ... so much so that the four of us repeatedly made up financial fibs for our parents (the prices for laundry went up, I need another textbook, etc.) so we could have extra pizza money.

Oddly, Sons of Sicily was only four blocks from one edge of campus but they wouldn't deliver to the dorms. That kind of made it the place to hang out. And the night-time waits proved it!!

I really didn't think anything ... anywhere ... would top a pizza from Sicily's, but then, in the summer between my junior and senior years, I was invited to attend an eight-week summer writing clinic at a school in the southern most part of the state. I got to spend a whole 10 days at home before repacking some of my belongings and moving about two hours away for an intensive training regimen. Then, during week two, I discovered Mylo's and his "Spicy Pineapple Fungus Pie" ... not one, not two, but THREE kinds of mushrooms and the most garlic-ridden tomato sauce ever created. I reeked, but I just sat in my critique sessions with a dumb smile on my face and plans for more Mylo's.

After graduation, I really felt crippled. Sicily's was nearly two hours out of reach to the north, Mylo's was literally unreachable just over two hours southeast. And the local fare tasted like wet cardboard to my pampered palette.

Grad school made it worse. My coursework was difficult, people didn't want to make friends as much as get through classes and get the hell off of campus. I was living there just off campus ... three miles from the shores of murky Lake Erie ... feeling lonely, overwhelmed, and having dark thoughts, when life handed me a shooting star in the form of Luke's Harbor Inn and the owner's personal hobby ... a brick pizza oven. I sat at the bar on my first visit and asked my server, Leslie, what was good. "Do you like cheese?," she asked. I nodded and muttered "yeah," so she described the establishment's locally-famous four signature pizzas. There was a celebration of olives ... YUCK!, a meat lover's feast that came with a certificate for a free angioplasty if you could finish a large pie ... No, and white pizza with shrimp, chicken, and an alfredo-like sauce ... tempting, and ... get this ... a thick hand-made crust covered with sweet basil sauce and provolone with one half additionally topped with cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles, the other bubbling with Swiss cheese and spicy andouille sausage. They called it "Four Corners Pizza" ... I called it Heaven on a crust! Ding, ding, ding ... we have a winner!! My life was never the same.

Luckily, my nephew and I share some interesting qualities ... I'm sure he won't mind making one or two mandatory pizza stops part of his personal college search procedures.

POINT OF RANT: The "pizza rule" also applies to relocating and moving, as do great Chinese delivery, a good multi-screen theatre, a library branch, and, if possible Caribou Coffee.

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