Autumn breezes make me hungry. On Monday, Nov. 1, what with the time change and all, I was starved by 4:30 p.m. I had just heard on my car radio about money off pizzas sold at area Domino's on the Mondays after Redskins games. Six Redskins touchdowns the day before meant a saving of six bucks per pie. So I wheeled into my neighborhood pie factory and pulled into the last available parking space. The tiny takeout lobby teemed with moms and kids, while outside the line was snaking through the lot and down the sidewalk. I faced the backs of a handsome young man who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with "Team America" and an attractive young woman with long, brown hair. An older man with sparkling blue eyes and leaves in his hair queued behind me.
Mr. Leafy Hair and I agreed that the Domino's experience was unprecedented.
The twenty-somethings ahead of me turned and we talked about the Redskins and pizza. I asked for advice on what to order, saying that I had not ordered a pizza for about five years. Ms. Brown Hair suggested I get a medium. "Most people order large," she told me, "but the mediums come out of the oven right away."
Now I was inside and nearing the order lane. Phones rang incessantly. The odor of burned crust swirled around harried customers. The noise level of cooks' and deliverymen's shouts and customers' congenial chat rose with each new arrival.
I interrupted my menu-reading to ask a young man in a Penn State T-shirt if he knew what "Nittany Lion" means.
"I went to the Naval Academy," he said. "I got this T-shirt on a run. I don't know what it means," he said, which sparked a lively debate about the origin of "Nittany."
A man with green eyes said he did not think it meant anything, and then volunteered that his wait number was 69.
It was 5:15 p.m. and Domino's had sold out of regular crust. I asked for a "deep dish veggie medium." I was number 81.
I found the noise uncomfortable; the room hot and packed with hungry people. I struggled through the crowd to my car to wait for my wait number to be called. About 10 men slouched against my modest Escort. One man grumbled that I was taking away their "lean space."
"You can still lean," I said.
To a man, as united as the defensive line of a football team, they switched left and pressed against the car next to mine.
I knitted on a blanket for a friend's baby, listened to man-chat and enjoyed the balmy night from the comfort of my bucket seat. But only for a while. Worried that I might miss my number, I struggled back into the pizza inferno. I was now in the top level of Domino's Hell--in the wait line for pickup.
"Number 54," shouted a baby-faced assistant manager.
I observed the workers crowded behind the scenes, and it was clear they had lost control . . . pies coming and going, the numbering system completely screwed up. As I knit near the entrance to the kitchen, men rushed past me, large pies swaddled in plastic delivery cases, intent on reaching their goal--a suburbanite's home.
As each new person arrived, almost everyone asked if I started the almost-finished baby blanket when I arrived to order a pizza. After a bit, I answered, "Yes."
Mr. 69 returned to the line just after Baby Face called "68." Then, B.F. called: "70. 71. 74."
Mr. 69 had ordered two pizzas, but only one pie came out. Someone fumbled the ball. After 15 minutes of dickering, he left with one pie and a refund.
Two people who ordered by phone stood just inside the kitchen area and asked constantly about their pizzas.
A woman next to me said that she had attended her first Redskins game the previous day with her 12-year-old son. "What about the size of those guys," I asked.
A spontaneous discussion developed about the remarkable 90-yard run by a 313-pound man, punctuated by the new arrival's yells to kitchen staff. She spelled out her name repeatedly until it was etched in our collective memory.
Mr. Blue Eyes complained loudly that phone orderers were receiving preferential treatment, just as Mr. Baby Face announced to Ms. First-time Redskins that "you are not in our system." She said she called at 4:30--about the time I thought about getting a pizza. The manager took her aside and made a deal with her. Her hands empty, her SUV cut a wheelie as she left.
At last, number 80. No response. I located Ms. Brown Hair warming a bench at the front of the store. Her neighbor nudged her awake.
"81, 81, number 81," I called the play mentally as I straightened my uniform, er, business suit.
Magically, I got the call, received the pizza pass-off in one fluid motion and ran broken-field to the parking lot. Pushed inside the car by the backfield, I asked that someone create a hole for me to get through.
"I will for a slice of pizza," said a gorgeous hunk. I gave him a wink instead, and, soon, the field was clear, a clean break for home.
Now, I usually charge $40 to $50 as a consultant. With a $6 saving on a $12 pizza and a two-hour wait, I figure that I cheated myself out of at least $74 for my Monday-night pizza. Fuggedaboutit. I wouldn't trade my Domino's buddies for anything. What a team.