Thursday, May 25, 2017

This Was NOT Part of the Plan! (feat. Kenny G)

Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in a crowded but quiet airport lounge in Portugal (Lisbon, to be precise). Dan Uccello has passed out on a chair. His brother, Davide, indicates Dan is not feeling well. Their associate, Alex Garcia, just looks happy to be out of an airplane momentarily. Meanwhile, Michael LaMarca is concerned about our baggage. As well he should be. Even 12 hours prior, none of the five of us had the slightest idea we would be sitting together in a foreign country we had never been to. I never thought when I left the house that I’d end up in Portugal (which is beautiful, by the way). This was NOT part of the plan.
There’s greater concern about our baggage than if we were just on vacation. For me, the contents of my suitcase could mean the difference between doing my job effectively or possibly not at all. For them, the entire purpose of their visit is in jeopardy. Everyone in this party is part of the United States Pizza Team. They have entered themselves as competitors in the 26th annual World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy. A town we’re having a great deal of difficulty getting to. If the baggage is lost, it means they don’t have many of their primary ingredients and none of their tools, with only one day prior to the start of competition. Currently, in this scenario, I am in good shape. On a whim, I packed most of my clothes in carry-on bags. LaMarca did not. He has no underwear for tomorrow.

The primary cause of our dilemma is one of those things that cannot be controlled (nor adequately predicted, despite all our technology). Weather. Due to inclement weather in New York, all our flights have been delayed and diverted, resulting in us meeting in Atlanta and collectively missing our flight to Milan. So we remain in Lisbon, waiting for a flight.

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Dan doesn’t know it yet, but he will eventually rally from these setbacks to end up being honored at the World Pizza Championship awards ceremony. I will switch my coverage to a DSLR camera for the cheese factory tour that I do not at this point know I will even be going on. Alex will continue to look just happy to be wherever he is. And LaMarca will buy some underwear at a street market. (They may not fit right. He’s built like a Maytag washing machine.)

And, ultimately, that is the point of this week’s Pizza Perspective. If I’ve learned one thing in my almost four decades on planet earth, it’s that nothing EVER goes 100% according to plan. What is most often the differentiator between success and failure in any venture is how you handle the adversity that is created when things go off track. 

Just like LeBron James in last year’s NBA Finals, Dan Uccello of Flo’s Pizzeria in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to dig his team out of a hole and find a way to win. That’s exactly what he did, coming back from an ingredient and tools deficit to take the top score of any U.S. competitor at the World Pizza Championship. 

Photo: Sarah Beth Wiley Smith

How did he do it? Not alone. Several of his additional U.S. Pizza teammates, already on the ground in Parma, obtained a list of the ingredients he had packed and lost. They took it upon themselves to go to the markets to get them. By the time Dan finally arrived in Parma, he found he had almost everything he needed. When the U.S. Pizza Team said his win was a team win, it wasn’t just hyperbole. Mr. Rogers once said that when times get tough, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” If there’s a cheat code for getting out of a jam, that might just be it. After all, no man is an island. 

As an added bonus, sharing the situation as a collective actually gave me a chance to get to know the Uccello brothers and Alex and served as a bonding experience. It also gave Dan time to pick LaMarca’s brain for marketing advice. This served as another reminder in my many life lessons that there’s always a silver lining to every cloud. (Additionally, I decided to create one of my own silver linings by lining my messenger bag with beers from the airport lounge. Sshhh.)

As an added bonus, we even got to meet legendary saxophonist Kenny G in an airport! Really!

Kenny G!

And what of LaMarca’s underpants? Well…  some questions are probably better left unanswered.

With age and wisdom, I’ve gotten a lot better over the years at handling the times things don’t go according to plan (although admittedly, I’m a slow learner.) There’s certainly always room for more improvement, however. There's an old prayer that goes something like this: “Grant me the ability to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m not a religious person, but I have found this to hold a great deal of truth. And somebody once said, “The truth shall set you free.”


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