Friday, November 16, 2018

The U.S. Pizza Family

The night air was cold. In Valley City, we were far enough from Lake Erie to be mostly immune to the freezing lake effect, but the seasonal chill still bit at your bones. The Ohio landscape had been a painter's palette of fall colors on the drive down from Detroit.

Some twenty pizzaiolos and some of their counterparts huddled near Jason Samosky's wood-fired oven, a welcome reprieve from the cold. A steady supply of a seasonal ale magically seemed to appear. It tasted....interesting....but the price of free couldn't be beat. Clinking bottles joined the sounds of merriment, and a din of 10 conversations.

We tried to put a guitar in Patrick Maggi's hands and badger him into some entertainment, but on this night, he wasn't budging from being off the clock. Maggi shoved it back to me, but a nagging cough had left my voice incapable of carrying a tune.

Jokes were told, photos of kids were shown around, and business problems were hashed over for input.

Tommorrow, they would all be competing against each other for a free trip to Italy, but tonight they were just friends catching up and re-living old times. None of these men and women really saw each other as competition.

Patrick Maggi debates the merits of fuel wood choice
with Sean Dempsey.

Tonight, they were mining each other for information, sharing their love of the craft and sharing trade secrets. Adam Smith's free-market economic philosophies may have pit these businesspersons in a dog-eat-dog scenario in theory, but in practice they were partners in a greater endeavor. An enterprise of improving quality and service for all.

For all the pomp and circumstance of awards ceremonies, "black coats," trophies, and titles; what makes the United States Pizza Team special are the not the melodies played in the stanza per se....but the spaces between the notes most people don't ever really hear in the song.

Dan Uccello listens to Anthony Scalia relating a story.
It's never been a "team" in the traditional sense of a hard roster, organized by a coach with some grand "Bear" Bryant strategic plan. But spend any amount of time around some of these folks, and it becomes clear that there is really very few descriptors that fit more than the word "team."

I can actually think of one. "Family."

Sean Dempsey admires a photo of
the handiwork of Lars Smith.

As this loose collection of wild cards all sat down to break bread together, I pondered on the meaning of family. By complete coincidence, my own original concept of what a family was began on this same road, exactly 3.4 miles east of Samosky's Homestyle Pizzeria. My family lived on a farm property in a rented house for several years. It was then the traditional nuclear family with doting grandparents living a couple miles away in Medina.

Eventually, my nuclear family would suffer an atomic split, an reconfigure a thousand miles away in a different form. The farm is no longer there, replaced now by a collection of weeds and trees, and a neighborhood of cookie-cutter mini-mansions where the back forty used to be. The remaining living members of that family are scattered across the country, blown to and fro by the winds of circumstance.

I learned then that family can change. It is not a strict definition determined by a census bureaucrat or defined by what names written are written in a family bible. The saying goes that you can't choose your family. That's not necessarily true. You may not have chosen what family you were born into, but you can certainly choose which people you spend significant parts of your life around. And to that end, as members of this United States Pizza Team keep assembling at this or that contest, year after year... they become connected and stay connected. They look to better themselves and each other, and measure their improvement in fits and spurts, hoping with each competition to not necessarily be better than the next guy... but simply be a better pizza maker than the one they were yesterday.

Ultimately, in these contests, each man and woman really competes only against themselves. The other guys? Well they're just family.