Meditations on the Decline of Mystery in Pizza Consumption in Western Civilization

I ordered a pizza for dinner the other night.

No big deal. We all do it. Oftentimes, more than we should. Grab the menu left on your doorknob, decide what you want, make a phone call, and in about an hour you have pizza in the comfort of your own home.

But I got to reminiscing. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, I would say in some respects, we have traded away mystery for comfort; social ritual for isolation.

When I was growing up, in between walking backwards uphill both ways through 15 feet of snow just to get to school, and back when computers took up whole rooms and primarily consisted of switches, buttons, blinking lights, reels of tape, and punch cards, people actually used to go out for pizza.

Pizza was an EVENT, not a convenience. Pizza was SPECIAL, not a symptom of laziness or indifference. Pizza was a communal social experience, not a shameful private meal furtively and guiltily consumed in the living room. Sure, you could order a pizza to go, back in those days, but that was never as fun as eating it at the restaurant. At the restaurant, pizza was shrouded in MYSTERY.

Case in point – Annapolis, MD: dateline, further back than I’m willing to admit. Three pizza places come to mind. Buzzy’s (later PieZano’s) on West Street, Pappy’s on Riva Road (no longer there), and Rocco’s on Forest Drive.

Buzzy’s/PieZano’s, was a large building, painted entirely in black on the inside. Inside were long tables, as I recall. You and your family/friends would go up to the counter and decide what sort of pizza(s) to get, place the order, get a few pitchers of soda (often root beer, for me), and then wait for your number to be called. While waiting, you could go play Space Invaders, Night Driver, Asteroids, or other video games. If I recall correctly, they also played music. You got to mingle with other people playing video games, and see what sorts of pizza other people were enjoying. Eventually, your pizza was ready, and everybody would head back to the table and eat, occasionally getting pitchers refilled, or taking a break for another round of Space Invaders.

Pappy’s was smaller. But what was cool about them was, they had a window into their kitchen, so you could watch the pizzas being made. Would the guy miss catching the dough he was spinning around? What toppings would go onto each pizza? Was this next one the pizza you had ordered? Ack! The suspense!! I don’t remember if they had video games or not, but they were definitely better lit. The atmosphere was more “family restaurant” style than the Cavern of Mystery atmosphere of Buzzy’s.

Rocco’s was legendary. At least for me, as it was on the other side of town. I don’t think I actually made it there until at least junior high, maybe high school. I’d heard about it from friends. Their pizza was pretty damn good as I recall, but it was more of a hang-out place that one could easily leave when finished with one’s pizza. Going there with friends in high school was more of a social thing than a ritualistic pizza experience like Buzzy’s or Pappy’s.

Eventually, Pappy’s turned into a Pizza Hut, and then another restaurant entirely. Maybe it’s changed several times now. Buzzy’s eventually became PieZano’s, and I think later added a big screen projection TV. I’m not sure if they’re still around or not. Rocco’s? No idea if they’re still there. I think they are, but it’s been years since I’ve been in that neighborhood.

Now, even when I go back to Annapolis, we just end up ordering a pizza and having it delivered. My parents have even gotten over their fear of one of the better delivery places that they were once convinced had ties to Al-Qaeda (no, really).

I don’t know if pizza places like the ones I used to go to still exist or not, but even if they do, I fear that their existence is mostly irrelevant at this point. Pizza is no longer mysterious. It’s a phone call away. Hell, you can buy 150 varieties of it at the grocery store.

Once upon a time, though, there was mystery.

And every once in a while, I like to remember the rituals associated with it.