Home > Cuisine by Brian Schropp > Beware of Traveling Pizza Men! Brian Schropp on Cuisine

Beware of Traveling Pizza Men! Brian Schropp on Cuisine

Brian Schropp on Cuisine

Brian Schropp on Cuisine

I have heard the tales of traveling pizza men most of my life but I honestly thought they were just the stuff of legend and folklore. Vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells traveling the roadways with their compact pizza stands setting up shop sometimes for a day or even just a few hours selling ‘wholesome pizza’ to an unsuspecting public. These con artists were out just to make a quick buck and nothing else. The ‘pizza pies’ were usually made with the lowest quality toppings available or ones that were stolen from actually pizza shops. Horror stories of people taking their pizzas home only to find that the ‘crust’ was made of simple cardboard or that the ‘sauce and cheese’ was really just red paste and shredded packing peanuts. By the time the police were called these evil fiends were already far down the road counting the real ‘dough’.

Most of these tales sprang up during two different times in Lankville history- the lean and hard depression years and the ‘pizza prohibition’ years. Both eras were so far in our past that many (including myself!!) took these men to be almost myth. Well, sadly I had to learn the hard way that this practice is very much alive.

A picture from the 'pizza prohibition' years. A very dark time in our history.

A picture from the ‘pizza prohibition’ years. A very dark time in our history.

Of course all of this would happen when my manager Scott had stepped out to run a few errands one day last week. Our early afternoon rush had just ended and there was always a bit of lag time before the mid-afternoon rush would pick up. I was in the back showing my ‘cleaning team’ the finer points of some new scrubbing brushes when Big James (the kid in charge of the nacho cheese) came up to me.

“Huh– Bri, it looks like there is a-huh-group of guys outside—and huh—they’re setting up what looks like a pizza stand–singing and yellin’ and-huh-stuff like that. No one knows what to do cause Scott isn’t here.”

We were also between assistant managers yet again so I peeled off my yellow cleaning gloves and headed up front with Big James. We joined Charlie ‘The Nugget Guy’ by our storefront window who was keeping an eye on the whole thing. “Looks like traveling pizza men to me and they’re putting on quite a spectacle. Got a whole huge crowd gathering around them now. They know what they’re doing– setting up by the dialysis center. Those old folks don’t know if they’re coming or going.”

I pressed my face really close to the glass. “I can’t believe there is really such a thing as traveling pizza men!”

Charlie shook his head and gave his usual sarcastic snicker, a snicker born out of many hard years in the pizza trade. “You better believe it’s still a thing. Whenever times get tough you will see traveling pizza men trying to earn a quick buck. All I know is our mid-afternoon rush is going to start soon and if we do nothing about it these guys are going to take a big chunk of our profits.”

Big James took off his cap and scratched his head. “What should we do?”

Another snicker, this time a bit more nervous. “One of us is going to need to go out and tell these guys to move on.”

I pulled my face off the glass making a popping noise like a suction cup. “Maybe we should wait until Scott gets back.”

“He pretty much trusts us with the afternoon rushes so he might not be here until evening. Who knows what will happen by then.”

Neil Cuppy, a 'sucker' for pizza.

Neil Cuppy, a ‘sucker’ for pizza.

“You should go out Bri,” Big James added– quickly trying to get himself out of dealing with it.

“Yeah-yeah Scott likes you the best anyways. Plus I got a bummed knee and all so I really can’t.” Charlie was already holding the door open for me.

I knew arguing was going to delay the inevitable so I wiped my hands on my crusted pizza apron and headed out into the afternoon heat. The crowd was gaining in size as I made my way across the blacktop. They had indeed set up right by the front door of the dialysis center so not only were they getting the people coming in and out but everyone driving by had a nice clear view of the show. There were four of them all dressed like a “barbershop quartet”. They had the folks tickled and distracted, doing song and dance numbers while making the pizzas quickly out of their tiny tasty bake oven and the toppings put on from a makeshift table. They even wore ‘name tags’ with false names like ‘Johnny Pizzeria’ to look legit. As I pushed my way to the front I stopped for a moment to watch in awe and wonder at how fast these guys were moving. So fast that in fact I think people were not even sure what they were buying, the dog and pony show had them spellbound.

I was bumped by fellow Lankville reporter, Neil Cuppy who had just purchased one. He held the box up proudly “Say Bri, these fine folks are such a hoot! Can’t wait to sit in my car and try a slice.”

“Neil, I think they’re traveling pizza men and might be ripping you off.”

“Don’t be silly who would try to scam anyone on such a joyous thing as a pizza? You folks over at ‘The Round’ need not to be jealous, you know I will be back for my lunch there tomorrow.”

I turned my attention back to the traveling pizza men (the opinions of Neil Cuppy have always mattered little anyway). One of them had noticed my standard issued ‘Pizza-A-Round’ outfit. “Lookey here folks, a roly-poly lad from the local pizza establishment who must be tired of his own boring crust!!” He said this very loud and whimsical, making everyone laugh. “Please when buying our fine pies don’t let him in our secrets!!”

Three of them broke into a song (I have to admit– their harmonizing was spot on) while one in the corner shouted, “Get your pies- get your pizza pies!! Made fresh for only five dollars!!”

I made my way around the fast and furious exchange of cash to speak with the cashier. “Uhm, excuse me- excuse me sir–”

He tried to ignore me by talking his game louder. I tugged at his striped shirt sleeve- “Can I just have a word?”

The man turned to me, eyes blazing. He spoke very softly so no one else could hear. “WHAT, do you want?”

I am never good at confrontation. “Uhm, I know all about you guys. Not only are you taking business away from my workplace, you are also fooling these fine people. I think you guys should leave, believe me you don’t want to be around when my manager comes back.”

​The Traveling Pizza Men, please beware!!

​The Traveling Pizza Men, please beware!!

His eyes bore into me even further from behind his glasses. All I could see in them was a pure, dark soulless evil. Again he spoke very softly, “Listen chubby, we will be out of here soon enough.” He casually pulled a little bit of a thick pepperoni stick from his pocket just enough for only me to see. “Now you are going to slowly walk back across the parking lot, go in, and lock the door and wait for us to leave. You do not want to be on the receiving end of this pepperoni stick.”

What was I going to do?!! I know what Scott would of done– there would have been none of this talking business, just bloodshed, but I’m not Scott. Before I had time even to think about a solution, Neil Cuppy was back comically and awkwardly climbing over the crowd. “Sirs-sirs-you made some sort of mistake with my pizza! Instead of pepperoni there are these strange metal bits spray-painted orange. I chipped a tooth!” I heard one in the middle mutter to the other “Shit, they’re opening their pizzas too fast–”

The scene turned tense quickly– people who had just paid their five dollars threw open their own boxes to see what was inside. Shouts of all sorts of things were heard ‘confetti’, ‘plastic tubing’, and ‘razor wire’ were some of the more popular ones. A vicious slapping fight ensued with the traveling pizza men trying to pack up their stuff and the conned reaching over the table trying to grab their money back. The one with the glasses took out the pepperoni stick and things turned uglier. The crowd was in a full uproar but with many of them being older folks from the dialysis center they had a hard time fighting back physically.

The next thing that happened was purely my fault, I should of had my wits about me and been far away from this chaotic mess. But I was caught up in all the action and was standing there like a bump on a log with my mouth open.

I was clearly in the way of these men who were nearly packed up. The bespectacled cashier wasted none of his breath in giving me a firm whack over the head with that thick pepperoni stick so they could get away. I went down like a ton of sausage and cheese pizza brick rolls.

First there was black and then a light—and then, yes, the sweet chorus which I haven’t heard in so very long. I was having a bumpkin vision!!! We were somehow having a picnic in the middle of a giant tornado. Three bumpkins (one with a tail!!) had set out a large red and white checkered blanket with all sorts of food. Even though we were spinning in this whirlwind everything was peaceful and calm. Their destroyed trailer was circling around us in the background. All the plates had strange food items not yet invented but someday I would remember them and bring them to life; I vaguely recall pairings of meats and various cheese sauces for the most part.

Slowly, I heard my name being called from outside the tornado– at first a whisper and then becoming louder. When I was brought back I was still on the ground in the parking lot with Scott shaking me asking if I was OK. The police had sealed off the area and were taking statements from people (I even saw Neil Cuppy with an ice pack over his mouth). I learned from Detective Gee Temple that this particular group have been very active of late and probably the pepperoni stick was stolen from another nearby pizza place. Scott drove around after the cops were gone in hopes of getting a little bit of revenge. But these guys know how to make a swift getaway and I’m sure they were already in another suburban neighborhood.

So please dear readers be careful and use extra caution when you are out and about on our streets. Don’t be a Neil Cuppy and get swindled into a quick fix pizza– they are not always what they seem. Until next time please keep your minds and mouths open to new ideas. Happy Eating!!-Bri

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