Escape from New York

She has worked at the Haight branch of Escape from New York Pizza for at least four years. So my best calculations dictate. I’ve seen her working there in some capacity since 2001. And frankly I’m a bit worried.

Escape from New York, if you don’t know San Francisco, is a two-branch outlet, specializing in pizza-by-the-slice. You’ll find one in the Haight and you’ll find one in the Castro. You can have yourself a slice of pizza as late as midnight — anything from a slice of pepperoni to the special potato slice. But this is not specifically “New York pizza” — rather, it is some approximation of the same, with considerably less tomato sauce. Walk inside an Escape from New York outlet and you’ll bear witness to pizza-themed records hanging on the walls, as well as autographed photos from the likes of Leonard Nimoy and Matt Groening. In short, the joint serves its purpose. But what makes the Haight street place curious to me is her.

You’ll find her on the evening shift — generally on Fridays and Saturdays. Her hair has been blonde, black and is now currently brown. I get the sense that most of her twenties have been spent at this place. And in the past year, she’s gained quite a bit of weight. I worry and I hope to hell she’s okay. In the past year, I have seen her mouth contort into a vacuous ellipitical shape every time she slides the spatula underneath a full disc of pizza, then transfering a slice of pizza into the oven, where the slice will stay for about 3-5 minutes, and then be transferred to the customer for swift and delectable consumption. I don’t know if this is a method of coping with such a mundane task or whether this is the inevitable conclusion. I don’t think that even a genius can truly intellectualize this pizza-warming process.

I have asked this young lady several times if she will talk with me outside work. She’s said no. I am careful to spell out to her that I am not a pervert or a maladjusted freak or someone looking for a date. Rather, I am curious. I will even confess that I’m a bit concerned. Every time I order a slice of pizza from her, her slipshod hair and her hangdog eyes resembles the telltale sign of one who has had too many hits of pot. Like many working in the service sector, she is going through the motions. One suspects she is trying to survive.

Is this pizza world all that she knows? And if so, how much am I responsible every time I order a slice of pizza?

Is this all she can ever know? Is this all she ever dares to know?

She can’t make much, which is why I always tip generously. But I wonder what keeps someone in a position in which they are clearly miserable. I wonder if there are sidelines, whether ephemeral or addictive I cannot say, that encourage her to remain in this position. I wonder what she’s truly capable of and what her true passions are. And I feel like a bit of a con. Because, after all, she will not speak with me and, even if she did, there is nothing I can say or do to steer her off the track. In short, there’s nothing to contribute.

And every time I order a slice of pizza from this place, I feel somehow as if I am committing my energies towards denying someone a moment. And yet I order the slice anyway, somehow corralling this concern with my hunger. I feel hypocritial. I feel helpless. And I feel irrelevant. I feel as if I somehow commiting all pockets of decency to her demise. Yet Escape from New York is not a Round Table. It’s an independent business. Can I justify this? Or am I just as hypocritical as the rest? Or has this pizza-slinger truly accepted this horrible fate?

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  1. One hundred. One hundred percent respnsible. Note that I spelled out “100%”. That’s how much you’re responsible.

    Actually, it may not be as horrible a fate as you’d imagine.

    Being in the service sector now for… well, since forever, I’ve realized a.) People are inherently evil, b.) people are inherently, stupid, c.) In spite of that, people can still be decent.

    While I KNOW I could be earning considerably more than what I am now and have my own neat little desk with a neat little brass plate at its forefront, I messily opt not to. And I think I know why now.

    There has been an undercurrent of self-sabotage I believe, whenever I’ve pointed my nose back into the upper strata of my profession. I so irreversably hate those I’d have to work with. Those you work with you inevitably wind up being not unlike. I’d end up hating myself.

    Without fail, designers have shown themselves to be a contemptuous lot, full of language and attitude but no ability or desire to truly interact and communicate. Being on the other side of the counter serving those I could undoubtedly replace in their current positions in a heart-beat, I being to see just how I myself have come across in ancient years past. Was I ever that much of a fucker to some hapless shmuck just looking to make it to the end of his shift at the local copy center? I’d like to think not, but I know better. Maybe not a total fucker, but probably not nearly as appreciative as I know I could be.

    And that’s what it is, man. Make some hapless service sector shmuck’s day whenever you can because let’s face it, they’re the parking spaces without the “reserved for” sign. They’re the ones that make it all go and without the fanfare. And most of and for the time being on into the foreseeable future, they’re me.

    note: Some people, and I count myself among them, should NOT be in the service industry. I am, at best an asshole in sheep’s clothing, but since I’m aware of this I can mask, stave off and sometimes mute that nigh salient fact. We are NOT to be rewarded, or if you do you have more heart than you should: you will soon be put on a cross, burned, stoned, put on a cross and stoned, and generally killed in some way befitting a damned martyr. Nay — perk up the lifeless, not those that htink themselves better than the job. NO ONE is better than the job. NO ONE. Imagine the shit eating grin on a fairly good waitress when she picks up her tip of ten bucks — ten bucks you would’ve lost to two shots of Wild Turkey on the way home anyways.

    It’s strange how in control we are of other peoples’ fates. Or at least how a day can finish off for a fellow poor working sod.

  2. Tom: While I hear your sentiments, I disagree. While my purchase of the pizza is directly supporting Escape from New York’s right to exist and thus supporting the paycheck of this employee (who, I might remind you, I generously tip and am regularly polite to), I am not directly attributable to this person’s decision to waste her life working in a pizzeria (and, again, who knows? perhaps she’s happy and I’m mistaken). I’m concerned, yes I’m horrified that she may be in a bad spot. But I have made repeated efforts to reach out to her and she has said no.

    What would you do in this situation? What would most people do? And how often does our society turn its back to this particular dilemma? These are the questions I hoped to raise with this post.

    I may be skeptical, but I don’t take nearly as pessimistic an approach to life as you do. Because I genuinely believe that you can get through to people or at least cause them to ponder their life circumstances. Of course, the decision is ultimately theirs. But this is what living life is all about.

    I should be clear about this: I don’t know this young lady’s motivations. What I offer here is speculation based on observation. I could be completely wrong and she could be perfectly happy in this life as a pizza gal.

    But I’m also a very astute observer and, I’d like to think, not too bad at observing human nature. So while I might be wrong, all signs point to: wastnig her life away. And if this is the case, is remaining silent really the right thing to do? Or is making an effort in some way a better choice? I’d argue the latter.

  3. I too have put in a number of years in the service industry, some of which were at a pizza place, in fact. For the most part I found myself surrounded by people who were not where they wanted to be. Some of them knew where they wanted to go and were trying like hell to get there. There were others who knew where they wanted to be too, but had no idea how to get there. But, more frequently, I also ran into people who didn’t know where they wanted to be. By and large, these were not happy people.

    People, I guess, are mostly in charge of their own circumstances, but don’t discount the effects that a continual series of personal misfortunes can have. I met a lot of people who were in the process of rebuilding their lives after such a severe run of bad luck as to be almost comical. Sometimes, they were able to form a plan and work at it, scratching their way back to some previous golden age.

    But, sometimes, the crash was so bewlidering, so unexpected, or even sometimes so slow and punishing, that they lost all sense of direction; after too many wasted efforts, too many missed opportunities, simply surviving became such a monumental task that they not only wanted to forget about the past, but couldn’t bear imagining what the future might bring. With no tools, no resources, and a proven track record of bad luck, what can these folks expect of tomorrow but negative outcomes? The best they can hope for is stasis: the continuance of a miserable, but survivable, experience. The idea that someone might be able to come along and help them strikes them as ridiculous — things like that don’t happen to them, they think.

    Not that pizza gal is in that sort of situation. There are as many ways to be dead-ended as there are dead ends, and some of them are pleasant enough. In this case, I don’t think you can be held responsible for anything… you tried, you were rebuffed, and that’s the limit of your responsiblity as far as good manners are concerned. It’s unsatisfying, yes — frustrating, even.

  4. I know the branch you speak of, and once upon a time (when I was 13 and they were 24+) knew most of the staff quite well. They were all musicians and/or artists and/or drug dealers on the side; that was their “to keep the IRS happy” job. Which sounds fine. But. I’m not sure that any of those folks are alive today.

  5. Jessica: Aha. THOSE days. That was before my time, but I’ve heard about how seedy it used to be in this neighborhood from various people who have lived around here for 15-20 years. Much of that world is immortalized in William T. Vollman’s “The Rainbow Stories.”

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