“Okay, remember you are not allowed to talk about the pizza until we are reviewing it.” That was the only rule in Pizza Club.
So, like the rest of the members of the club, I grabbed a slice of cheese (if you haven’t tried the cheese, do you even know what pizza is?) and a slice of another type, which we had the employee pick out.
I grew up in Andover, MA where if you weren’t playing sports, there was kind of a void when it came to after-school options. This was my opinion until I found Andover Youth Services. At Youth Services, there was this mentality of “just show up.” Just show up and try a whole bunch of things outside of your immediate comfort zone and hopefully find pieces of yourself you like along the way.
At Youth Services I met a hugely diverse group of kids who could admit they were just as lost as I was and they just wanted to be part of something. We weren’t in the Pizza Club to put it on our college resumes, because no college cares if you were in the Pizza Club. We were in it because we wanted to be. In high school, that was a powerful group of people to be a part of.
It was Neal, a worker at the Youth Services, who started this club. He said he was on a search for the best slice of pizza, which ultimately one day he would score a 10. So, as we all bit into our slices, Neal would explain how we were going to review our pizza.
You reviewed pizza on a scale of 1-10. He would always tell us that if we were wondering what a 1 would be, it was King’s, the shittiest pizza in our town. And he also would remind us that giving a 10 would be saying that the slice of pizza is the best slice of pizza we are ever going to have. From this description, I figured out over time that a pretty good slice of pizza is about a 7.2. Neal was a little stricter, so he might give a good piece of pizza a 6.
So when did we pizza club? And where did we pizza club?
I guess that was the beautiful thing about Pizza Club. It fit into anything we wanted to do, because it’s pizza. I went to high school outside of Boston, and in the winter of 2015 we had a streak of three snow days in a row. While most sat around as 10 feet of snow piled up, a restless bunch of us took a van and went to enjoy the snow skiing. On the ride home, we pulled off the highway and found a local pizza place. We all tasted our pizza, gave our scores, and explained our reasons.
“I give this pizza an 8.2. The crust is my perfect consistency, and there is just the right amount of cheese. I do wish the sauce had a little bit more of a flavor, but otherwise I am happy.” This was a pretty basic pizza review for me, and by February I had tried so much pizza that if I was giving a place an 8.2, it was good pizza.
Our Pizza Club varied from following adventures with trying new pizza places on the van ride home. One time we went to Canada to work on a Christmas tree farm and tried Otto’s in Portland, ME on the ride home. Other times involved simply seeking out great pizza places and just going, sitting down and enjoying each other’s company over pizza. We went to non-chain hometown places, but we did try a few famous chains in their first locations (Otto’s in Portland, Regina’s in the North End of Boston).
Now, I have a confession. Technically, I am not supposed to eat pizza because I am intolerant to most of its components. But I loved this club. I discovered that pizza really can be so good and also so bad. I met these people who allowed themselves to just be goofy pizza-loving kids along for the ride.
And we all still went back to high school the next day, and one of us might be going to lacrosse practice while another might be spending her nights in the art studio. But we all still loved pizza. We all still were confused high schoolers being told by so many adults how to grow up in a suburb north of Boston. We needed this space away from all the teachers, coaches, and parents who thought they knew exactly where we were going to figure out for ourselves where we were going.
And most importantly, we learned that a perfect 10, it can be worth looking for.