It started the same as every horror movie you’ve ever seen, minus the part where I got to have sex with a beautiful girl.
Five teenage boys road-tripping together.
It was my junior year of high school—1996—the only year of my childhood where I wasn’t going to school and living with my mom in a small Ohio town. I was 500 miles west in western Illinois, living with my father for the first time since I was 4.
Because my dad didn’t get to see me as much as he would have preferred my entire life, he was really protective of me. As a younger child, he never wanted me to go spend the night at friends’ houses when I would visit during my school breaks. He felt those same protective instincts when I was 17, but was not unreasonable.
When he was 17, he was training to drop bombs on submarines in the U.S. Navy. So, he signed off on a road trip 90 miles away to Peoria, Ill. for a couple nights to watch our high school basketball team play in the state semi finals.
I was the youngest guy in the group. I was with three seniors—Eddie, Brian and Dan, and a guy who had graduated the year before—Charlie, but a lot of people called him Chuck.
Even though the eldest of us—Charlie—was only 19, we still had a bunch of beer.
We were sitting around our Peoria hotel room, being guys, drinking underage and smoking cigarettes, when Charlie said: “Does anyone have any weed?”
We all shook our heads.
“Damn. I wish we did,” he said.
Everyone shrugged, except me.
“That would be awesome,” I said.
Then, there was a knock on the hotel room door. Eddie answered. It was the pizza man delivering dinner.
The guy looked remarkably similar to the nerdy guy with straight hair and glasses in Dazed and Confused who wanted to hook up with the freshman girl.
Charlie, fueled by beer and natural awesomeness, said: “Hey man. Do you know how to get some weed around here?”
Pizza Guy, who was in his early 20s, studied us for a minute.
“I have some,” Pizza Guy said.
“Dude. That’s awesome. Can we buy some from you?” Charlie said.
“No man. Sorry. I don’t sell it. But if you want, I can come back after my shift and hook you guys up,” he said.
Charlie and I thanked him, and he left, promising to come back later.
Rad. We’re going to get high, I thought.
‘Want to Play a Game?’
Pizza Guy showed up just after midnight.
“Alright! Who’s coming?” he said.
Just Charlie and me. The other three thought we were morons, and told us so.
It was early 1996. If we got into a jam, my pager wasn’t going to help us.
But Charlie was the size of me and Pizza Guy combined, so I figured if we got into a jam, Charlie would do whatever big guys do when trouble strikes.
Sometimes, when you’re buzzed, getting ANOTHER buzz sounds like the world’s greatest idea, and you’ll do silly things to achieve it.
Like get in the back of a shitty light blue 1986ish Ford Escort. The smell was the perfect combination of disgusting and amazing, which makes total sense since he’s a guy who delivers pizzas AND will randomly pick up teenage guys from hotels, drive them around, and let them smoke his marijuana for free.
Pizza Guy drove with purpose—months of pizza delivery in his hometown making him a master navigator of the quiet late-night/early morning Peoria streets.
“I know the perfect spot,” Pizza Guy said, as we found ourselves heading deeper into a darker, scarier part of this strange city among old industrial buildings and warehouses.
Charlie turned around from the front passenger seat to give me the wide-eyed What-the-hell-is-happening-right-now? face.
Great. My emergency plan is terrified, too.
Pizza Guy pulled into a large, predominantly empty parking lot which belonged to an office building with about a third of its lights on.
He broke out his bowl (a pot-smoking apparatus, for those of who use your time more wisely), and packed it.
Then the three of us passed it around.
The entire thing was awkward.
Pizza Guy’s story could only be one of, or a combination of, three things:
- He was really lonely and desperate for friends.
- He was really weird.
- He was going to murder us.
We were only there for the weed. In Denis Leary’s No Cure for Cancer stand-up comedy special, Leary joked about this very thing:
“That was the worst part about the coke, man, was being in that bathroom with that stranger at the end of the night, wasn’t it? Huh? Talking about shit like solving the world’s problems. And the only reason you’re in there is because he has the coke. That should have been a fucking sign, don’t you think? I mean, if Hitler had coke, there’d be Jews in the bathroom. *snort* ‘I know you didn’t do it!’ *snort* ‘I like your mustache!’ *snort* ‘Fucking Himmler!’”
When you smoke pot, it takes about 15 minutes for the buzz’s maximum force to hit you.
We were just about to that point when Pizza Guy said: “Want to play a game?”
“Umm. What kind of game?” Charlie asked from the front seat, turning around to give me the look again.
Pizza Guy used to have a girlfriend, he said.
And what they used to do for fun was drive around and get high.
And then, they would randomly wander into office buildings throughout Peoria. They would walk down the hall, find a stairwell or elevator, go to the second floor, walk through that floor, find another stairwell or elevator, and go to the next floor, snaking their way up to the roof if they could make it.
The game was to always see whether they could make it onto the roof without getting thrown out by a security guard or someone who worked there.
If they got to the roof, they would have sex there, he said.
“You want to try it?” Pizza Guy said, without mentioning whether he wanted to have sex with us if we made it to the roof.
“No, thank you. We kind of have to get up early tomorrow. Maybe we can go back and hang out at the hotel?” I said, hopefully.
“C’mon! It’ll be fun,” Pizza Guy said, opening his car door and beckoning us to follow him.
He was about 10 paces away from the car heading toward the building when Charlie turned around, wide-eyed.
“What the fuck is happening right now? We are not going into that building.”
I just nodded in agreement. The marijuana was really starting to work.
And by work, I mean, make a really bizarre situation infinitely more bizarre.
Pizza Guy slumped, disappointed, and walked back to his Escort upon realizing we weren’t going to follow him.
Sometimes when you smoke pot, you feel a false sense of paranoia. You start making up frightening scenarios in your head.
That started happening.
Tomorrow’s headline in the Peoria Journal Star:
“Two Teens Found Dead in Parking Lot.”
“Two Teens Found Dead on Rooftop,” with the subhead “Police: Butt sex was definitely involved.”
“Killer Pizza Man Strikes Again.”
“Double Cheese. Double Pepperoni. Double Murder.”
Knowing Charlie—who could barely fit in the car because he was so tall—was freaking out made me freak out.
In my head, I was rocking in the fetal position, pleading: “PLEASE!!! Please just take us back to our hotel room!!! We don’t want to die!!!”
But because I’m good at pretending, I appeared calm as I sat in the backseat smoking Marlboro Lights and taking mental inventory of everything I might use as a weapon.
Before I completed my drunk-and-high assessment, Pizza Guy agreed to take us back.
Both Charlie and I were on high (pun!) alert.
Anticlimactically, Pizza Guy dropped us off outside our room. We thanked him probably, but I honestly don’t remember much at this point.
We got back in the room. Eddie, Brian and Dan chastised us repeatedly for doing something so stupid, but were curious to hear about our Adventure with Pizza Guy.
And as it turns out, it’s one of those stories that’s really interesting when you’re drinking and smoking in the back of an ’86 Escort, and not so interesting when you’re reading it on the Internet.
Almost involuntarily butt-sexed?
But it’s a prime example of how easy it was to get me to make bad decisions half a life ago.
I probably wouldn’t be that stupid today.
But one can never be certain.
Because I feel like pizza tonight.