The last pizza. Garlic, black olives, fried eggplant, mushrooms, green peppers, broccoli, half anchovies and extra love.
On our last night in Austin, Erin and I walked hand-in-hand to Home Slice for one more pizza. We brought the staff some Gourdough’s donuts to thank them for serving us so well, which were promptly devoured back in the staff room. We decided to go out in style by adding wine and salad to our usual pizza order. During the meal, the Homeys kept giving us hugs and saying how much they’d miss us. Every time it happened, I looked away to avoid eye contact, lest I dissolve into a teary mess. We savored our last, sad pizza. At the end of the meal, the hugs and goodbyes reached a teary crescendo. A whole bunch of folks signed the pizza box that carried our last leftovers.
We were so incredibly sad. Home Slice has been much more than a pizza place to us, leaving it felt like leaving home. We cried on the walk back to our apartment, and spent the rest of the night packing for our big drive to California starting the next day.
The plan was to eat the leftovers quickly, since they supposedly wouldn’t keep long in the car without refrigeration (especially the anchovies on my half). But I couldn’t bear to close the Home Slice chapter of my life that fast. So while Erin finished her pizza over the next 24 hours, I kept one slice with me to eat at fun stops along the way, one bite at a time.
We had planned to spend the first night at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, but we ended up leaving too late to make it there in time. So instead we drove I-10 and stopped at Balmorhea for the night. The natural springs, not the band. We camped in the crisp, desert air, and woke up to a refreshing morning dip. Thus began my drawn-out goodbye to my last slice of pizza.
We hit the road and aimed to have lunch in Hatch, New Mexico. After a brief stop somewhere in West Texas so Erin could try her first Dairy Queen blizzard while still in the friendly confines of Texas, we arrived in Hatch around 3pm. We had some really good chile-laden food at a Mexican place. And I had another bite of pizza.
Erin’s was especially exuberant during our two hour stay in Hatch.
After stopping in Truth or Consequences for the express purpose of getting a postcard from a cool-sounding place to send back to Home Slice, I convinced Erin that we should get off the big roads to explore some quaint country roads. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the map well enough to discover that I was taking us along a dirt road. Luckily, some friendly locals helped guide us along the way. They weren’t too interested in the pizza though.
We spent the night at an awesome little state park. We set up camp, sat in our crazy creek chairs, cracked open a box of wine and watched the stars. The next day, we excitedly passed through Pie Town. That’s its actual name. It was on a cattle trail, and was known for having the best pie around. The name stuck. Sadly, all three pie places were closed when we passed through (but not the cut-outs!), so I had to make do with a slice of my quickly-crustifying pizza pie.
An hour or two later we got a flat tire that Erin quickly blamed on our dirt-road adventure the previous day. I found a local who helped me change the tire, and off we galloped to Gallup. We got a proper tire, some awesome food, and headed for Arizona. We stopped at the Petrified National Forest and the Painted Desert, both of which Erin found tremendously boring. Until she found the hungry, pizza-loving dinosaurs at the end by the gift shops.
We tried to get to the Grand Canyon by sunset but failed. We set up camp in the dark and woke up early to catch the sunrise over the canyon. I brought the pizza box with us to the rim, and a number of people made approving comments about my breakfast of choice, as they huddled over cups of coffee. They might have thought differently if they knew how long it had been since the pizza had been made (84 hours) or last refrigerated (72 hours).
We drove Route 66 through the rest of Arizona, and then battled through 10 hours of California to make it to Santa Cruz just before dawn. We had seen unparalleled feats of geologic glory, and embarrassing displays of American hubris. So with my feet in the Pacific Ocean, I took my last bite of the nearly week old pizza. The slice had hardened considerably, but it softened my heart as I took a final bite.
Somewhat amusingly, winning the HOES competition has become a fairly large part of my identity. It’s how I’m introduced at parties, it’s discussed during job interviews and it dominates a Google search of my name. While it’s not every little boy’s dream to win free pizza…I maintain tha-….well, actually…free pizza might be every little boy’s dream.
Other establishments might not have taken such a shine to me. I ate up over $1250 in revenue (ha!), created complicated orders, distracted the busy waitstaff, bartered their product, increased the wait for other (paying) customers and broadcasted my experiences without their consent or editorial input.
In spite of all that, they welcomed me into the family. It felt like my Cheers, a place where everybody knew my name. Even though I no longer live on the same block (or in the same time zone) as Home Slice, I still feel like it’s a second home.
I wish Home Slice the best, and proffer up my undying love and gratitude to Slicey and his merry band of pizzaiolos. Fare thee well in life, love and pizza.
Total this year: $1,258.50
Ever since my first HOES victory, I had been trying to figure out a way to preserve the eggplant sub for posterity. I looked into taxidermy (no way to preserve the outer layer), bronzing (too expensive/heavy) and acrylic casing (can’t stop the rotting process) without finding a workable solution. While looking for help I contacted various artists, seeing if they would be interested in helping out. I talked with the head of UT’s sculpture department, the Blue Genie Art folks, and others. Everyone said the same thing: preserving it for less than thousands of dollars and lots of hassle is impossible, take a pretty picture instead. I even went to the font of all knowledge on the Internet, Craigslist. Some of the Homeys even found my post asking for sub preservation help.
I figured I’d eventually find an economical means of preservation, so I put the sub (and later, the two other subs I/Erin won the next year) in my freezer to give myself time to figure out a solution. Erin was never real thrilled with this situation. They didn’t take up ALL of the freezer, but they certainly took up a good portion of it. She also thought the subs were a little gross. I tried to explain to her that the subs were not gross by saying “the subs are not gross”. Inexplicably, she remained unmoved in her disapproval.
Before we moved out, I finally accepted everyone’s advice. With the guidance of some Twitter followers, I asked local photographer Aimee Wenske if she’d be interested in photographing 9 and 21 month old subs with Erin and I. I told her I could only pay her in pizza and appreciation, yet she readily agreed, even taking a half day off of work.
Erin was really pissed at me that day for something, but she didn’t look like it in the photos. I thought it’d be funny to have Erin and I holding parasols, and the subs sporting little cocktail umbrellas. The little umbrellas made the subs look festive and spunky.
We walked to Home Slice to take some shots at the scene of my/our victory.
On our way to Home Slice, we passed the Jo’s Coffee love graffiti, so we took a couple shots there too.
At Home Slice, I found the dumpster and readied myself for the subs’ destiny, a noble burial at sea crow food. A sad moment before I slid the subs into their fate, but made cooler by the fact that the man who made them happened to be walking between More Home Slice and the mothership. So the subs, at their death, literally got to meet their maker.
After the shoot I took Aimee for pizza, and we briefly met up with her mutual friend Will, who educated me about the wind business. I forget what we got, so I’ll just guess that it cost around $27, that seems to be about average.
I think the photos turned out great (Thanks again Aimee!!!!!!). They don’t have the same gravitas as a 150 pound, three foot long bronze sub hanging in the living room to remind my grandchildren of grandpa’s glory (or on the headboard to remind Erin), but they will live on forever through the magic of the Internet. Behold:
Total this year: $1,228.50
Erin and I are leaving Austin. Actually, by now we’ve left. We are sad .
She is in a three year program at the California College of Ayurveda, and while the first two years of coursework can be done anywhere (like Austin, for instance), the third has to be completed on campus in Grass Valley, CA. I planned on having an awesome job in Austin, and figured that Erin and I could just deal with the distance for a year, after which Erin would move back to Austin. Unfortunately, after much thrashing about trying to land a gig in the alternative energy industry in Austin, I am throwing in the towel. I failed.
While Austin may be in our future, it’s not in our best interests at present. I don’t have a job, neither does Erin, and she’ll be in school full-time. While free pizza, cheap rent ($695 right on south congress, email me for details if you’re interested), random little jobs and my fun little gig as a mystery shopper at Kerbey Lane have combined to keep us afloat in the most awesome city ever, there didn’t seem to be enough compelling reasons to strain the first year of our marriage by being 2,000 miles apart.
So with a heavy heart, I announce our departure and therefore my resignation of my crown as current HOES champion.
After my aunt’s death delayed our departure, we finally planned on leaving last Wednesday morning. We’d been packing, selling crap on Craigslist and running down last errandy stuff, and it came time for our last dinner at Home Slice Monday night (they’re closed Tuesdays). We were exhausted, and as we began the walk over, we decided to push back our departure. It seemed such a shame to rush out of Austin in such a hectic way, so we postponed the inevitable. This allowed us to enjoy our pizza without the sadness we could expect two nights later.
I forgot my camera (packing/moving is jarring for me), so you’ll just have to trust me that we went. Our pizza was simple: margherita style, no sauce, with fried eggplant, green olives and half anchovies. That’s simple for us.
We ate our pizza, said our sad goodbyes to Shauna and left. We relished the leftovers more than usual, as all of our cooking stuff was packed away. Luckily cold Home Slice Pizza is still pretty good. It helped get us through the move, as it has helped us get through so much.
Total this year: $1,201.50
Reba and Oliver have been my most egregious omission as pizza guests. I knew Reba in college, and really like spending time with her and Oliver, although we never hang out as much as we should. They invited me to stuff, and while I always said “we should get pizza”, I didn’t really make it happen until recently.
They are both awesome. I went to college with Reba, who is a grad student in something related to neuroscience at UT. Oliver is a computer guy who works in IT at UT. But they’re both way more interesting than that.
I recently came across a pair of possum nipple warmers/pasties that had bought for Erin (she didn’t want them). I knew Reba would love them, and I was right. She’s like that. And Oliver hustled Dr. Dre! Seriously!
Oliver and his friend made an iPhone app and website called bandloop (incidentally, this video mocking iPhone users is HILARIOUS) that allows users to keep track of when their favorite bands come to town. Dr. Dre’s people made one afterward that did similar stuff, and then noticed Oliver’s app. Dr. Dre’s lawyers wrote Oliver and wanted $$$ for copyright violations, but when Oliver pointed out that his came first, he got Dre’s lawyers to pay HIM! For all Dr. Dre’s bluster about hustlin’ fools, he certainly got hustled by a guy whose mind isn’t on his money, and whose money isn’t on his mind. Sucka!
Oliver comes from New Haven, so he knows pizza. He was pretty excited about the clam pie, but we talked him out of it. We got a pizza with kalamata olives, broccoli, fried eggplant, garlic and tomatoes, with basil and anchovies on half. Reba and Oliver dutifully picked up the pitchers of beer, which were most appreciated.
They are devotees of Burning Man, Baconwood and other gatherings of the art, silliness, science, music and mayhem. They turned me on to Tornado Rider, the most crazy/ridiculous band ever, and they are personally friends with The Falcon himself.
Oliver and Reba are some of the few people I know in Austin who have moved from elsewhere and don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be. They get very wistful when talking about SF, where they (and we) used to live. Reba is on the academic/research track, which means that her career will most likely take her to wherever the universities are hiring, which could as easily be Alabama as Seattle. They’ve sorta made their peace with that, and even though they complain about Austin, they don’t hate it.
Speaking of things they don’t hate: Home Slice Pizza. In fact, they love it. They are prone to binges of awesomeness, and this was one of them. Afterward, they came back to our apt to try some homebrews (my most recent batch is a ginger hibiscus saison) and to take our deep fryer, which we don’t use enough. I have a feeling that they’ll treat it better with more love and use than we did.
Total this year: $1,171
My folks let Erin and I keep the vacuum they’d lent us on condition that we brought them some pizza. As per the terms of my deal, I am entitled to free pizza as long as it is dine in, not take out. If I order a pizza, eat one piece, and get the rest boxed up, that counts as dine in and is therefore permissible, so that’s what I did.
I sat at the counter for quickness and novelty. When Shane asked me for my drink order, I went ahead and shot from the hip and ordered a pizza I thought my folks would like: spinach, roasted red peppers, fried eggplant, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and black olives.
While waiting, I was left alone to watch the hustle and bustle of the Home Slice lunch rush. Things were jamming! In addition to antsy people trying to scarf down a yummy lunch after waiting for a table, beer delivery guys were futzing with keg taps and people were moving everywhere. It all looked so busy, and I appreciated all the effort that went in to making Home Slice run so smoothly. Shane did a good job of navigating the bar while maintaining his cool, he always seems to have a smile on his face despite a certainly stressful position as bar guy.
The pizza came out STEAMING hot. Literally. I wish I was a better photographer, I didn’t quite capture the voluptuousness of the steam like I wanted to, but you can still see it rising from the left side of the pizza. I ate a slice, got the rest boxed up, and was on my way.
After we left our apartment, we (Erin) realized that we (I) had forgotten the pizza at home. We rushed back to get it. We were only 5-10 minutes away at the time, but it was like 4:15pm, so the extra delay caused us some traffic problems around Round Rock. Nonetheless, the pizza arrived in Dallas in style to my welcoming folks. Vacuum for pizza = worth it.
Total this year: $1,143.50
Erin’s used to work with Brianna at Central Market. When Erin and I left town to get married, Brianna watered our plants. So we told her we’d take her out to pizza, and we finally delivered (so to speak).
Home Slice gave Erin a $25 gift card for expressing such grace and love by taking her hand off the sub to let me win. They thought that Erin was super awesome, and just in case I didn’t properly thank her (I did), they were going to see to it that she walked away with something. Home Slice said that they wanted her to use it to take her friends out, not me. I reminded Erin of this and said that I shouldn’t be benefiting from the card, but since Brianna is her friend (mine too now, but primarily Erin’s, you know how it is…) she said it was ok.
So Erin decided to use it on a round of F*Heck Yeahs (prosecco and lemon ice). They were goooooood. It’s kinda uncool for guys to like mixed champagne drinks, as if appreciating tasty stuff is somehow un-masculine. Screw that, these were good.
Brianna is really nice, and has a refreshing directness. She thinks Erin and I are incredibly awesome, and tells us so. She came to our last passover seder and really enjoyed it. Most folks would simply say “thanks, it was great”, but not Brianna. She called Erin and told her how amazing it was, and then made Erin pass the phone to me so she could tell me herself. Our cynical zeitgeist makes such effusive praise from friends a little jarring to hear, but when accompanied by Brianna’s big-eyed honesty it comes off as pleasant and refreshing. Her current Facebook status update is “…speaks her heart to reach your heart”. Yup.
Brianna is a big believer that you make your own destiny, and she pays great attention to the vibe of a situation. If something “feels right” it probably is, and she listens to her instincts more than most people I know. Luckily, she had a good feeling about the pizza we ordered.
As you could’ve guessed, she loved it. We chose garlic, fried eggplant, fresh basil, tomatoes, broccoli and fresh mozzarella as toppings, and Brianna swooned. We had a couple bucks left on Erin’s gift card, so we split a rice krispie treat. It was huge, so a few bites each worked well. I thought Brianna was going to OD on happiness. I wish I was capable of such highs over great-yet-common things like amazing meals with friends. Perhaps the magic of free Home Slice has become mundane. It’s nice to be around folks like Briana that remind me how awesome I have it.
Total this year: $1,116
April Riggs, otherwise known as @SweetLeafApril, is super cool. A huge lover of music, bikes, and people, she somehow manages to get paid for being herself as the Sweet Leaf Tea marketing guru. April is all over town, all the time. She’s one of those people who seems to have more hours in the day than everyone else.
As one of most loyal readers/commenters, I figured I should finally take her out to pizza. Belatedly, I admit. She’d been gunning for a pizza invite for quite some time, and it definitely took me too long to When we saw each other at last month’s bleet-up, we set a date and made it happen.
She’s a lover of Home Slice, so she knew our waiter and a few others working the lunch shift. Come to think of it, she seems to know everybody in Austin.
Her job at Sweet Leaf Tea as marketing guru allows her to be the public face of the company. Many in that position would be forced by The Man (or The Grandmother?) to water down their persona so as to not ruffle the feathers of any supposedly sensitive consumers. Sweet Leaf Tea, to their credit, gives April plenty of reign to live a public rock and roll lifestyle and let the brand come along for the ride. Actually, I don’t know if they give that freedom or April just takes it, but it works either way. Both on and offline, April comes across as very real, which is exceedingly rare in the marketing world. She lives what appears to be a really fun life, and it makes Sweet Leaf appear more fun as a result.
It turns out that we’re both cultural refugees from Dallas, and we share similar experiences about growing up there and living in Austin. There’s definitely an anti-Dallas vibe in town amongst those who don’t frequent 2nd St., but I think Austin is more colorful because of the contributions of the freaks Dallas expels. I think both Austin and Dallas move a little closer to their true center of polarity when folks like April and I leave Dallas and come to Austin.
At work, she has become known for a Home Slice topping combo known as “The April Special”, which is ricotta, meatballs, artichoke hearts and fresh basil. I gotta admit, it’s not my thing. I don’t do non-anchovy meat on pizzas, and April and I have a long-running, semi-violent feud about ricotta (I find it slimy and tasteless). That said, it works for her, and the combo has earned her brownie points at work. I’m surprised that the folks who make such a delicious product could have such poor taste, but I digress…
Since I get toppings for free, we decided to deviate from The April Special. My side had basil, garlic, green olives, roasted red peppers, and fried eggplant, hers had ricotta, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, meatballs, roasted red peppers, garlic and basil. She liked the eggplant a lot, and it might even have earned a hallowed spot on “The April Special”. One can only hope for so high an honor.
PS – Here’s April’s take.
PPS – Disclosure: April gave me a couple bottles of Sweet Leaf Tea. They were good.
Total this year: $1,088.50
Graeme Wood came back into town, this time with his girlfriend Louisa. Graeme, for those of you who don’t remember, is literally the most interesting man in the world. A contributing editor for The Atlantic, he travels the world writing about little curiosities, such as exiled Afghan cosmonauts, unrecognized countries and Hezbollah’s man in Paraguay. He came to Austin to show his girlfriend Louisa around, who recently returned from her research in the Central African Republic.
She knew all about the pizza deal, and was eager to try out Home Slice. At first I felt pretty confident that Home Slice would blow her socks off, since whatever pizza she may have had in CAR couldn’t have been very good (according to Graeme’s piece on the depressing state of CAR, their Chinese restaurant is imaginatively named “Chinese Restaurant”). However, she mentioned that she’s from the Northeast, and I have found that folks from there can be a little provincial about their pizza. So I was curious to hear what she thought.
They came down to Austin just to hang out. They have a curious set of relationship logistics. She finds herself spending huge chunks of time either writing here in America or researching in the Central African Republic. He’s everywhere in the world. Hong Kong for a couple of weeks, then Afghanistan, then maybe UAE (a lot of his work appears in Abu Dhabi’s The National), then who knows where. They don’t see each other very often, but when they do, it’s for weeks at a time. And since neither has a 9-5 job, they spend more time together than a normal couple who counts harried mornings and tired evenings. Or so they maintain.
It’s an interesting arrangement, to say the least. The anticipation and excitement of seeing the other after a long absence probably injects passion into the relationship, but it also means lots of lonely nights. Their lives seem interesting enough that they enjoy their time apart without missing each other too badly.
They seemed to really like the pizza, appreciating the Home Slice experience for its gastronomic delights independent of the free pizza novelty. Graeme, who prefers pizza to psilocybin mushrooms, was a predictably easy sell, but Louisa deemed Home Slice a winner as well. They have tons of interesting food adventures, so it felt good that little ‘ole Home Slice pleased their experienced palates.
Total this year: $1,062
Billy Bicket is sorta blurry in real life, just like he is in this photo. He’s hard to find and always on the go. His job involves connecting communities and situating Net Squared at the nexus of social change new technology. He writes lots of sentences like that last one.
Billy travels a lot, and even though he technically lives in Austin, he’s something of a reluctant road warrior. When he’s in town for pizza, we try to make a date, although for someone with his job and skillset, he’s remarkable hard to pin down a date with. Amazingly, he rarely if ever checks his voice mail.
One day not too long ago though, we actually met up for pizza. He had just gotten back from Honduras and Guatemala (I think) with his girlfriend Krista. They have vastly different travel experiences and careers, so mutually agreeable travel can sometimes be elusive. This trip, however, sounded like it went really well.
Many of my friends (myself included) have embarked on long international trips through charismatic but poor-ish countries (India, Peru, South Africa, Guatemala, etc). The touristy sites tend to be too overcrowded to offer much of a memorable experience, so we find enchantment instead at the bottom of a bottle of bootleg rice/corn whisky passed around an 11 hour bus ride.
As my friends inevitably couple up over the years, we find ourselves traveling with significant others who are not as hardy/stupid as us. Going as a couple has lots of advantages, but it can stretch a relationship.
Luckily, Billy told me that things were going quite both during and after the trip. Likewise, things went quite well during and after our trip to Home Slice together. We’re in good shape
Total this year: $1,032.50
I went to high school with Tim in Dallas, and never talked to him since the day we graduated (although I think we’re Facebook friends) until I saw him at a recent Austin City Limits taping featuring Jimmy Cliff and Michael Franti. He works in the solar business, which I’m pretty interested in, and we hadn’t seen each other in ten years, so we went out for pizza.
He’s a busy guy, and he only had time for a grab and go lunch. So we sat down and ordered a pizza quickly. He couldn’t decide between the eggplant pie and the margherita, so we got half and half (although they put made both halves sauce-less, because they can’t have sauce on one side and not the other). I didn’t recall ricotta polluting the eggplant pie, but this one definitely did. I ate from the other half.
The solar business is really fascinating, and not to bore you with wonky details, but the players could be doing a little better. Tim travels all over the state putting up solar installations; immediately after lunch he was driving to Edinburg, and he had just gotten back from Houston the previous night. He gave me some helpful insights on the business, and where we thinks it’s going. He seems pretty happy with his life for the most part, but the company he works for has had to grow up a lot recently, and the transition has not always been fun.
The night we met up was pretty epic. I’d never been to an ACL taping; I’ve always found the process for acquiring tickets too arcane and confusing. It’s only a 300 person venue, and a significant chunk of tickets seem to go to sponsors and people with ACL connections, leaving normal folks like me at a real disadvantage.
So one night Erin and I finish dinner and I went back to my computer (we’re lame like that). I checked twitter (you don’t after dinner?) and see that Jimmy Cliff’s band’s flight was delayed, and Michael Franti was playing an acoustic set to keep the audience stalled. Now, I like Jimmy Cliff. After discovering Bob Marley, I saw “The Harder They Come” as a teenager. Great stuff. But I LOVE Michael Franti. So on a whim, I just decided to try my luck. I figured that some folks would bail since it was a weeknight, and I could take their spot.
I walked in, and there was no one at the desk. A stoner was standing over the table, and I asked him how one could get in. He asked how many of me there were, and I told him I was alone. He looked to and fro, and upon seeing no one official-looking, licked the handstamp on the back of his hand, grabbed my hand and pressed his against mine, trying to impart some of the ink.
I need to interrupt this story and say that I truly love Austin. Where else do strangers lick the back of their hands to get you into a show?
Anyhoo, the hand-licking, ink-sharing thing didn’t work. He said I should just follow him and try to walk in non-nonchalantly. We walked to the elevator which was full of people, squeezed in as the doors were closing, and walked out with the group. Franti was done with his set, and people were leaving the production area to go to the bathroom or to grab a (free!!!!!!) beer. Again, Austin = amazing.
As the group left the elevator and walked into the venue, I just walked along with them. No one checked our hands, and I put mine in my pockets in a futile attempt to act smooth.
I snuck in! I was soooooo excited. That’s when Tim recognized me and came over. What a crazy night.
I’m usually sorta shy about doing whatever the musician on stage asks the audience to do (e.g. clap with me, sing it now, etc), but I was so happy and grateful to be at an ACL show that I did whatever Jimmy Cliff asked of me. I was that annoying guy at concerts who sings as loud as he can (even though he sucks) when encouraged by the band. I had SOOOOOO MUCH FUN.
Total this year: $1,006