Pizza for the Soul
However tiresome long road trips may be, there always comes a time when you feel an irresistible urge to find the nearest pizza parlor and want to have a go.
I am no longer a pizza romantic but the thing with pizza is that it’s like your first crush. The first impressive slices you eat as a child (I ate my first impressive slices as a teenager) imprint themselves on your brain. You tend to carry the memory of the flavors wherever you go, so the moment you think of pizza, no matter what you are doing, the good memories of pizza come rushing to your mind.
There’s probably a very good scientific reason why pizza is so popular . We human beings are drawn to foods that are fatty, sweet, rich and complex.
Pizza has all of these components. And then the two chemical reactions that make the pizza brown while you bake them in the oven — Caramelization and the Maillard Reaction have something to do with the taste addiction too.
See. As simple a food pizza may look like, it really is not. It’s a complex food where so many elements come together to excite our brains, thrill our taste buds, and cause our mouths to water.
Pizza for the Soul
A family owned pizza restaurant doesn’t have to be all about old traditions. Which is why, one of the things some of the new age entrepreneur-restaurateurs with an outward look do right, is explore their desire to find ‘the new pizza.’
We may live in an era of postmodern pizza where every ingredient in the world has been tried as a possible topping and has been liked by someone, somewhere, but what validates a restaurateur’s desire to find that ‘new pizza’ is the fact that not everyone who comes to his or her restaurant has tried every ingredient they propose as a pizza topping.
We had spent most of that Wednesday taking in the beauty of Crater Lake National Park. It was 90 degrees on that summer evening in Roseburg, Oregon and we had another 180 miles to go to our final destination for that evening. About 30 minutes earlier during the drive, we had decided that Roseburg would be the place where we would quench our pizza thirst. After a quick google search, we zeroed in on Old Soul Pizza — Largely because they have a menu that screamed “ we carry the new pizza” and the menu also has a few interesting vegan friendly options.
We found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant (remember these are still COVID times and it was a Wednesday). Both my son and I walked into the restaurant with our masks on. Two teenage girls walked out as we walked in and they held the door for us.
Our plan was not to order over the phone or online. Reading online reviews of the place told us that this is sort of the place that needs our respect of personal ordering.
The restaurant was full of patrons eagerly awaiting their meal. The eclectic interior is adorned with vintage signs, oil portraits, forest service signs, antlers, curious looking artifacts, antique looking things, and even a few stray instruments. We were greeted by a smiling young man at the counter and were given a take-out menu. We noticed other staff gracefully move among handcrafted tables and chairs, taking orders, and delivering cold brews to the guests. The man who greeted us stepped into the kitchen and before we knew it, there was another man who walked up to us at the front.
“Welcome to Old Soul. Have you been helped?”
“Yes. Yes. Thank you. We are just looking at the menu. This menu looks pretty interesting.”
“We have been working at it. Let me know if I can help you with any questions.”
Thus started our conversation.
As the 800-degree wood-fired oven continued to cook pizza after pizza inside the Old Soul Pizza kitchen, Ray, the owner of Old Soul Pizza was entertaining his new customers who had come all the way from Michigan.
“Most of our business is through word-of-mouth or online reviews. Like how you found us,” said Ray, “This is a small community but they have been really supportive of us, and we try to spread that love back by sourcing whatever we can from people we know in and around here.”
In those few minutes of conversation we were able to strike with Ray, the son was able to impress upon him with the part-time restaurant job he does back home and Ray was ready to offer him a job right away.
We talked about Michigan, Portland, and how he had not been to Portland in more than 4 years. We talked a bit about the history of his restaurant (it’s only 5–6 years old) and what got him into the Pizza business. I resisted my temptation to make a wisecrack as soon as he said he hadn’t traveled to Portland in 4 years. Then I realized how judgemental my remark would have come across.
The smiling young man from the kitchen came with our pizzas.
“If you don’t want a job, do you at least want a beer?”, Ray asked the son.
“No. Thank you.”
“It’s Root Beer, dad.”, Ray winked at me.
He ignored my son’s response and got him a root beer anyway.
“It’s on me. This is from a local beverage company. It’s very good. Try it.”
In the meantime, I noticed an old man restlessly waiting by the door, hoping to make eye contact with Ray, whose back was towards the door.
I nudged Ray to talk to the man.
“Hey, Thanks Ray. Great food.”
“Glad you enjoyed your meal, Mike.”
“George. I am George.”, the man smiled.
“That’s right. George. Sorry. I was just talking to Mike and had his name mixed up. Glad you had a good meal. Come back again!! Have a good evening!”
Something about that exchange, the body language and the respect George had for Ray told me everything I needed to know about Ray’s connection with the local community in Roseburg.
We spent the next few days in Portland, exploring the city and also the beautiful Columbia River Gorge region. The 80 mile long scenic route is proof of nature’s unbridled strength, what with waterfalls everywhere.
My biggest regret of this long summer road trip would be that I didn’t plan to spend enough time to enjoy this area in Oregon.
Along the historic scenic byway that goes around the gorge, one can stop at many viewpoints. One such viewpoint is the “Memaloose Island Viewpoint”.
I stopped the car and hiked about .3 miles to get to the vantage point to take photos.
“Nice view, huh?”, I heard a man panting.
I turned around to see a man removing his jacket and hanging it on his bicycle. He was visibly tired.
“Where are you riding from?”, I asked.
“I am going to Boise, Idaho. Started from Portland yesterday. Have five more days to go.”
“Wow. That sounds like a fun ride through this scenic loop.”
“Sure is..”, he poured himself a cup of water.
I learned soon that he takes at least four such biking trips every year. A lanky man, in his 60s, he looked absolutely fit to be taking on such adventures, and the sheer joy in his face while he was talking about the trips said how much these trips mean to him.
“Good luck, Mike!”
“Thank you. You enjoy the rest of your road trip OK?”
Memaloose Island is one of the several “islands of the dead” once found in the Columbia River. Many of these islands are covered today by the backwaters of Columbia River’s dams. According to historians, until very recent times, the Native Americans of the Columbia River region did not bury their dead, and instead, they wrapped the dead bodies in robes or tule mats, and deposited in canoes that were placed in the woods, on rocky points, or in cedar vaults on islands like Memaloose.
I zoomed in through my camera lens to take a closer look at this not-so-impressive island. An abstract thought tinged with a sense of sadness clouded my mind as I saw the barren island.
Do the dead belong there?
After all what is belonging?
A sense of belonging can’t be just physical.
It’s something one can’t change by where one lives or what one does. It has to be felt. One has to carry that feeling from within. We all care to belong somewhere. Because belonging gives us the security and a sense of place in this universe; To be confident of ourselves.
Ray totally belongs there in Roseburg.
Mike totally belongs there in nature. Out in the open. On his bike.
And the Native Americans probably believed that the dead among them totally belonged there — On the island of Memaloose.