SOME YEARS ago, while working on a typically hard-hitting story which would wind up on the bottom of page C-9 next to the tire ads, I spent an evening with a pizza delivery man.
The guy worked for a large chain that guaranteed delivery in a half-hour, or else the pizza was free.
This policy caused one of our crackerjack editors to wonder aloud whether this chain's delivery people were driving around town like maniacs in order to meet this 30-minute deadline.
Unfortunately, this crackerjack editor wasn't content to just wonder aloud. He actually assigned the story to me -- this despite the fact that I would routinely hide under my desk whenever he approached. Or else I would pick up the phone and pretend to be carrying on a conversation with an important source.
But none of these tried-and-true methods of evading work saved me from this pizza story.
The crackerjack editor found me dozing behind a file cabinet and growled "Check it out," in the same tone of voice Ben Bradlee must have used with Woodward and Bernstein when the Watergate rumors started.
So that's how I found myself driving in a battered 1979 Camaro with a pizza delivery guy named Jim, who assured me, as we shot from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds that he didn't drive like a maniac.
"You don't feel pressure to get the pizza there in 30 minutes?" I asked.
"Absolutely not," he said as we took the corner of a quiet residential street on two wheels, scattering a group of toddlers and nearly ramming a girl in a wheelchair.
In the side-view mirror, I could see ashen-faced parents shaking their fists at us. One young mother seemed to be weeping.
Later, as we roared through a yellow light at a busy intersection, Jim informed me that the pizza delivery person's life was no day at the beach.
"Why's that?" I managed to say, even though the G-force had pinned me to my seat and my lips were stuck to my teeth.
"Stick-ups, for one thing," said Jim.
He went on to explain that some enterprising criminals had taken to ordering a pizza and leaving a fictitious address, which often turned out to be an abandoned house or deserted apartment.
When the deliverer arrived, he'd be greeted with a gun in his face and the urgent command: "Gimme all your money or I'll blow your head off."
According to Jim, this had caused many pizza delivery people to consider other careers, many of them, strangely enough, in the field of hotel-motel management, although Jim couldn't say why this was so.
"Well," I said, "that would certainly account for . . . LOOK OUT!"
A large tractor-trailer had just pulled out in front of us. Jim yanked hard on the steering wheel and threw us into a power turn, narrowly missing a woman pushing a baby carriage.
"We also get a lot of sexual propositions," Jim was saying now.
Let me get this straight, I said. You show up at someone's door all hot and sweaty and reeking of exhaust fumes, with a pepperoni pizza under one arm -- and that turns on some of these women?
"Happens all the time," Jim said. "Well, not all the time. But it happens. The other night a woman answered the door in one of those Fredricks of Hollywood get-ups."
"You wouldn't have any pictures of that, would you?" I asked.
As we rocketed through a hospital zone, I pictured Jim fending off the feverish advances of hot-blooded women clad in tight-fitting bustiers and shimmering bikini pants, coral-pink garter belts tracing the soft outline of their . . .
What the hell was this about, anyway? Oh, pizza deliverers. Right. Well, I, uh, came away with a new-found appreciation for the job Jim and his colleagues performed nightly.
Best of all, we had settled this business of whether they drive like maniacs, the answer being an unqualified no, at least according to Jim and a fellow driver, Dawg. ("Jes call me Dawg," he said. "Real name's Clarence, but ah don't like it much.")
My story, by the way, ran at the bottom of page C-9 next to a large ad for a fish and tackle store that proclaimed: "WE HAVE JUST RECEIVED A NEW SHIPMENT OF LIVE BAIT!"
I received many favorable comments, with several people wanting to know exactly what kind of bait had arrived in that new shipment.