John Palmer left his hometown of Windsor, Ont., to join the navy in 1977.
Trudeau 1.0 was prime minister. Gretzky was playing junior B in Toronto. You could still fly CP Air, drive a Ford Pinto, drink beer from a stubby and pay for it with a dollar bill.
In short, it was a long time ago. And for every minute of that time, Palmer has pined for pizza.
Not just any pizza. Windsor pizza. Back East, it’s celebrated as a regional delicacy. There’s something special about it, Palmer says. The Colwood man all but drools while talking about the canned mushrooms they use, the way they shred the pepperoni instead of slicing it.
He now works for B.C. Transit, where one of his co-workers is Nigel Couch, another former Windsor guy who shares Palmer’s pizza passion. Over the years, they have talked and talked and talked about it — until they finally decided to turn dream into reality.
Wednesday, after weeks of working out the logistics, they had a stack of pizzas overnighted from Windsor. A pizzeria called Antonino’s half-baked five of its largest pies, cut them to fit shipping boxes, wrapped them, froze them and sent them to Victoria via UPS. The pizzas cost $264. The shipping was $350. Worth every penny (if we still had pennies).
“My co-worker Nigel and I will split them and not invite any of our relatives over,” Palmer declared while waiting for the pies to arrive. Then he relented, mentioning something about inviting his sister-in-law, another Windsoronian (or whatever they’re called) over for a slice at supper. “But not her kids, damn it.”
The thing is, efforts like this aren’t that rare, according to a Windsor pizza proselytizer named Averey, Palmer’s contact at Antonino’s. Pies are sent all over the country. Palmer’s equally zealous contact at UPS, Abdul, told him that two mediums were flown to Dubai.
“People will go to great lengths to bring back childhood memories of food,” Palmer says.
Why? Well, there’s a comfort factor in having a taste of home, particularly in times of stress. Don’t forget that from 2006 to 2011, soldiers serving in Afghanistan got to gulp double-doubles at a Tim Hortons in the Canadian base at Kandahar.
COVID-19 might be a factor these days. Note this line from a 2020 Smithsonian magazine story on the surge in business at a U.S. company called Goldbelly, which works with small food vendors to send their products to far-off mouths: “Company sales are up 200 per cent since the pandemic took hold, with classic comfort foods like New York bagels, Chicago pizza, Philly cheesesteaks and Texas BBQ being some of the most-shipped items from coast-to-coast.”
Or maybe it’s simply a matter of only yearning for foods once we can no longer have them. Campbell River floatplane company CorilAir occasionally answers the pleas of the lone caretaker at a carved-from-the-wilderness marina across the strait, dropping off a bucket of KFC, or an A&W burger, or a case of Lucky. A million years ago, way up the coast in Ocean Falls, a remote community accessible only by air or sea, I was among the millworkers who chipped in to have a mailbag full of Big Macs flown up on the sea plane from Vancouver.
Later, while living in England, I couldn’t shake a craving for Miracle Whip. I didn’t particularly cotton to it in Canada, but once it was beyond reach, I wanted it like Gollum wanted the ring. My wife, bless her, hunted down a small, grossly overpriced jar for my birthday. Likewise, the parents of a Times Colonist colleague shipped her Kraft Dinner when she was jonesing for it in the Philippines. I knew a remote-post Alberta Mountie who would go straight from the airport to a poutine stand whenever she flew home to Quebec.
The greater the isolation, the greater the craving. In 1996, Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk celebrated Canada Day by passing out Salt Spring Island smoked salmon to his space shuttle crew, which included U.S. astronaut Susan Helms. Five years later, when Helms was serving on the international space station, she radioed down to mission control in Houston and asked Thirsk if he could round up any more. Sure, he said, and called his dad Les in Cobble Hill. Les FedExed a batch to NASA, which shipped it up to Helms on the next supply shuttle.
Compared with that, Windsor is just down the block.