You will leave work two hours early on a Tuesday. You will point your affordable Japanese compact toward afternoon St. Paul traffic and take I-94 down to the expanses of Minnesota that make it look like a lost Dakota. You will continue all the way to the parts of Wisconsin where evangelicals thump into the FM dial. Your tires will spit rocks on an unpaved throughway, sunbathing cattle filling your windows, on your 1.5-hour journey.
Then, you will eat pizza.
A to Z Produce and Bakery isn't just an oasis of civilization and brick-oven Italian grub in rural Stockholm, Wis., it's a rift in the timestream. When you pull into the grassy parking lot, you are flooded with nostalgia. It makes you lose all sense of your age, which makes A to Z an ideal place to celebrate being in your thirties.
Pizza is a destination. Your thirties are not. Though this isn't the explicit slogan of A to Z Produce and Bakery's weekly pizza feast (every Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m.), it could be.
Thirty is an age people don't transition into. You plummet, screaming and fighting, into your third decade, whereupon entry you shackle yourself in comparisons to visionaries the likes of Pascal, Chopin, and Zonday and the feats they achieved at a fraction of your age. It's a twilight never reached by the incendiary lives of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Joan of Arc. It's 10 years of anxiety, mediocrity, and doubt sandwiched between rebellion and mid-life crisis, but A to Z's picnic vibe and camp atmosphere will help to unstick you from the prejudice of time.
The pies are expensive ($24-$28). The beer is no longer BYOB. There are no gluten-free options. There's only one flushing toilet, and the later in the season you go, the longer you have to wait (sometimes up to an hour). All are enough to revert any thirtysomething to an uglier side of childhood and send them grunting toward their Yelp! app, but not you. You will order a New Glarus Spotted Cow and enjoy the natural intoxicant of composting hay as you wait.
You'll meet your friends on a woolen blanket sprawled out by the valley. You'll walk the rows where pizza ingredients such as basil, fennel, beets, onion, and tomato are grown, marveling at the dairy cows — of which you literally saw hundreds on the drive down — that suddenly seem mystical as they graze yards from your lawn chair.
Before you know it, your number will be up. Your pie(s) will be lifted from the busy brick oven and into a box. Maybe you'll pick up another Spotted Cow before returning with the goods to your friends. Maybe you'll high-five a teenager with a Neverlandish smile waiting in line behind you. In any case, you'll eat.
The pizza will be hot. You will resist, blowing over the cheesy surface the way children do, before ultimately braving a bite too soon, burning the roof of your mouth the way children do.
It'll be worth it.
The ashy char and grainy, old-world feel of the crust. The molten cheese that engulfs the ingredients like a warm salve. The fresh, chunky tomato sauce holding ground between the two. It won't taste like the college pizza you slathered with ranch dressing and hot sauce, nor will it resemble the haute pies you spring for when a client covers the bill at Burch. Misshapen and unevenly cooked, these are pizzas of a distinct place.
The sun will begin to descend as the meal becomes safely edible. You won't think of the things you skipped at work to make it on time, nor will you agonize about being single in a state where marriage is nearly compulsory in the five years after college. Concerns like student debt, job stagnation, and slothly metabolism — even death — will turn into mist. Your thirties are not some sad, Germanic aria, you'll realize. They're a causeway from infancy to retirement wherein, if you're lucky, there'll be pizza.
And as you fold up your chair and snatch up the last of the crusts your friends childishly refused to eat, you'll exhale. You'll trace the area of the burn on your palate with your tongue, smiling to yourself as you fasten your belt and head back to paved roads.
Patting your full belly, you'll feel those anxieties of your thirties creep back into consciousness. But as you pick a sliver of farm-fresh prosciutto from your incisor and recall the smell of pastures and pizza, it'll all seem so irrelevant. Like age. Like expectation. Like death.
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