Upon my return from Connecticut

Mystic Pizza is a real place.

This probably comes as no surprise to people who are big fans of the movie. It probably comes as even less a surprise to people who didn’t know the movie exists. My problem was I was surrounded by the latter. My job for the past week was to cover a poker tournament full of people who were either in diapers or hadn’t been born when the Julia Roberts flick came out 23 years ago. It’s hard to explain to these people the significance of driving up on Mystic Pizza. It’s harder when I’ve never seen the movie myself. In any case, the pastrami, onion, and mustard pie (pictured here) was pretty good. Julia Roberts wasn’t there, but somebody said to me this week, “After seeing Pretty Woman, I was inspired to try and find that hooker with the heart of gold. Boy, did I try. I never found her, though.”

Unlike a trip across South America or one faced with a loosely-official Mexican federale shakedown, a work trip to southeastern Connecticut isn’t one in which I’m going to learn much about myself or the world. Connecticut is a beautiful place, but it left me with more questions that answers.

Why does nearly every countryside property surround itself with four-foot rock walls?

Is there a lot of pride in being the submarine capital of the world?

Who puts pastrami and mustard on pizza? (It was very good).

How does a casino survive when the blue laws require last call at 12:30am five days a week?

If I was left with any permanent impression, it was of how distinct the people of the region are from almost every place I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been able to fully pinpoint what it is yet, but I think it has something to do with a guy named Tony.

“You like pasta fazool?” he asked to me on my first morning there and handed a giant bowl of it toward me.

It was his lunch. I don’t think he was actually offering it to me, but within five minutes of chatting, I knew Tony was good people. He was a 50-something shuttle driver with a thick Italian-American accent. It was easy for an over-imaginative mind to picture Tony as a retired wheel man for a crew out of Providence, or something sexy like that. In fact, he was just a friendly guy who would stand and talk for a few minutes before shuttling drunks back and forth between his hotel and the casino.

A guy like Tony is probably a dime a dozen to the people of New England, but for a kid from Missouri, Tony was different. You don’t meet people like Tony in Willard, Jackson, or Greenville. His accent was distinct, his attitude perfect, and his friendliness a credit to the people of the region. What’s more, he compensated for the legions of Massholes (perhaps the most perfect and fitting phrase ever invented) that invade on the weekends.

I’m home now and happy to be here. Connecticut was great, the Mohegan Sun a very cool casino, and people a great deal friendlier than I expected. I’ve got a few weeks of homebound work before I head off for Peru. My guess is that the people there will be different.