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.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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5 Responses

  1. BadBlood says:

    As a former Masshole, I know exactly what you mean. We drive like them, act like them, talk like them, and walk like them. I don’t miss those folks one bit.

    I think their only redeeming quality is that you always know exactly how they feel. Down South, someone’s distaste for you may be just as intense, but they hide it behind their smiles.

  2. katitude says:

    I can’t answer the rest of your questions, but I’m supposing that the boundary walls are where the farmers dumped the rocks when clearing the land for farming and plowing. I’d see them all over the place in the farming area I grew up in.

    Massholes….I love it. Have come across a few in our travels.

  3. KenP says:

    I gather that you enjoyed the pizza more than the South American Hot Dog with the fancy name…

  4. Da Goddess says:

    Next time you’re in Connecticut, work it out so you have some extra time to go visit Gillette Castle (http://www.ct.gov/DEP/cwp/view.asp?A=2716&Q=325204). (There are also some waterfalls nearby) It’s well worth the effort.

  5. TracyB says:

    As a CT resident for life (44 years so far), let me assist.

    katitude is correct about the rock walls. Can’t grow crops with a bunch of rocks in the ground. The walls are (were) also helpful in keeping the farm animals from roaming.

    The submarine capital of the world thing was a better distinction when we actually built more than one every five years or so (see also Electric Boat/General Dynamics). If you ever visit with your boys, be sure to set aside some time for the USS Nautilus museum. It is moored at the US Sub Base in Groton. Very cool museum that also happens to be free. Great when you dump all your chips at Mohegan Sun or the ‘Woods and still want to go somewhere fun.

    Pizza. Glad to see you went to Pepe’s in addition to the overly commercial Mystic. The real question is did you make it to Sally’s also? I’ve seen people come to blows over which has the better pizza. If you want to try something else different, get a mashed potato pie (with bacon and onion), Philly cheesesteak pie (with onions and peppers) or my personal favorite, a clams casino pie (with bacon, onions and peppers).

    Last call at the casinos. It’s how we tell the tourists from the locals. LOL. Stupid agreement with the State Liquor Commission. You forgot to mention the “one drink per person at any time” rule. If you have a half a beer in front of you, the waitress won’t leave you another until you down the first or she will be happy to take away the “old” one. It also eliminates a shot and a beer request, since you have to wait 2 rounds to get the 2 portions (or just be friends with a non-drinker like myself that will order whatever you want). Oh yeah, your question… the casinos survive because there ain’t much else to do in that part of the world and they have those stupid slot machines that all the retirees love so much. As part of their agreement with the state, both FW and MS “donate” 25% of their slot revenue each month to the state in lieu of taxes. The state’s part of the agreement is to not allow other gaming (other than the state run lottery).

    Massholes. There may not be a more apt name in all the world. I happen to be related to many (and too many), and they all are proud of their Masshole-ness. Everyone has to be good at something, right?

    Pasta Fagioli. If made correctly (and most places around here do), it can be the nectar of the Gods. Hard to explain, since it is only beans and macaroni in a tomato base, but the way it all works together… YUM!

    Sounds like you enjoyed your work here. Come back soon.

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