The conference was at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., a city where I had attended law school many years earlier. We were in the mood for pizza.
I remembered the pizza places I had liked long ago. I had some concern that the pizza that seemed good to the 20-something me might not please the palate of the older me. But I felt pretty confident that would not be the case at my first choice, my favorite from long ago, A.V. Ristorante. Why was I confident? I had read at some point that it was Justice Antonin Scalia’s favorite place for pizza. If the Italian American gourmand Scalia liked it, I felt sure that I still would.
An aside. Justice Scalia once visited St. Thomas University School of Law, where I teach. We are located in South Florida, home to many great Italian restaurants (my favorite is Anthony’s Runway 84 in Fort Lauderdale). Yet, the administration took Justice Scalia to dinner at a chain steakhouse. A nice one, but c’mon! Really?
Back to our tale. The news hit us harder than a Justice Scalia opinion reversing a case we had won in the appellate court. A.V. had closed. Its pizza was a thing of the past.
Time for Plan B. Luigi’s. Not having an Italian food-loving justice to rely on, the concern about my tastes becoming more adult arose again, but I was determined. I remembered Luigi’s as having about the cheesiest (in a good way) pizza I had ever eaten. What could be bad about cheese? Let’s go.
Not an option. Luigi’s had closed, too. The old town had changed more than I thought.
Plan C. Time to head out of the District. Not far. College Park, Maryland, to be specific.
During my law school days, I frequented two places there on a regular basis. One was Little Tavern, a unit in a White Castle-style hamburger chain that went belly up during the years after my time in the area. (You can still see some of their buildings and their iconic green, steeply pitched roofs housing other businesses. Last time I checked, one was a Chinese restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, and one was a donut place in Laurel, Maryland.)
More relevant, however, was Ledo’s Pizza. Square, thin-crust, flaky, made with smoked provolone. I knew it was still around because I had talked to a classmate who told me that he had eaten there fairly recently. He had also told me, however, that it had moved from a location on the outskirts of the city to somewhere downtown.
I wasn’t concerned. Downtown College Park wasn’t very big when I lived in the area, and I doubted that it had grown to a point at which I could not cruise around a bit and find what I was looking for.
Getting to College Park concerned me, however. I had never approached it from the area where the Shoreham was located. My recollection of the streets was fuzzy. No doubt changes had occurred in the landscape, especially because I went to law school while the Metro was being constructed and the streets were torn up all over town. (We used to joke that if they finished the Metro and never opened it, traffic would improve tremendously.)
But we had a new-fangled ace-in-the-hole. Our rental car had a GPS unit. They were just coming onto the scene. So new that it wasn’t part of the vehicle. It was on a hinged metal arm attached to the dashboard. We had never had a car with GPS (probably didn’t even know anyone who did), but we were enjoying playing with it and were amazed by what it could do, although befuddled at times by some of its quirks.
We had nicknamed it “Sac,” a sobriquet we still apply to any GPS unit we use. A tribute to Lewis and Clark’s guide, Sacagawea. If she could get us to downtown College Park, I figured, I could take it from there.
I programmed Sac for College Park (these were the days before you just put a business name into a GPS system), and she began to lead us on our way.
We took a lot of twists and turns, but the general direction seemed right, and I saw a few familiar things here and there. Eventually, we found ourselves on U.S. Route 1, which I knew to be the main drag in College Park. Then, as I saw lights looming ahead that I believed to be downtown, Sac told us to turn right onto a narrow residential street.
I was suspicious. Remember the quirks I mentioned? Well, Sac on occasion would have us make a series of turns on side streets only to put us back on the main road we had been on. We had scratched our heads when we experienced these walkabouts, and I immediately thought that we were about to go on another one.
Nonetheless, I heeded Sac’s demand. She took us straight for a block or two and then had us make a left. We were traveling then parallel to U.S. 1. We proceeded for several blocks until Sac told us to turn left. Heading back to the main road, I assumed.
Less than a block later, Sac announced that we had reached our destination. I saw the lights of downtown some distance ahead, so my immediate thought was that Sac might have taken us to the geographic center of College Park. No worries, downtown was in sight. A few blocks and I would be able to figure things out.
Then, I looked to my left. We were directly in front of Ledo’s. A block or two off U.S. 1. Not a location I would have stumbled across driving where the lights were.
We had no idea how it happened. Could Sac read minds? As troubling as that concept might have been, we didn’t dwell on it, choosing instead to embrace the help we had received that evening. We were hungry. So, we parked, we went in, we ate. And we toasted Sac.