Yehudi Mercado’s graphic novel “Buffalo Speedway” has a few messages in its 300-plus pages, one of them being: It’s hard out there for a pizza boy. They’re given way too much work for not enough pay and have to deal with weirdos, jerks and overly aggressive cops.
Mercado, a former pizza-delivery-driver-turned-comics-writer/artist, gives readers a glimpse into the pizza delivery world in “Buffalo Speedway,” following a day in the life of delivery drivers on the “busiest day in pizza history.” It’s June 17, 1994, and Turbo Pizza in Houston, Texas, is faced with an influx of orders as three major events — the NBA playoffs, the World Cup and national coverage of OJ Simpson’s infamous police chase in Los Angeles — can either make or break the last independent pizza place in town.
At the helm of the pizza delivery brigade is a ragtag group of burnouts, stoners and aspiring careerists that want more than the droll-yet-not life of a delivery driver but deal with their own obstacles over the course of the book.
The man at the center of the action is Marcus “Figgs” Figgerman, who desperately wants to escape the fate of “pizza-boy-for-life” after eight years on the job by becoming a cop, just like his father. He has an artsy love interest, Pia, who wants to see him succeed but is waiting for him to figure that out for himself.
Super Cheese, Figgs’ Asian American permastoned best friend, is chock full of pizza-boy wisdom and addresses some of the more pressing matters in pizza-deliverydom, such as the myth of the “hot pizza boy” that magically shows up at lonely wives’ doors in the nick of time. “The Dragon” is the mysterious, towering Mexican American delivery driver with magic powers no one really understands, and is mostly around for comic relief or plot progression. Finally there is Chance, the token white trash, n-word-spouting member of this motley crue that sees his fellow employees as lesser than him.
Throughout this extra-loaded day, Figgs must overcome a number of obstacles that get between him and his true destiny, whatever that might be: getting arrested by the very cops he wants to join; taking part in a race with his fellow drivers to deliver the most pizzas by the end of the day; accidentally eating a drug-laced sandwich meant for Super Cheese and hallucinating most of the day; and so much more. As the day drags on and the extreme heat wears on Figgs and his fellow drivers, setback after setback culminates in all hell breaking loose among the main characters a la Spike Lee’s classic film “Do The Right Thing.”
Mercado’s artistic and writing style create a fun, fast-paced world where there are a million things happening to his characters at once. Panels are packed tight with word bubbles and visual information that let the reader know what is happening. “Buffalo Speedway” has the lively, colorful aesthetic of a kid’s comic and is packed with very nonkid-friendly banter between the characters. His dialogue is highly entertaining — virtually anything Super Cheese says is stoner comedy gold, for example — but the plot of “Buffalo Speedway” is a tired one: the “slacker-turned-hero” trope is predictable.
What makes up for the book’s lackluster plot is virtually everything else: Mercado doesn’t shy away from the racial tension of the time, nor does he cover up much of the outright racism spewed by cops, Chance or the grating morning talk-show hosts covering OJ Simpson. This is a fun book to read because it turns the droll life of a delivery driver into an action-packed tale of shaping one’s destiny.
Despite many of the obstacles in the characters’ ways, “Buffalo Speedway” has one message many can relate to: “Pizza is what brings us all together.”
Youssef Shokry is the assistant arts editor. Contact him at [email protected].