I don’t know when I had my first soppressata sandwich from Sabatelle’s Market but I know when I had my most recent. It was Thursday afternoon after interviewing Jane and Jason Sabatelle for the story that begins on page 3.
Jason proudly handed me a container and I knew what was in it.
Full disclosure: Jason didn’t ask me to pay for the sandwich and I didn’t.
Which gets a bit dicey because all journalism instructors, and all editors, warn writers to never accept a gift from someone on whom you are doing a story. It’s a rule, a basic tenet of the business. But when I get to that lesson in my classes, I add a little practical advice. To refuse a gift can be perceived as insulting. So, you have to make a judgment call.
And to refuse a soppressata sandwich can perceived as stupid. And no one wants a stupid reporter.
So, I accepted the sandwich with gratitude and devoured it with impunity, thinking all the while that gift-taking rule is actually more of a guideline.
Besides, the whole philosophy behind refusing a gift is to not give the impression the reporter has been “bought,” so to speak … swayed into writing something more favorable. In the case of Sabatelle’s as subject matter and I as reporter, this notion is laughable. Of course I was going to write a favorable article. The Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce had just named the place Business of the Year. I wasn’t there to prove them wrong.
To be honest, my intention was to write a story and not necessarily a column. The soppressata sandwich changed that, but not as a “bribe,” just an inspiration. Or better still, a reminder. This sandwich and I go back a long way.
With an apology to my friend Al Kridlo, the soppressata sandwich will always make me think of his son Dale who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Here’s why:
Many of those attending Dale’s funeral in Arlington National Cemetery left by charter bus from Pittston the night before. I and my wife had originally made plans to be on that bus but it was during a semester at the college and, after much internal debate, I decided I could not take the day off from teaching, so I gave up my seats.
But when the night before rolled around, it was clear to me I had to be at that ceremony in Washington and decided to drive down early in the morning and drive back right after, thus missing only one day of class. When funeral director Bob Lussi heard this, he suggested we follow the hearse which was leaving in the morning. I called Al to tell him when Dale was on his way to Arlington, I’d have his back.
Mary Kay’s Italian heritage kicked in, meaning we had to provide food for the trip. Soppressata sandwiches from Sabatelle’s was our choice and we ordered a good dozen of them, knowing there would be police escorts, a driver of the hearse and, of course, Dale’s friend and Army pal, Vinny, who had accompanied Dale all the way from Afghanistan and, as we witnessed for several days, would not leave his side.
It was Vinny who told us how inspired our food choice was. “Oh, I know soppressata,” Vinny, a New Jersey kid, said. “This was Dale’s favorite.”
We gave sandwiches to everyone involved, needing to explain almost every time that soppressata is an spicey Italian meat, similar to salami, and the sandwiches, which we ordered with “the works,” had a roasted red pepper and slice of mozzarella. “Dale’s favorite,” we added to each explanation.
The drive to Arlington was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. At the funeral home in West Pittston, the Pennsylvania State Trooper assigned to escort us asked me at what speed I am comfortable driving. I asked why and he said, “because we are going to get on Route 81 South in the passing lane and we’re not stopping until we hit the Maryland state line.” There was a U.S. Army seal on the back of the hearse and I just kept my eyes focused on it as we flew down the interstate.
Two Maryland troopers were waiting for us. We took a break and gave them sandwiches which they ate while we chatted in the parking lot of a small restaurant. I asked them if they ever heard of A.J. McAndrew, a kid from Pittston I knew had become a Maryland trooper. “He’s Andrew McAndrew to us,” one of them said. “But we call him Major. He’s our boss.” I also asked them about their knee-high boots. They said the boots were part of the uniform of motorcycle cops, which they were, but they had pulled rank and asked for the honor of escorting Dale. Each had a cruiser and they said there would be one of them in front of us and one behind.
They also said we would meet two Virginia troopers later and that the Maryland guys were supposed to turn us over to them, but they said they intended to stick with us all the way to Arlington.
The Maryland guys took us around part of the Washington Beltway and it was something to behold: cars clearing out of our way as sirens blared and Dale’s entourage roared by. But the most impressive part was yet to come. The Virginia troopers joined us, one in a cruiser and one on a motorcycle, and we all began the final stretch to Arlington National Cemetery.
We moved slowly now, a processional pace, and in the rear-view mirror I could see one of the cruisers weaving back and forth behind us. I knew what he was doing. We were on a four-lane highway, but he would allow no one to pass us. Meanwhile, the trooper on the motorcycle raced ahead to entrance ramps allowing no one access.
As we drove past The Pentagon, the only vehicles on the road were Dale’s, ours, and the four troopers. Talking despite a lump in my throat, I called Al and said, “Your son is entering his nation’s capital just the way a hero should.”
I hope it doesn’t sound trivial or even silly that a bite of a sandwich can send me into such a reverie. I know Al Kridlo doesn’t think so. Memories of Dale, all memories of Dale, are dear to him … even, and maybe especially, those brought on by a soppressata sandwich with the works, Dale’s favorite.