LOCATION: Food court, at my place of employ.
TIME: 11:15 a.m.
I walked into the food court. The Mexican place? closed. Chinese place? too much dubious gelatinous biz. (Actually, I didn't even check the Chinese place--I relied on previous intel.) Pizza? looked heat-lamp scorched and otherwise unattractive. That left the cold case (too much empty shelves of nothing), the grill (#deepfatfried), and the sandwich place. So I decided to order a sandwich.
"Is this where you order?" I asked the young counter worker. Wordlessly, she slid a laminated order card and a grease pencil toward me.
I ordered a sandwich with the following specs:
- wheat bread
- pesto mayo
- BLT with
- cucumbers and pickles
Also: a bag of barbecue potato chips, in homage to the days when, in junior high, I used to start to salivate like Pavlov's dog in contemplation of the
- white grease paper wrapped hamburger with
- pickles on it, which happened to be hot,
- chocolate shake (oh! chocolate shake as a beverage, what halcyon days!), and
- bag of BBQ potato chips,
which remains one of the Platonic ideals of a lunch for me. For everyone, probably, I'm thinking.
Back to my sandwich: and then I paid, and I stood back to wait. Bag of barbecue potato chips in hand. I happened to note a guy who was studying his cell phone with grave intent. He had been waiting since before I stepped up to the ordering place. Why didn't I bring *my* cell phone?
I opened my bag of barbecue potato chips. The sandwich maker seemed to be approaching his work with a certain spaciousness. Spaciness, really. He'd study the laminated order card. Then he'd look up, as if perhaps someone were surveilling him. As, I suppose, in fact I was. Then he'd look down and--I'm not joking--look at the order card again. Maybe he'd put a little scoop of tuna salad on a slice of marble rye. Look up, check out the surveillance team (me, cell phone guy), and put some lettuce and maybe a couple slices of tomato on a small piece of white paper.
This very leisurely pace of work caused me to reflect. I had not gathered, from the perfectly unbusy sandwich place, that there might have been an unmade sandwich pileup happening. Cell phone guy and me, I thought. But no. After about seven minutes of rather desultory sandwich making, the tuna sandwich was leveled into a plastic container and out of nowhere, another guy slid over to the end of the bar and picked it up. As if he had been waiting elsewhere. Probably in a "While You Wait for Your Sandwich Lounge," available exclusively to an A-List of which I was clearly not a part. Not the cell phone guy, either.
I thought to myself, I can be calm. I can be patient. Which I was, for three more minutes. Then, I walked over to the counter and said, calm as all hell, "So what's the situation here? How are things coming?" As if, somehow, it would have been rude to say, MAY I HAVE MY SANDWICH PLEASE?
Well, that would have been rude, surely. The young woman looked at the small row of order cards. She looked back at me. She pointed to the one second to her left (my right), and said, "Yours is next after that one."
I stepped back with the cell phone guy. I leaned up against a pillar and ate some barbecue potato chips like it was my job, or more realistically, like they were my lunch, which, in fact they were, at least until my sandwich came into being.
I watched the guy in the cap--sandwich guy--slap some heaven-knows-what on a slice of bread, then lay that bread on a griddle. Ah, "toasted." Young counterwoman assembled the lettuce-tomato-pickle etc. combo on a small piece of white paper. Another sandwich got made in a very leisurely and squirrelly fashion (to wit: young man performed one sandwich-related operation, looked up, checked out the surveillance, adjusted his cap, resumed the next sandwich-related operation). A few minutes or a half hour later, who could tell when time moves this slowly? the young man placed this sandwich in a plastic container and said, "Cell phone guy?"
Cell phone guy stepped forward and took his sandwich with no air of surprise or drama or sigh of complaint. None whatsoever. It was like this was how things were, and always had been and no doubt always would be, here in Sandwich-ville, the slowest place on earth. I resumed my lean against the pillar and ate some more barbecue potato chips.
It will not surprise you, the people, to know that my barbecue potato chips were long gone by the time my sandwich finally made it into its plastic coffin. "Megastore?" the sandwich guy said.
I stepped forward and he looked up at me with the friendliest smile ever. It became clear: he was a sandwich artist, this was obvious, and not some bread-slapping, pickle-mongering hack, and art cannot be rushed nor robotized.
"Would you like some broccoli salad?" he asked, politely, pointing to several petite plastic containers.
Reader, I took some broccoli salad, and walked the sandwich back to my office where I ate it with relish, and where it perfumed my work for the rest of the afternoon. I should have taken a picture, but I really couldn't--I was starving, and I had a sandwich to eat. And it was damned good.