I was in another place, a place so different from the place I’m used to, but in reality, not all that far away. Bridges are a strange thing, they can connect, or they can separate, and sometimes they do both at exactly the same time.
I had gone to elementary school just down the street, but that seems like eons ago. The bridge has changed, my school is gone, the house we lived in is gone, but that restaurant was still there. It was the type of restaurant that barely exists anymore. A family owned, family run, burger joint. No corporate offices, no assistant managers, there was only the owner, and she was standing behind the counter.
There’s one other restaurant like this that I know of, and you can always tell them apart from regular corporate entities because the employee parking lot has nice cars. I suppose that is because the people who operate the place are not shipping all the profits off to someone who never even comes by, instead, they are using the profits to pay their staff/family a better than barely “living wage.”
My food had been ordered, now all there was, was time. Time that I spent looking around. I could have spent it looking at my phone, but life is a participatory event, not a spectator one.
I sat at the only clean booth. It was apparent that they didn’t clean any table until after the rush. Sitting in a restaurant filled with dirty tables makes my hospitality sense go a little haywire, but I know that you should never judge something that someone else does until you know why they do it.
“How are you?” asked the young man who stepped up to the counter after me.
“Do you have vegetables?” he asked without waiting for answer to the first question.
“I am on a special diet, and I can only have vegetables,” he said, not waiting for an answer to that question either.
“We have fries,” said the woman behind the counter.
“Spinach?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
She pointed to the overhead sign that read, “green salad.”
“Is it organic?”
This went on for several minutes before five very dirty men entered the building. Concrete or mud covered their overalls and they all wore special knee protectors.
“Did you get my order?” bellowed out the man whom purely by behavior, I took to be their leader.
“I’m still ordering,” said Mr. Veggie.
“I called in, but I need to make some changes,” bellowed the other man at one of the other people behind the counter.
He was in charge, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Soon, there were two conversations going on simultaneously.
“No mustard on one of those burgers.”
“They don’t come with mustard.”
“And no ketchup with the fries.”
The woman pointed at the shelf with pump containers filled with mustard and ketchup.
“Do you have orange juice?” asked the other man.
“And I want…” started the boss man loudly before taking a phone call. What had seemed loud before now paled in comparison.
“YEAH, YEAH, YEAH. I’M ON THE JOB RIGHT NOW!” he said, presumably because he wanted everyone to know.
“I’m their boss,” he responded to the woman, unbidden, and at a weirdly lower volume.
“#71” boomed out over the loudspeaker, startling me, because it has been a million years since I have heard a loudspeaker in a restaurant.
I got up and retrieved my burger and fries, weaving my way between the two men, just in time to hear the first man finally order.
“A coke then,” he said. “A diet coke.”
When I sat down, I marveled at how at one time in my young life, that restaurant was all I knew about the restaurant business. I also marveled at the fact that no matter how different the many different restaurants that I have worked in over the years were, one thing has always been the same. No matter where I’ve been, people are always the same. At least some people are.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-The louder the “boss” is, the more he will want to be recognized as the boss. Just as true for the local sewer truck, as it is for the corporate bank.
-Some people use their food choices, not to secure their health, but rather as a way to manipulate others. Which has the unfortunate result of negatively impacting the care that people with actual serious issues receive.
-As I left, I watched as the owner finally started bussing the tables.
-People got to eat. It’s the one truth we all share. It’s the how we eat that separates us. Because, ironically, the “after” is another truth we all share too.