I ran out of food a couple days ago, and have been too tired to swing by the grocery store on the way home to restock the fridge. So I decided to order take-out Chinese at the local shopping center. It’s not the best Chinese food in the world, but it meets one important criteria: it’s on the way home.
That, and the owner recognizes my voice on the phone (even though I swing by maybe once every two months), and immediately knows what I’m ordering. (Yeah, I order the same thing every two months. Creature of habit, I am.) The only problem is that she thinks my first name is “Smith,” which I suppose is fine with me. At this point correcting her would seem rude or simply confusing, so when I walk in that restaurant, I am Smith, the King of Sesame Chicken (no spicy).
I had a similar dilemma in college. At Drexel, a number of food trucks lined the street, eager to serve hungry students at lunchtime. Freshmen were required to be on Drexel’s meal plan; but after freshman year, most of us decided that the food at these food trucks was a notch up the quality ladder from the school cafeteria. This, despite the fact that the trucks didn’t always look very sanitary, what with the pigeons flying in and out of them and all.
Nonetheless, for a period of about two years, I frequently swung by one of the Chinese trucks and ordered “Vegetable Delight.” It had rice, various vegetables, and a gravy sauce that tied everything together nicely. (And occasionally pigeon droppings, but hey.)
After this tradition had lasted several weeks, the lady at the truck (who really spoke no English at all) recognized me and knew immediately what to fix. All I would need to do is walk up to the truck, and she would start to fix my meal. Eventually, as soon as she caught sight of me walking near the truck, she would begin to fix my meal. Always Vegetable Delight. Creature of habit, remember?
That was all and good (and certainly made me feel special) until one day, they changed the type of gravy.
I didn’t like the new gravy. It was actually quite gross. And when I began saying “no gravy,” she just smiled with that “I’ll just smile and pretend I know what he’s saying” look, clearly not understanding what I was saying, and continued to put gravy on the Vegetable Delight. Sometimes extra gravy.
I could no longer eat the Vegetable Delight. It just wasn’t the same, and my pleas to bring back the old gravy were only met with that polite and somewhat hesitant smile.
So, with sadness, I stopped getting food at that truck. But there was a problem. I had to walk by the truck each day. And sometimes, she would see me, and begin making the Vegetable Delight. I began to make circuitous paths just to avoid going near the truck. But I still felt quite guilty.
But all of the above is just a digression. I was talking about tonight’s Sesame Chicken, after all.
As I entered the store tonight, I heard yelling, and saw that there was a “scene” playing out at the register. A customer was screaming at the poor lady that calls me “Smith” — screaming and waving her arms about in the air.
There were several customers in front of me, all shifting weight nervously. We exchanged passive glances with each other as we watched the awkward situation unfold in front of us.
As best as I could tell, the lady was outraged — outraged! — because she thought the restaurant had charged her $2 tip to her credit card. (She had been a dine-in customer.) Apparently, she left two dollars on the table, but also wrote in $2 on the “tip” section of the credit card statement, apparently not understanding the concept. Or something like that. The owner of the restaurant kept indicating that she hadn’t charged the tip portion to the credit card — that she had only charged $19.27, not $21.27 — but the customer would hear none of it.
For several minutes, this went on. The owner offered to call the credit card company, but the lady kept throwing insults and demanding two dollars back. Eventually, some of the other customers began offering the lady $2 so she would shut up and leave. This only outraged her more.
The couple in line in front of me finally said “give it a rest lady, it’s only $2.”
And then the fireworks flew. The irate customer then began to direct her anger not only at the owner, but at the rest of us. Even me. And I was just standing there. The owner finally gave up and gave the lady $2. She stormed out, throwing insults at all of us.
“Just wait until it happens to one of you!” she screamed as she slammed the door behind her.
After a few seconds, all of us in the store began to laugh. I understand people can get upset when they feel they’ve been wronged (although in this case, it really doesn’t seem like the restaurant did anything wrong,) but to get so worked up over $2 — and to scream at neighbors she didn’t even know, keeping them from getting their food — just makes me think some people have an interesting set of priorities and worries. People are dying every day in Iraq. If a vending machine cheats me out of a buck, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and be thankful for all of the good luck I’ve had in my life. The fact that each of us is here — heck, that’s some kind of luck right there.
Once I got to the front of the line — it was clear to me that the poor lady that calls me Smith was embarrased and shaken. She had kept her cool through it all and never resorted to yelling herself, and having served time in the food service industry myself, I know that’s not always easy to do. I let her keep my change.