Thursday, November 17, 2011

Somewhere in the food chain...

I’ve come to realize that few lunchtime experiences are more humbling than standing at the fast food counter waiting for your number to be called.

There we were, about 7 of us, all gathered around the front of the popular eatery; cups of soda and receipts in hand; all hoping that the next tray of nachos, burgers, burritos or fries had our names on it. Deep down, all of us were secretly hoping our order would somehow leapfrog all the rest in that long chain of food preparation taking place just a few feet away.

“Number 198” the server says as she places the tray on the counter. And even though my number is “201” I still lean in to take a look, just to make sure those wrappers don’t bear too close a resemblance to my order. After all, orders do get confused sometimes.

“Excuse me,” says 198 as he weaves his way through the waiting crowd with the tray in one hand and 32 ounces of raspberry tea in the other; so all of us back up to give this suddenly-enviable food recipient plenty of room. He’s now like some kind of fast food royalty and we are humbled by his presence. After all, he’s crossed over and is no longer one of us. That blue tray is his ticket from the land of the waiting “have nots” into the realm of the dining “haves.” It’s a status the rest of us desperately hope to attain the next time a tray hits the counter.   

Of course, it’s an anxious, nervous couple of minutes. From the moment the order-taker says “don’t call us, will call you when it’s ready” to the moment you finally unwrap your own purchases like a kid on Christmas morning, you’re hanging in no-man’s land; in an anxious place of limbo like the dog who thought he heard the can opener but can’t quite smell the food yet.  

Why are we anxious? For starters, we’ve paid for food we’ve yet to receive. We’ve made a monetary commitment to the promise of a “Combo Number 7” but that promise is yet to be fulfilled. All we really have is a small piece of paper with a number on it and Mr. 198 as an example of what is to come. And we’re also anxious because this kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere. After all, I fill my car with gas before the pump ever spits out my receipt; I already have my cart full of groceries before I ever enter the checkout line, and by the time I get my electric bill, it’s for kilowatts that I have already used. But when it comes to midday nourishment on the run, its pay now, eat a little bit later. Thus, we learn patient too. And isn’t it funny how patient goes hand in hand with humility?

No, this is by no means a knock on fast food. Really, this is not a knock on anything. Rather, it’s just an observation of one of those times in life we’ve all experienced before and will certainly experience again. And I don’t mean the fast food part; I mean the humbling part.

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