Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fast Food

There were at least eight cars waiting at the Taco Bell drive-thru on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn on Friday night, so I decided to go inside. I thought it might be quicker that way since I had a long drive ahead of me and was anxious to get on the road.

When I entered, there were about five or six people standing in line amidst the crumpled receipts and empty straw wrappers that littered the floor. I took my place behind a short, red-haired lady and watched the workers argue and yell at each other. There were three of them that I could see; a tall, fat, black man who was effeminate, lazy, and unpleasant; a thin, scrawny black kid with a bad mustache who kept mostly quiet and was the only one who worked quickly; and a short Indian woman who did most of the yelling and was certainly the cause of the one’s unpleasantness and the other’s diligence.

There was an old man ahead of the red-haired lady in front of me. He wore a faded blue knit hat and a battered army jacket with holes in it. There were tiny, blue balls of fuzz suspended from his hat and the edges of his sleeves were frayed. He placed his order with the large, effeminate, black man who asked him what kind of drink he wanted with his meal. The old man asked him, “What are my choices?”

I sighed a little inside.

The large, effeminate, black man cocked his head back to reveal his eyes that were kept hidden in the shadow of the brim of his cap. His eyes showed boredom. Or frustration. Or intimidation. Or all three. I couldn’t decide or was feeling too impatient to care. He recited the long list of available beverages and waited for the old man’s response.

“You got orange?” the old man asked. Orange, of course, was the one flavor that the large, effeminate, black man hadn’t mentioned. The red-haired lady waiting in front of me turned around, looked up at me, rolled her eyes, and sighed. She had flared nostrils. I replied with a kind of half-smile that said, “I understand your frustration with this old man, but please leave me alone.”

“Yeah, we got orange,” the cashier said. “What size do you want?”

The old man asked him what the sizes looked like and I felt my legs weaken. To demonstrate the sizes, the large, effeminate, black man swung his tree branch-like arm out to the side, sighed, and pointed at the cups stacked on a counter a few feet to his left. He never stopped glaring over the counter. It was a big decision for the old man, and he took his time weighing his options. Eventually, he said he’d take a large cup, paid the total, and moved to the side to wait for his order.

The red-haired lady with the flared nostrils moved forward and received no greeting from the cashier. She placed her order, anyway. When given her total, she produced a one hundred dollar bill. The large, effeminate, black man showed no emotion and said, “I can’t take a hundred.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the red-haired lady with the flared nostrils, “I do it all the time here.” The cashier said nothing. She then turned to me and asked me if I had change of a hundred. I told her I was sorry, but I didn’t have it on me. She looked annoyed, snapped her head back towards the counter, and sighed loudly and miserably at the same time. It sounded like a growl. Whatever she was about to say to the cashier at that moment will never be known since the old man spoke up and told her that he could change it for her. He pulled out a thick wad of cash, peeled off five twenties, and handed them to her in exchange for her hundred.

She thanked him over and over again and said, “I can’t believe this. I come here every Thursday night and I’ve never had a problem with it.” She shook her head, apparently not realizing that it was Friday night. “It’s just ridiculous.”

“Well, that’s company policy, right?” the old man said. “No matter how well they know you, they still have their policy, right?”

“Yeah,” the red-haired lady with the flared nostrils said. “My husband and I took the kids to an Italian restaurant tonight but they wouldn’t eat anything, so we promised them tacos on the way home. You’re a life saver.”

The old man smiled. “Hey, I have a fourteen-year-old daughter of my own, so I know how bribery works.” He smiled again.

The scrawny kid with the horrible mustache slid a white, plasic bag across the counter to the old man. He peaked inside and said to himself, “Wow, that’s a big plate of food.” He took the bag and sat down at one of the few tables in the room. He ate alone.

I placed my order with the large, effeminate, black man - a number seven – citing size and flavor of drink and chicken instead of steak so he wouldn’t have to ask me any questions. I thought this would put me in good standing as a customer who knows what he wants and empathizes with the demands of the cashier.

After I paid, I moved to the side to wait for my order. The large, effeminate, black man brought me my drink and took the next customer’s order. I popped a straw into the cup and took a sip of my Pepsi. The first thing I noticed was that there was no ice in the drink. That bothered me. The second thing I noticed was that my Pepsi wasn’t Pepsi. And that bothered me even more. At first I thought it was diet Pepsi, but after I took another sip, I determined that it was mostly seltzer instead of soda. I looked over at the large, effeminate, black man who was once again staring down a customer, this time from across the room at a woman arguing with her kids about the difference between the kind of drinks they wanted and the kind of drinks they could have. The large, effeminate, black man leaned against the drink machine, holding an empty cup in his hand. He seemed downtrodden. He seemed pissed. His body, slouched and supported by his forearm propped against the machine, told anybody who cared to notice, “I really don’t have time for this.”

I decided not to say anything about my iceless cup of seltzer water to the large, effeminate, black man. When my food came, I grabbed the bag and left. The kind old man was still eating alone, and the red-haired lady with the flared nostrils was still waiting for her food.

1 comment:

Mark Hampton said...

Awesome. My favorite part: "a tall, fat, black man who was effeminate, lazy, and unpleasant." I laughed out loud while reading this post.