Fine Dining at Speedy Mart
I pulled my new Porsche 911 into a parking stall and was on my way toward the 7-11 Speedy Mart when it became obvious to me that I couldn’t steer clear of a scruffy, homeless, guy who was standing on the sidewalk hitting up customers for a hand-out. To spare both of us the discomfiture that comes with begging, I reached into the zippered pocket of my leather flight jacket and found three one-dollar bills which I handed to him while I pulled open the glass entry door and walked in.
Inside, the convenience store was hectic with working stiffs grabbing beer, soft drinks, sandwiches, candy bars, and other fast food that could be munched on the run. Rolling papers, cigarettes, lotto tickets, and hot pizza slices, had to be gathered and rung up by a lone clerk. I found the coffee service, filled a paper cup, and took my place at the end of a slow-moving line.
When I heard the ding-dong customer alert I looked toward the front door where I saw that the man I’d just given three dollars to coming inside.
The clerk saw him at the same time I did, and while ringing up a six-pack of Bud Lite and a package of Slim-Jim’s beef jerky for a guy in painter’s coveralls she shrieked, “You must not come in. I will call the police if you don’t leave.”
He said, “I just want a hot dog. I got the money. I am not causing any trouble”
The clerk was not about to let him smell up the place, much less get his filthy mitts anywhere near the serve-yourself condiment table to embellish any hot dog. She shouted some expletive while the customers demonstrated their annoyance and unease by grumbling and glaring impatiently at their cell phones.
That’s when I got this bright idea that I thought would make everyone happy and keep the line moving.
I said, “Hey you,” hoping the disheveled man would remember that it was me who gave him the three bucks he was waving around as evidence of his liquidity and good intentions. When the whole room looked toward me, I presented my most excellent, easy-going smile and said, “I’ll get the hot dog for you, but you gotta wait outside, okay?”
With the clerk and the whole store-full of impatient customers staring at me, I tried adding a little humor. “Don’t worry about the service. I used to be a waiter at a fancy French restaurant. Ha, ha.”
Sorry to say, I was the only one who laughed. The working-class crowd must have thought my remark was more snooty than funny, but there was no taking it back.
The homeless man didn’t reveal any thoughts behind his rheumy eyes. He hesitated for just a moment, and then he shuffled past the line of customers toward the cash register. The guy in the coveralls stepped back and let him lay the three one-dollar bills on the counter saying, “I’ll have the Special Hot Dog with everything on it,”
He tossed a hitchhiker’s thumb in my direction then he went back outside where he looked very vigilantly at me through one of the large storefront windows.
I walked to the head of the line while the clerk, using plastic hand covers and tongs, reached into a steam boiler. She grabbed a foot-long hot dog and placed it into a warm bun. She set these into a cardboard boat and handed them to me. Then, she rang up the three dollars, putting a quarter change on the counter.
She pointed me toward the serve-yourself condiment table and turned her attention back to the previous customer.
I put the quarter in my pocket and walked toward the back of the store carrying the hot dog in one hand and my coffee in the other.
Setting the coffee cup in a safe place I went to work on the homeless man’s hot dog. Remembering that he said, “Everything on it”, I spooned on plenty of mayo, mustard, chopped onions, pickle relish, and hot peppers. Then I walked toward the front door, passing the other customers on the way. As I came out the front door the guy looked at the hot dog and then back at me. Somewhat scoldingly he said, “That order comes with tomato wedges.”
I answered, “Oh, sorry.” I went back inside and as I began walking toward the condiment counter, I heard a young guy dressed in restaurant staff whites, say, “Envió la comida a la cocina”.
This got big laughs when the clerk translated the phrase into English: “He sent it back to the kitchen.”
OK, very funny. I added the tomato wedges to the already bulging hot dog bun and again walked the length of the store with everyone watching me. When I pushed open the door, the man again stopped me in my tracks.
He said, “Now, I believe, you’ve neglected the chili-cheese over-dressing.”
I trudged back in where the now sniggering kitchen staffer had to show me how to use the chili-cheese machine, and where to find a larger, more accommodating cardboard caddy. With both my hands occupied with the overloaded hot dog, he pushed a plastic fork and folded napkins into my breast pocket, and as I turned toward the door, he said, “Remember to smile.” Everybody laughed. Big goddamn joke.
This time the man accepted his order without grumbling. I handed him the cumbersome bundle which he held in one hand while accepting the quarter change in the other.
I went back inside and paid for the now just warm coffee, then walked back out toward my car. As I stepped off the concrete sidewalk onto the blacktop parking lot, I heard a voice behind me.
I turned back and saw the quarter arcing across the empty space between the homeless man and me. I snatched my tip in mid-air and said, “Merci, Monsieur. Bon appétit”.