Fine Dining at Speedy Mart
I parked my car and was walking in when I realized I couldn’t avoid a scruffy guy hitting up the Speedy-Mart customers. Just to keep him from having to ask, I handed over three one-dollar bills from my breast pocket while I pulled open the glass entry door and walked in.
Inside, the well-kept 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, hot pizza slices, and chicken wings had to be gathered and rung up by a lone very busy clerk. I found the coffee service at the rear of the store filled a paper cup with the house blend, and then took my place at the end of a slow-moving line.
That is when I heard the ding-dong customer alert. I looked toward the front door where I saw the shabby man I’d just given the money to coming inside.
The stressed-out clerk saw him too, and while ringing up a six-pack of Bud Lite and a package of beef jerky for a guy in painter’s coveralls, she shrieked, “You must not come in. I will call the police.”
The man explained, “I just want a hot dog. I got the money.”
What he wanted did not matter to her, she 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. The customers demonstrated their impatience and annoyance by grumbling and glaring at the time function on their cell phones.
That’s when I came up with what I thought was a very bright idea. I said, “Excuse me. Will everyone listen to me? I have a plan.” I hoped he would remember it was me who gave him the three bucks he was waving around as evidence of his liquidity and good intentions.
When he looked toward me, I presented my best easy-going smile and said, “How’s this? I’ll get the hot dog for you, and all you gotta do is wait outside. How does that sound? Okay?”
With the clerk and a 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.” Unfortunately, I was the only one who laughed. The working-class crowd must have thought my comment was more snooty and condescending than amusing, but there was no taking it back.
The now thoughtful homeless man didn’t reveal any of the feelings behind his rheumy eyes. He hesitated, and then he shuffled past the line of customers toward the clerk and the cash register. The guy in front of him stepped back and allowed him to place the three one-dollar bills on the counter. He spoke to the clerk, saying, “I’ll have the Special Hot Dog with everything on it” while tossing a hitchhiker’s thumb in my direction. Then, he went back outside where he peered at me through one of the large storefront windows.
I walked to the head of the line and the clerk, using plastic hand covers and tongs placed a foot-long hot dog in a warm bun. She set it into a paper boat and placed it on the counter in front of me. She rang up the three dollars and took a quarter in change from the cash register, which she handed me while pointing toward the serve-yourself condiment table. Try not to make a mess for me to clean up she said and went back to her job with the guy wearing the paint splashed coveralls.
I walked to the back of the store, carrying the hot dog in one hand and my still unpaid coffee in the other. I set the coffee cup in a safe place and finding the condiment counter, I went to work on the homeless man’s hot dog. Remembering, “Everything on it”, I spooned on plenty of mayo, mustard, chopped onions, pickle relish, and hot peppers. Then I walked back toward the front door, passing everyone on the way. The other customers now seemed unconcerned about me and the homeless guy and his problems or me and my solutions, however as I came out and approached him, the shabby man looked over the hot dog and said, “I believe that order comes with tomato wedges, and of course, I’ll need napkins, as well.”
A sense of incompetence came over me as I said, “Oh, sorry,” and began walking back inside and to the condiment counter. That’s when I heard a young guy dressed in restaurant staff whites. He said, “Envió la comida a la cocina”.
This got big laughs when someone translated the phrase into English: “He sent it back to the kitchen.”
OK, very funny. Ha, ha. I added the tomato wedges 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.
“Now, you’ve forgotten the chili cheese,” He said
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 in place laughed like hell. Big joke.
This time the man accepted his order, along with his quarter change without grumbling.
I went back inside and paid for the coffee, then walked 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”.