Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Human Fish Tank

I've come to the realization that I really enjoy eating my lunch at Subway. Subway, to me, is like a small utopian environment. Everyone comes with a need (hunger), gets complete control over how that need is met, and ultimately leaves satisfied.

Everything is compartmentalized and clean. Colors are bright and the decor is contemporary. You get your food in a tidy little basket. You are given one napkin, which is usually sufficient, though you wish for more. The waste from your meal is just a piece of wax paper and your well-worn napkin. You recycle your plastic mesh tray like a good eco-citizen. You could be on a space station, or deep in space on a generational Mars expedition.

And there is human interaction. Customers speak in code words to sandwich makers, who stare back from beneath heavy-lidded eyes often tinged with a ruthless efficiency. Woe betide the customer who delays a response to the sandwich maker. But, by the same token, the sandwich maker who asks the same question over again can be subject to derision from the customer. It is a cruel, almost Darwinian interaction.

Real estate is tight, so people are forced into one another's personal spaces as they wait in line or navigate the maze of tables during lunch hour while fetching a soda refill. Social classes intermingle and dramas unfold. When one customer complains loudly, the owner attempts to placate him, but the customer storms out yelling with the tone of righteous indignation often adopted by those who are neither righteous nor possessed of much dignity. The entire store subsequently learns (by virtue of a response delivered in the gravelly, booming voice typically employed at construction sites) that this person is chronically miserable, and his coworker informs the owner that, no, he won't be pleasing this individual today, and that he is lucky not to have to deal with him every day.

This is life: twenty minutes of life wrapped into a sub and served for less than $7.00 with a drink and a bag of chips. Forget the movies, this is the better ticket.

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