And they sit at the bar
and put bread in my jar
And say “Man, what are you doin’ here?”
— the Prophet William Joel
He’s got that look.
The clean-cut, perfect haircut, bright-eyed, intelligent air about him that lets you know he’s destined for success. Late 20s maybe. Wedding ring, baby face, handsome in a non-threatening boy band way. The kind of person I generally try to avoid because I’m intimidated. But today I can’t avoid him. Because he’s asking me me what kind of sandwich I want.
“Welcome to Subway!” he says. Thanks, I reply, taken aback for a moment. See, my Subway has a pretty stereotypical employee. Hard-working moms and recent high school grads just getting by. This guy seems different.
“Today is my first day,” he offers. “Actually, this will be my first sandwich,” he adds nervously. “So what can I get you?”
“Oh, the usual,” I reply. I am a bad person. He gives me the deer in the headlights look.
“Kidding,” I say. I’ll have the special, the chicken breast on flatbread.
OK, he says tentatively. He surveys the meat. There seems to be everything there but chicken breast. We go through the selections together, row by row. The tension mounts. As I’m about to change my order, the supervisor, a slacker girl of 18 or so, comes over. Oh, I’ll need to get some from the back, she says. We’re redeemed.
At this point I’m nervous as well. The poor guy is trying really, really hard. Too hard for a guy building sandwiches at Subway. I know this strain. I go through it every time I go to a new edition or a new program or a new section at the paper. You want to scream, “I’M COMPETENT, DAMN IT, JUST GIVE ME A FREAKIN’ CHANCE!!!” Instead, you just keep your head down and do your best.
We make it to the veggies. Lettuce and pickles, I say. He makes it through lettuce OK, but totally freezes on the pickles. He panics and goes for cucumbers (which I suppose is close), and when he sees my frowning, he heads for the peppers (did Mo set him up to give me jalapeños?) and then tries the pepperoncini, before the supervisor and I both point to the pickles. I’m sorry, I’m really nervous, he says apologetically. My heart is breaking over a six-inch sandwich.
I ask for mustard. He looks through the selection before settling on the yellow bottle. Score one for our team. I decide to cut my losses on the oil and vinegar and salt and pepper combo. I couldn’t handle the stress. I assure him that’s all. Looks great.
The junior high supervisor shows him how to wrap it up, and he puts it in a bag. And that’s that. He survived his first Subway sandwich. He beams.
How did he land here? What’s his story? Mo and I always wanted to hand out index cards when running at the track in Scottsdale to find out about people without actually having to talk to them. I desperately want this guy’s index card. What has happened to him that puts him here? Or maybe this IS the perfect job for him. Who am I to say. Journalists don’t exactly rate high in job rankings these days.
I eat my sandwich in that no time to chew kind of way that copy editors master, and get up to leave. I give him the thumbs up and declare “Best sandwich ever.” I mean it.
He gives me a huge smile and says “thank you.” He means it too.
I drive back to work, mentally writing his life story as I go.
In that story, he lives happily ever after. You never know.
Life is funny …