Wednesday, May 28, 2014
At the Local Coffee Shop
Almost every day after the gym I stop by one of those franchise places where you get a free cup of coffee after you’ve been there 23 times. The breads and bagels are good and fresh but the service is generally awful. Efficiency experts have not yet discovered this place where a line of more than three customers creates anarchy and consternation among the help, unless, that is, The Crew is there.
The Crew, The Clan, The Gang, is what the people behind the counter call a group of Senegalese and Cape Verde employees who, when it is their shift, manage to create order out of chaos. They’re as fast as the outmoded equipment lets them be, friendly, and helpful. Three of them speak French, which I greatly enjoy, and their main complaint is that management seems to pass them over when it’s time to select a supervisor. Members of The Crew, though more efficient than anyone else there, have endured a series of bosses who seem to know very little, and care even less, about running a fast food place. In the past few months, I’ve seen a variety of American, Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian managers pace about importantly without, as far as I know, adding one iota of efficacy to the running of the place. Abdul, who was there for three weeks supervising and spoke halting English, never quite managed to get a handle on the cash register. He once tried to charge me $27.53 for a cup of coffee. “C’est un bordel,” says my Senegalese friend Mamadou. An impolite way of saying, things are a mess.
I always try to get a booth, and I’ve become familiar with the regulars. There’s a woman I call Debbie Reynolds, there every day to meet a bearded older man who is constantly on the phone and pays no attention whatsoever to her. Debbie, it’s obvious, gets up at dawn to put on her face, do her hair, and choose her jewelry. She calls me ‘honey’ and I’m not sure when that started, but I like it.
There’s a tall man of indeterminate age who stares at the fire in the centrally placed gas fireplace. He knows my name--I’m not sure how--and is there every time I drop by, regardless of time. I suppose he could say the same thing about me. He never reads or eats, and is one of the few people there not wearing ear buds. I wonder what he thinks about, beholden as he is to the flames.
In the afternoon there’s a bunch of kids from the nearby Catholic high school. It’s refreshing to see them in their school uniforms without one pair of flip-flops or a single baseball cap turned sideways.
And as always, there’s a dozen or so men and women attached to their laptop computers. Some also have Blackberry and iPhones at the ready so their tables look like messy display stands at a second-rate electronics show.
Aside from the doubtful service, the only thing that bothers me greatly about the place is that it uses pagers to signal when your food is ready. Personally, I don’t find that the buzzing sound of a hundred angry wasps does much to foster my appetite, and I wish they’d find a warmer, friendlier way to tell me my meal is at hand.
Recently, one of these things came alive on a nearby empty table. It kept buzzing furiously for a really long time. No one paid attention. The longer it was unattended, the louder it got. I tried to get the staff’s attention but The Crew wasn’t there and so chaos reigned. I picked up the buzzer and dropped it into the recycling bin. Debbie Reynolds gave me the thumbs up.
I’m not sorry at all.