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Let’s Do Lunch

by Roberta McReynolds

I felt hurried as I made my route through several cities to complete my full agenda for the day. The obligations of my morning had taken longer than expected and my stomach was protesting over a later than normal lunch break.

Without much planning on my part, I steered the car down a major artery across town and sorted through a mental menu of restaurants and fast-food establishments which would appear along this route. A quick glance at the dashboard clock and my decision was narrowed down to the fast-food category. I decided to make it easy on myself and choose the first right-hand turn driveway in sight.

I navigated the car into a parking spot and was pleased to notice the many open spaces in the lot indicated there were very few customers. I walked briskly through the double doors, pulling my wallet from the depths of my purse. The aroma of comfort food greeted me, but so did the noise.

Instead of finding the premises nearly empty as I expected at 1:00 p.m., it was crowded to capacity with high school students who had walked over from the nearby campus. I felt out of place; an intruder in another world where ‘senior’ meant you were 17 or 18 years old rather than being in the 50+ age bracket. Retreat was a momentary option, but my schedule and growling stomach won the argument.

Teenagers who were not yet seated at the tables milled about everywhere. I tried to determine where the end of the line was located. Only one employee was taking orders, so I pointed myself in his direction. I inadvertently cut ahead of a trio of boys. I didn’t intend to crowd, but the line was so loosely formed I thought they had already ordered and were waiting for their food to be prepared. They didn’t challenge me when I stepped up to the counter; I suspect I looked too grandmotherly.

The boy taking my order was efficient, polite, and spoke clearly enough to be heard above the din several dozen exuberant feeding teenagers make. Perhaps he thought all grandmothers are deaf was making an extra effort. As he handed over my change, receipt, and an empty soda cup, he pointed out, "Your order number is 36." I stepped aside and nearly collided with a large clutch of students.

Desperately trying to find a place where I wouldn’t be trampled, I worked my way near the fountain drinks to stand and wait for my food. I must have got too close, because an observant teen thought I wanted a refill and tried to open a path for me. I signaled him with a shake of my head and sidestepped further away.

This had all the same discomforts as the first time I entered my high school cafeteria more than 30 years ago. I’d attended a small country school prior, without even having the experience of junior high. I recall it took me the better part of a month to garner enough courage to return to that rowdy dining hall and actually eat.

"Order number 22," an employee called out. I glanced at my receipt and realized it was going to be a long wait. I wanted to find a place to sit out of the way, but I’d never be able to hear my order number unless I stayed within close range. Orders were being taken at four times the speed which the food crew could prepare them.

Once I finally had my tray, I was fortunate enough to locate a small table so I could sit with my back to the wall. My position of surveillance allowed me to see all the action, without great risk of being bumped, shoved, or splattered from any fallout from a food fight.

The boy who took my order was about the same age as most his customers. Kyle, as his nametag identified him, had cleared out the order line and, without a supervisor’s direction, headed straight to the overflowing trash receptacles. Customers had been stacking up trays full of wrappers and leftover food instead of dumping the garbage in the handy trash bins. The result was a wobbly, towering mess. One student’s discarded tray slipped to the floor with a resounding bang on the tile floor, landing directly in front of the doorway. Glancing at it for only the briefest moment, he opted to just step over the hazard on his way back to school.

Kyle had the situation under control in no time at all. He kept one eye on the cash register as he cleaned the premises and whenever a new customer entered, he beat them to the register stating, "I can help you." Then it was back to wiping down sticky tables and restoring order.

This young man was composed and focused. He never appeared overwhelmed or discouraged by the discourteous behavior of his peers. He earned every cent his employer paid and deserved more.

My mood had softened from that of my initial reaction to dining with a mob of teenagers. I turned my receipt over and wrote a brief, note complimenting Kyle’s work ethics and wished him luck. Slipping it to him between customers, I went on my way. After I properly cleared my table, of course. I might even ‘do lunch’ with Kyle again soon.

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