Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Are you being served?

Situational friendliness

Life can be difficult for creatures of habit. We like our routines and feel distress when they're disrupted. Disruption, however, is the natural state of affairs. Everything changes with time. Our habits must perforce change with them, and adapt to the new circumstances.

Before my favorite pizza place shut down and left town, it was my regular Saturday afternoon haunt. The ritual called for me to stop by the post office, pick up the week's mail, and read through it while munching on a personal-size Hawaiian pizza (Canadian bacon and pineapple, sometimes with mushrooms added if I were feeling giddy). As a known regular, I could count on the instant arrival of my preferred beverage and a quick pro forma confirmation of “Your usual?” It was comfortable. That habit lasted for many years and I was at quite a loss when it came to an end. (There's a large supermarket on the site now. I always experience a small pang when I shop there.)

It took awhile to get adjusted to a new regimen. My current Saturday habit is already of several years' duration and involves breakfast instead of lunch. I read the morning newspapers instead of the weekly mail and I like to show up early, before the rush. As a regular, I can expect to be shown promptly to a booth by a window (so that I'll have enough light to read by). Coffee will be served and there'll be a quick question about my “usual” (of which there are two or three to pick from; am I developing a taste for variety in my old age?). It is comfortable, and gets me started on the weekend in a predictable (and slightly caffeinated) manner. But it is about to change.

My breakfast venue is not threatened by radical new ownership or absorption into a growing commercial mall. No, this time it's a personnel change. I've grown accustomed to the usual cast of characters, which in a university town tends to run toward the young and fresh-faced. Some are students and some are not. Some graduate and go away and others simply get restless for new opportunities. Last week Taylor served breakfast with his usual panache, then announced he was leaving soon for the cooler climes and more urban environs of the Bay Area. I was startled to realize how much I regretted hearing that.

He's right, of course. He'll have more opportunities in a metropolitan region, to say nothing of the fact that he fancies himself a city boy anyway. Life in a modest college town must be dull by comparison for him. I don't know him well, of course, since our acquaintanceship is based on the simple fact that he frequently waits on me. That's not exactly a friendship, you know. Still, he knows his clients and, in particular, knows I'm a math teacher, knew when I was in grad school, and always seemed to keep tabs on things. On the one hand, this is merely the sound practice of one who serves a clientele and hopes for good tips. On the other, though, it's a thoughtfulness and consideration that becomes an episodic friendship—confined in a special compartment, but friendly just the same. I'm going to miss him. And I wish him well.

Darn him. I'll have to break in someone new now.

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