Saturday, June 2, 2012

Working at China 28 and Being White

During my high school years, I worked a job as a takeout for a Chinese restaurant in order to make some extra cash. While the job might seem light a straight forward process of simply transporting food and collecting money, it isn’t. The money is all right, but they never warned you about the customers.
My most sane customer
After my first two hours as a delivery driver, I began to form a pattern to my work. I grew comfortable with my relationship with the customer as someone polite, foodbearing, and anonymous. Intimate enough that they recognize my face and I know they’re gastronomic preference but there the line is drawn.
Unfortunately hour three ruined my line.
I received my first of many strange requests on the phone.
“Come ‘round to the side of the house and knock three times.” The voice was scratchy. This man knew the Coolidge years. The request seemed reasonable.
At the side door I knock. A lack of response asks for a second rap on the door.
“I’m coming” the interior of the house says.
The door opens and I’m presented with an old man and an overwhelming smell of peanuts and marijuana. All my olfactory senses were gently caressed by the smell of circus run by Cheech Marin.
wouldn't it be wonderful?
“Come on in.” I pause, I know that this is outside my standard protocol born two hours ago but before I can say no he's grabbed my arm and pulled me in. He talks to me for a bit, while I lean uncomfortably against his dryer. The dryer smells oddly like neither weed or nuts but of mustard. He talks a bit longer hands me the money with a whooping cough every third word and then let's me go. Most importantly, with a nice tip.
After another month I quickly realized how common this sort of thing would be.
When you work with someone you can't communicate with you begin to be able read their face, you learn their hands.
This usually means 'hunger'
To know when they’re listening and when they’re paying lip service. My boss Annie had minimal skills with English so when her daughter wasn’t around she would just nod and wait until she heard a food name. A caller could say anything but until they got to General Tsao’s chicken or Shrimp Lo Mein Annie just wasn’t listening. But they never said that your customers would make absolutely absurd requests.
It was never until I arrived at these houses that I would come to know whatever Annie had unknowingly agreed to.
My co-worker had once been asked to return to house with the expressed purpose of bringing no less than 60 packets of duck sauce. Another required an entire gallon of wanton soup, when the delivery was made I noticed a lack of other persons.There will always be my favorite question - "What goes best with 2001 Space Odyssey?"
Chicken Lo Mein, the answer is Chicken Lo Mein
I was forever bothered by bizarre questions concerning the food contents.
“There’s no pork in that, right?” someone would ask.
“You ordered Shrimp fried rice.”
“Yeah, but there’s no pork in it right?”
“Right.” I'd say.
"What about cat?"
"Excuse me?"
"Cat, is there cat meat in it?"
One woman was always in a bend over the sauces.
“Excuse me; is this soy sauce low sodium?”
Like every takeout place in America, we don’t make the sauce. Of course I couldn’t say this.
“Yes.” I lied.
After being asked if the wonton soup could be served without wantons or if the fortune cookies could come chocolate covered I learned that the customer is always right, most especially when they’re not.
What seemed a simple transportation stint, quickly began a learning experience about how bizarre people are in their own homes. Everyone seems to let their guard down for the delivery guy, but no one tells you what that really means. I was on their territory so they were always king in a bathrobe with classic rock on the stereo.

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