A Very Important Man
A tall skinny Thai, in a dark suit, cuts in front of me at the breakfast buffet. Man this guy must be hungry I think, as he starts piling pancakes up on a big plate. No problem there’s about three dozen left he can’t possibly eat them all. How wrong can I be? The tall man briefly glances back at me and my empty plate before scooping up the last couple. Another plate is put on top of the first one, and he proceeds to empty every tray down the line. Quite strange I think not to mention rude. The tall man walks out a side door and hands the plates to a small group of taxi drivers waiting outside. After some jovial chit chat he takes his place at a service desk just inside the door looking important and quite satisfied with himself. In the meantime a young man from the kitchen had come over checking the empty serving trays, grabbed one, and disappearing back into the kitchen. Oh good, I think, the tall man was just clearing space for the fresh food to be brought out. Strange that they would go to all that trouble less than half an hour before closing and with only a handful of customers left at the tables. What excellent service. A few minutes later the guy from the kitchen returns with a four wheel cart and starts to remove the empty trays. This doesn’t look right. I am absolutely sure I didn’t get the time wrong, I double checked with the clock in the lobby on my way down. At the time I walked in breakfast was still on for another twenty eight minutes.
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waitress came by and without asking she proceeds to top up my half full tea cup, with coffee. “Finished”, she says, pointing at my empty plate. “Haven’t even started”, I reply. “You eat more?” “Eat more what”, I point towards the empty serving table. After a lengthy explanation that is clearly straining her level of comprehension, she finally realizes that there is no food, that there has not been any food since the tall man cleaned out the trays. She asks what I would like, and offers to get it from the kitchen, nice girl. After what seems like an eternity I realize that the food is not coming, and my waitress is nowhere to be seen. I walk out. The whole time I have been here the restaurant staff has been shuttling back and forth to the counter of the tall man, grovelling in his presence. I don’t know what they are saying, but he seems to be giving orders to them, never cracking a smile in the process. He is clearly a very important man. As I walk past him the tall man nods self importantly. “Thank you. Come back soon”. I have no idea what the man’s job description is, but customer service is obviously not a concern of his. Did he even notice that he starved a paying customer in his zeal to gain face with the local taxi drivers. Does he even care?
Down the busy street I walk, down the cement steps, to a dark little whole in the wall, underneath a fast food place. It’s not really dark when you get there, but the bright sunshine in the street above, makes this place disappear into the shadows. I bet most people walk right by day after day without even noticing it’s there.
Wendy, she seems to be the one in charge, greats me with a friendly smile. She is a thirtyish Thai woman, alert and observant, her eyes radiate intelligence. An older Englishman with his head buried in a newspaper, gets a discrete smile and a refill of his coffee, she is careful not to impose. Two younger Germans are flirting with her in broken English, and she is flirting right back, laughing at their compliments. You get the impression that she is not even working. You get the impression she would like nothing better than to hang out and talk to just you all day, and yet she doesn’t miss a single thing that goes on in her little world. Food appears and empty plates disappear like magic. There is never an empty teapot or coffee cup on a table. The tone in the place is jovial and fun and the other girls working there seems happy. The more outgoing one works the tables, trying to emulate her mentor. Two quiet ones seem quite content over by the stove, but even they get plenty of attention. What brilliant management, happy people doing what they are actually competent at. Everything seems to happen without effort, as if the place runs itself, but it doesn’t. In a perfect world Wendy would be managing a big hotel restaurant, or perhaps a small corporation, but in this world she presides over eight or so tables in a little hole in the ground. The food is quite good, supposedly inspired by a well known French chef who owns the place, but the food is beside the point. I don’t come to this place for the food; I come here for the people.