Tuesday, November 30

The only one in line who doesn’t know what he wants

By Dick Wolfsie

I never know what to order when I go into one of those trendy new soup and sandwich places. The list of uncommon offerings is endless. The people standing behind me have obviously downloaded a menu at home and given this some previous thought.

Am I the only person in line who hasn’t got a clue what he wants?

Most of the choices at places like Panera Bread and Einstein’s Bagels are curious combinations of international cheeses, weird sandwich spreads like “pesto” or “tomesto,” with words like “frontega” or “sri-rancha” thrown in.

Before I order something new, I try to envision what all that will taste like when they glop it together on one sandwich and nuke it. The human mind can only imagine so much, like when I tried to visualize Bill Clinton as First Lady.

Sandwiches have changed since I was a kid. Back then, there was ham, roast beef, peanut butter and jelly, and tuna or egg salad. That’s what you got at home from Mom, and that was pretty much what you got at the corner deli.

They say that the Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich concept in the 1700s so he could enjoy his meal and play cards at the same time.  But I just don’t see a guy betting his fortune on an inside straight and then asking his servant if there is any chipotle mayo for his portabella mushroom and caramelized onion combo on a jalapeño bagel.

Unlike the earl, who would have been content with a slice of pig on a bun, I have to deal with so many unrecognizable choices, as well as the pressure of the customers behind me, who are antsy to get back to their laptop at a nearby table.

I also try to avoid the cashier’s impatient glare while waiting for me to decide. But how to think fast? I nonchalantly slipped into Einstein’s just before the noon rush one day last week, stayed all the way to the back of the store and put on my specs. From that vantage point, I could peruse the menu but not be hassled by anyone pushing me into a premature decision.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded, which might seem like a plus, but that meant nine employees were standing around with nothing to do but pounce on the first poor soul who hadn’t made up his mind. I cowered in the shadows, squinting at the menu options, hoping I’d go unnoticed.

Rats! I was spotted.

“You!  Back there, sir. What can I get you today?” she bellowed.

All the employees whipped their heads around, somewhat embarrassed they had not spotted me first.

“I don’t know yet; I’m just browsing.”

The menu became a large blur. The Thai Salad with Lime Dressing merged in my mind with the Spicy Chicken on Onion Challah. Panicked, I retreated to an old 1960s standby. “I’ll have a ham and cheese sandwich.” Customers stared at me in bewilderment, like I had ordered a vanilla cone at Ben and Jerry’s.

“Do you want Black Forest, Bavarian, Cuban or Virginia ham? And what kind of bread?  We have nine varieties…and do you want it toasted? And which country do you want the mustard to come from? And how about cheese? We have a separate menu section listing all of the choices.”

I left and got a Big Mac. No complicated questions coming through the loudspeaker.  Just, “Do you want fries with that?”

I did. And it only took one second to make up my mind.

Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@ aol.com

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