Consumerist community

Those of you who know me will know I am a creature of habit. I tend to do the same things over and over again for days, weeks, months, years on end. I remember fondly the time when I used to cook spaghetti bolognaise (my favourite meal) for dinner every night. I did it so often Sarah can’t stand the sight or smell of it anymore.

This is not restricted to my own cooking, I tend to do this when I eat out too. I can think of many examples. What generally happens in any service industry is I become a “regular”. Being a regular has its privileges (like free food or preferential treatment) but the most important one of all is that human connection you develop with the people behind the counter. You see, by virtue of my predictable behaviour, I have a habit (pun intended) of becoming a fixture in other people’s lives. They actually look forward to seeing me, they expect me. It’s like seeing an old friend, or being visited by the milkman. Often we don’t exchange anything but a smile some pleasantries and some money, but I have come to realise that this relationship is as important and as meaningful as any other.

This is, in fact, the new form that “community” has had to take. In today’s commercial world where there is hardly any time for anything apart from the sterile financial transactions required for our consumerist way of life, it’s nice to know that you can become a real, meaningful part of someone’s life just by buying things from them.

One example is subway. I used to go to the same subway for breakfast every morning for something approaching a year. I always got the 6 inch Chicken Teriyaki with lettuce, tomato, pickles and sweet onion sauce. It got to the stage where I would walk in the door and the man in charge would simply start making my order. He took a shining to me and was always beaming whenever I walked into the door. Some of my friends jokingly implied I’d better watch out or he might have other ideas (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). This was before I came out. Ironically, it transpired that later on, I met him again at my church. Seems he was gay after all. Although he remembered me, it took a while before I remembered him. I hesitate to post his name for the sake of his privacy.

Then there was McDonalds. For reasons I won’t go into any great depth I used to go into McDonalds every evening for the longest time and order 4 “quarter pounders”. It got to the stage where the girls at the counter didn’t bother to ask me what I wanted. What surprised and pleased me the most, though, was the chef. It got to the stage where he himself would be standing in the kitchen just waiting for me. As soon as I walked into the door he would sing “it’s the four quarters man, the four quarters man!” on the top of his lungs. I would just smile, nod and sit down. He would make those burgers for me, singing all the time.

How simple is that, and how meaningful? To him, I was an event in his day. They probably laughed about me and wondered what it was I did with those burgers every day. The point is, though, I became a part of their lives and for that I am both humbled and greatly pleased.

The kebab place at the University is another case in point. If Sarah and I missed a day, they would inquire after us. One of the staff there had figured out exactly what we want, so whenever we would walk up, she would very hurriedly and importantly make our order for us nice and efficiently. I never had the heart to tell her I don’t like onions, because she was always so pleased she could remember what sauces we wanted. I believe that she still asks Sarah how I am to this day, though she doesn’t know my name or even what it is I do.

For the duration of the time I was working at Beca, I would pop in at the little dairy (convenience store) at the train station and buy a chocolate Up & Go. The man behind the counter was of middle-eastern descent and although we exchanged names I am ashamed to admit I forgot his. He was always very friendly and I was always congenial. We had the occasional small-talk but that was about it. It gets to the stage though, where all you do is share a knowing smile. A smile which says: “you’re still here, I’m still here, I am glad to see you again”.

On my last day at work, I took a moment to tell him that he wouldn’t see me for about a year because I was leaving to work overseas. He pumped my arm enthusiastically and told me that it was a great “honour” to know me. We exchanged phone numbers and I know that the next time I see him, he will be overjoyed. It seems like such a little thing, but it is so very important to people. To him, I was someone to be held in high esteem. Maybe it’s because he could sense I held him in high esteem too.

At work at the moment, I always get a wrap, with ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles and mustard. I never deviate from this formula. When I first asked for cheddar, Sara (the lady who makes the sandwiches) laughed and made fun of my accent. Of course, it was all in good humour.

On the day I got my first “takeaway” I kept my black polystyrene container (because they don’t biodegrade). It took Sarah a few weeks to realise the reason why I kept bringing this increasingly dilapidated container in with me, even when they switched to white ones. When she realised, she suddenly decided I was the best thing since sliced bread.

Now, it’s at the stage where if I don’t come in, she misses me and will make the comment that she missed seeing my “little black container” the next day. She obviously doesn’t bother to ask what I want anymore and she likes to spend a few minutes talking to me every day. Not only that, but I have a suspicion she adds a little extra ham.

This sort of favouritism can be far more blatant. I am developing a similar relationship with the people at Panda Express (the local Chinese takeaway). I always order a “panda bowl” with chow mien, and orange chicken. There are a handful of staff who recognize me immediately and greet me with smile reserved only for people one knows personally. On more than one occasion, they have chosen to give me a discount or only charge me the price of a drink, because I am a regular. They make a comment when I arrive early or late and seem to be absolutely sincere when they ask me to come back soon.

I really enjoy being a creature of habit, because it allows me to form human bonds with complete strangers, I think it’s a testament to our nature that even in an otherwise inhuman, consumerist society, we find ways to make our human connections meaningful.