*digital diary

Customer or Cashier: Who the Toastiest?


File Under: Life in a Small Southern Town, Lakeside, Dining

RVA Street art, Carytown

So, here is a game I like to play every Friday eve at the local pizza joint, whilst waiting for my pie. It's a guessing exercise: “Who is more toasty: Customer or cashier?”

The idea is that while I sit there, in one of the two plastic chairs provided for the comfort of those foolish enough to actually wait for their orders to be prepared, I can observe the exchanges that take place between the customer and cashier.

Watching customers come and go, and interact with the folks behind the counter, I've come to realize the pies aren't the only things getting baked around these parts.

I was first drawn to this place by a sign in the window, generously touting "$5 Pizza! No Wait!" Good deal, right? And the pizza turns out to be not so bad in the basic plain tomato sauce/cheese/maybe pepperoni way that surprisingly few places get right outside of New York.

Waiting for the pizza

After an arduous day of mental toil at home, I'd totter over, $5 in hand, tired, punchy and more than ready to devour a mess a carbs n' gluten while catching up on my cable TV shows. Friday night, small town 'Murica, y'aw!

So, each week, this series of exchanges would typically take place: I'd ask the guy behind the counter, usually the same lanky young fella with dreadlocks and a flour-dusted visor, if he had any $5 pizzas ready, as per the signage outside.

The guy would look puzzled by the question, as if no one had ever asked about the $5 pizzas before.

You could tell, it wasn't contempt for the cheapness of the patron that caused him to not immediately proffer an answer; He himself seriously did not know if the establishment--which he and maybe one other guy were running--actually had any of the “No Wait!” economy pies ready at the moment.

No, it was clear that he was as much genuinely in the dark about this as I was, and that the both of us, together, would now discover together if any $5 pies were ready.

He d turn and look around to the warming oven behind him, peak into one of the two or three pizza boxes residing within and then, with a certain level of triumph in his voice, proclaim that one was indeed ready!

Every. Single. Week.

He then would ring up the pizza, which would come to $5.25 because tax. And of course, I would have completely forgotten to bring the extra quarter, and so I'd have to pay by credit card, or break a $20, and push back into my wallet the symbolic fiver, which I had usually squirrelled away for at least a day or two in anticipation for my glorious Friday night!

$5 pizzas

One time when I asked of the pizza, He peered into the warming oven to find three boxes ready. He looked into one box. Then another. Finally, the third. Satisfied by this inquisition, he turned and asked how many I want.

One. One pizza. The same number of pizzas I get every week. He never asked the question before or since.

Open for pizza

Some things will just remain a mystery about the place too. Once I ordered a $5 pizza and also bought one of those plastic bags of home-made chocolate chip cookies for $2. The order came to $8.36.

How? Virginia state tax is 5.3 percent. The orders should have been $7.37. I don't care about paying the extra $0.99 -- the cookies alone were worth more than $3. I'm just curious as to how the counter guy had arrived at that particular total, a calculation I can now not reassemble, and was too hungry to ask about at the time.

These past few years I have worked hard in my chosen profession to achieve a level of opulence that will allow me to order, without wincing, my own freshly-baked pizza pie--usually a medium with Canadian bacon and pineapple. (The pineapple is usually soggy; I don't know why I keep ordering it).

Affordance is also mine in the time the custom order gives me to observe other exchanges between the counter man and the customer, often a curious melange of cross-purpose.

Once I witnessed a great deal of commotion behind the counter. One of the workers was hurriedly trying to figure out how to get the phone number of a customer who had just left behind his credit card.

It was of utmost importance of that time that they, somehow, get ahold of this customer. I turned to a guy sitting next to me, who was also mystified.

“Won't the person just come back when he discovers he left his card here?”

“Yeah, that's what you'd think,” he responded.

Another time I burst in, fresh from seeing the sign on the door advertising that they needed banner shakers. The job consisted of standing on a nearby street corner, vigorously waving a sign that advertised the $5 pizza or some other deal. The position seemed to be occupied usually by high school kids.

I was entertaining the notion of what it would be like to take the position myself (“Exit Strategy”). In jest, I asked the man behind the counter if the job was still open. Maybe I was too low-key though. He said he'd get the manager, not in the least questioning the presumption that an aging rotund bald guy could even handle the task (FYI: I could. Totes).

On another occasion, a patron walked in to pick up a large pizza with a single single topping, which the cashier rang up for $14.65. The patron paused, then asked "Wait, don't you have a deal for a two-topping large pizza for $10. It's advertised right there on the window. So I'm paying $4 for one less topping?"

Again, the cashier appeared perplexed, furrowing his brow. It did not appear as if he, or the establishment, was puposefully trying to cheat the customer. More like no one there had actually thought through the full implications of the advertised deal. And after a few more seconds of apparent reflection, he agreed to charge the patron for the cheaper pizza.