Page 2 - Chicago
A Passion Begins
It was 1996. The Backstreet Boys were playing on the radio, Jerry Maguire was blowing up the box office (Brent Barry's big-screen debut), and Bill Clinton was re-elected. That same year, I walked into F&P Convenience and Deli in Concord, New Hampshire for my first day of work at my first real job. This 6'7'', 190 pound, 16 year old, skin-and-bones red-head was trained to handle the convenience store side of things, while my associate (teammate and friend) Erik Strand learned the deli.
If you ever want to get a pulse on a neighborhood, go get a job at a local convenience store. So many characters and so many stories! It was mostly the same customers day in and day out. Aside from hearing about their lives through daily chit-chat (I felt like the convenience store version of Sam Malone), I always knew how well many of the customers were doing financially based on the type and amount of beer and cigarettes they purchased. That's a pretty messed up thing to say, but true.
Working the register suited me fine. I loved all the mental math involved. To this day I can tell you how much anything in the store would have costed you. Don't believe me? Pack of Cigarettes - $2.30, 6-pack of Bud - $4.29, Half Gallon of Milk - $1.59, Bottle of Jolt Cola - 99 cents, Slim Jim - 25 cents, Ring-Dings - 69 cents...
For my first few weeks of work, I rarely had anything to do with the deli. I stuck to the convenience store side of things: running the cash register, emptying the rotten milk jugs before they exploded, stocking coolers, dusting, sweeping, mopping, cleaning windows, unloading shipments, stocking shelves, and taking out the trash (I bet you didn't think about all the other responsibilities that come with the job, haha). I dealt with the little old ladies who would come in and make me manually check their endless stacks of lottery tickets. I appeased the customers who would constantly complain and argue about how much everything costs, like I was personally responsible for setting the prices in the store. I caught shop lifters, I watched people burn their paychecks on scratch tickets, and I did it all with a friendly smile. Except nobody could see my face because my head was blocked out by the cigarette rack hanging down from the ceiling behind the register.
I usually worked the Sunday morning shift alone. There was no need for Erik to run the deli because nobody ever ordered subs on a Sunday morning. Aside from a few fathers running in quickly for a gallon of milk on their way home from church while the fam waited in the mini-van (this was before the SUV craze), it was usually very slow.
So I was working alone one Sunday morning. I was reading through a "car trader" magazine hoping to find some amazing deal that I could somehow afford so that I would not have to share the Ford Taurus with my sister. It was a little after 11 a.m. and I had been there for a few hours, so I was starting to get hungry. I realized I couldn't make it until after noon, when Erik was scheduled to arrive. I needed food. So, I decided to take a look around the deli.
I was craving a sandwich and I quickly found all of the ingredients: the meats, cheeses, condiments, bread, etc. I figured what the heck, how hard can it be? I began constructing my first professional sandwich. I took a fresh sub roll, cut it about halfway through the middle, and opened it up. This method of cutting the roll created a voluminous cavern in which to place the fillings. I started with some mayonnaise on one side, and mustard on the other. Next I added some provolone cheese. Then some bologna, salami, ham, and roast beef. I compensated for this surplus of meat by only using one finely sliced piece of each type. This created the proper proportion of meat. I followed the meat with the veggies: lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, and pickles. I finished my edible masterpiece with some oil and seasoning.
Who knows how long I was working on that sandwich... 5, 10, 15 minutes? I could not say, because I was totally lost in the moment. But when I did finally look up, I was startled to see that I was being watched. Unbeknownst to me, an elderly man had apparently walked into the store and observed as I meticulously constructed my lunch. He finally spoke: "I came in for a Sunday Globe. But after witnessing that performance, I'll take one of those too." And he pointed to my sandwich...
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