One thing I’ve always wanted is to go to a restaurant or coffee shop so often that I’m “a regular,” and when I come in I can order “the usual” and they’ll know just what I want. Seems to happen to people in movies a lot more than it’s ever happened to me.
I’ve only ever come close to this experience once. I used to work on Water Street in downtown St. John’s, and across the road from where I worked, in the Fortis Building, was a tiny coffee shop which served a small lunch menu. It was staffed by one guy, who seemed to do all the cooking as well as the serving himself. After I’d been going there a couple of times a week for a few months, I got to know the guy — and his chicken quesadillas.
There wasn’t anything spectacular about them. They weren’t The Best Quesadillas Ever, or anything like that. They were simple — cheese and chicken, cooked on the grill while you waited. They looked much like the quesadillas in this picture, except the presentation wasn’t as fancy. Most important, they were reliably tasty. I came to rely on their tastiness, and the friendliness of the guy who served them.
He knew me. I was a regular. And without even asking for “the usual,” I could count on getting my quesadillas.
One day, I walked through the door and the guy behind the counter said, “Your quesadillas are ready.” This was a little eerie because, as I said, I didn’t go there every day — more like once or twice a week, not on any particular schedule. I said, “How did you know I was coming in today?” and he nodded at the window. “I saw you crossing the street,” he said.
The pleasure of being “a regular” was crystallized in that moment: somebody knew me, expected me, anticipated my wants and supplied them before I even asked.
I didn’t miss a lot about the old building we moved out of, but I missed being across the street from the coffee shop with the friendly guy and the nice quesadillas. The place where I was a regular.
This morning at my desk, I thought for a fleeting moment of those quesadillas: how tasty they were, how I’d like to have one again. I didn’t connect that thought with the fact that I had a downtown appointment at lunchtime until much later, when I realized I would be on Water Street for lunch and I could drop in to the coffee shop. It was perfect. I could almost taste the chicken and cheese.
Except, of course, that we’re talking about St. John’s coffee shops — a species with a lifespan as fragile and ephemeral as the fruit fly. Oh, the shop was still there, but it had a different name, and an unfamiliar face behind the counter.
Still, I checked. “Do you have quesadillas?” I asked.
“The breakfast quesadilla?” she said, holding out something small, round and pre-wrapped.
“No,” I said sadly, remember how the quesadillas, freshly folded, would be sizzling on the grill as I walked through the door. I stepped back to allow another customer to get to the counter while I pretended to read the menu — then I ducked out the door. If I couldn’t have quesadillas, I didn’t want anything. I went somewhere else (another new coffee ship, beating its gossamer wings, struggling into its short-lived existence) and ordered a panini.
Some guy called Heraclitus said you can never step into the same river twice. And you can never go back and eat the same quesadillas again either, apparently.