That Strange Problem with the Subway’s Guy, or
John-Michael Gariepy and the Never-Ending Chain of Mirrors
I like variety. I’m on a constant quest for that which is new or different. And while I can’t say that I’m a daring man, when given a set number of choices, I jump at the toy that everyone else is ignoring, and pick it up.
I want to learn something. I hate retreading old patterns. When reading history, I aim for oddball topics, like the Indian Mughal Empire, or the details of The XYZ Affair. When I’m wandering through the woods, and two roads diverge, I ignore both the road more traveled, and the road less traveled, and head for the treeline. When I sit down at a restaurant I pour through the menu, like it’s a best-selling mystery novel, with the hope that I can find something that I’ve never tried before, or, failing that, a combination of foods that I find intriguing. There are foods I don’t like, of course – I’m not a fan of olives, for example – but if I don’t know if I will like something or not, that’s what I order.
This leads me to be very agreeable, since I’m willing to be experimental, and there are many people who are not. You want to get some Moussaka? I’m all over that. Want to watch a movie? As long as I haven’t seen it before, I’m happy. Got a new game you want to try out? Let’s pull out the rules.
These two personality traits complement each other well. Except at the Subway in Bradford, Massachusetts.
You see, at this one Subway, there’s a guy behind the counter who is very friendly. While I’m scouring a menu that I’ve read hundreds of times before in search of that one combination of things I haven’t had, the guy behind the counter starts chatting it up. Eventually, he asks a question: Do you want Wheat Bread?
“Sure,” I say. “Wheat sounds good.”
One week later, I’m back at that same Subways. It’s not my fault… I eat out a lot, and there aren’t enough restaurants in the local area to support my adventurous spirit. The guy behind the counter recognizes me, and says “Wheat Bread, right?
“You get Roast Beef, don’t you?”
He’s a good employee. He recognizes me every time I walk into that Subway. And, slowly, he’s built up the order that he thinks I like. Wheat Bread, Roast Beef, Swiss, Lettuce, Spinach, Onion, Tomato, Pickle, Brown Mustard. I’ve never asked for any of these things. He’s suggested things and settled on the meal he thinks I would want. He wants to be helpful, so he’s holding up a mirror so that I can see what I want to see. Unfortunately, I’m also holding a mirror up, so he sees his mirror, which sees my mirror, which sees his mirror. And in the center of all these mirror images sits a Roast Beef on Wheat, Brown Mustard.
I thank him as I pay. He gives me my change, smiles and slides my Subway card. As he hands me my change he says, “You always get the same thing. I couldn’t do that. I like a lot of variety.”