A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, May 05, 2005 :::
A certain pubgy, balding English teacher has, for many years now, had coffee nearly every morning at the coffee shop in Sam's Park and Shop on leafy Connecticut Avenue in Northwest DC. Sam's Park and Shop was one of the first strip malls in the country, and Sam himself is commemorated by a plaque on a rock in the little grassy picnic area on the corner. (The rock takes up the place where the third table would go.) Nobody calls it Sam's. It used to be referred to as "you know, where Uno's is," because what used to be called Ye Olde Neighborhood Pub in this august column was the biggest thing there, taking up three of 11 or 12 commercial spaces. But Uno's, alas, is now was and stores are identified as "next to McGruder's," in honor of the fine but expensive corner grocery at the other end of the mall. For perhaps four miles from where Connecticut Avenue starts, at the front door of a piece of prime residential property called the White House, whatever-you-want-to-call-Sam's-Park-and-Shop is the only place one can, you know, park and shop, so the stores do quite well.

Which explains the durability of the coffee shop. First it was Brothers', then it was Foster Brothers', and now it is the i-Cafe, but everyone still calls it "Brothers'." One of the things that has been consistent about it is that the owners have taken no interest whatsoever in its operation. "Badly run" would describe it on the best days, such that young friend Kevin, who used to sit next to a certain pudgy, balding English teacher every day and read his newspaper before he went to class as a finance major at American University, would often comment that the mismanagement he observed taught him more than anything he learned in class. He was really not exaggerating.

But through it all, two ohter things have remained consistent: good coffee, and great seating. It was designed by the original Brothers--whoever they were-- to attract people who like to sit, and that is what it has continued to do, despite some alterations by the current owner. However, the usual morning crew has dwindled of late, for a couple of reasons. One is that the owners decided to bring in the second morning person later, such that lines form early in the morning.

And the other is that the woman who opens Monday through Wednesday has a certain way with the customers. Despite having known a certain pudgy, balding English teacher for two or three years now, she rarely says anything even vaguely pleasant. She never says anything pleasant to anyone, except her coworkers, who are, as she is, from Ethiopia. Amharic is a opaque language, but, judging from the squeals and chattering when any of her compatriots come in, she is quite chatty. She is particularly friendly with the lovely other woman who comes in late those days--and blessedly, opens Thursdyan and Friday. But even mid-squeal, if a customer comes up, she gives him only icy stares and curt responses. Once, when a customer gave her too little money--the prices are not visible on the register, and she deliberately mumbles--she snapped at him as if he were trying to steal. When he told her that she should not talk that way to customers, she just glowered.

It is not that she dislikes Americans, so far as one can tell, or that she doesn't work hard. She is continually cleaning and restocking, which is in keeping with the careful way that she dresses and presents herself.

Having now seen this going on for a while, a certain pudgy, balding English teacher has realized what is going on: she thinks her job is cleaning and restocking. Customers make the place dirty as they, with considerable nerve, take things from the carefully arranged shelves.

So the fact that she scares customers away is probably, to her mind, a good thing, and the lost tips a small price to play for having clean, full shelves.

For a considerable time, the women's room displayed a sign saying "out of order," and yet one could hear the women who worked there going in and out, in between which one could hear flushing sounds. When asked if it had been repaired, they would only give a mumbled reply. No doubt customers complained, perhaps even directly to the owner, if they could catch him during his ritual five-minute visits every afternoon. Slowly, it dawned on A Mind That Suits that the Imperious One had decided she needed a bathroom that no one else could spoil, and had commandeered it, with the collusion of the other women. This was confirmed when she took a two-week vacation, and the sign came down one day--and has not reappeared.

Lesson for the day: if you have an employee like that, watch her carefully. She is scaring away your business.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 9:38 AM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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