It was originally, if you can believe it, a janitor’s closet. So it had the hookups for water and gas but only one entry. When they turned into Noodleman’s, that was a problem–with one entrance that was going to be the order and pickup window, how were we going to get in and out?

Well, we did it by climbing through the pickup/takeout window.

Now, you might wonder how that would work, with us putting our shoes all over the same counter people are served food on, especially after stomping around on a food prep floor for hours at a time. You’d think people would be disgusted by this.

Nope!

You forget that Noodleman’s was a hipster restaurant, catering to people who were used to terrible seating and used to being served on dustpans. So it didn’t bother them that there were footprints on the counter, just like it didn’t bother them that the only seating was a foot-wide shelf bolted to alley bricks with surplus science classroom stools as seats.

Heck, it didn’t even bother them when they closed the place down for health reasons. I still hear people waxing nostalgic about our cold peanut noodles!

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1:23 PM

555-3253 I’m in line for fried chicken

555-3253 They give you your drink up front but you have to wait for your bird

555-3253 Only place on campus serving hot food right now

555-3253 Line’s big enough for a congressman 😀


1:37 PM

555-3253 I hope you’ll bear with me on this epic journey of hope


1:49 PM

555-3253 We lost six men to a mama bear attack during the carpet crossing


1:56 PM

555-3253 I am looking up at the sun streaming through the windows as the ice melts silently in my soda pop


2:11 PM

555-3253 I grunt and pant in the carpeted wilderness. Only the wild animals around me reply.


2:19 PM

555-3253 I will have my vengeance

555-3253 I will track that chicken to the ends of the earth

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“Okay, let’s go over everything again,” said the dessicated packet of Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 tea. The oldest packet by far in the cupboard of Madame Vizcacha (born Gertrude Nussbaum), Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 had been forgotten in a corner for years, even after Celestial Seasonings had bought her parent company and ruthlessly gutted it. It had taken on the post of unofficial leader, organizing the other teas and keeping them motivated to pass their prophecies on to Madame Vizcacha with clarity and focus.

“Number one! What’s your prophecy?” Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 said, addressing the contents of a newly-opened box of Château Piccard brand Earl Grey packets.

“Flat tire from a broken beer bottle at the corner of 8th and main!” the first Earl Grey tea barked.

“Number two!”

“Mr. Brandstead’s wife is considering leaving him for a Nordic masseuse!” cried the second. “That’s what she’ll read in my leaves!”

“Number three!”

“Extinction of all life on earth if the Large Haldron Collider is turned on between 2:17 and 2:19 AM local Swiss time!”

“Number four!” Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 cried at the last occupant of the box, which Madame Vizcacha had been drinking through in reverse order.

“Umm…” Earl Grey No. 4 hesitated.

Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 sighed. “Focus! You need to receive your wisdom from the aether in order to pass it on! It’s your life’s purpose, so make sure you get it right!”

Frankly, Earl Grey No. 4 thought that its life’s purpose was to be a scarf-wearing hipster’s trendy substitute for coffee, but it was in no position to argue. “An angry customer in two hours looking for a refund,” it said at length. “He’s not happy that Madame Vizcacha’s romantic advice didn’t turn out as he hoped.”

“No refunds,” barked Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1, echoing Madame Vizcacha’s well-known life motto. “It’s not her fault that prophecy came from a bad Metromart Generic Tea No. 7. There’s a reason those are so cheap.”

From an idea by breylee.

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Mahjong Pizza has a long tradition of allowing a certain amount of employee innovation. It was hard to forget how the business had been founded on the back of Chad Martinez’s innovations while working at a Hopewell, Michigan Pizza House even among the esoteric college kids who usually donned the red-white-green uniforms. If Martinez could transform the pizza delivery business through his amateur time and motion studies, anybody could.

As such, Anna Grimaldi had to sit through a monthly “innovation meeting.” It meant an extra half-hour on the clock for most people, but the innovations therein tended to be on the prosaic side (multiple magnetic “shark fins” for foggy days, offering a five-pack of breadstick dipping sauces for a reduced fee). Anna’s ideas tended to run afoul of the legal department, which 86’d her idea of the cook writing a personal message on the box of each Mahjong pie, as well as her co-workers, who hadn’t been enthusiastic about writing personalized messages in the first place.

At the February “innovation meeting,” she had another idea: “The florist next door is always throwing out flowers. Why not grab a bunch of them for a few pennies and keep them on the counter for Valentine’s Day? Then everyone who comes in for carry-out can get a flower. Make them feel loved or something.”

“I think we should let people our customers are seeing give them the flowers,” her manager said.

“Come on now,” Anna replied. “Do you think anyone who’s getting carryout pizza on Valentine’s Day is seeing anybody?”

The flowers were out in a crystal vase by 8:02 AM February 14.

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There was nothing sinister about 1123 Adams St.

Once a private residence, it had been bought out by developers when Adams had exploded after the highway went in around 1995. But their neighbors in back refused to sell no matter the price, meaning that the builders had to make do with a thin strip of land–not until the occupant died in 2006 were they able to acquire the rear property, and even then their backyard neighbors refused to sell either, and there was no room for expansion on either side what with the other businesses that had developed there.

So you had a very attractive building with all its parking out back, an arcane arrangement that meant most people on Adams could never figure out how to get in at all. That, and its tantalizing location so close to the shopping district, the student ghetto, and campus, meant that every restaurant that filled the space inevitably failed.

The first occupant (sliding in a year after construction began) was 6 Dudes Pizza, which quickly became a campus legend due to their beer-battered breadsticks (served with a pitcher of beer and beer nuts). They didn’t deliver, though, so eating in was the only option; despite the efforts of a handful of devotees, it folded after a year and a half. Drunken freshmen with the munchies couldn’t be relied upon to figure out its tiny and arcane lot (or the parsimonious solution of parking next door).

Next was The Vegan Fork, which sought to capitalize on the tendency of those with extremely particular dietary wishes to orbit university campuses like asteroids around the Sun. Those who wanted to eat food that had never been, had never had the potential to be, and had never been produced by anything with motor neurons could surely be relied upon to walk or cycle there, making the parking situation irrelevent–right? Wrong. For all their pouring of blood on the fur-wearers of Sigma Qoppa Nu, they tended to drive the same Land Rovers. The Vegan Fork capsized after twenty-two months.

A college entrepreneur with a little venture capital remade no. 1123 next as Movie Eatery. Each booth was transformed into a mini theater with a big screen, and diners were able to select either a full-length movie or a TV episode or two to watch while they noshed (in theater-style seats no less). The rather slim selection of entertainment dinged Movie Eatery somewhat, as did a nuisance lawsuit by indie distributor Shutter Features. Dreadful advertising and amateur signage didn’t help, and Movie Eatery was belly up before the local annual film festival could come to its rescue.

Locals who had been providing barbecue to tailgaters at the university bought the location next and turned it into Big Jim’s University BBQ. The joint earned rave reviews for its sauce, which had long been an open secret among the ‘gaters, and its meats were locally sourced and slaughtered, which played well with the granola crowd. It earned less than rave reviews for cleanliness, though, and the state health department shut it down after a surprise inspection. Big Jim, without the capital to make the needed improvements, slunk back into the world of back-alley BBQ where there were no inspections.

And who could forget Hrvatska, the Croatian restaurant that occupied the site and expanded the parking lot? It was trendy for a time among the avant-garde who wanted to boast about a cuisine that the bourgeois had never heard of. The revelation that zagrebački odrezak was actually veal hurt their cachet among that demographic, and the overwhelming preponderance of lamb-based dishes eventually became tiresome to most.

Today, the site is occupied by a local independent maker of submarine sandwiches, and locals have begun taking bets as to how long it’ll last in what locals nerds have begun calling the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” building, as no restaurant there seemed to last much more than a year.

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It was late and I was hungry after a 14-hour flight back to flyover country from the west coast. It was close to 2am, though, so all the restaurants were closed and the only option was a cold sandwich or rotisserie horror from one of the gas stations. I wouldn’t have bothered, but it was a further 90-minute drive from the airport to home. The joys of working at a relatively rural magnet school, I suppose: you can afford to go to conferences but pay a price in fatigue.

I pulled into the least seedy-looking station, one of the Gas n’ Guzzle chain. The clerk didn’t acknowledge me, being behind bulletproof glass and with a bleeping iPhone besides. The cold sandwiches all looked like they had been manufactured during the Truman administration, but there were some appetizing-looking hot pockets and pizza slices under the klieg lights. I grabbed a hot pocket that was in an easy-eat cardboard sleeve (figuring that the calories would mostly be burned off by the stress of late-night driving) and a bag of chips; I still had half a Diet Coke in the car, so there was no need for a drink (the Coke had been purchased at the extortionate airport price of $4, so I was determined to see it to the last drop.

The clerk, looking bored, rang up the purchases on my debit card without a word. I signed the receipt she thrust at me and was about to leave when she thumped down a big paper fountain drink cup.

“What’s that?” I said.

“For your drink.” All this time, the clerk hadn’t looked up from her iPhone, doing everything else by rote.

“I didn’t order a drink.”

“It’s part of the combo meal, ma’am.” Still not looking up, the clerk tapped a sign.

I looked at the receipt and did a little quick mental arithmetic–I am a math/science teacher after all. The combo meal was a good deal if you got a loaded hot dog or pizza slice, but for the hot pocket–half the price–and potato chips–50 cent offbranders–the extra cost same to nearly five dollars. “I didn’t order a combo meal,” I said, feeling the sting of another sugarwater ripoff.

“Yes you did.”

“No, I didn’t!” I cried. “How could I have ordered the combo meal? You and I didn’t say a single word until a second ago!”

“You asked for the combo meal and I gave it to you.” Eyes still riveted on the iPhone.

“No I didn’t. I have a drink in the car and I don’t need another.” I thrust my debit card at the clerk. “Take it off.”

Those iPhone-engrossed eyes, still downward cast. “Sorry, ma’am. I can’t do refunds without a manager.”

“Get a manager, then. I’ll wait.”

“No manager here after 2am. They don’t come in until 7.”

I could feel a vein in my forehead beginning to throb. “Just give me the difference in cash from the register,” I said.

“Can’t open the register unless you make a purchase, and if I take money out the total will be wrong and I’ll get written up.”

I squeezed my potato chips so hard that the bag popped and hissed out all the air. “What am I supposed to do then?”

The clerk–who had not made eye contact with me and appeared dead-set on never doing so–tapped the paper cup she’d set out. “Get a fountain drink.”

That was it. I hate to be the customer from hell, but sometimes one has no other option. I snatched the cup, filled it with Coke, and dug in my purse. There was no need for a lid or straw.

I returned to the counter, with the clerk iPhoning safe and smug behind the glass, with only a small depression just big enough for a paper cup underneath for unwanted combo drinks and the exchange of money. Crinkling the cup into a rough pitcher, I poured the contents into that trough.

“Hey…!” The clerk was trying to make eye contact with me now, wasn’t she? But I wasn’t done. I produced the mints that I always keep in my purse–half a roll of Mentos–and tossed them into the newly-formed soda moat. I left before the sputtering soda pop explosion had fully engulfed the counter in a sticky mess.

And that, children, is why science and math teachers are not to be trifled with.

“I warned you about that super-concentrated chocolate ice cream. You’ve got to build up to it.”

I…can taste…everything!

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