Notes From Subway

A grim rationalist patronizes an international sandwich franchise.

I’m waiting in line between equally depleted customers, the time bomb of a lunch break clicking down, idly eyeing the menu for options better than our precedent choices, though we resort to the latter. A group of socio-economically disenfranchised people, usually of the same nationality — in this case Filipino — wear head caps and latex gloves, as if the flayed sandwiches before them were some surgery gone bad. The dim glazed look in their eyes is somewhere in between “I don’t give a fuck,” “[what] the fuck,” and “need job.”

The “6-inch Sub” is perhaps an incidental sandwich derived from the more aggressively marketed “five dollar footlong,” implicating the faith Subway has in their employees’ bisecting abilities, though I am less than certain. I, per the social contract of amicability, order with a rhetorical question: “Can I have a 6-inch tuna footlong on a honey oat?” I’ve answered enough follow-up questions in the past to include the main protein constituent and type of bread with my order. I closely watch my random Filipino perhaps too confidently cut a 12″ bun into two theoretically 6″ buns — key word “theoretically,” because it’s really, from my vantage point behind the glass shield, like a 5?” and 6?” bun. And yes, because God has been against me since that overcast afternoon I was born, I get the former, shorter bun. “I ordered a six inch sub, not a five-and-three-eighths-inch sub,” I hear myself saying inside my head, that place of warm solo regard. I just look over and smile.

The woman in front of me asks for extra slices of American cheese, saying don’t worry she will pay for it. The Filipino (at least I think they are Filipino, and no I will not apologize for this) puts an extra layer of cheese with the “the fuck” look. Meanwhile, my guy asks if I want my inferior-length sandwich toasted, to which I answer “sure.” Toasting will turn a “to go” sandwich into a “for here” one, incurred the latter’s surcharged tax. This is okay. I only live once, a fully employed bureaucrat who deserves warm and toasty.

The stress test comes at the end, where one is asked to select the toppings. I feel sorry for the person at this station. Raining meat in the valley of bun is easy. Toasting is nothing. But this shit is getting complicated. Many people, including me, employ the subtractive exclusion method (i.e. “everything except [items not to be included].”) Of the choices lettuce; tomatoes; cucumbers; bell peppers; red onions; sliced pickles; black olives; pepperoncinis (also, oddly, known as “banana peppers”); and jalapeños, I choose everything except black olives and jalapeños. It’s hard to explain. Everyone is different. I just feel the olives are rubbery and without any flavor; and I find the heat of the jalapeños distracting. The pepperoncinis are spicy enough. I’m not fond of lettuce, especially their bun dampening capacity, but I like to get my money’s worth.

I am surprised and disappointed when the “extra cheese” woman in front of me remains reticent about said extra cheese when she tells the cashier what she ordered. The particular Subway I patronize operates under a “faith based” system where the customer dutifully reports the type of sandwich to the cashier. Besides the obvious length, the internal constituents which affect pricing (i.e. toastedness, cheese, the excessive “extra meat”) are securely wrapped and visually obscured. This is less a generosity of Subway towards their patrons than negligence on the part of their employees, who are probably instructed to relay facts about the sandwich which have fiscal implications.

“Toasted 6-inch tuna,” I say to the cashier, pointing out the tuna just for good measure, if she were curious. The change falls down in a tiny whirlpool from the automatic change machine — a collection of nickles, dimes, and pennies — which goes directly into the tip jar, sadly just a reappropriated large styrofoam cup. The coins make a shallow clink, for there isn’t the buffer of bills to mask the cheapness of the preceding customers. The cashier looks at me with a kind of learned hollowness that came from too many years of not being looked at. Her eyes are soured and hurt, but still warm, and I hold onto that. Waiting at the crosswalk, I hold my small transparent bag, sporadically tinted with their logo, by its weak handles rendered from two simple holes. The bottom dollar is smoothened out by tired hands. Hunger is a great industry. Every Abraham Lincoln is a possible footlong. America is doing just fine. I carry my 5?” sandwich back to my desk, carefully unwrap it, and proceed to turn it — as I have been doing with my entire life — into a kind of warm personal shit. TC mark

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  • Al

    “Smoothened” is not a word.

  • Jordan

    Awesome.

  • http://twitter.com/tonyneu Tony Neu

    PERFECT, thanks

  • http://twitter.com/offensivelyfoul Kevin Zimmerman

    I think banana peppers are different than peppercinis. I actually looked this up once, and Subway carries banana peppers.

    • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

      yes, having ‘googled this shit’ i realize i am wrong, but wish to leave my mistakes in this world, the way my dad did

      • Tea Cake

        lots of ignorant folk call peperoncinis “banana peppers,” including me. It’s just the way I’s raised.

  • BLUEBERRIES

    Chen strike force!

  • http://twitter.com/Maxxx_Attaxxx Max Markham

    I just get footlongs. But that thing about the cheese… blew my mind.

    • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

      you mean bleu your mind you smelly daddy

  • Aol

    I think you really captured the depressing nature that lies at the heart of a subway experience…kudos

  • Michele

    you ordered a “6-inch tuna footlong”
    at first i thought that might be some kind of test

    anyway this all just reminded me of the time my roommate left a subway tuna sandwich in our dorm room garbage can and the smell of it lingered even after the trash had been taken out. eck.

    • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

      i suppose the specificity of “6-inch” overrides the contradiction of “footlong,” especially being that the latter is somewhat of a stylized motif whose length is taken for granted

    • Laura

      Ha, i thought so too. I just got off of my shift at Subway actually, and the second I read that, I pictured myself having to double-check with the customer what length he wanted. Ha.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    I think this is fucking hilarious. Thanks JC

  • http://stephgeorge.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

    I love this it made me want so many footlongs. Sorry I’m not sorry.

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    made me sad

  • Danielle

    I want subway so bad right now. Unfortunately, as a girl, I am restricted from getting the really delicious looking ones (a footlong Italian BMT on Italian herbs & cheese with lots and lots of toppings) in favor of the cute looking 6-inch turkey on wheat :(

    • http://twitter.com/fgg23 Francisco García

      Why does being a girl restrict your choices? I don’t understand.

      • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

        body dysmorphic/distortion disorder as propagated by the patriarchal gaze, duh

      • Guest

        ~*gIrLz cAnT eAt FoOtLonGz I bLaMe ThE PaTrIaRcHy LoL*~

      • Guest

        ah, she’s yet to learn the art of moderation. heh, poor girl.

    • ANG

      I hear ya girl.

  • http://twitter.com/fgg23 Francisco García

    When I go to Subway, I’m usually the one excited person in the line that is happy to pick out new toppings and ask for the extra bacon. I guess I’m sort of Spongebob-ly weird.

  • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

    This is the best sentence I’ve read in a very long time – “Raining meat in the valley of bun is easy.”
    You make me laugh, Jimmy Chen.

  • Anonymous

    “Her eyes are soured and hurt, but still warm, and I hold onto that.”

    Really great. Moving.

  • https://unemploymentisnotsexy.wordpress.com/ To

    This guy made the mundane practice of going to Subway seem like a cinematic experience.

  • https://unemploymentisnotsexy.wordpress.com/ To

    This guy made the mundane practice of going to Subway seem like a cinematic experience.

  • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

    Ordering from Subway makes me anxious and also angry. There is simply too much human interaction involved (with a human who never seems to speak or understand English, even if they simultaneously seem like English is absolutely their first language) relative to the end result which is just one damned sandwich. Trying to get the correct toppings is the most aggravating. I always ask for “everything”, by which I mean (go figure) “everything”. They then proceed to ask me a series of  questions. “Do you want jalapenos?” “Yes, I want everything.” “Do you want banana peppers?” “Yes. I. Want. Everything.” With every additional question I stress the word “everything” a little more.

    I feel a little bad for them, because I know they’ve been conditioned to go through this unnecessary process by serving countless other customers who came before me who obviously did not know the meaning of the word “everything”, and actually meant to exclude certain items. But, Subway employee, I did not ask for your “The Works”, which is a list of toppings stuck to the glass of every counter that sounds suspiciously like it might mean the same thing as the word “everything”, but actually lists a number of vegetables that includes “everything except any sort of peppers”. I did not ask for that. I asked for “everything”.

    The final step in the process is the one where they can never figure out how to run my debit card properly and have to reenter my order 17 times. (Isn’t this all you do all day, every day? I feel like you should have this figured out by now.)

    Ordering from a fast food restaurant should be easier than going to a grocery store and purchasing and then assembling the meal yourself.

    And this is why I stay away from Subway.

    • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

      damn grrl, u r intense

      • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

        Yeah, I’m gonna go take my pills now. I’ll be alright.

    • laura

      Just wanted to reinforce your statement about the other customers who don’t know the meaning of  ‘everything’. I’ve been working at Subway for about 2 months now. I just wanted to say that even when a customer asks for ‘everything’ on their sub, it almost NEVER turns out to be everything. When a customer asks for everything, I casually but clearly say the name of every vegetable as I’m reaching for them (not so much as a question, more of a statement) to give the customer the opportunity to interrupt me if they did not prefer it. I had a woman just earlier today ask for ‘everything’, did not interrupt me as I named every vegetable during preparation, and then proceeded to rip me a new one when I put ‘pickles’ (I had put cucumbers on it. I hadn’t touched the pickles yet) on her sub. She had specifically said ‘everything’ with no exceptions.  The lady insisted that I trash the sub and remake it.

      By asking any exceptions / double-checking, we’re just covering our own asses and company expenses, pretty much. We don’t mean any disrespect. I can only speak for my own Subway branch though.

      You probably just have a bad subway branch. I never have a problem with our new credit card machines. If you find yourself in a subway in the future, hope it’s better for you.

      • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

        Indeed. It’s the fault of ridiculous customers for being ridiculous. I am going to have to start asking for “everything — by which I do mean everything, with no exceptions, yes, everything, including all of the peppers, yes, including those other peppers, too”. Such inefficient sandwich preparation.

        And nobody in my neighbourhood knows how to work a credit card machine in general. So… yeah. That’s not really a Subway thing. It’s a “what the fuck is wrong with the people where I live” thing.

      • http://www.candicepayne.com Candice

        Indeed. It’s the fault of ridiculous customers for being ridiculous. I am going to have to start asking for “everything — by which I do mean everything, with no exceptions, yes, everything, including all of the peppers, yes, including those other peppers, too”. Such inefficient sandwich preparation.

        And nobody in my neighbourhood knows how to work a credit card machine in general. So… yeah. That’s not really a Subway thing. It’s a “what the fuck is wrong with the people where I live” thing.

  • tildr

    I love those canvases they have on the walls with photos of different foods all artfully arranged and softly lit. Or do these only exist in UK Subways? Anyway, I’ve always wanted to own the meat one and hang it in my house as an interesting focal point.

  • Personal best

    Does Jimmy Chen’s dick look like a banana pepper? hehe…excellent. *evil smile*

  • http://twitter.com/imanallien Allie T

    Be nice to the workers at Subway! I work there & it’s a horror show. 

    Although these notes are very, very accurate ;]

  • douchegirl

    I worked as a “Sandwich Artist” for a year and now religiously eat Subway every single work day for lunch. This article really spoke to me. 

  • Sophia

    I just wanted to comment on how it’s probably illegal for a company to let the change from your transaction go straight into the tip cup. The idea that they effectually force you to tip makes me angry.

    • Miranda

      I think he meant that he put it in the tip jar directly after receiving it, which makes more sense.

      • Sophia

        Ohhh that does make more sense. I was reading it wrong, apologies

  • Tea Cake

    The notion that the lettuce is what’s making my bun soggy never occurred to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marieanne.martinez Marie Martinez

    I will never order a Subway sandwich with the same detached and hurried demeanor as I always have.

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