I have made a new friend at my neighborhood Chipotle. He works there. I go there frequently to eat. But I am there with such frequency that I now feel a twinge of shame every time I pass through those doors - shame at my lack of originality, my utter dependence on this national conglomerate for sustenance, my questionable nutritional intake and my wanton disregard for eating frugally. But I love it, and they have fountain sodas I can refill.
My friend's name is "E," and he initiated our relationship by noting how often I am there. He's probably the kindest, most decent person working in food services in Manhattan, but I always have trouble with this kind of relationship. We always meet on his turf and I never have anything to say. Honestly, I just want to get my burrito and sit down and read a magazine. But as I progress down the line E always makes conversation and smiles and is very easy-going. Things really got started when I questioned his burrito-making skills one night (E: "Sorry man, is this all right?" Me: "Yeah, I just gotta eat it, not look at it." Zing!) But E always asks the kind of large, ambiguous questions I can never answer comfortably, especially in front of the other patrons - people who eat here rarely, only when they run out of baked chicken and mixed vegetables at home; people who certainly don't have relationships with their Chipotle cashier/burrito assembler.
"You always get steak or veggie, eh, Mike!" "How you doing today, Mike!" "Dap it out, Mike - whoa, I got sanitary latex gloves on." I'm never quite sure how to respond to these overtures - this kind of jocularity is sort of tough to fake when you're tired and just want to ease your troubles with a little sour cream and cheese. So I find myself maybe giving him more information that he would otherwise need to know about me. The other day I looked up from burrito to see him saying my name across the room. He started gesturing towards a girl alone a few tables away. I nonverbally communicated the idea that I found her cute. E gestured that I should go say hi. This introduced an elaborate pantomime on my part, expressing the idea: "Yes, she is cute, but I have a girl already - you know, the short one who comes in here with me sometimes..." And then I realized, why am I trying to explain all this?
He's a cool guy. The awkwardness comes from me. I'm just glad my neighborhood burrito maven knows who I am and even bothers to ask how things are going. That can be a rare find here, and it makes the city that much smaller, you know?