I grew up in a small town, where everyone not only knew my name...but my parents' names and my grandparents' names and my great grandparents' names. As I grew older, it felt a little too small at times, like a hairband that keeps your bangs in place but pinches behind the ears. I loved every minute of growing up there, but I longed to be a little fish in a big pond instead of a goldfish in a glass bowl.
I decided on a big state university in a medium-sized city and, though I moved to another state for a year after graduation, I eventually settled in the same city where I'd earned my bachelor's and graduate degrees. I love the city where we live. It's big enough to get lost in; but small enough to have favorite places and shortcuts and run into people you know...on occasion.
Every once in a while, though, I get an urge to be a "regular" someplace...to go somewhere where they know me and how I like my coffee and exactly what I like on my sandwich, without me having to remind them. I want to be like Norm or Cliff from Cheers and trade fun-spirited, spunky remarks with a kind-hearted Coach and a snarky, but loveable, Carla. I guess this desire harkens back to the days when I sat at the big bench seat in Don's Restaurant and always had a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles on the side. Maybe it's a lingering memory of the dozens of times I walked up to the snack bar at Rexall's, and the lady behind the counter always knew I'd take either an Orangeade or a Lemon Sour.
Sometimes I just want to be recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known.
A couple years ago, my husband and sons and I discovered a barbecue place that we all loved. I announced that I'd like to become a regular there. Actually, I think I said that I was going to become a regular there. I decided, in order to do this, I would order the same thing, fixed the same way, every time I visited. I always ordered the baked potato topped with pulled pork...every time.
Every time, I was disappointed when I went to pick up the to-go order and someone different was at the counter. This was never going to work if I had to introduce myself to someone new every visit. Why did they have so many employees? Still, I kept at it. I placed my order and explained that I wanted the sour cream on the side...again.
They always asked how to pronounce my last name. I never became a regular.
After several visits, I gave up. My older son was with me when we went to pick up our call-in order for the last time.
I felt ridiculously sad.
"I just really wanted them to know me...you know...like a regular...like, even if they didn't know my actual name, they could at least call me by the name of my usual order when I walked in the door..."
My son glanced behind us at the overhead menu board and then at the bag of Styrofoam carry-out containers in my arms. He knew my usual...the loaded potato with the pulled pork on top. I got it every time.
"You know, Mom," he said, with wisdom beyond his years. "I don't think you would have liked it if you walked in the door and they called you 'Phat Spud.' That is the name of what you get, you know."
I'd never thought about that.
We had a good laugh. Maybe I was recognized and understood and predictable and appreciated and known after all. I definitely did not want to be called Phat Spud, even if it meant I was a regular.