The song on the P.A. system in the shop was Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. The place was Smoke’s Poutinerie, a tiny hole in the wall serving the generally agreed-upon definitive Canadian food consisting of fried potatoes topped with cheese curds and gravy. The recipe is pretty simple and Smoke’s doesn’t deviate too much except to add things like beef, peas, or other fitting toppings.
I stick with the tried and true peppercorn beef — sliced beef with a peppercorn gravy. Except that tonight it would be a large, for me and Sarah, with less gravy on her half.
Seemed pretty simple.
I gave my order, including two cokes and a plastic bag, to the bespectacled fellow manning the cash register and he cheerful acknowledged. After hovering over the register for what seemed like five minutes he finally managed to type in my instructions, but not before the guy in the kitchen, overhearing my request for half the gravy on half, managed to toss out some jibe about filling half a pool with only half the water.
I stood back for a bit, remarking on my luck at being the only one in the place. And before I could blink, my order was on the counter. Great!
“Close it up for you?”, asked cash register guy, pointing at the opened paper box of poutine.
“Umm, is that a peppercorn beef?”, I asked, noticing a complete absence of any beef on the meal. Usually the beef sits conspicuously on the top so it was hard to miss.
“Yup!”, replied register.
“And are you sure this is a large?”, I asked again, noticing that this was definitely not the large box.
“Oh, umm, you wanted a large?”, said cash register.
“Yeah, I said. But you know what? If you wanna just dump this into a large box and top it up, we can call it a day.”
This really stumped cash register guy. He stood there for a very long time, finger on his lips, deciding how best to handle the situation.
“Are you sure?”, he asked, “I only have a regular on this order.”
“Pretty sure”, I replied. “It’s for two people. But like I said, if you wanna put it into a big box and charge me the difference, I’ll by on my way.”
At this point the guy in the kitchen piped up. “How about I just put it into another regular box? If I dumped it into a big box, it wouldn’t taste as it was intended.”
“Sure”, I shrugged my shoulders, “why not?”
Back to register; “Okay? Great, so I’ll just charge you for another regular one then.”
“Umm, no”, I retorted. “I just want one large one. We can’t eat two and it’s more than I was expecting to spend.”
“Okay, so, umm, hang on a sec”, said cash register, holding up a finger. “Okay, so I’ll just charge you the difference, an extra two dollars, and we’ll get you a large one. Sound good?”
“I mean, sure, I guess. But it’s really no bother if you want to just take this one here and stick it into a large box and top it up. Really.”
“No, that’s okay. We’ll get you two regulars and charge you for a large”, replied kitchen guy, clearly the one in charge of the place.
Fine by me.
A few more minutes went by and poutine number two emerged. Except this one looked startingly different from number one — it had copious helpings of shaved beef and mushrooms (as it should).
Register held them both up to examine them. With a puzzled look on his face he remarked that they don’t look the same.
No they don’t, I said.
He called out to kitchen guy, asking if poutine number one was correct.
“What do you mean?”, replied kitchen guy.
“Well, isn’t it supposed to have beef or something on it?”, replied cash register.
I didn’t bother pointing out that I had said this at the beginning. I was really more interested in seeing how this would all play out.
“I can’t see anything from here!”, replied kitchen. “Pass it over.”
Register passed it back through the order window and under the consternated gaze of kitchen who seemed instantly to recognize that half of order number one was absent. In the meantime, I payed the difference.
A couple of additional minutes went buy as kitchen disappear behind the counter. Not sure where he went because it’s only about chest high, but he stayed there for an unnaturally long time.
Then he re-appeared and passed back a completed poutine. Both were slapped on the counter in front of me in a state of glorious completion.
“Close ‘em up for you?”, asked cash register once again, beaming a “we finally did it!” smile.
“Sure”, I replied.
He did so with a little trouble (in his defense, those things aren’t easy to close), and slid them in front of me.
“There you go! Sorry for the trouble. Have a great day”, he half-waved.
“Did I order a couple of cokes too?”, I asked, not sure what the hell he’d punched into the register at this point.
“Oh yeah! Let me get those for you…and here we are. Have a good one!”
“Thanks”, I smiled. “Don’t suppose you have that plastic bag back there somewhere too do you?”
“Oh shit!”, blurted out register. He pulled one out and slapped it on the counter, red-faced. I thanked him again, bagged my dinner (at that point I decided it would be asking too much), and left Smoke’s.
“Crazy train” was just finishing up as I left the premises.