I was famished and in no mood for a fight. But I felt like I might get sucked into a conflict at a Subway in Atlanta recently.
My wife waited in the car as I ran in to get a quick sandwich before we hit bad traffic. There were two employees, a man and a woman, both in their 20s. An elderly man stood in line in front of me. He and the male employee were talking, but I was looking at baseball scores on my phone and not paying attention.
“Where’s the Krystal at?” the elderly man asked. I found that odd. I started listening.
The employee’s voice turned up a notch with a hint of hostile formality.
“Sir, you will need to get onto I-285 East and take Exit 31B…”
“Where’s the Wendy’s?”
The employee upped the annoyance knob from six to seven. He gave him directions. The old man stood silent. I was hungry, wanting this guy to make up his mind.
“Sir, do you want a sandwich or not?”
“I don’t eat here that much. I’m thinking.”
The man finally said he would take a foot-long tuna sandwich on wheat. But the employee grabbed a six-inch, not a 12-inch piece. The man looked at the bread.
“Is that wheat or dark wheat?”
“Sir, we don’t have dark wheat. We got honey oat though. Is that what you want?”
“I want dark wheat.”
“We don’t have that.”
“I’ll take wheat, but I want a foot-long, not a six inch.”
The employee hadn’t heard the foot-long request. He started chuckling, but not in a nice way. “Ok, Ok, I hear ya'. Foot-long then.”
The old man turned and looked at me.
“What’s he smokin’?” he asked me. I wasn’t about to respond. I just smiled.
“What chu’ laughin’ at?” the old man asked the employee as he set the bread on the counter.
“Sir, I was laughing, because you are so indecisive. You see, when people are hungry, they usually know what they want. And they won’t be too picky about it, because they are hungry. But you can’t make up your mind. So, I’m beginning to think that maybe you aren’t that hungry. That’s what I was laughing about.”
The employee realized he didn’t have enough tuna to make a foot-long sandwich. He went to the back to get more. The old man looked over at the female employee who was finishing up with two customers.
“What’s his problem?” he asked her. She didn’t answer.
The employee came back with the tuna. He started plopping it on the sandwich, then putting down American cheese.
“Is that pepper jack?”
“I want pepper jack.”
The employee was getting super ticked now. He picked off the American cheese with tuna sticking to it and flung it into the cheese container, almost like spiking a football.
“OK, pepper jack.” He flung the cheese on the sandwich like the angriest card dealer on earth.
“I want tomatoes and good ones, too. I want them fresh.”
The employee walked over to the vegetables, leaving the sandwich in the same place on the counter. He grabbed a handful of tomatoes and held them up to show the man. “These are the freshest we got.”
The other employee was finished with the other customers and she walked over to help me. I wanted a six-inch roast beef sandwich on flatbread.
The old man told the employee that he actually wanted the vegetables to be put down on the sandwich before the tuna. What? This seemed like the man was straight-up trolling the employee at this point. The employee turned to his co-worker.
“Can you make his sandwich? I can’t do it.”
The employee walked to the back and left me without help. The old man was shaking his head.
“That man has issues,” he said.
The stress seemed to be getting to the female employee, too.
“What are you doing?” she hollered to her co-worker.
“I got cleaning to do,” he hollered back.
“Come make this man’s sandwich!” she said, meaning my sandwich.
He hollered back that one employee should be able to handle two customers.
“I got stuff to do!” he yelled. “I gotta’ clean.”
This didn’t go over well with his co-worker.
“I do too! I got stuff to do. You know what? Just get out of here. Just leave! Just leave right now!”
“You can’t fire me!” he hollered back.
I texted Jana to give her an update on why I was taking so long. “There’s a fight in here.”
I stood there with my roast beef sandwich abandoned on the counter. The woman took payment from the old man. “He’s got a real problem, doesn’t he?” he said to the woman.
About this time, the male employee came back to my sandwich. His eyes were wide with rage. He held something of murder in his stare. But he was looking at me, not the other two. The whole tense moment turned in my direction. I’ve never felt such weight in a sandwich line. I knew I could send this guy over the edge with any high-maintenance customer action: “Um, how fresh are these tomatoes actually? What variety are they? Do you happen to have locally grown tomatoes? Do you have any different types of wheat bread? May I suggest Subway start having dark wheat as the previous gentleman requested?”
No, I wasn’t going to be that way. I wanted out. I didn’t want to get strangled. I wanted my sandwich toasted, but forget that. “Just a squirt of mustard and a few jalapenos and I’m good,” I said. He wrapped up the sandwich, and I went to pay the lady. He turned his attention back to her.
“I don’t know why you got to have this attitude with me.”
“Attitude?! You’re the one with the attitude! You need to leave. Just leave!”
I grabbed my sandwich bag and hurried to the door. The two employees were fussing at each other as they headed to the back. The old man sat in his car eating his tuna sandwich. I bit into my cold roast beef sandwich and we headed to I-285. It was gone in a fraction of the time it took to get the food.
I have felt road rage, particularly in Atlanta. It’s a common occurrence. But sandwich rage? Yeah, it exists, too. And by the way, “Where’s the Krystal at?”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.