I stepped into my favorite deli at about 12:45pm. I barely got through the door because the place was packed with "lunchers" -as is usual between 11:30AM and 1:30PM. The crusty sandwiches, overstuffed with the freshest ingredients, are delicious enough to crowd up the place -and often send a line out the door. Inside, I stood shoulder to shoulder with hungry people -people who were such fans that they'd forfeit any concern for personal space while waiting for one of these sandwiches.
Every customer in the place already held a pink ticket (clutching it like it was currency) and waited to hear its number called. I reached to the ticket machine and pulled number 78.
Six guys in over-sized, white aprons behind the counter performed their gourmet magic, slicing meat, cutting bread, running here and there and wrapping up orders of sandwiches -all without bumping into each other. When each deli chef finished an order he'd walk across the floor to the trigger under the number display. The heads of the waiting customers turned in unison, tracking him. Customers' hands pulled wrinkled tickets from pockets in anticipation. You have to be ready to yell your number when it's called because if you aren't quick enough, he'll call out the next number after waiting only a second.
I heard a chef call out "Fifty six? Fifty seven? Fifty eight?"
56 shouted his number and waved his ticket over his head as proof. His turkey club sandwich got underway and I discovered that I had a twenty-one ticket wait. No problem. I stood back to observe.
Soon they had reached number 70. A young girl in a cell phone conversation stepped to the counter and held out her ticket.
Her potential chef said, "No cell. Seventy-One, Seventy-Two"Â¦" The girl pressed her phone to her shoulder without hanging up and tried to order a veggie hoagie.
"No cell phone," the chef said again. Just then, all six of the other chefs stopped what they were doing, turned and in one voice shouted, "No cell phone." They then resumed their work. The girl's blushing may have been embarrassment, but her expression showed pure disbelief.
Number 71, standing beside her, gave her a silly look. "You can't order at the deli while on a cell call," he said with the same amazement he might show while telling her she couldn't run a red light. "I'll take a roast beef with the works." He handed his ticket 71 to the chef.
The girl said, "I'll call you back," into her phone and hung up." A few customers clapped and a kind chef began her nearly-missed veggie hoagie.
I walked out with my sandwich, thinking that with technology encroaching into almost everything that we do, it's good to see etiquette triumph from time to time.