I am constantly telling people they need to read “The Gift of Fear.” I am a freaking one woman Gavin De Becker parade, to the point where I have to re-buy it several times a year because I keep giving it away. Until now, my de Becker immersion has been mostly theoretical, which is how you want it. But it all got real this afternoon, when some totally normal-looking dude almost punched me in the face at Chop’t.
Yes, Chop’t. The salad place.
If you’ve been to the 17th Street Chop’t at lunchtime, you know it’s a madhouse. The line is always out the door. Today at around noon, I was in line behind a woman who kept checking her phone and doing that bird head thing people do when they’re waiting for someone. We kept getting closer to the door, and I’m sure she was thinking about how to handle it if we got to the counter before her friend got there. Do you step put of line? Order for yourself? Go to the back of the line again? Ah modern life, you are so full of etiquette quandaries.
Just as we crossed the threshold of the restaurant, her friend arrived. Tall guy. Red hair. Jeans, button down shirt. Nice shoes. Like I said, totally normal looking. They greeted each other with kisses, and started chatting about … whatever. I wasn’t really listening. The line continued to move, and then, when they were next to step up the counter and order, she said to him, “Oh! What are we going to have?” They began debating various lettuces and mix-ins, perusing the menu on the wall. A wrap? A custom salad or one of the classics? Which dressing?
Look, I get it. It’s a high stakes game we’re playing in the Chop’t. If you don’t go in with a strategy you can get sucked into the abyss of arugula vs. baby spinach vs. mesclun mix. So I waited patiently for a few minutes, because as a Chop’t master I was willing to give them a little time to get their act together. Finally, when it was pretty clear they weren’t anywhere close to choosing between grilled chicken and bacon, I interrupted them with a friendly, “Hey guys?” They stopped discussing tomatoes and turned to look at me. And I continued, “Would you mind if I scooted ahead of you while you make up your minds?”
Now remember, the line is out the door, there are MANY salad makers waiting, and it is completely acceptable to move ahead at Chop’t if you know what you want and you are behind people who are still looking at the menu and making up their minds. This is not deviant behavior. It is the social norm of make-a-salad culture. In fact, most people don’t even ask, so accepted is this practice.
Apparently, these folks really don’t understand the Chop’t rules, because they lost it. She immediately got huffy and demanded, “WHY WOULD WE LET YOU DO THAT?” I tried to explain that I meant no offense, they just seemed to need a little more time, but of course they should go ahead if they were ready. She was dripping with indignation and overreacting, but I figured it wasn’t worth dealing with. He, on the other hand, went insane. Clenched jaw (I have never actually seen a clenched jaw before, not a look I recommend), hands in fists, red face, leaning forward into my space, and yelling that I was a pushy bitch and I should shut the fuck up.
Salad, people. We’re talking about who gets a salad first.
He scared the hell out of me. And he triggered all my de Becker warning bells. Because this was not the response of a rational human being who was having a bad day. This was the response of a furious, dangerous person who was just looking for an excuse to go off. You ask how I know that. I know because I was there. Because I could read it in his stance, in his smell, in the chemicals coming off him and his dilated pupils, in his twitchy fists. A big part of what de Becker teaches is that your good manners, your unwillingness to trust your gut, your fear of offending the lunatic in front of you, will get you hurt. Sometimes, it will get you killed.
I was about to turn tail and hijack it out of there (no salad for me) when the manager of Chop’t swooped in and asked if I was OK. I informed him that I most certainly was not. Meanwhile, Red’s temper is escalating by the second. At this point, the manager put his arm around me and escorted me to the very front of the salad station, leaving Red and his lady friend to work out their issues. He deposited me at the salad maker closest the the register and asked me what happened. I explained, and he said he’d watch to make sure I got out of the restaurant ok.
I ordered my salad, paid, and got the hell out of there, checking behind me to make sure Red wasn’t following. As soon as I was a block away I burst into tears (I regret nothing).
So I’m fine. My salad was delicious. I have an undying respect and affection for the manager of Chop’t at 17th street. But here’s what’s haunting me: the woman he was with. Yes, she acted like a real bitch, but I can’t help imagining her life. If this is how he rects to a stranger who wants to bypass him on the salad line, how does he react to her when she wants to do anything he deems unacceptable? What would have happened if she’d told him to calm down? What will the rest of her day be like? What’s going to happen to her tonight?
I wish her well, is what I’m trying to say. I hope she’s OK.
But my gut tells me otherwise.