Scenes from a deli  NOV 11 2004

Pretty much every day for the last year and a half or so, I stop at the same deli to purchase some orange juice on the way to work. When I first started going, there were two Asian women who operated the cash registers and seeing them churn through customers was like watching a fine ballet or elite athletes at the top of their game. They knew the price of every item in the store, had your change to you almost before you'd paid them, and had everything in a bag in the blink of an eye, all while constantly chattering back and forth in their native tongue and bantering with customers, everything on autopilot. They moved so fast that they could have been picking pockets as well and no one would have noticed.

One morning about nine months ago, I came in to find that one of the two women was gone and had been replaced by another woman who, it seemed, had never worked in such a fast-paced environment. She was sooo slow. Her more experienced counterpart served 4-5 customers in the time it took her to serve one...it was almost painful to observe, like watching me playing Kasporov in chess. I felt bad for her and figured she wouldn't last more than a few days, but the next couple of months saw steady improvement as she learned the job and got used to the routine. However, she was still not as fast as the other woman by at least a factor of two.

All that has changed in the last month. I don't know what happened, but the new woman is now working as fast and efficiently as her partner. And what's more, she has learned my individual habits (no bag or napkin unless I get something to eat and no straw unless it's a carton), something which the other two women had never done despite my daily visit. It's been fun watching her develop into a kick-ass employee and now when I go in, I try to pay at her register if I can.

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