12.10.07

Bon appetit.

I can't believe I haven't mentioned the cafeteria yet. All my stories about not working for the military, and I forget to mention the food? Incroyable.

Actually, that's because it was pretty good for the first few months. Perhaps it was the sign up front that did the trick -- one can't help but have their expectations appropriately lowered when they walk into a cafeteria/greasy spoon that's been subcontracted to Pizza Hut. It wasn't what you'd expect, though -- the salads were fresh, the most popular breakfast was a plate of toast and eggs, and the poutine was top quality (if a mite salty). Even the pizza was pretty good (compared to other Pizza Huts, anyway). Add a suitable selection of coffee, and you've got a pretty good place for a coffee break. Sure, everyone called it the "Gag-n-Puke", but it was always hard to find a seat.

And then, one spring day, the sky darkened, and when we opened our eyes, all pizzas were half-price. The cafeteria rights had been sold to another food services contractor. No one was too concerned, though -- none of the staff would be fired, it would be something new, and if Pizza Hut couldn't screw it up, it would be hard for the newcomers to do worse.

Hard -- but not impossible.

The first day the doors opened under new management, I took my coffee break a few minutes early to explore the place before the rush. Have you ever seen the movie "True Grit"? Okay, now imagine if it starred a leathery, one-eyed Willy Wonka. You've just met the new subcontractor.

Aisle upon aisle of bubble gum, candy, and potato chips. An extra refrigerator full of bottled soft drinks. And no less than seven beef jerky displays. And I don't mean "seven shelf locations", I mean seven full carousels between the door and the cash register. And that's not even including the pepperoni sticks in the cooler where the salads used to be. The kitchen was still operating, but at least half the menu had disappeared. I don't claim to be a healthy eater, but even I could tell this was a poor substitute for an actual dinner.

But this wasn't dinner; this was a coffee break. You can't ruin coffee, right? No -- but you can keep it exactly the same, and raise its price by a dollar. I have a feeling that this was the final straw for most people. If they'd just put a little foam and a cinnamon sprinkle on each one, they might have gotten away with it, but they'd already missed their chance to be clever. It wasn't really a boycott... it was more like an awakening, as every last person at work suddenly realised that they had an old coffee maker at home that they could bring to the office. The cafeteria is still there, but it's considerably quieter. Also, in honour of its newfound love for preserved meats, we renamed the "Gag-n-Puke" to the "Puke-n-Jerk". Or "Jerk-n-Puke"; we're still not sure which one is more appropriate.

This sad story brings us to yesterday's events. MJ and I were getting ready to go for our coffee break.

"Denton -- Are you having hot chocolate today?"

"I don't know. I was thinking of just filling my bottle at the water fountain, actually."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"What? Why?"

MJ smiled, and held up a marshmallow.

There was a long and winding path leading up to that moment. It was worth it.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.