The power of observation.


I have to admit, that at the best of times, I’m not a very observant person. I’ve been known to walk right by people I know and not notice them, and on more than one occasion I have boarded the wrong transit bus and not realised it until I had travelled a great distance in the wrong direction.

This is particularly bad during my morning commute and walk to work. The bus drops me off (assuming that I’ve boarded the right one) a few blocks away from my work place at the entrance of an underground mall. Every morning (when I’m working mornings), I walk to work through this mall amidst the rest of the Winnipeg unobservant morning workforce, bouncing off of each other and buying our triple sized double fat pumpkin spiced caramel macchiatos, which will give us boundless energy for about 10 minutes, and then a dizzying crash back into morning doldrums.

It’s like that all the way to work, walking mindlessly with my $8 sugar coffee mixture, trying to wake up, occasionally hearing someone I don’t recognise say “Hey JBJ, how’s it going? Who am I? I’m your boss you idiot! And you’re late for work!”

A while back, I was having a better morning than usual and was walking with my eyes forward, and something out of the ordinary happened. I noticed something. It was a sign on the wall that was announcing a new breakfast and lunch buffet that was “opening soon”. I remember thinking “hmm, that could be good, I’ll have to watch for when it opens… soon”

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Now it should be noted that I live in Winnipeg, and the word “soon” is a rather vague description of time. I think that “soon” depends on the perspective that it is used in. If I say, as a forty five year old man, that I will be fifty soon, those five years represent a rather short period of time from my perspective. But if you told a three year old child that she would be eight years old soon, you would be wrong, because from her perspective, five years is FOREVER!

When hearing “your food will be here soon” from a server in a restaurant, or “the doctor will see you soon” in a waiting room, these are arbitrary measurements in time, and could be anywhere from ten minutes to four hours, depending on the restaurant or the doctor.

Construction in Winnipeg, whether it be a human rights museum, a football stadium, a bridge, or a restaurant opening, uses the difference between the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras as a measurement in time, so by those standards, four or five years is a short period, so things in Winnipeg are indeed built “soon”.

And so it went for the next few years, I would walk like a zombie with a cup of caffeinated sugar cream, and walk past the sign proclaiming that a breakfast and lunch buffet would open “soon”.

Then one morning, years later, the sign was gone. It took me a few minutes to notice that it wasn’t there anymore, and I think the only reason I noticed was because of the two juggling clowns and the dude with a megaphone screaming “Lunch and Breakfast buffet! Hooray Hooray!” that happened to be in my way. Instead of the “opening soon” sign, there was a large “Now Open” banner above an open glass door.

Even though the word “now” is also a vague unit of time in Winnipeg, I took the chance and ventured in to examine the consumables.

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Inside, I was greeted by a gleaming new cafe with a buffet on one side and a short order counter on the other, complete with a brand new grill and some ovens. A half dozen cooks were busy behind the counter, chopping and mixing and baking and cooking.

Above the counter were two giant LCD screens that flashed the short order breakfast menu complete with pictures and prices on one screen, and a sandwich lunch menu on the other. There were omelets and pancakes and breakfast meats and bagels and cheese toast on the breakfast menu, and Greek sandwiches, western sandwiches, classic sandwiches and grilled cheese sandwiches on the other screen.

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Because it was all new and gleaming, and I’d just finished my hot sugar pumpkin latte thing, my powers of observation were at heightened state, and I noticed something… again. So I approached the counter and engaged the smiling cook.

“What comes with the grilled cheese sandwich?”

“Nothing, it’s à la carte.”

“How is it made?”

“We take two pieces of bread, put a slice of cheddar between them, and toast them on that grill. You can add some bacon to it if you like.”

“Uh huh, and that’s $3.17?”

“Yup.”

I looked at the menu a little longer, and he went back to chopping and mixing. After a while I asked a different cook.

“How do you make the cheese toast?”

“Well, we take a couple of pieces of bread and put them on the grill and then put a slice of cheddar over each of them until it’s all melted.”

“Uh huh, and that’s $2.34?”

“Yup.”

“And that can be any type of bread?”

“Ya, we can even do it on a bagel or an english muffin if you’d like.”

“Ok, I’ll have an order of rye cheese toast with a large double caramel chocolate latte.”

The cook threw the bread slices on the grill and draped a generous slice of cheddar over each piece. Then she put the two slices on a plate while someone sugared up my coffee.

“That’ll be $5.35, with tax.”

I paid her, and then took the two pieces of cheese toast and smooshed them together, essentially making a grilled cheese sandwich with double cheese. The cook gave me a knowing look as I walked away amidst a gaggle of other customers ordering: “I’ll have the cheese toast too” “So will I” “I want two orders!”

The next day, in my usual unobservant daze, I stumbled into the cafe again to maybe try one of the omelets, and a small sign was taped to the glass that said “cheese toast will no longer be available”, and a big advertisement on one of the screens that said “Introducing our new open faced grilled cheese sandwich with double the cheese, only $4.50”.

“Hmmm, that sounds good,” I thought, “I’ll have to try it sometime”.

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4 thoughts on “The power of observation.

  1. The food scene in Winnipeg sounds most threatening:double fat pumpkin spice macchiato indeed! That will certainly numb your sense of observation. Try a “cortadito” next time: double espresso with a cloud of milk, it should help keep you away from inadvertently going for ovepriced cheese toasts.

  2. Beverley Covert says:

    Yep, I know that place. Took me awhile to recognize that there was now a restaurant there. Expensive too….

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