Last week, I had an early morning meeting at work and decided to stop into one of my favourite little breakfast/ lunch places to grab an egg sandwich beforehand. I was a frequent visitor up until I became a vegetarian and my usual spots for lunch changed slightly. I found myself excited to go back in, get my usual egg sandwich, and see the staff. Though they are always so cheerful and sweet to me, I didn’t expect my face to stand out among the hundreds of other people who wander into their adorable little restaurant each day, but when I walked in, the owner smiled and said “Long time no see!” I walked back to work with my breakfast in tow and a smile on my face. It felt nice to be remembered.
This got me thinking about being a “regular”. Often in Toronto, I feel so closed off from people. I come from a smaller city (at least, smaller in comparison to the nearly 3 million people who live in Toronto) where it is not uncommon to know the first names of a ton of the people who wander into your place of employment. The first time I accidentally bumped into someone I knew in Toronto, I was excited. A familiar face is a little extra spark to the day and I really value familiarity.
I’ve never really been a regular at many places, but always remember when I am. Not surprisingly, the first place I became a regular was my local bookstore. I once watched a YouTube video where a girl talked about how terrible some of the employees at Chapters Indigo were and how they knew almost nothing about the books scattered around the front of the store. I was immediately flushed red, because I grew up with the people who worked in my local Chapters; many of whom still work there today. I moved away from home years ago, but still visit that store whenever I can, and am still greeted by one of the same men who said hi to me every time I went as a teenager. I don’t think I’ve ever told him my name, but whenever he sees me, he smiles and asks how I am. It brightens my day a little.
I also began eating at a little Indian restaurant near my work last year, and ended up going at least once a week. Indian food is perhaps one of my favourite cuisines of all time and I doubt I will ever tire of Dal Palak. Once I had been a few times, the family that runs the restaurant began to recognize me, and before long, I was getting extra samosas stuck into my takeaway container. The owner’s wife was so proud of her homemade Gulab Jamun that she would stuff them into my bag before I walked away, with a smile on her face and say “a treat for you!” I never had the guts to tell her that it was far too sweet for me, so each time she would say “I know how much you love them. I will give you two!” I would smile and thank her, and bring them back for my coworkers to fight over. A few weeks ago, on my way there for my weekly visit, the store was closed. Later that week, I went back to see the fridges empty and a few days later, a sign announcing a new restaurant opening. I felt my heart drop a little. I never even got to tell them how much I looked forward to their hearty meals, or their cheerful conversation.
I feel like being a “regular” closes the gap this city unknowingly puts between us. We can stand side by side on the subway for half an hour and not even look at one another. We can bump into people rushing to our offices during rush hour and not even apologize. We can get snappy when a server takes too long to bring out our meal when we have to get back to the office in a certain amount of time. But how often do we stop to ask how that other person is doing, or how their day has been? My guess is very rarely. I’m a rather cheerful person, and even I throw death glares when someone steps on my feet on the subway, or elbows their way in front of me while walking down the street. But when I walk into that bookstore, or that restaurant and recognition sparks in the staff’s eyes, I get a little jolt of happiness. I’m bridging the gap. And you’ve gotta take the little pleasures in life where you can!