The ever-so-reliable low-tech compass for the directionally challenged (apparently, that's me)

My absolute favorite thing about work is the people I work with. I get to be around some really fantastic people every day that make the hours spent working a great deal of fun. We get a ton of work done and laugh a lot while we’re doing it.

Recently, I and two other women in my department began a regular lunch date. Initially, the idea was to get out once a month in a non-work setting to just visit together. As we talked about it, we decided to take it a step further and try out some of the different ethnic restaurants in the downtown area. There’s a ton of great food to be had downtown – the plan was fool proof. Our first food choice was Thai. My mouth was watering for days before our firsts scheduled lunch just thinking about eating a spicy beef dish – waiting was difficult!

Finally, our first lunch date occurred just before the end of April. Three days after, one of my colleagues quietly and – in an unusual twist for her – timidly approached me to say she really wanted Thai again. The third in our trio was unable to join us that day, but we went and had a good visit together. The food was a bit of a disappointment after our first visit, but I’m certain it was simply an off day. The following week, our absentee colleague wanted to return to the Thai place as well. So, off we went. Our once a month treat was turning into a once a week routine (not that the treat aspect was diminished at all)!

Last week, we talked and decided that we would try Indian next. I was nominated for the task of finding an Indian restaurant to go to that was within a reasonable walking distance. I must admit, this isn’t the type of task that I feel I excel at. I wasn’t really sure where to begin until one day I had an epiphany as I flicked through my iPhone and saw the app, Urban Spoon. Well, duh! Why wouldn’t I use my iPhone for my search – I mean, it’s not that big an exaggeration when they say, “There’s an app for that!”

UrbanSpoon gave me two options – one that was definitely out of lunch hour walking distance range and the other was just around the corner from our favorite Thai place. So, at our scheduled time this afternoon we set out on our quest for Indian food. I confidently led my colleagues down the street and around the corner just past the Thai place where we turned right. We walked all the way to the next intersection and came across a pizza place. It was then that I admitted to the ladies that perhaps I should have looked at the map on my computer rather than my iPhone.

All was not lost, though. We all agreed that we were quite happy to once again enjoy our favorite Thai place. The waitresses are so sweet and, despite it being only our fourth visit, they even remembered our previous orders. Lunch today was so good. Our level of hunger made the food that much better – it was such a relief to finally eat something – and our table got uncharacteristically quiet when the food arrived.

The walk back to the office was shorter and we knew exactly where we were going. The day was gorgeous and our lunch hour was one to lift the spirits. After a rough morning for two of us, we felt energized again to finish off the day.

On arriving back at the office, I immediately went back to the work I left off with before lunch, while unbeknownst to me one of the ladies was looking up the Indian restaurant. She announced to both of us that I had taken them in the wrong direction (that had already been established, so nothing new about that). She informed me that we should have gone left instead of right. Then she said that next time she needs directions, she would rather flip a coin than rely on me.


So, I took a quarter out of my wallet, pulled out my red marker and marked arrows on both sides of the quarter. I walked over to her desk and “flipped” the coin onto her desk. She laughed, picked it up and showed our other colleague her new “compass”.

And THAT is why I love going to work every day.

A Hairrowing Experience

This is not a story for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

Everyone has a personal list – whether mental or actual – of the food places they've heard about or know to be unclean. Many have eaten at these places despite their presence on such a list. Maybe because the food is just that good that it’s worth the risk. Maybe for convenience. Maybe because you forget. Or perhaps you just don’t think the warnings you’ve heard are all that bad.

Working downtown, there are little eateries all over the place. In my building in particular, there’s a little Chinese food place that always has a steady stream of customers. They also have a reputation among my co-workers. In fact, of all the places to eat in our building, the Chinese place is talked about the most. But up until this week, it was vague comments about how people say it’s not clean. My supervisor actually said a number of times that she thought it was pretty good.

At first, I was reluctant to try their food. Particularly since one of my co-workers (who also happens to be Chinese) always scrunched up her face and shook her head whenever we talked about eating there. Then, one day she walked in at lunch hour carrying take out from the infamous and notorious Chinese place. She brushed it off when I asked, but I got the impression that it really wasn’t all that bad after all.

If it was good enough for the Chinese lady, it must be good enough for me! I decided to give it a try. I enjoyed it the first time I went, so I ended up having a once a week Chinese lunch for about three weeks in a row. This week, my Chinese lunch day was Wednesday. Actually, all I really wanted Wednesday was a sandwich. Quick, simple and I could maybe work while I ate or play on my iPhone.

The lineups everywhere were nuts! I think there was a conference or meetings going on nearby because we usually don’t have that many people around. I looked around at all the lunch options and the shortest line was at the Chinese place. Decision made. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for it, but the short line was definitely appealing. I got my food and went upstairs and started to eat while I played a game on my iPhone. So I wasn’t actually paying attention to the food closely.

What was it going to do – jump up and do tricks!?

The chicken balls were overcooked, but they always are – whatever. It still tasted good. Until I took a bite and there was a texture that didn’t fit. I thought – hoped – that it was just a really thin noodle. I discreetly pulled said “noodle” out only to discover it was a lovely 12” long black hair. I have dirty blonde hair, so I had to rule myself out. It wasn’t mine and I discreetly got rid of the food in my mouth. (Then I started trying to avoid losing the food in my stomach. I was really grossed out.)

I packed up the food, marched downstairs to the food court and waited for the line to clear so I could show the woman at the cash what I’d found and ask for my money back. When I showed it to her, she immediately agreed to give me my money back. Then she said something that boggled my mind. It was something like, “Thank you for telling me. So many people eat here and then never come back and I don’t find out why.” (“So many”? Is customer feedback the only way to figure out the problem?)

I went back to work and told my supervisor and co-worker what had happened. When I told them what she’d said, my boss FINALLY admitted to me that she used to eat there every day. She didn’t even have to tell them her order – they just served it up for her. Then something happened. I don’t k now what it was and I don’t want to know. She’s not talking about it anyway. It was bad enough that for over a year now, she’s never been back. She also says she has no intention of ever going back. The Chinese lady decided we all needed to take a vow not to eat there ever again.

I was up for that. And I even got a recommendation for a really good place across the street. I also decided that I’m going to be more trusting of those recommendations people make even when they’re vague. Maybe the story is just not meant to be shared, but knowing they don’t eat there – ever – is always good information to have. In the end, I concluded I'd better start bringing my lunch. At least then I know the reputation of the cook - no one's ever gotten food poisoning from anything I've made. How's that for a five-star reputation!?

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