Though I look forward to my volunteer days at the hospital, I am usually completely worn out by the time 5:00 rolls around at work. Once a week, at the end of the workday, I have to give myself a mini pep talk and walk briskly to the hospital. If I'm running late, I hop on a bus in order to have enough time for a quick free volunteer dinner in the cafeteria before reporting to my assignment.
Hospital cafeteria food. Don't those three words just get your taste buds watering? For the first few months, I made do with cheese pizza that had been sitting under a heat lamp for God knows how long. The cheese had morphed into a plastic greasy layer of ickiness. The crust cut the roof of my mouth.
As the pizza began to wear down my esophagus and spirit, I decided to give the veggie burgers a try. To my surprise, my first experience with the veggie burger was pretty good. I was excited to know there was life after pizza.
The next week, I ordered the veggie burger and was told, "There aren't any."
The week after that, I begged for a veggie burger, unable to go back to the pizza. I had to wait for the frozen patty to thaw on the grill, but I had enough time to spare. I brought the cooked burger up to the volunteer office and quickly began to devour it. Are veggie burgers supposed to be crunchy? I didn't think so. Sigh.
For the next few weeks, I experimented with what the cafeteria had to offer. Turkey burgers, chicken fingers, etc. Everything was just "blah." And even if I wanted to go back to the old pizza habit, I couldn't. Pizza was off the menu.
Fast forward to three weeks ago. New menu! Flat bread pizzas made to order! Fresh! Any toppings I desired. Free with my volunteer meal voucher. Yes! Thank you! There is a God!
I stepped up to the counter and excitedly ordered the pizza--requesting mushrooms and pepperoni.
"That will be five minutes," said the teen cook.
I glanced at my watch. "Ok. That's fine," I said. It was 5:30. I would have just enough time to take my pizza upstairs, eat it at a leisurely pace, and report to my assignment by 6.
The cook walked to the back of the kitchen to fetch a piece flat bread. He returned two minutes later with the bread and sloooooooowly smeared tomato sauce across it. Admiring his work, he brought out the cheese from beneath the counter. He sprinkled, sprinkled, sprinkled. Stopped, surveyed the scene. Sprinkled. Stopped. Sprinkled. Stopped. When he seemed pleased with the even distribution of the cheese, he got out the mushrooms and pepperoni. ONE AT A TIME, he applied the pepperonis (not a word, by the way). When about ten pepperoni pieces were resting a top the pizza, he began delicately rearranging them, as though he were an artist of processed meats. I could almost read his mind, "Oh, no. That pepperoni would look much better Over There. Hmm... nope. I was wrong. I think it should go back Over Here."
Lord help me, it was time for the mushrooms. Just as slowly, he arranged the fungus in a way that was aesthetically pleasing to him. Meanwhile, I'm having a coronary because it has been ten minutes and the pizza isn't even in the oven yet. I tapped my foot impatiently, checking my watch again. Finally, he puts the pizza in the very slowly moving conveyor belt pizza oven. I watched it creep approximately one tenth of a millimeter in the next five minutes.
A supervisor sees me standing at the counter and asks if I'm taken care of.
"I'm just waiting for my pizza," I said with a huff.
He went to check on it. "It should just be five more minutes," he said.
"Oh, really?" I said with a frown. "I WAS TOLD IT WOULD BE FIVE MINUTES FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO!" I snapped.
The manager told me the pizza would be half-priced. Wahoo. When the pizza was finally done, I had to wolf it down in order to make it to my assignment on time. This entailed eating boiling hot cheese--burning the skin off the roof of my mouth in the process. But you know what? That pizza was damn good.
So... the next week rolls around and I order the pizza again. Same freaking slow teenager working the counter. I order the pizza... knowing I would soon regret it.
Maybe it is because I worked in two pizza shops in my lifetime and know that you have to CRANK THOSE BABIES OUT FAST if you don't want to lose your mind and get ten orders behind causing you to hyperventilate and apologize to the customers who call five times asking where their pizza is that they ordered an hour ago.
Yes, he took forever to make the damn thing. He even forgot to cut the pizza. But it was not rubbery, greasy, gross cafeteria food, so I dealt with it.
(I swear I'm getting to the point here.) This week I thought I could beat the system. Upon entering the hospital, instead of going to my locker, punching in, and changing my clothes, I went straight to the cafeteria to order my pizza. The teenager was no where in sight. I felt lucky.
When it was my turn to order, I said, "I'll take one pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni. I have to run upstairs, but I'll be back for my pizza."
I ran upstairs to get myself ready for volunteering. I went back to the cafeteria, smiling to myself at how smart I was. I approached the counter, expecting my pizza to be boxed and promptly handed to me upon my arrival. Ha! So naive! So foolish! The pizza was sitting on the counter, naked. My eyes probably bulged out of their sockets. I was in disbelief. My plan was thwarted. Worst of all, it had been ten minutes since I ordered and it still wasn't in the oven.
"You said pepperoni and mushrooms, right?"
The cook, in a familiar fashion, applied the topping ever so gently. Unable to watch the spectacle before me, I excused myself to use the bathroom. When I am back, that pizza better be just about out of the oven, I threatened silently.
I returned from the bathroom ABSOLUTELY UNABLE TO PROCESS THE FACT THAT THE PIZZA STILL SAT UNCOOKED ON THE COUNTER. It had been close to twenty minutes since I ordered it. I watched the cook placing the last toppings on the pizza and said, "You know what? I don't think I have time to wait for this pizza after all."
"Oh? Well, that's okay. I have to make a few more anyhow, so I can just use this one for the next order."
Annoyed at how happy he sounded with my decision to abandon my pizza, I asked, "Well, how much longer do you think it will take?"
YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR EFFING MIND.
I said, "Forget it."
I walked to the nearest counter, grabbed the first thing I saw, which happened to be a turkey wrap. It was room temperature--like it had been sitting out for possibly the entire day. I quickly ate it and hurried to my assignment. Completely pissed off.
Well guess what, folks? I'm pretty damn sure that warm turkey wrap gave me food poisoning. A HOSPITAL cafeteria got me sick. I had to leave work early yesterday as I choked back my need to vomit. Puking in public places? No thank you.
I blame this on The Slowest Cafeteria Cooks In The History Of The World.
(I'll probably order the pizza again next week.)