Why I eat in the cafeteria

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Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editor

 

If you’re a junior or a senior and you still eat in the cafeteria but aren’t a resident of Hotel New Hall, then you’re probably just too lazy to cook. That’s the boat I’m in. Don’t get me wrong, I like to cook. Brisket pot roast, Parker House rolls, carrot cake, split-pea soup, beef stew, pasta with arugula in a tomato-olive sauce—these are some of my favorite things to cook (to varying degrees of success). But I’m not yet at that point of maturity where I can take on the task of cooking a meal twice a day, and even the need for frequent shopping trips seems overwhelming. Hence why I usually eat lunch and dinner in the cafeteria or down at the Rat.

Though laziness is what keeps me on a 10 meal plan, I nevertheless take pleasure in my trips to the cafeteria, mainly because I get to talk with the many wonderful people who work there. It may be only us seniors who remember King, maestro of the omelet grill. I don’t know where he is now—I know his dream was to be a truck driver—but he made a lasting impression on those of us who knew him and ate his creations. Another character of memory is David Alvarez, a philosophy graduate student from California who used to work the grill. He was always very nice at the grill, and I can remember seeing him reading dense books at the tables in the Rat, or else watching the San Francisco Giants during their 2010 World Series run.

The most well-known Aramark worker is certainly Miss Patti, whose full name is as delightful as can be: Patti Light. Miss Patti entered UD with this year’s graduating seniors. Her delicious southern accent and enthusiastic personality make her unforgettable; what’s most remarkable about her is that she manages to keep hundreds of students’ names and faces in her mind at once. It’s not uncommon for Miss Patti to address by name someone who hasn’t eaten in the cafeteria in one or two years.

And she’s so sweet. Last semester she came to Justin Blan’s birthday party in Old Mill and brought a tasty dessert. Also last semester she made me a hot cup of green tea—with honey!—when she found me lingering in the cafeteria long after lunch had ended, studying for a Latin final while under the weather. She saw I wasn’t feeling well and immediately thought to help.

The best Miss Patti story I know has her and her husband running into two UD students at Midori Sushi, on the corner of Northgate and MacArthur. She chatted up the students and told them the best things to order, then came by a few moments later to inform them she was picking up their tab. She wouldn’t hear of not doing it, telling them that she was so happy to be at UD, where students are so polite and kind. I myself can’t imagine UD without Miss Patti; it’s so strange to think that she’s only been here as long as I have.

There are so many wonderful cafeteria people worthy of mention: Juan, the master sandwich-maker; Joannah, who smiles a darn big smile and gives you three individual peas if you say you want “just a little”; Vanessa, the sassy girl down in the Rat who fills my sandwiches thick with pepperoni and salami; Anna, who is normally impenetrably gruff but once blessed me and a few others late one night at dinner with wisdom about never being above work; and Stephanie who is not only very kind, but also pointed me to what is now one of my favorite caffeine sources, the bottled Lipton sweet tea that you’ll find in the refrigerator by the pizza slices in the Rat. Having worked numerous fish fries, I must not forget to mention Sean Doran, who always helps us out with fish, fries and tartar sauce. And Jesse deserves a shout-out too. He’s one of the Aramark chefs, and kindly helped us sort out our breading recipe. (We really didn’t need buttermilk.)

Of all the Aramark workers, however, the one I’m closest to is Cindy, who can be found most days and nights working the sandwich, fruit and salad station. We became friends over egg salad; it may be no exaggeration to say that I’ve ordered hundreds of sandwiches from her over the past two years. There was a long stretch during junior year when I ate egg salad every day, sometimes at two meals, sometimes twice in one meal (and sometimes twice at two meals). I’ve eaten it so many times, both Juan and Cindy know it as my “regular.”

I like Cindy for the same reasons you all should like her. She’s warm and friendly, she’s pleasant to talk with, and she’s good at her job. You should ask her about her grandchildren sometime; maybe she’ll show you pictures of them. (The kids are pretty cute.) I only just learned that Cindy and another great cafeteria lady, Cynthia (Cindy’s real name is also “Cynthia”), have been friends for 25 years. They reconnected only recently, when they bumped into each other at the store and Cynthia told Cindy to come work at UD. I’m sure glad she came.

There are many more great people I’ve met in the cafeteria than I have space to write about. I feel bad, because there are a number whose faces I can see in my head as I write this but whose names I have never learned. I wish to say a public “thank you” to them, as well as to Miss Patti, Cindy and all the other great people I know from the cafeteria.

It really disturbs me how so often UD students rush through meals because they have “work” to do, then constantly distract themselves with texts, e-mails and Facebook while they’re “working.” Would that we were all more present at mealtime and during study time alike. A great many of the cafeteria workers are worth taking the time to be present for. At a place where most people are middle-class or above and are here to earn their first, their second or their third degrees (or are professors, and thus already have a Ph.D.), it’s a refreshing blast of reality to interact with people who are a little more like most Americans, adding a much-needed dose of variety to the homogenous academic environment.

All of this is to say, please appreciate the kind people who work in the cafeteria and at the Rat, and do stop to tell them hello once in a while.

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