This article first appeared on QuietRev.com
I am terrified of failing the Chipotle guy.
Or any person in the service industry. I want to please them all. But right now it’s Chipotle Guy. I am going to be the best burrito bowl order-er he’s ever experienced. I have to be. Look at me! I’m so efficient. I understand that you, Chipotle Worker, are in a hurry, and I am here to help!
After I wow him, I step sideways down the line, preparing to dazzle the girl posted at the salsa station.
“Mild, medium, and hot.” I chuckle and shrug an apology for wanting all three salsas. “Cheese, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream.”
I nod in support as she dishes up each ingredient. That’s it! Great job! I flash her as many teeth as possible to convey my immense gratitude for her brief stewardship over my burrito bowl and also to let her know that I am a great person who Gets It. She doesn’t look my way, but I am certain she is basking in the warm glow of my appreciative gaze.
They will probably talk about how fabulous I am after I leave.
My need to please people in general is a sickness. My need to please service professionals borders on pathology. I cannot bear the thought of strangers thinking badly of me. Botched ordering would ruin not only my enjoyment of whatever item I am purchasing but likely my entire day. My brain will replay my perceived humiliation on an endless loop until I am certain I can never return to the establishment where the scene of my crime occurred.
I’m not sure exactly when this started, but I suspect it was a reaction to my feisty single mother giving innocent fast food workers The Business for minor infractions, which she presumed were committed with malicious intent to Get One Over On Her. And by God, no one would be getting one over on anyone on her watch.
“Do not drive away from the drive-thru without checking the bag for your order,” she’d remind us at every visit to a drive-thru. “You always get screwed at the drive-thru!”
She would then rifle through our McDonald’s bag while I was having heart failure at the thought of the person behind us wondering why we weren’t pulling away from the window immediately after picking up our order.
“Hey.” Oh, God, I’d think. “HEY! There are barely any fries in this box.” She would tap at the window with her fingernail. “Hey!” She would tell the startled woman behind the window, “I’m paying for fries, and I want fries. There are barely any fries in this box.”
Every time this happened, I would attempt to melt into whatever furniture I was nearest. Her very vocal response—accompanied by alarmingly deadly facial expressions—to receiving the wrong order or being given incorrect change would cause me to stare intensely at the ground while attempting to harness any ESP powers I might have had within my being so that I could mentally telepath an apology to the person my mother was giving her piece of mind to. This mostly involved sayingohgodsorrysorrysorrygodohgodsorry over and over again in my mind.
I hate causing a scene. Bring filet mignon to my table instead of the fish I ordered, and I will spend an endless amount of time agonizing over whether to mention it even though I’m a pescatarian. I once gobbled an entire plate of slimy scallops I was served instead of the shrimp I had ordered because what else was I going to do: tell the waiter he got my order wrong and ruin my night with debilitating anxiety over his certain annoyance? Ha!
If you were the waiter, most likely I would never tell you that you screwed up my order. Even though I probably looked forward to that fish all day and I am now seething inside because you have ruined my night, and maybe even my week, with your stupid filet mignon, I’m fine! Mom would raise hell and likely get the meal comped, but me? This is the best dinner ever! Here’s a 30% tip to prove it!
It’s the same everywhere. Ordering coffee, specifically at Starbucks, fills me with the kind of dread normal folks reserve for delivering eulogies at funerals. I practice my order in my mind over and over again before it’s my turn to say it because I need the barista to know I’m a team player who knows how to order coffee. If she thinks otherwise, my day will be ruined, and I’ll need to go home.
“House blend. Venti,” I tell Starbucks Girl in a slow, clear manner. She asks me something at the same moment a blender behind the counter roars to life.
“Say that again?”
“Broom for me, Sugar?”
Oh, God. What is she asking me?
“Sorry, I can’t hear you.” I point to my ear dramatically in the universal sign for I can’t hear you. She looks annoyed. She’s so annoyed! I should leave.
“ROOM. FOR. CREAM. AND. SUGAR?” she enunciates as if I’m elderly and going deaf.
It’s ruined. My coffee is ruined. I hate everything. I want to go home.
Ordering alcohol at a bar? Mixed drinks are out. Don’t know enough about them to order proficiently. I don’t want to be the annoying customer asking, “What’s in a Blue Hawaiian?” or “What kind of liquor goes in a Cosmo?” I stick with beer because it seems easier, but beer is stressful too! You think beer is beer, but no. Is Pilsner the dark one or the light? Wait, what? Pilsner is a pale lager? And Pale Ale is an…ale? What does that even mean? What’s the difference between ale and lager? Are they the same if they’re both pale? Do you have Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can?
In the meantime, going to Chipotle has turned from a source of pride in my ordering abilities to a source of anxiety. Why? Because my editor recommended I mess up an order at Chipotle so I could really dig into this piece and fully articulate my ordering anxiety. “Really make a mess of things!” she instructed me, obviously without regard for my sanity. “Forget what you were ordering. Change your mind halfway through!” read her cheerful email. I could feel sweat prickling my armpits.
I’ve been to Chipotle twice since she sent that email. Both times, I spent the drive pumping myself up and then stood in line, sweating straight through my hoodie, telling myself to mess up my order because Alice told me to. And what’s the big deal anyway? It’s writing research. I’m a social anxiety journalist on the frontlines. I’m getting paid to ruin my order. I’d take notes, really focus on my reaction, and nail it. Social anxiety sufferers would cheer—silently, of course—at my brilliant articulation of our affliction.
I couldn’t do it.
I absolutely could not force myself to mess up my order that first visit. I spent the subsequent week stressing out and then, finally, returning to Chipotle for a second attempt. Trying to force myself to mess up my order on purpose (which I couldn’t do the second time either), while anticipating Chipotle Guy’s annoyed reaction, was so torturous that I ended up feeling more traumatized than I would’ve been had I legitimately screwed up the order. Now that I think about it, maybe that was her plan all along. THANKS FOR DESTROYING MY DELICATE CHIPOTLE EQUILIBRIUM, ALICE.
Anybody know where I can get a burrito bowl?