Here, or To Go?

Written By

Haimanti Banerjee

Here or to go-04 Loading


It was 2004. I had just started my PhD at Michigan State.  I am a product of a very middle class ‘Bangali’ upbringing, whose eating out usually meant Tangra Chinese or the much awaited trip to classical offerings of ‘Mocambo’ or ‘Peter Cat’ (my perception pre-dates malls and City centers of Kolkata)  once or twice a year and the quintessentially opulent Kolkata biryani. In those days, words like ‘sushi spaghetti sauerkraut’ were definitely not a part of my life.

Now, being a graduate student meant you had a severely limited budget. I was reliably informed that a Subway sandwich; which was a foot long, and cost less than $5; existed. And that, to make things more satisfactorily mathematical, two 6-inch meals could be made out of it. So there I happily was, standing in line at the food court during a very busy lunch hour. As I got nearer to the counter, I started seeing a multitude of things listed on the board. Already feeling a tad bit lost, I stepped up for my turn.

Not being particularly accustomed to the (African-) American accent, the first question from the girl waiting to serve me threw me into a spin: “Here or to go?”. She had already repeated it thrice to my blank face when I finally came up with a feeble, “I want to eat a sandwich.”

She rolled her eyes, (duh! you’re at a sandwich store.) and then asked, “What kind of bread?”. I saw rolls of bread on different trays, but I only managed to read one legible word. I stammered: “Italian”. I tried to re-iterate at that point that all I wanted was a simple chicken sandwich before any other question derailed me. But the gods were definitely laughing. It came very fast: “What kind of cheese?” “Do you want it toasted?” “What kind of chicken?”.

The time taken to decipher three questions had already led to a proportionately growing queue behind me and even greater embarrassment. I looked at all those piles of cheese, vegetable, and meat; and saw defeat staring back. I walked away from the food court that day with burning red ears and humiliation pervading every inch of my soul.

I had failed.

It was probably two more days before I appreciated the fact that since I could comprehend a lecture on Ramsey-Cass-Koopmans Model, I just might not be all that dumb. In real life, building courage takes time. Three weeks later, I was back at the food court. I had carefully strategized and chosen Friday late lunch hour so that the queues would not be long. As luck would have it, I was standing behind a guy whose English I understood perfectly. I listened in with more attention than ever — taking mental notes. He ordered an ‘oven roasted chicken’ on Italian Herb bread, added American cheese, all veggies except the pickle, ranch dressing and most importantly wanted it ‘to go’. For a moment, my Indian sensibility questioned what  a pickle was doing in a sandwich, but I did not digress.

Needless to say, my order was perfection! I ate it straight for six months — no questions, no changes.




Haimanti Banerjee is a member of faculty in the Economics department of a well-known university in the USA. She has mixed emotions about teaching. Haimanti loves reading and talking about what she reads. It has been noted by her colleagues that she is adept at making connections to food through very tenuous links.

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