For someone who grew up in the Little Karoo, where you only occasionally see a dusting of snow on the Swartberg, winter in Chicago was a nice surprise. The streets were buried under snow. It was 2007. I was enrolled at
Stellenbosch University, doing a postgraduate degree in Geography, and I got the opportunity to do research in the USA for a short period. I had to pay for my excursion, so I decided to spend more time in the States and work there to pay for the trip. Chicago was my first destination and I stayed there for a few months. In the suburb of Edgewater, I found a job at a small pizza restaurant called Barry’s Spot.
Barry’s was owned by a Pakistani man called Adnaan; Angél, the cook, was from Mexico; and the guy behind the till came from Ladismith in the Little Karoo. Only the delivery guy, James, was a born-and-bred American.
The diners were mostly familiar faces who came in every day to place their usual order. I quickly learnt the names of the regulars, except for one old man who walked into the restaurant around noon every day. He was in his 80s and wore a brown overcoat and a tweed deerstalker hat like a uniform. “The usual?” I would ask when he walked in. His usual was an Italian beef sandwich, a baked potato with sour cream and a can of 7 Up.
The first time I served him, he paid about $2 less than he should have paid and walked out singing. The song lyrics had something to do with washing powder. I was completely bewildered, until Adnaan explained: “He doesn’t pay for the baked potato, he sings for it.”
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