Friday, August 19, 2005

Eavesdropping at the Diner

On Thursdays I work at home. When lunchtime rolled around yesterday, I decided it was time to hit La Cabana for a Tex-Mex fix. After all, when you're stressed and need a strong dose of tranquility, what better than enchiladas? I arrived about 11:30 and settled in a booth and ordered the #2. I soon had my book open, a big glass of iced tea, chips and a perfect batch of salsa. I had beat the lunch crowd from Smithville and was congratulating myself on a good idea for a relaxing meal.

My plate arrived about the same time as three ladies claimed the corner booth just behind me. They were talking emphatically when they got there and they didn't stop the whole time I was there. It became crystal clear within a few sentences that they were ticked off at the boss. Whatever he or she had done to them, they spent their lunchtime discussing strategies for getting their frustrations addressed. I almost laughed. How many lunches have I spent listening to colleagues cussing and discussing aggravations at work? It doesn't matter if you work in the big city or the small city - it's the same all over.

I have a knack for happening into conversations between disgruntled co-workers. I'm always surprised how verbal people will be in front of total strangers. I've been standing at checkout counters, listening to the clerks trashing their supervisor when suddenly it occurs to one of them that I could very well cause them some trouble, if I were to ask to speak to a manager. The look of consternation, followed by a quick apology, always makes me smile. Heck, I've been there myself, I always tell them.

I try not to do my venting in public. At one point in my past, a former co-worker and I were chatting at lunch and I was catching her up on the latest excitements at the office, when I suddenly realized that the folks at the next table worked for our primary competitor. Fortunately I had not said anything derogatory or that would identify where I worked, but the possibility that I could have was unsettling. When I'm out to lunch in Austin, I do try to keep things generic, since you never know if your boss's cousin is at the next table. It seems like everybody in Northwest Hills is related or a friend of or a business associate to everyone else. I started taking a quick scan around when I sit down to see if I know anybody there. (I've spotted wives sitting within ear-shot.) This last caution is definitely hit-or-miss, since I'm horrible at remembering faces. I identify voices, but faces escape me if I don't see them every day.

I was amused yesterday, because I know how they felt. And their secret was safe with me. Sometimes you just have to get it out of your system. I'm sure they went back to the office, still frustrated, but a little less hostile than when they left for lunch. If for no other reason than they were full of quesadillas. A little venting and Tex-Mex. It's a good thing. But be careful to check who is in the next booth.


No comments: