Feeling hungry, I threw on my coat and walked to the Subway in the strip mall next door. (Because if you know anything about the county where my place of employment is, strip malls outnumber regular malls by at least a 10-to-1 margin, and probably more. But I digress.)
It's a trip I've made hundreds of times; it's the only place within walking distance where I can get a decent meal. The Dairy Queen is closer, but I'm fat enough already.
When I walked in today, there was one person eating inside the restaurant. Granted, it was like 2 p.m. - not exactly lunch hour or dinnertime. But I walked in and was waited on immediately - and was taken by a sudden feeling of sadness.
This very same Subway, once upon a time, kicked ass. If you can imagine a sandwich shop being cool, this place was.
At the time, it was owned by a Filippino dude that was our age or not much older. He was always working behind the counter along with a high-school aged kid. Random other workers were there too, but those were the guys that I remember.
Both of them were great. Often, a group of us from the sports department would walk over and they'd always remember us and what we wanted. We shared a great deal of chit-chat with them too.
Sometimes it was hard to hear them, though - they had the radio cranked up with one of DC's better stations. It was top-40, not the adult contemporary that can often be sleep-inducing.
And the place, especially around lunch time, was packed. Like no seats available packed - and this has a bit more seating than many of the Subways I've seen.
All of that added up to a certain ambience about the place. It felt like a real gathering place for a lot of people, something that's quite rare among chain restaurants (particularly a place like Subway). But it was awesome to see, and we became regulars because of it.
Then, one day, the owner told us he was moving back to the Phillipines and selling the Subway. We held out hope that the cool-ass Subway wouldn't change its ways, but it didn't happen. Some Middle Eastern folks took over the place and while I've not had a bad experience with them, it's not the same.
They've gotten better. At first, they played Muzak, but at least they have different music now (adult contemporary, of course). And though I can't ever really know, I can't imagine that business is anywhere near what it once was.
As evidenced by the two customers I saw today.
Back when, I would have had to wait in line. And I would have been happy to do so.