I was working in what’s known in Chicagoland as a greasy spoon diner. The food was good quality and the owners and cooks cared. I was proud to serve everyone who came in. It was a small place, with about twenty booths, and a counter. From the kitchen back and center, the cooks could see everything, and everyone could see them. Booths seating four wrapped the perimeter, and a bank of two tops filled the center. The round in the corner sat eight. The floor was a racetrack, and the service area behind the counter was where we picked up food from the pass made salads, got drinks, and served the singles at the counter, all in plain sight. Everyone in the entire place could see their food hit the pass when the cook yelled “pickup!”.
On this day, I started my shift at 4. Two other waitresses usually worked on shift with me. Today, one was sick so there were just two of us. It was a slow day, so the owner let the other girl go early.
I was serving the specials and burgers to the people who filtered in. Then, a storm blew in. A raging storm, and for some reason, people pulled in to get off the street. We were near a major intersection, and parking was easy. New customers and old settled into the brownish naugahyde benches and warm food smells. The wet coats and umbrellas dripping from the rack at the entrance lent moisture to the dry air, and those errant globules of wetness fused with fat-laden steamy ones wafting from the kitchen. My movements carried them invisibly in my wake throughout the restaurant. Expectant faces turned towards me and in so doing exposed their vulnerable nasal membranes and caught the full onslaught of the flavor-laden globules which went straight to their brains. They were smitten, all they could do now was wait their turn.
These rich globules must have gotten loose somehow, and gained the traction and power to move into the higher spheres because people responded and kept coming. The diner was full.
“Andie! Pickup! Spaghetti, Meatloaf”
“Andie! Pickup! Hamburger, Cheeseburger”
Every time I made one salad, I set up six more on the shelf to go. Every time I refilled coffee, I brewed two fresh full pots, carried both, and refilled empty and partially empty cups. Watered the same way. The dregs were served at the counter, with no wasted steps. When I served food, I stayed on the racetrack and gathered the empties to drop into the bus bins under the counter, pivoting to catch the next full plates from the pass.
Then it happened. Someone ordered fried chicken.
“Andie! Pickup Chicken, meatloaf!”
“Andie! pickup chicken, cheeseburger!”
Fried anything is good. Fried chicken is irresistible. Add the announcement, coupled with plates piled high with three big pieces, a glob of creamy mashed potatoes with a well of gravy in the middle, more dribbling down the sides of the crater into a side of corn. Three plates stacked on my left arm, one in my right, moving within inches past these greedy noses quivering in my wake…
“Andie pickup! Chicken, chicken!”
“Andie pickup! Chicken, chicken, chicken, meatloaf!”
I moved to my rhythm, I wasn’t frenzied, I was methodical and quick. My eyes scanned the room, aware of the liquid levels in every cup and glass. Dropping extra napkins when the first pieces of chicken were eaten. I could anticipate every whim and respond before an arm was raised or a word was spoken. It was magic. I was in sync with the room and the cook. No other wait staff to get in my way, steal the salads I had set up, or steal the fresh pot I had just brewed.
We went through a week’s supply of chicken that night. I smelled like chicken, my car the next day smelled like chicken. That night was the perfect storm of olfactory and sensory overload, how easily are we manipulated through our senses.
If you’ve ever been in the flow, you get it. If not, I hope you will. It’s like reaching cruising altitude and things just flow and it’s effortless. It can happen at any time with anything and anybody. This time, I achieved the unbelievable and surprised myself, and gained concrete proof that the flow state is not my imagination. I also gained immense respect for the power of fried chicken.
I would experience these flow states on occasion and many years later, when I was doing more creative design work I came across this work, by a fellow Hungarian who explained it perfectly.
Worth a read:
“Csikszentmihalyi arrives at an insight that many of us can intuitively grasp, despite our insistent (and culturally supported) denial of this truth. That is, it is not what happens to us that determines our happiness, but the manner in which we make sense of that reality. . . . The manner in which Csikszentmihalyi integrates research on consciousness, personal psychology and spirituality is illuminating.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
The bestselling classic that holds the key to unlocking meaning, creativity, peak performance, and true happiness.
Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and total involvement with life. In this new edition of his groundbreaking classic work, Csikszentmihalyi (“the leading researcher into ‘flow states’” —Newsweek) demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness, unlock our potential, and greatly improve the quality of our lives.