Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Pursuit of Perfection

The plastic bag was opened. Groceries were then dropped in until the bag filled. Following this, the bag’s handles were tied into a pseudo-knot. As it was moved to be placed into the shopping cart, a new bag was already opened and awaiting groceries. This process was repeated until all the groceries were off the conveyor belt and inside bags. As soon as the register printed my receipt, the clerk handed it to me with a curt “thank you” before bagging his new client’s bags like I had never existed. Despite purchasing twice the groceries I normally do, I was through the regular checkout faster than the people trying to race through the express lane.

Like a would-be Frank Gilbreth, I tried to recall any wasted motions in the grocery clerk’s method. I could remember none. Had I witnessed a human machine? I could recall at least one place where someone else worked like this: Mike’s grill in Hughes Dining Hall. My thoughts immediately flashed back to my Cornell days.

As we approached the grill, the music from Lite 97 FM playing in the dining hall was drowned out by what was usually an Ugly Duckling or Jurassic Five song booming out of Mike’s stereo. Mike then took our orders. During breakfast, this included pancakes, breakfast burritos, and omelettes among other items. During lunch, there were a variety of grilled subs and sandwiches to choose from, including the eponymously titled Mike’s Melt. When Mike prepared our orders, it was on beat to the music he was playing. Moreover, he could pipeline as many as eight orders through the grill at any given time and knew which order corresponded to which patron.

Efficiency was due in part to Mike’s style. Not unlike the fictional Yev Kasem, Mike demanded perfection from his patrons. Those who mastered the protocol got their orders faster and were eventually awarded with a fist pound from Mike as he handed them their food. Needless to say, the food was amazing, earning Hughes a reputation as the best dining hall on campus and giving restaurants in Collegetown a run for their money.

While I didn’t envy the jobs of either Mike or the clerk, I did envy the way in which each conducted his. If they had not already attained it, each had nearly perfected the process by which he did his job. As venerated as calls to “reach for the stars” sometimes are, I have a revitalized respect for those on a mission to perfect what they can already do.

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4 responses

  1. Krish

    After writing this, I remembered a chapter in Atul Gawande’s
    Complications
    called “The Computer and the Hernia Factory,” which discusses similar issues of striving for perfection in the context of medicine.

    March 2, 2007 at 10:36 am

  2. Lav

    The chocolate chip pancakes were the best that I ever had.

    March 5, 2007 at 2:58 am

  3. Neelam

    Krish, you’ve gone far too long without posting! Please post soon! Or I’ll use another exclamation mark!

    March 8, 2007 at 11:38 pm

  4. Pingback: Conversations with Myself « Dirty Hands

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