Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ode to the Snack Man

The highlight of most days comes at around 10:30 when the man in the little white van rolls into the parking lot. He beeps his musical horn and we all filter out from our respective buildings every morning. This is how it's been for a long time now, it's as much part of the work routine as morning coffee, mostly because he provides the coffee.

The story of the Snack-Man is a long one. He’s changed names, vans, products, prices and times throughout these 5 years.

When I started working for the company the Snack Van was new, and called the Snack Van. The company had only been in the building for three months or so and the Snack Van territory was yet un-defined. It was doomed to failure for several reasons, the Van itself was clearly not going to last much longer. It smoked and struggled to power the kitchen machinery on the back. It turned up around 1pm every day for a few months. I heard several people say to him that he’d do much better if he arrived around 10am but he didn’t seem to take any notice. We were clearly the 1pm stop on his route and that’s where we were staying.

Then one morning, another Snack Van arrived. This one, driven by a woman, appeared one morning at around 10am. We were amazed at the quality of service and selection of products that this mystery van offered, and the 10am arrival was much more convenient.

This went on for several weeks. The 10am Van arrived then the 1pm van arrived. There was a very obvious imbalance in the business, the 10am van got nearly everyone where the 1pm van got only those who were in meetings when the 10am van came. Until one day when the 1pm van became the 9:45am van. We were aghast, the 1pm van not only arrived before the 10am. Needless to say that day and the following week the 10am van saw a significant drop in business. Even her most loyal customers stopped going out when she beaconed her horn. Something had to be done.

I’ll never forget that Monday morning, the 9:45 van arrived right on schedule he beeped his horn and we readied our change but no one could believe their eyes when the 10am van rolled in right behind. Never before have I seen such confusion. What could we do? How could any of us go out there and pick a van with the other van right there watching. They were forcing us to choose sides. Several of my colleagues stayed indoors, one visited both, 9:45 for his sandwich and 10 for coffee, one actually hid in the back room until they were gone.

It carried on like this for about a week. Both vans turned up at the same time and everyone stayed inside. The following Monday, only the 10am van arrived, the 9:45 van had admitted defeat. The turf war was over and we could have our snacks again.

Other snack vans have tried to push in over the years, but none of them had stuck at it very long. We all remained loyal to her as she had won our custom fair and square.
But eventually the snack van’s reliability began to falter. Some morning’s she was completely out stock, the coffee machine regularly wasn’t working and sometimes she just wouldn’t show up at all. We began to lose faith, business slowed, we started brining our own snacks and lunches. Eventually she stopped coming around all together. We’d lost our snack van.

Then the Snack Man arrived. I remember seeing the new white van drive into the parking lot, the company name Benjy’s and ‘Like a picnic basket, only bigger’ printed in green on the side. It had Ferrari like doors that opened sideways and a huge coffee machine on the back. What sold me was the musical horn. As we cautiously approached the Snack Man smiled and said ‘Welcome to my shop, everything is half price today.’ Hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, cakes, cookies, candy bars, a section of coffee, he had everything and was 10p cheaper. For a short time Snack Man even catered our morning meetings. The Snack Man had revived our appetite for work-time snacking. So happy were we with him that we even gave him the official name of Snack Man.

Benjy’s was a catering franchise and had a legion of snack men. Every now and again the attending snack man would change in a Dr. Who like metamorphosis.
First we had Snack Man. Then we had Snack Ma’am, a blond Canadian woman who seemed to always be having trouble with something breaking on the van. Then there was Happy Snack, a particularly miserable looking snack man that only spoke in low tones but somehow always had your change ready in his hand. Then we had Scrappy Snack. He was a 16 year old boy who was obviously new to the snack van business. At first he turned up with Snack Man or Snack Ma’am but eventually earned his wings and starting coming on his own. Then we had El Snacko. He, as you can probably tell by the name was a snack man of Spanish decent. He traded with Scrappy Snack for almost a year. Then Benjy’s went out of business and Snack Man disappears for a couple of weeks, we were devastated.

After a couple of weeks or having to resort to the orange snack van at attended a neighbouring building for a short time, Snack Man knocked on our door and told us that he’d purchased the snack van and would resume service again the following Monday. He arrived as promised that Monday in the Benjy’s van, the green print on the side had mostly, but not completely, been scrubbed off.

Snack Man has been with us in this tense for probably 2 years now. During that time there have been many more changes. He’s had 4 different vans, several new horns and has had to raise his prices, but we’ve stuck with him. Every morning we hear his latest horn announce his arrival and evacuate the building to purchase our snacks, it’s become something of a ritual for many of us, myself especially.

Every morning around 10am I often regularly start pounding my desk and sternly asking, ‘Where’s the snack man?’ whether or not I intend to purchase anything from him. It’s a big part of my morning, it’s how I know it’s 10:30 and that my morning is half over. It’s my excuse to get out of a meeting for a few minutes, or the reason I have to call a customer back.

Now with the office closing in just 10 weeks we’ve all wondered about the snack man. Some of the neighbouring buildings give him patronage but we’re easily the majority of his business in this area. Is the Snack Man going to be able to cope without us? Are those of us that are staying on for a few more months going to be able to cope without him? He’s our source of conversation, argument and reflection. The Snack Man is the best part of our morning.