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There's a difference between not knowing where you are and being lost, and there's a difference between being lost and being helpless. Evan was driving. Kellen and Ian were alternately directing and yelling at each others directions. I was lost. Then we hit Market. Kellen swore viciously. Evan turned around back towards the water.

It was the promise of free food that lured me; living on a monthly stipend is embarrassing, and on the generosity of others depressing. At least I have the good graces to be perpetually broke, but my friends seem to want me around anyway. So there I was, sitting down to an aisle seat of your standard Chinese-food-place-lazy-Susan-table (minus the lazy-Susan) in the deceptively tiny Old Mandarin Islamic restaurant.

There's a large flat screen on the wall, menacing us with Chinese variety show dancing and hosts with spectacular hair cuts. A full wall mirror lies to me constantly. The place is almost loud until we almost stop hearing it, but that might be the kitchen through the open door next to our table. I'm okay with it, because the cute waitress wanders through often. So does the other cute waitress.

The matron of the room pulls up a chair, expertly spinning it around to sit open legged, and flips open a pad. She looks expectantly at us.

I fumble my way through my safe order of shrimp and broccoli, chopsticks jutting out rudely, trying not to cheat by skewering, and generally make the sticks and fingers do their best impression of a newly birthed deer. I like my meal. The food is good. Salty. Good. The meal is better though. I take a sip of my water out of a red party cup.

The seat next to me disappears, snatched up by the matron and turned to the table beside ours. She makes small talk with them, this table of four smartly dressed Asian men, and a shabbier, quieter, thumb of a fifth. They chat back, asking such poignant questions as "You look like you lost weight. You have new boyfriend?"

My seat also is commandeered, to some degree, as the first cute waitress leans on the back with both hands. I'd have eyed her more if she wasn't clearly ignoring me completely, and staring over my head at the prancing antics and comedic stylings rendered in beautiful HD.

As the dragon lady walks back to the kitchen she leans in and tells Evan in gestures and broken, but confident, English to put some of the Extremely Hot Pepper into the beef pancake. It might've been suggestive if it hadn't been so commanding.

It takes me a while to realize that they don't really care that we're there. I like that. We leave as they're closing, chair legs to the sky, and vacuums scuttling underfoot. The restaurant is still half full, and it becomes clear that there was almost as much wait staff as customers. Furthermore, they're not really wait staff, so much as friends and family who help out when they feel like it, and chat and watch TV. They don't need us.

Abuse your customers, and they're yours forever.

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