Tuck In!

Exactly how to order a sandwich in Oxford:

1. Study hard (or hardly study) at the library all morning. Bike to the throbbing heart that is the Alternative Tuck Shop on Holywell Street. Squeeze through the doors as customers simultaneously fight their way out, clutching prized sandwiches wrapped in white paper.

2. Return the cashier’s friendly greeting (“All right there madam?”) with a shy “hi” and queue up. Stare at the array of ingredients, arranged like ice cream flavors behind glass windows. Examine the menu, despite knowing what you will order. Finger the exact change in your pocket. Order: Mexican Tortilla Wrap (be excited: it’s the closest thing to Mexican food around).

3. Watch and wait. Ponder the lives of the sandwich-making men: where are they from? Do they make sandwiches for their lovers? Their fast flying hands flawlessly flip panini, cappuccinos, bagels, and money past a long row of salivating customers. They are friendly machines, taking three and four orders at a time, barely glancing at their hands, full smiles all day.

4. Move up in line towards the register. Entertain the idea of ordering a strawberry jam doughnut as you amble past them. Reject the idea. Pay 2.65. Mourn decision to forgo jam doughnut. Peek out of the closet-sized shop and watch patrons add themselves to the long queue, ready to beg for double espressos or a quick lunch munch.

5. Confirm your order as the cashier doles out fresh-ready sandwiches. “Mexican Tortilla Wrap? Extra jalepenos? (pronounced tortilla, not tortiya; jalepeno, not halepeno). Delight in his peculiar accent. It is as if his voice has absorbed the many spices and ingredients surrounding him. Stare at the dessert display case–cranberry white chocolate muffins, flapjacks, walnut brownies, pecan pie slices.

6. Struggle out of the store on cue: “That’s great, madam. Cheers.” Walk approximately half a block to Holywell Music Hall. Sit on the grass, unwrap and enjoy. Stew in bittersweet homesickness for Mexican food (even the poorly executed American kind).

7. Repeat as necessary. Become an embarrassingly regular customer. Wave back to the cashier when he spots you strolling past.