CompUSA sucks, Kwik Meal rules.

A little background – as a kid living in Dallas when Dad brought home the family’s first IBM-compatible PC, a Hyundai (!) 286, I was enthralled by visits to the enormous Soft Warehouse for what seemed at the time like the neatest gadgets ever (pretty sure that’s where we bought our first mouse, and our first Sony Trinitron VGA monitor…the list goes on).  Soft Warehouse, which later became CompUSA, is probably my earliest retail memory, in fact – considering that the first retail store in the chain was founded in 1985 in Dallas, around the same time as our first PC arrived, I’d say that I’ve grown up alongside the chain, missing it dearly when (from 1989-1997-ish), it didn’t exist in the Salt Lake City area.

Now flash forward to 8th Avenue and 57th St – this wretched CompUSA “superstore” may well be my roommate’s least favorite place in the universe, and it’s rapidly becoming mine.  Over several visits, we have been struck by the general incompetence of the staff – from walking around with their heads down to discourage customer interruptions, to not knowing where things are stocked (okay, I don’t blame them for this – there are at least three separate aisles where USB cables are stocked in great variety, for instance), but the incompetence of management is probably the most important factor.

I was going in to buy a Serial ATA power adapter – they haven’t changed the good old Molex power connector in 25 years, until roughly 10 minutes before I bought a new hard drive last week.  Lovely.  Newegg.com, who are usually swell, didn’t seem to even mention this, so it’s probably my fault for not paying closer attention.  Regardless, I now needed an adapter, and my first stop (J&R at Park Row) brought me no closer.

After gritting my teeth, I grabbed the C train uptown (the wait at Broadway-Nassau redeemed slightly by a bassist and saxophonist playing “Lickin’ Stick” by James Brown and “Stoned Out Of My Mind” by the Chi-Lites – pretty sure I was the only person on the platform who knew the second one).  Once inside CompUSA, I looked around for a few minutes before flagging a red-shirted customer service guy, who seemed to me mostly disposed to cower in the corner.  He didn’t shirk me, thankfully, though he wasn’t knowledgeable in the subject field, and led me to a manager, who pointed me to the places I had already looked.  Strike one.

He then paged the section’s manager, who didn’t appear, and wandered off promising to send him my way.  He did, about fifteen minutes later, but probably for an unrelated reason – head down, checking out his “list,” he charged into the back, and would have charged back into the store’s depths if not for me nearly clotheslining him and asking him.

It brought me no satisfaction – the answer?  “We’re out.”  Strike two.

At that point, I had identified two alternate options, both of which were expensive but offered the prospect that I could begin to use my new hard drive immediately – a new power supply with the proper connectors (cost: $60), or an adapter card (cost: $50) which included the proper cable.  Did I mention that the prices I just quoted are close to 50% higher than the online retail price?

I have to admit, I almost talked myself into the power supply – and some DVD+R-DL media as well – but when I got to the front end, though, the line was six people deep, and the sole cashier was wandering around attempting to find someone to answer a question for her.  From previous retail experience, I know this means that the manager has failed to respond to a page, because cashiers in any setting are taught not to leave the customer at the register alone (for security reasons as well as customer service ones).

Strike three.  I ditched the nearly $100 in merch and walked out, swearing that this would be the end of my long relationship with CompUSA.  Long live internet retail.

What does this have to do with food, you ask?  Well, I met my roommate and some of his co-workers at a nearby bar, drowned my sorrows in a beer, and set off in the direction of the mid-Manhattan Library (he had to return a book).  When I mentioned that a street vendor using Kingsford charcoal nearly made me buy a spontaneous kebab dinner, he suggested that we find the Kwik Meal cart, on the corner of 45th St. and 6th Ave. – the guy made famous by his half-zillion media appearances, because network morning shows get most of their story ideas by staring out the window.
Culinarily, I have to say that his fame is well-justified, though – his absurdly clean cart produces one of the finest lamb sandwiches this side of Kings Highway.  When you order (“The lamb’s the big seller,” says my roommate, who works nearby enough to know), the strangest smell starts to waft from inside the cart – butter!  That’s right – a cart actually using butter instead of oil to cook something.  Strange, no?

While we waited, I translated what I think must be the most hilariously random review clip I’ve ever seen posted – a review from Kurier, which is, in a sense, the Daily News of Austria, was posted on the side of the cart.  I discovered that my slow German translation skills haven’t eroded much (though I was stumped by the word “Ingwer,” which is ginger), and my anticipation for the meal was only deepened with knowing that, according to Kurier, “for many New Yorkers, [45th and 6th] is the most important corner of the city.”  Huh?  They liked the lamb, though.

More inspiring was the chef’s quote in a New York Times review (I’m paraphrasing slightly from memory – the article is behind a Times Select wall): “I get to make the food I want the way I want, nobody yells at me, and I get to spend the evening at home with my family.  God bless America.”  It’s the culinary version of an inspiring end-of-Rocky-IV-style speech.  Needless to say, we were psyched.

The lamb with pita was excellent.  Buttery pita with tender, flavorful lamb, and just the right amount of veggies and a flavorful (some might say spicy – it wasn’t extremely so) sauce, it more than made up for the lost hours of my life in search of computer parts.  At $5.75, on the expensive end of cart food, but on the far-low end of the restaurant price range – and this food tasted like it was made at a good restaurant.

Such was the yin and yang of yesterday evening: I may never have that hour of my life back again, but I’ll always know to stop by the Kwik Meal cart.

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1 Comment

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One response to “CompUSA sucks, Kwik Meal rules.

  1. Anonymous

    I am sucking down the remains of my lamb pita as I type. By far the BEST lunch for the price (maybe for any price) in this area of town. Last time I came by the cart there was a line of about 4 people, so I decided to save it for another day. That won’t be happening again. I’m hooked. It’s worth a few minutes wait.

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