The Dirty Life and Times of a Subway Sandwich Artist

eat fresh or something

By Travis Andrews

Sometimes, like now on one of my elusively precious Marlboro breaks, I tremble at what I’ve become.

I cringe at the thought of this truth, but, I must face it.

Life as an artist is never easy. I knew from the moment I graduated as an up-and-comer that I had my fair share of battles to fight in the defense of my art.

It’s difficult when no one will accept your creative input, but everyone must suffer through this at first. Compromise is the name of the game. I suggest a breadless sandwich and, after months of bureaucratic infighting while trying to get my grant, someone hands down the wrap, a dismal imitation of my work if there ever was one.

But all dreams must die.

After my attempt to start a renaissance by mixing Swiss cheese and pepper jack on a Veggie Delight ended in such metaphorical bloodshed, let’s just say I don’t know if I can tread on through these harsh jungles.

My manager made it clear he didn’t think so when he took away my supply of meat and bread and stuck me on—oh, I’ll just say it, because what artist hasn’t had his low points?—toasting duty.

At least put me on the cash register, Mr. Gomez! Take my art away, but don’t mock it.

After that incident, I’ve started to wonder what I’ve become.

Lettuce and tomato. Onions and bell peppers. Salt and pepper.

I still mix it up from time to time. It’s just in my blood. Put the tomato on before the lettuce. But the look of horror in the benefactor’s face makes me “right” my “wrong.”

They always go on about how they can do it better. And sometimes that Jared fellow stops by and pushes me aside to place his delicate balance of meats, cheeses, vegetables, condiments and artisan breads together.

Well then!

What did I spend all that time in the studio for? I remember my days in Sandwich Artistry school. Everyone around me would take breaks for hours at a time, smoking marijuana to “unlock their minds, dude.” Not me. I honed my craft with an intensity I’ve left in my youth.

No one can lay four tomatoes side by side on a foot-long Cold Cut Combo with such diligent precision.

Not a bite without tomato.

Or what about my famously delicate lattice of light mayonnaise on the health-conscious plain chicken breast?

I’d like to see Jared, or you, Mr. Gomez, lay the jalapeño peppers down on a Spicy Italian foot-long so every bite contains the exact amount of mouth-watering spice without it becoming a sick experiment in sadomasochism. Oh, trust me. I’ve seen lesser artists pile up those peppers on the end of the sandwich like little land mines.

But I use my art for good.

I even mastered the technique of edging meat and cheese to the end of the sandwich. No more second-rate final bites of just bread.

But I’m losing the passion I used to have.

These days, I’m almost missing my old residency at Chipotle. Sure, every once in awhile some loon would come in begging you to mix up the pinto beans with the black beans. But there was excitement! There was some sense of experimentation! Maybe avant-garde camp, but something!

The closest I feel to Pollock and Picasso these days is when I sneak some spinach on a sandwich already decorated with lettuce and tomato.

All that theory, down the drain.

All that sacrifice—relationships, friends, high-paying jobs—down the drain.

I could have done it. I could have sold out, become a lawyer. Or maybe used my art, gone into advertising.

But I had dreams.

You know they don’t even let us work on a piece by ourselves? Every single one is a “group effort.”

Where would we be if da Vinci had been forced to collaborate with Michelangelo on every portrait, every cathedral?

Enough is enough.

I may as well sign up for the armed forces. What am I but another marionette, a corporate pawn? Well, consider this checkmate. I’m the best goddamned sandwich artist Subway Restaurant (as least so far as the Highland Oaks suburb is concerned) has ever seen.

And, after this Marlboro burns itself to dust, I’m going to march through these doors and …

Goddammit Mr. Gomez. I’m coming!

No, I only took ten minutes …

Toasting duty! Toasting duty! Again! Do you have any idea what I went though to  …

Travis M. Andrews is a co-founder of Or Something, a reporter at The Washington Post and a pop culture contributor for Mashable. Follow him on Twitter @travismandrews

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