Being an intern is hard. Being an intern at a start-up where an average day includes web programming, laminating papers, and outside sales in ninety degree weather is even harder. That’s why we love Michael, our intern. Sure, we give him a hard time every once in a while, but the best part of an internship is everyone calling you “the intern” and giggling when they make you print out sales forms, right?
Michael takes the jokes pretty well. He smiles, keeps coding, and gives us a nod that we’ve understood to mean, “No problem… I’ll be your boss in a few months anyway.” Still, after our busy day of sales last Tuesday, I don’t think Michael could have guessed his chance to get to the top would come so soon.
Four pounds of beef and noodles submerged in a gallon of piping hot beef stock make one big bowl of pho. At some point, while Michael and I were outside talking to businesses in the Los Altos strip about using Five Stars, the whole office decided to tackle Pho Garden’s Pho Challenge. The Prize? Boss for a day.
Michael and I returned, munching on frozen yogurt from Tutti Fruity (a yogurt place on the Five Stars Card) to find that we had to get ready to chow down on some serious noodles. Once Michael heard about the prize, he threw away his fro-yo and started pacing to work up his appetite. Minutes later, we hopped in our cars and drove to Pho Garden.
Loud cheers, the thud of a ten pound bowl of pho, and the beep of the timer being set for one hour kicked off the Five Stars Pho Challenge.
Strategy is key if you want an honest shot at a Pho Challenge. First, you have to start by lifting your noodles out of the broth, so they don’t get water logged. Then, you need to dump ice into the bowl to cool it down. After that, it’s up to you and your stomach.
Peter, one of our friends working in the area, was in the lead at first. He finished his noodles in minutes and started on the beef. Jingsong and Michael kept a steady pace, but slowed down when facing the tripe and tendon.
In a few minutes, Peter hit the wall, and as he stepped outside to get some air, Michael and Jingsong finished their tripe. The smell of warm beef broth rose as most of the contestants finished their noodles and rounded on the two pounds of beef separating them from being the boss of Five Stars for a day.
Then Jingsong laid down his enormous spoon and officially resigned from the competition. After him, few other people dropped out, leaving only Michael and Peter in the running. With sweat dripping down their faces from the steam rising from the hot pho, they kept eating.
Taking on a deep shade of green, Peter finally dropped out of the running. Now it was down to Michael, what was left of his pho, and the clock. Unfortunately, Michael’s noodles were so filled with broth that he had to squeeze them between two spoons to make them palatable.
Once the clock got down to ten minutes the pho garden allowed Michael to strain out his noodles into another bowl. The second bowl could hardly hold the overflowing beef and noodles even though Michael had been eating them for the last fifty minutes. As the clock dipped closer to the hour time limit, Michael plowed through his bowl, cracking jokes between bites about the work day he planned for us as our new boss.
“Two minutes left,” echoed off pictures of the previous pho challenge champions as the manager of Pho Garden shouted it across the restaurant. Four large handfuls of noodles still sat in Michael’s bowl. He took a deep breath and plunged.
The laid back Michael we thought we knew disappeared. With fire in his eyes and an enormous pair of chopsticks in his hands, Michael attacked the enormous mound of noodles left. The pho wasn’t giving up easily.
The clock chimed its minute warning and Michael still had more than half left. All of Five Stars was standing now, chanting his name. Squinting in the dim light, we watched the last mounds of noodles. The thought, “Michael is going to be my boss tomorrow,” sprung into my mind, and in a wave of fear, I remembered all the printing and laminating I had made him do that week.
His brow furrowed in concentration. He was almost done. Then, he stopped.
There were still two spoonfuls left. The clock was down to thirty seconds. Michael held up his hand. His last bite had been too big. It was taking too long to go down.
It took another fifteen seconds before he could start again, but by then it was too late. He vainly finished his last few bites, but the clock had already ran out. The Pho Garden manager gently took the unfinished bowl of pho away as Michael sat completely still, his jaw set hard. We quietly paid and scanned our Five Stars cards before we left. I walked Michael to his car and we drove back to the office together. He focused on the road and didn’t speak for a while.
As we pulled into the office parking lot, he began to breathe easier. Faintly smiling, he looked at me and said, “I’m still going to be your boss one day.”
I nodded and replied, “I believe it.”
Smiling a bit wider he said, “That’s right you do,” and strode inside.
I stayed outside for a bit, letting the fresh air wash the pungent cinnamon pho smell out of my shirt. I believe he’ll probably be my boss one day. That’s why I wrote this nice post about him.
P.S. If you are a Pho Restaurant on the Five Stars Card with a pho challenge, don’t worry. One day we’ll bust in, order ten enormous bowls of pho, and eat for glory.