Carter Nash sat up straight in his bed. He rubbed his eyes, then glanced at the clock on his nightstand. It was 4:30 a.m. Too early, he thought to himself. He had trouble falling asleep last night, but probably drifted off around 1:00 a.m., which meant he got only a few hours of sleep. The big moment was drawing near and he was nervous with excitement, but anxiety permeated every inch of his body, making it difficult for him to sleep well. Last year, he met his friend Barney, a successful movie producer, for breakfast because he wanted to pitch him an idea about what some may consider an unorthodox love story. Carter read a passage from one of his self-published books to Barney during the breakfast. He thought for sure that Barney would love the idea, but Barney excused himself abruptly, which was probably his subtle, or maybe not subtle, way of letting Carter know he thought the idea was lousy.
Shortly after that meeting with Barney, Carter began to feel as if his life was spiraling out of control. A manager at his work named Bert began to harass him using passive aggressive techniques. Carter’s coworkers all knew that Bert was, in fact, an incompetant, obtuse dickhead, which is why he abused his power as a manager to bully people. In reality, he was just a coward who didn’t know what he was doing. How he became a manager was still a great mystery wrapped in an enigma to everyone. Carter was also losing interest in his job and gradually becoming unhappy at work with each passing day.
To make matters worse, his pursuit of becoming a professional author had stalled. None of the books he wrote during his free time after work had sold particularly well. The people who did buy his books wrote negative reviews, panning the plots as dumb, ridiculous and idiotic. Others ridiculed his writing style, calling it dull and boring. He shelved the idea of becoming a professional author and shifted his focus to becoming a YouTuber because he wanted to continue making creative pieces of work. At first, he wasn’t sure what kind of videos he wanted to make, but over the course of a few months, he managed to produce a little over fifty videos somehow, but all his videos failed to gain traction and had low view counts. His channel didn’t have many subscribers either. The comments people left on his videos were just as unkind as the reviews of his book, except the comments on YouTube were more sophomoric and juvenile in nature.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse, but then one fateful day, a childhood friend named Ted called Carter out of the blue to invite him to have lunch at Ted’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Ted hadn’t seen Carter in a long time, so he wanted to meet him to catch up and shoot the breeze. Carter had never tried any Vietnamese food in his life. In fact, he never ate any kind of Asian food. He grew up in a family that raised him on burgers, steaks, hot dogs, french fries and, occasionally, spaghetti, which was the most ethnic food he ever ate. Although Carter wasn’t much of a foodie and was set in his ways, at least when it came to food, he thought it would be good to step out of his comfort zone and try something different. Maybe it would help him get out of his current slump. Plus, it would be great to see Ted after all these years. They had been good, close friends up through high school, but like many others, they gradually lost touch with each other after going their separate ways to different colleges.
Carter wasn’t completely oblivious about food though. He asked Ted if they were going to eat phố. “No, bro. It’s even better than phở. It’s called bún riêu, and it’s hella good. Just meet me Saturday at the restaurant around 12pm. You won’t be disappointed. And by the way, phố means city. Phở is the food. Everyone gets it wrong, so no sweat. Just wanted to let you know as an FYI,” Ted said to him over the phone. “Oh. Thanks,” Carter replied, then asked Ted how to spell bún riêu. He wanted to search for it online, but he had just as much difficulty saying it as he did with phở. Ted couldn’t help but laugh as he gave Carter the spelling.
Carter thanked Ted and told him he was looking forward to seeing him on Friday. He hung up the phone, then opened the browser on his phone to do a search on bún riêu, look for images and read reviews about the restaurant. He learned that bún riêu is a soup-based dish with rice vermicelli. The restaurant where he and Ted were going to meet was famous for its bún riêu cua, which is the version of bún riêu that’s served in a tomato broth topped with minced crab meat.
He scrolled through the pictures that customers had uploaded online. Every bowl of bún riêu looked delicious. Then he started reading reviews about the restaurant. Generally, the reviews were positive, but there were the occasional complaints and grumblings about the staff’s service. Nonetheless, most people raved about the food there and recommended the dish they happened to order that day. Then he saw it. One of the reviewers wrote how she had some trepidation about eating pork blood, but she ended up eating at the insistence of her friend and it turned out to be really good. “Wait a minute. Pork blood?” Carter said himself as he did a double take. He wanted to be adventurous, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to eat any kind of blood. He tried not to pay too much mind about it, then called it a night after reading a few more reviews.