In Seattle I stayed at the Bellevue Hyatt hotel. My friend B, although from Los Angeles, was working on a legal patent infringement case at a biotechnology company just outside the city. In the daytime he went off to work while I stayed at the Hyatt. B and myself were sharing a twin room in what was termed 'The Regency Club'. This, broadly speaking, was the top four storeys of the twenty-five storey building and included 'The Regency Room', a complimentary eating and drinking area on the roof of the building. From the balcony you could see the space needle of downtown Seattle, and behind that - on a clear day - the cool platonic outline of Mount Ranier. Closer to the hotel you could see the rectangular 'lots' that seem to contain a little America within them. Wendys, Toys 'R' Us, Barnes and Noble, Rockit Records, Blockbuster Video, Pizza Hut, Dennys.

Favourite of the local retail outlets I liked to visit was something called 'Subway' - initially confusing because of the connotations with the New York Subway System - a 'progressive' sandwich shop selling 'submarine' sandwiches. The basic idea was that you had 'complete creative control' over your sandwich. The 'sandwich artistes' that serve you have a wide range of sandwich fillings in front of them. You tell them which ones you'd like to have in your sandwich and they make it. Kind of like Christopher Wren or Phillipe Starck. I didn't once see anyone build their sandwich from scratch, most people choosing one of the standard options. The sandwich you got at the end of this process was tasty in a processed sort of way. And full of contradictions; fresh but stale, crisp yet soft, healthy though probably not. Undoubtedly large. On this simple premise the Subway chain of sandwich bars had grown to be the second largest food outlet in America. Second only to the mighty Macdonalds.

(B is fond of telling the story of his friend E, who bid for a Subway franchise to set up in Ozark, Missouri, after being convinced by his brother to go into business. The bid failed as Subway already had enough franchises in that particular area. Instead E and his Brother bought a 'Cajun Joe' chicken snack franchise, just as unhealthy food was finally being recognised as unhealthy in America. The business failed, and E lost money. He's now finished his MBA at Harvard.)

When B first told me about Subway he assumed a lot about my basic knowledge. I didn't, for example, know what a submarine sandwich was. This made me slightly apprehensive about going into one of these places. I felt that although I had been through the process of ordering a sandwich many times before in England, this was somehow different. And the staff at the Subway might realise it was my first time, and laugh at my creative efforts.

The latest advertising push by Subway was for their 'Turkey and Ham Dijon'. I decided to have one of these. I strode confidently into the bright environment of the local Subway, and took my place in the queue. I tried to learn from the person in front of me, but there were too many artistes. Before I had a chance to listen to what he was saying an artiste said to me:

"White or grain?" I stuttered, not white, that must mean grain. "Grain." The artiste picked up what, to me, was a soft brown French stick. Phew. "All the salad?" I glanced down the row of containers hoping to see what committing myself to 'all the salad' would mean. (There is always a dilemma when talking to an American who doesn't know that you are British:- Do you pronounce American words in an American way and sacrifice your integrity, or do you pronounce American words in a British way and risk embarrassment. The word 'tomato' is the prime example. I tend to plump for the latter, though often I wish I hadn't.) "Yes, but no gherkin." The wrong word. The artiste looked quizzical, my heart sank. "Excuse me?", "none of those" I countered, pointing. "Dills?" the artiste confirmed. I nodded, relieved.

Our brief exchange was over. I watched through the angled glass barrier as my sandwich was manufactured before me. First a confident triangular segment was removed from the bread. Next a pre-packed 'lining' of processed cheese and ham was added. Then Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, black and green olives, and then wafers of turkey. The whole creation was finished with a generous squirt of Dijon mustard. The sandwich looked sublime. The triangular bread segment was replaced and squashed down. It was then wrapped, expertly cut in two, put into a carrier bag, and placed on the counter for me.

"Four dollars seventy five." I gave the artiste a $5 note. He dropped the 25c change into my hand. I thanked him and went to sit down. The first bite. Good. I had a sensation of freshness and (not surprisingly) complexity. The next bite was just as good. Maybe a little less Dijon mustard next time. Maybe some regular mustard. I was already designing my next creation.

I'd bought the dream.

August 1994