Monday, May 14, 2018
Waitlisted for dumplings
We drove half an hour to Monterey Park, a sprawling city east of Los Angeles that is 2/3 Asian, in order to sample the authentic soup dumpling at Mama Lu's Dumpling House, one of my older son's favorite places to eat.
The restaurant was exactly what you'd expect: crowded, clatter, not many caucasians. Although I got one surprise: instead of a harried host jotting down names on a pad, this computer maitre d', where we tapped in our name ourselves and registered to be notified when a table became ready.
Another job down the tubes. I've grudgingly accepted ringing up my own razors at CVS and bagging my own nails at Home Depot. Resistance is futile. But somehow this seems straying into a new area.
It was extra odd finding it at a small Chinese dumpling place and not, oh, McDonald's, or some other big corporate chain, which have been experimenting with having customers key in their own orders, to make up for the lack of minimum wage drones. Why here?
We plugged in our phone information, were told the wait would be a half hour, then strolled down Garvey Avenue to see what the wait was like at the second Mama Lu's Dumpling House, five blocks east, speaking of quirky. I must have been tired from our trip, because I didn't even probe why there were two restaurants with the same name half a mile apart. I gazed at the streetscape—lots of travel agents and nail salons, with signs heavy on Chinese characters. It was like being in Taipei. Mama Lu's II was even more jammed, and no sooner had we turned to go, than we got a text telling us we had a minute to claim our table.
The boys hustled ahead, and didn't get there in a minute. Our spot in the queue vanished. But due to some old-fashioned, low-tech humble entreaty to an actual human being on my son's part, we got the next table and didn't have to re-enter our names and begin the process all over again.
I'd like to think the electronic sign-up practice won't spread to restaurants generally—you can eat at home, and if you are going to be greeted with a computer screen, next the dumplings will be cooked up by robots in the back and served by drones. Something of the experience is lost. I always consider service—someone greeting you, someone being friendly to you—an intrinsic part of the dining out experience.
They were very good dumplings—a blurp of hot soup in the middle—which I suppose is the important thing. The friend fish was also excellent. The fried cubes of coconut bread, well, I assume that's an acquired taste. The only unsettling aspect, that computer sign up....
Then again, I squirmed when the New York Times put a color photograph on the front page. It might have seemed wrong, at the time and for a moment, but we got used to it, and after all these years I'm ready to admit that, yes, it was an improvement.
Several other California-style developments caught my eye this trip. Our room had a "Clean Remote"—obviously reacting to the news that television remotes are the filthiest spot in the room, because they're difficult to clean, this one bragged "The Clean Remote has been designed specifically to make it easy to clean and disinfect."
Not that they necessarily do it. But the potential is there.
. I also spied more EXIT signs at floor level, which puzzled me the first time, but are obviously designed to but of more use to patrons crawling through smoke-filled halls. Smart but not the most pleasant image to have when you're checking into your motel.
It's always a challenge to decide whether a social shift is a loss, a deterioration, or just new. When people began saving a nickel a gallon on gas by pumping it themselves, the loss of the guy who pumped your gas and checked your oil seemed a step toward the abyss. Now, you don't want some odd guy to start pawing around your car. It's intrusive. A reminder that while it's easy to see our systems changing around us, it's harder to see ourselves change within those systems. Which is true for more than technology. Assuming we ever get rid of Donald Trump and his cohort of quislings and traitors, we'll then have to address how we ourselves have changed, perhaps against our will, perhaps without even realizing it. But changed nevertheless, and certainly not for the better.