Friday, June 26, 2020

‘I’ll have the Post-Pandemic Special, please’

Kamehachi, March 16, 2020.

     Eating is a big deal. You don’t need me to tell you that. We give special names for the times throughout the day when we stop whatever we’re doing to eat: Breakfast! Lunch! Dinner! A big part of every faith centers around eating, all those feasts and fasts. Some folks can’t nibble a breadstick without gravely informing God.
     You could argue that making a fuss about eating is what makes us human. Animals generally gobble nourishment where and when they find it. “Only people actively, regularly, and continuously work on the portioning out of their food,” Margaret Visser writes on the first page of “The Rituals of Dinner.”
     To hint at how exaggerated our regard for eating is, consider the other end of the alimentary tract, briefly: going to the bathroom. No ritual, little lingering, no reviews. We don’t even like to think about it, never mind talk about it. That attitude could work for eating too — humans could consume enough food to get through the day in 60 seconds flat. Think of the time we’d save.
     But we don’t, generally. Eating in restaurants is an even bigger deal. Dining out can be one of the most significant parts of our lives.
     I can’t recall much from 1975. In fact, I remember only one moment: My sister and I, on our first visit to Chicago, in a leather booth, holding back laughter as a waiter in a tuxedo presents us a bowl of greens set in ice.
     “Here at zee Blackhawk, we spin zee sah-lad not wahnce, not tweyes, but sree tahmes!”     What began as a practical necessity for travelers — the stagecoach stops for the night, the innkeeper carves off some mutton and draws a mug of ale — now has assumed magnified importance, ingrained in our lives.
     Chicago, and Illinois, opening restaurants Friday for indoor dining should be a milestone in our civic recovery from COVID-19. V-E Day, Victory in Eating.


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7 comments:

  1. I'm with you. No restaurants, movies, concerts, etc. until I'm 100% sure it's safe. I've read enough accounts of what life is like on a ventilator to know it's not for me.

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    1. I feel the same way. No going out until there are NO new cases, NO new deaths, and a vaccine for everybody. But that is at least a year away, maybe three, maybe five. How do you stay home that long, especially if you were once so busy?

      My wife and I are retired (and formerly active) geezers. Three months of house arrest have been tough on us. All we have been doing since March are walks and trail hikes. But we had no intentions of entering any eating places.

      That all went out the window this past week. We were wandering around in the Flats area of Cleveland, along the river. Couldn't pass up a sign for two-buck tacos and two-buck beers, so we went into this city's oldest (110 years) Irish bar. Six people in a place that is shoulder-to shoulder on St. Patrick's Day and for football weekends. We enjoyed our meal, and it almost, but not quite, felt like old times--when life was "normal."

      Once you take a bite of the apple, it gets easier the next time. Three nights later, dinner and a show at a supper club in the same area. The crowd was maybe a quarter of pre-Plague. Prices through the roof, portions smaller. But they are so desperate to stay afloat and to draw crowds that the tables of diners were TWELVE feet apart, not just the state-required six feet.

      I kept wondering "why everybody was arriving so late." It felt surreal. Spent a lot more money than usual. Food was good, but not enough of it. The show was okay but not that great. I felt ripped-off and my wife had mixed feelings. We both agreed that we won't be going back there anytime soon.

      Dining out has definitely changed for us. Future restaurant visits are probably on hold for now. Maybe the neighborhood places, in a little while, but nothing beyond that. It still feels much too early yet. And the latest awful numbers indicate more and more that re-opening too early will result in a new round of lockdowns before the summer ends. America will soon be paying a terribly high price for its haste and its recklessness.

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  2. If one could count on everybody to do the right thing, perhaps eating in restaurants might be viable. Alas, if one could count on that, the graph of the outbreak in this country would look like the ones from other countries, where they've done a much better job of lowering their numbers of cases. Freedumb!

    I'm more concerned now than I was a month ago when at least the "let's just put this behind us" brigade was not supported by both the city and the state governments. I understand the economic realities and I feel for the folks in the affected sectors of the economy, but wishing that we could move forward this quickly and having it actually work out seem like two very different things, at this point.

    So, "not me, not yet" here too -- for indoor *and* outdoor restaurant dining. And we love restaurants, too, though perhaps not quite as much as Restaurant Boy... It's just so on point in this benighted country that wearing a mask (correctly) to try to protect the health of the community would become a political issue rather than common sense.

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  3. It's going to be quite a long time before we eat inside a restaurant again. My husband is a chef and worked all during the lockdown. In regular times, the behind the scenes knowledge makes finding a good restaurant tricky. Now? Forget it. We do get carry out from his place and a couple other ones, but we won't go in. It's just not worth it.

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  4. I stayed home when the governor initially closed the state, even though I'm in construction and was considered an essential worker. After 2 weeks I realized without much savings , less than $5,000.00 I wouldn't make it very long. My wife, a cook filed for unemployment. Still hasn't gotten a check more than 2 months later. She's headed back to work because they are opening up restaurants for dining. Millions of people are in this boat. They have to go back to work. I'm grateful people are willing to let me in their homes to do remodeling and hope people go to restaurants , cause if you aren't making a decent buck at a job you can do from home or have pension and are drawing SS with retirement savings, it's rough. Very tough. We and many like us must return to work. We just have to. It has nothing to do with politics or indifference to the danger to ourselves and others. It's short term survival. Is going to a restaurant that much more dangerous than the grocery store?

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    1. I understand your predicament, FME, and wish you and your wife well. Your point that, for you, it's not political or a matter of indifference is well put. As Neil alludes to, there seem to be plenty that are interested in returning to restaurants at the first opportunity, so perhaps that will help make up for those of us who aren't, especially while there's limited seating.

      "Is going to a restaurant that much more dangerous than the grocery store?" Who knows for sure? What I do know is that we go to the grocery as little as is necessary, and where we go, the people I see are *all* wearing masks, the whole time. We use the socially-distanced self-checkouts (which are wiped down between customers)and are in and out as quickly as we can manage. So, it's different from being in a room where everybody is eating and drinking for however long. Still, I'm not wild about going to the grocery store, either.

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