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.


  1. That hot soup in the dumpling can deliver quite a shock if you're not prepared for it.


  2. "I always consider service—someone greeting you, someone being friendly to you—an intrinsic part of the dining out experience." Somehow I feel that losing the social interaction part of dining out is already well on its way to being another victim of technology usurping human interactions.

    The dumpling soup sounded delicious, though.


  3. In a world where so much information is designed to make you afraid, anxious, and ultimately, malleable, a dose of EGD in the morning is wonderful. Information designed to make you think. It's almost subversive in a world with you know who.

    This morning my memory was jogged regarding my favorite job of all time - pumping gas in college. Simple tasks in conjunction with brief conversations, always pleasant discussions since they were, out of necessity, short. No time to discuss exasperating stuff, just a series of quick conversations about the weather and sports - never politics. You'd think it would have been maddening unstimulating but it was the opposite. I had a smile on my face all day. My world view was as positive as it ever will be because of all the positive human interaction. Since I was outside and on the move all day I was in also in great health. The money was awful but I just needed pocket money for beer and the occasional date so it was all good. It was a shallow but contented existence. Shallowness seemed to suit me. Money and responsibility are nice, but they rarely nurture relaxation and contentment.

    Who would have thought that pumping gas would be so good for the spirit.

    1. They still pump your gas for you in New Jersey. It's illegal to do it yourself. The guy got pissed at me when I automatically got out and started to do it myself. Got even more pissed when I told him what a nice town Allamuchy was. I pronounced it as Al-a-MUCH-y. It's Al-a-MOOCH-y. How the hell was I supposed to know?

      His town is somewhat infamous for being the whistle-stop where FDR used to order the Secret Service to make hour-long unscheduled stops on the way to Hyde Park, so that his mistress could jump aboard. The overgrown, weed-covered crossing where those stops were made is next to an abandoned depot, which I was about to explore until I spotted the state trooper parked behind it, probably keeping an eye out for nosy history buffs as well as speeders. New Jersey likes to pump your gas, and they also like to give out plenty of tickets.

  4. How does Mama Lu's compare to the Slurping Turtle?

  5. I've noticed that almost every Chinese restaurant around Chicago uses software for their receipts now.
    It must be far more efficient that doing it by hand, but other than a few chains, most American meat & potato places [at least where I go] still just use the paper checks the wait staff writes out & totals it up at the register.


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