To some, the phrase “going out to eat” is akin to a World War I soldier announcing he’s going to stick his head over the edge of the trench to see what’s going on out there.
But it’s not like I haven’t seen some action. I served in the Grocery Store Campaign in mid-March, when we shopped while holding our breath and picking items off the shelf with our elbows, and I did a tour of duty downtown in April, during which I suffered an injury — my mask steamed up my glasses, and I ran into an electrical transformer.
We went to a rooftop restaurant. I haven’t read any stories about COVID-19 throwing ropes up the sides of buildings and climbing up. I mean, viruses mutate, but not that fast. Granted, it could accumulate in the underside of an umbrella and rain down in invisible mists, but if you’re that fearful, you probably rub Purell on your pillowcase so you don’t get the virus in your dreams.
To get into the restaurant, everyone had to queue in the parking lot. A sheet of paper on the check-in table had the usual warnings, like “don’t be here if you feel sick,” which is certainly news to us all, eh? It’s like the tornado siren going off for three months and someone on Week 13 says, “Is it just me, or do you hear something?” Anyone who hasn’t gotten the feel-sick-stay-home message isn’t going to reel back, abashed, when they see that, because they don’t care.
But I suppose it had to be said. Anyway, eventually we’re led to our table. The hostess is masked, the bartender is masked, the server is masked, I assume the cook has three layers of Saran Wrap around his face, but we don’t care. They could be tottering around in deep-sea diving suits and it wouldn’t matter because we’re actually eating at a restaurant just like in the good old days.
You might wonder about menus: Do they still exist? Are they burned right away in a kilm that conforms with the protocols for disposal of medical waste? At this eatery, at least, you point your phone at a QR code on the table and read the menu on your screen. You think: “Cool! This is the way it will be from now on.” Then you think of the Perkins menus and worry about exhausting your monthly data downloading it and getting carpal tunnel scrolling through all the options.
We were instructed that the total time we could occupy the table was one hour, presumably because they have to hose down the entire area with bleach. Fine. In fact, more than fine. Great. Turns out that people who suffer the agonies of indecision are perfectly capable of being pressured into ordering the thing you knew they were going to order in the first place. And it turns out that you don’t need to eat two baskets of bread waiting for them to cook your meal.
Then, after you’ve eaten and settled into that aimless post-food period of chitchat, bang: There’s the bill. If you were ever a waiter and feel itchy when you know they want to swap out a table for a fresh set of paying customers, you get it: Annnnd we’re done! Ding! Timer’s sounded! It’s the law!
In short, it was wonderful. Imagine this: hot food set right in front of you. Not a lukewarm wad of cod that’s been sitting in an insulated bag for half an hour that you had to fetch off the front steps.
There we were: sitting outside, enjoying a meal in the soft springtime breeze.
OK, it started raining, and I ate too much and felt awful. But you know what? I missed it. I can’t wait to get wet and bloated again.