Yesterday, my wife and I had our first sit-down meal in a restaurant since coronavirus. My wife got dressed up extra-nice. She was looking forward to it. We chose a Chinese restaurant we had gone to once before in the distant past.
It wasn’t just that the food was bad, it was everything all together. The lady seemed genuinely shocked when we said we wanted to dine in. She looked around. Most of the lights were off. The tables likely had not been wiped in a year. Boxes were piled up on the side. A tawdry air of disarray permeated the premises. There was no waiter, and the proprietor seemed distracted by telephone orders. We sat down and she brought plastic soft drink cups of lukewarm water to our table. The tepid welcome should have forewarned us, because the food was not much better. My wife was not happy. I could read her black look from across the table.
The Wonton soup was OK. The spring rolls were the kind they get out of a box, frozen. They had cabbage leaves as filler, and nothing else. We had to go looking for the meat in the Pad Thai, and there was no shrimp or tofu. The beef with broccoli was cold and rubbery. Perhaps it was old and reheated. Or maybe the lady was just off her game, no longer used to the ambiance necessary to serve people. My wife gave me the look…. “If you dare to leave a tip…”.
Whatever we had BEFORE Coronavirus, is now history. The virus has changed many things. I expect the restaurant proprietor had some hard times paying the rent, and she had cut some corners to stay afloat. The rising food costs associated with supply chain meant the regular inclusions were no longer included. No extras. Takeout has become the norm, and most places have laid off their serving staff.
It’s not just dining out that had changed. I realize that the bar for comparison has now been set very high. With more focus on domestic life, we became accustomed to making very good food at home, for a fraction of what you pay to dine out. We had learned to curate the atmosphere, make the plates look nice, and to put in all the goodies that make a dish extra special. We used quality ingredients, and freshness and cleanliness were a given. We dug into recipe books to make it all interesting, and we learned how to cook things like Chinese food from scratch.
What I really wondered about, was how we neither noticed nor complained about life prior to the virus. We simply rushed about trying to keep the wheels on the bus as we fulfilled all the necessary functions of staying alive. Then, looking to alleviate the misery of lockdowns, we upped our own game and our standards. We slowed down and paid attention. We are no longer easy to please.
It reminded me how big changes get set in motion with one tiny catalyst. Like a game of janga blocks, you won’t notice until you remove the one block that makes everything fall down all at once. Coronavirus was that catalyst. We are now very different people than before the pandemic. The world now functions in a different way and the changes are not so subtle in aggregate.
There’s changes to how people work. Changes to how people socialize. Different expectations for young people entering the world, different expectations for those of us growing older. Yes, we used to wink at our parents’ generation, all those habits deeply ingrained from the Great Depression, and the War. Now we have had our Coronavirus and we are the generation affected by that. It will say so in the history books.
Yes, history unfolds in realtime, and we are often oblivious. I bet a lot more of us are aware now, as witnessed by our first meal out post-virus. We should be happy about our heightened sense of the details, and rejoice that we are now no longer willing to pay more, for less. Our lives have become curated and attuned to quality. Heraclitus, the wanderer of the ancient world was indeed right. You can’t cross the same river twice because time marches forward, not backward. It’s not the same river and you’re not the same man, are you?
What I made at home... definitely much better... and the cooking is part of the fun.