Remember When You Could Eat Inside a Restaurant?

“Curbside pickup only” said the warning at the top of the online menu. It was our favorite restaurant, and I had many cherished memories of enjoying fine meals among fine decor, getting recommendations from the polite staff, and asking my kids to stop standing on the seats and staring at the other diners.  But all that would now have to be packaged up in those plastic containers with the clear tops, stacked up inside of a plastic bag with a yellow smiley face.

I won’t bore you with the travails of online ordering – navigating the different sections, managing the options available with each meal, adding items to the cart only to find the items either doubled or disappeared, trying to create an account and being told that I’d already created one, re-setting the password and having to start all over again while the kids asked if the food was here yet.  Soon I had placed the order and, after a frantic search for my mask, was on my way to the restaurant to pick up our curbside dinner.

I pulled into the parking lot, pulled into one of those spaces labeled “curbside pickup ONLY” and waited.  There were a few other cars there.  I looked over through the windows of one of them and saw the driver wearing a mask.  The driver looked back at me and I quickly put my mask on, too.   

For a few minutes I sat there quietly and reflected on the whimsical nature of life. Then I wondered when they would bring out my food.  Wait a minute, how were they to know I was here?  Didn’t the email confirmation instruct me to call when I arrived?

I felt around for my phone but it was not there.  In my hurried search for my mask I must have left the phone at home. And if dining inside the restaurant was prohibited, then surely they would not want me going into the building. So I found an old receipt on the floor of my car, and on the back of the receipt I wrote “Hi my name is Mark. I forgot my phone. I am here to pick up my order.”

The restaurant had a large window at the front, and through it I could see a few people busy putting containers of food in bags. I went up to the window, held up my sign, and knocked on the glass to get their attention. An employee came over and, through a mask, yelled at me to stop. I pointed to my sign.  The employee pointed towards the parking lot. I was about to write more on the sign when I remembered that the online order form had made me specify the make and hue of my vehicle.  

I got to my car and saw that another restaurant employee was already there, wearing a mask, and holding the plastic bag with the yellow smiley face. If eyes above a mask can look annoyed, this employee’s did. The bag of food was held out for me to take it, but there was no way I could take it from six feet away. So instead I used my remote key fob to open the trunk and pointed to it.

Suddenly, I remembered that a few months before I had finally cleaned out my old bedroom in my childhood home, and the trunk was still full of boxes. I had intended to go through the boxes at some point, but with the pandemic and everything I had just not found the time.

Waiting a polite second for the restaurant employee with my food to step back at least six feet, I stepped forward and started going through the boxes right then and there, grabbing stacks of chemistry notes, and review books, and quizzes marked up with lots of red ink, and shoving the stacks into the back seat of my car, and it was only after the restaurant worker dumped the bag in my trunk – rather abruptly, I thought – that I realized that I could have put the food in the back seat and gone through the boxes when the pandemic was over.  

When I got home I asked for the isopropyl alcohol, but my wife said I’d used it all, and gently took the bag from me and started taking out the food. I was washing my hands when I heard her gasp. 

Instead of our dinners were four ice cream sundaes in four plastic containers.  I checked my email and saw that I had indeed ordered four ice cream sundaes by accident.  In my haste I must have tapped “Get It Again!” on a previous order.  So it was ice cream sundaes for dinner. Well, at least the kids were happy.  

Mark Kaplowitz

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