(PopCult Note: One result of your PopCulteer’s recent birthday trip was that it left me rather raspy. Jumping between hot and nasty humidity and very efficient air conditioning too much over the course of a few days will do that. As such, I decided not to record new episodes of Radio Free Charleston and The Swing Shift this week. You can still tune into The AIR to hear encore presentations of recent episodes, but instead of the playlists for those shows, you get this short essay instead.)
My birthday last Friday was spent on the road, enjoying a trip to an undisclosed city to do things which, for a change, are not fodder for this blog. I just wanted some time to enjoy a trip without worrying about taking photos or shooting video.
However, I will bend that little rule to bring you this post. I did something on this trip that I haven’t done since March, 2020.
For my birthday, Mel and I ate in a restaurant. We didn’t have a full meal. We went to a Cheesecake Factory for what would be my birthday cake. Oddly enough, I didn’t get cheesecake, which for the past several years has been my choice of birthday cake. Instead I got a giant piece of chocolate cake that would be right at home in the short film about manners shown during the Pee Wee Herman Show. That’s the menu shot of it above.
Mel got a huge monstrosity that alternated cheesecake with chocolate cake (left).
Neither of us were able to finish what we’d ordered.
Before you ask, I did not mention that it was my birthday to the staff. I absolutely detest those chain restaurant birthday celebrations where everybody on the staff comes out and claps and sings. I don’t like being within earshot of them, and if anybody ever tried to do that to me, I would simply get up and walk out.
So my birthday was a state secret while we were there.
Before the pandemic, Mel and I ate out too much. We both lost weight last year because you simply eat better when you cook for yourself, and you have more control over portion size.
But there were things I missed about eating out. Primarily, not having to cook, and getting tasty food…without having to cook it myself.
Our excursion last Friday also reminded me of a few things that I absolutely did not miss about eating out:
- Waiting to be seated, especially at a restaurant that texts you when your table is ready (Rudy don’t text).
- Annoyingly loud background music that renders conversation impossible. (I couldn’t even read lips because Mel kept her mask on…even while eating, which was quite impressive to watch)
- SCREAMING CHILDREN.
- Being seated much closer than was comfortable to strangers.
- Those strangers ordering really, really stinky food. (Your PopCulteer has one of the most acute senses of smell of any animal on the planet)
- A waiter who responds to your request for water, with light ice by saying “Water with lots of ice, coming right up!”
- A twenty-five minute wait for two slices of cake to come out of the kitchen, when all they have to do is slice the cake, put it on the plate and send it out.
- Not really being able to taste the incredible-looking cake you ordered because the table next to you ordered some kind of platter of what looked like roadkill with extra putrid sauce, and it smelled like a fire at at slaughterhouse.
So, we ate in a restaurant for the first time in over a year, and to be honest, we may not do so again until next year. I was not entirely comfortable with the lack of masks among my fellow patrons. I’m fully vaccinated, but I still think you have to be a special kind of stupid to go maskless when you’re indoors, in tightly-packed quarters, with people who are spraying stuff all over the place while they’re ferociously masticating.
When next we do dine in a restaurant, it’ll probably be a locally-owned, smaller place, preferably with no loud music and tables that are far enough apart that I don’t smell what my neighbor is eating.
I hadn’t forgotten the things I liked about eating out, but it was handy to have a reminder of everything I don’t like about eating out. It was also a good reminder that there is a very plausible theory that, when the French Philospher, Jean-Paul Sartre came up with the phrase “Hell is other people,” he was probably sitting in a Cheesecake Factory.