Limbo

We’re all waiting.

Some of us are waiting idly at home, distracting ourselves from the gradually collapsing system outside our doors.  Some are teleworking, putting in the productivity-free hours we normally would but in pajama bottoms.  Some are going out like normal, vaguely afraid they’ll catch a fatal illness but telling themselves whatever they have to in order to get through their day.

For some of us the biggest difference is our hair.  There’s nobody dyeing it for us; our roots are showing and we’re getting shaggy.  Our nails are their natural color again; our clothing is getting shabby and threadbare.  Ladies suddenly have eyebrows again (and thank God!)

Another thing that’s changed is, we’re not going to restaurants.  Most of the big chains will survive this, but the small hole-in-the-wall place you loved for their mu shu pork is gone and won’t be back.  Seafood restaurants can’t exactly deliver; fishermen are stuck in port because nobody wants their catch.  And the supply chain for mozzarella sticks has been permanently upset.

We can mourn their passing; we can’t prevent it.  These things are gone.  Some few may return, but most won’t.

And, let’s face it:  Treasures like that age-old Italian red-sauce restaurant have been gone for decades.  There are a few left, but most of us make do with microwaved meals from Olive Garden or at best the caricature of the mom & pop place that is Buca di Beppo.  They’re not bad, exactly, but they’re sure not what we once had.

This happened to us because we decided it should.  Instead of a real burger we settled for McDonald’s; in place of diners, we went to Denny’s.  The chains are more efficient; the food they give us is cheap and filling.  And if we want quality, it’s still out there somewhere; it costs us more, but we can get it if we have to — if we’re willing to pay through the nose.

A few years ago we recognized this; we saw it coming, but seemed powerless to get out of the way.  And yet one or two bright spots appeared; we now have a decent burger available at Five Guys and if you’re lucky enough to live in the South you can go to a CookOut.  But for most of us in the city there’s no place that makes a good solid meal, packed with carbs and protein and the odd reluctant vegetable, with hot strong coffee and a big slab of pie for dessert.

I’ve been trapped in the hell that is suburban Maryland for years now (for my sins), and the one thing I cannot find here for love or money is a decent pie.  Don’t try to tell me about that crap they sell at the chain grocery; hot water crust it ain’t.  I can go to the Silver Diner and pay twelve bucks for a slice of canned apples; in the fall the local orchards do their best — but it’s not a patch on what I used to get at the Log Cabin Diner when I was a kid.

I live in a pie desert, and it’s like hell only humid.  And with lawyers.  But I digress.

It’s easy to forget that we have the power to choose the world we live in.  We remake it every day with our actions, even the small ones like deciding on McDonald’s rather than real food.  When we’re stuck at home we feel even more powerless; the same is true for those navigating daily through a ghost town without, perhaps, adequate gloves, masks, and sanitizer.

When we at long last extricate ourselves from the hole we’ve found ourselves in, most of the world will go back to normal.  The fishermen will go back out (most of them); the cheese sticks will start to flow again.  But we’re deluding ourselves if we think all will be right with the world.  All was not right with the world when we started this; if it was, we’d have toilet paper right now, to say nothing of enough masks.

So let’s stop and think about the world we want to return to while we’ve got the chance, shall we?

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