Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Fast too-casual

Because there aren’t any more in-person meetings I need to drive to, I’ve been leaving my car at home and instead walking to my office, six days a week. It’s half a mile away and takes 10 minutes and gives me an opportunity to admire the birds and lots of dogs getting more walks than ever, now that everyone’s at home and bored.

The other day I figured I’d also walk to our nearby supermarket, Ralphs, because there’s a US Bank ATM in there, and I needed to deposit some money in one of my accounts. Across the street from it, there’s a cigar shop I frequent, and also a Bank of America ATM where I could get some cash. Putting all this together, I thought, would be a nice walk, and I could cap it off by having lunch at Ralphs. Lunch at a supermarket? Well, they’ve got a pretty good hot lunch counter next to the deli, and seating areas outside. Walk to the office, do some work, walk to the Bank of America ATM, go buy cigars, walk to Ralphs and deposit that check, then pick up lunch and eat it outside, then head back to the office. Walking two miles roundtrip sounded like a nice way to get some exercise now that my gym was closed, and to enjoy a couple of hours in an idyllic 72-degree southern California afternoon.

After getting some cash from the one bank and then buying some cigars and then walking across the street and depositing the check in the other bank’s ATM, in other words, with all chores done, I headed to the service area at the end of the deli. A young man approached and asked what I’d like.

“I’ll have the three-item lunch special, please,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, “We can’t sell that anymore. Coronavirus.”

“Huh? What’s it got to do with coronavirus?”

“I don’t know. We just can’t sell it.”

“It’s on the sign.” I pointed to the sign. “3 hot items, $7.99.”

“I don’t know. Sorry.”

I looked down at all the items in the steamer trays. As usual, there they all were: ribs, fried chicken, roasted chicken, carnitas, mashed potatoes, potato wedges, corn, macaroni and cheese, vegetables and so forth.

“You realize you’re still selling the same food items, right?”

“Oh, I know,” he said mildly.

“It’s the same food,” I said. “It’s right there.”

He was unmoved.

“I walked a mile to get lunch here!”

“Sorry. You can still buy the food, but not the lunch deal.”

He didn’t look to be much older than my son, and he certainly wasn’t the decision-maker here. That had been someone in corporate, or a manager, and now the only decision-maker present was me. I sighed. “I’ll have the fried chicken, the mashed potatoes, and the corn.”

“Okay,” he said. And pulled together an order of eight pieces of chicken, half a pound of mashed potatoes and a quarter pound of corn. For my lunch.

The same things that would have been in the regular order – but tripled. Or quadrupled.

Looking at it being assembled, I now realized that I would need a basket. Originally, I was going to carry my hot meal in its little dish easily in one hand. Now I would need to transport it. While he completed my order, I went and got a plastic shopping basket.

When I came back, he handed everything over. As he released the corn, ensconced in a container that on its own could have held an entire lunch for me, he said with a sly wink, “I rang it up as green beans, because they’re cheaper.” I nodded at the proffer of reconciliation.

I and my massive lunch picked up a bottle of water and went through the self-checkout. I usually avoid the self-checkout because I want to keep humans employed, and because when I get the right checker, he or she will always accept every coupon I present, no matter what decade it’s from, and also personally congratulate me on how much money I’ve saved. The automated checker, by contrast, insists on trying to sell me a bag I don’t need. Today was no different. No, I didn’t need a bag – I had a basket! I paid and walked outside to the seating area.

Except the seating area was roped off. With the sort of tape you see at a crime scene. Coronavirus again, I suppose. I briefly considered just ducking under the tape and eating in there anyway, but then I thought, the heck with it, I would just walk back to the office and eat part of this lunch there and put the rest in the refrigerator.

As I headed to the sidewalk, a man called out, “Excuse me, sir! We need the basket!”

“I’ll bring it back!” I yelled back.

“Sorry,” he said. “We need it.”

“Okay! I’ll just… eat it here.”

And so I sat down on a dirty curb on the corner of the supermarket, like a hobo of yore, and gobbled down some chicken and some mashed potatoes and some corn while taking swigs of water. I had a sudden inspiration that this was just like a scene out of the Great Depression – and hey, we might be in a Great Depression now as well. Maybe this would become the new norm.

Just then, as I sat hunched over in the grime eating out of a shopping basket, I heard a voice call out, “Hey you!” and a woman I do business with passed me in her Mercedes, smiling brightly and waving at me.

I waved back.

Then I packed all of my lunch back into the basket, marched into the supermarket and stole a bag, one of those bags they sell you for 10¢, and I mentally dared anyone, anyone, to try to stop me, and stuffed all of my food into it, and headed for my office.

That lunch lasted me for three days.

3 Responses to “Fast too-casual”

  1. Dan Says:

    Lee, what am I going to say to all the kiddies out there who read your blog every day — whether you’ve posted or not — and look up to you as a hero? I used to hear them playing make-believe in the schoolyard, arguing over who gets to be Lee Wochner. Now how am I going to explain to them that you are a Bag-Thief?

  2. Lee Wochner Says:

    You can say: 1. Mr. Wochner has replied to that comment on his blog (this is that comment) and that they should look here because he’s always grateful for the traffic; and 2. Mr. Wochner spends about $10k annually at that Ralphs and they won’t allow him to reuse his bags now because of coronavirus so he feels more than entitled to that 10-cent bag;; and 3. Hey kids, mind your own damn business about Mr. Wochner because I know him for the everyday hero he is.

  3. Adrian. Says:

    All our eateries are closed! Envious.

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