I had lunch with a colleague the other day. In-between appointments, he’d suggested Red Robin, a quick-casual food place that holds a spot in my heart from college, not the least because of the collection of Zombie goblets Dr. K and I “acquired” back then while consuming the sugary, rum-laden beverages called, to no surprise — Screaming Red Zombies.
I was surprised that my colleague had never eaten at a Red Robin, but maybe it’s a Western heritage generational thing. I think the fact we still order take-out from the chain is in part due to college nostalgia. We are very familiar with its offerings, including that they no longer offer Zombie beverages in leering glassware. I’m not going into the question of whether my vast collection of three goblets has anything to do with that. But, it’s been years since I’d eaten inside one of the restaurants.
A recent change is the addition of individual Ziosks sprouting from each table.
Similar to a tablet, these user-friendly machines perch innocuously on each table, awaiting a diner’s touch. Ours displayed an alarmed Critter running towards us, the screen emblazoned with the title, Critter Escape! An encouraging orange button advised us we could Play Now, making Ziosks kid-friendly in a way unlikely to be positive for parents not in the know. For a fee ranging from .99 to $1.99, you, too, can help your critter escape from an unknown doom.
We can get into the ethical questions of who controls your children during dinner when game-playing is within reach. We can assess the entitlement to charge fees without warning. We can talk about the obvious financial benefit reaped by Red Robin and other food chains of this sort that create a boon for their bottom line with a bonanza of diner add-ons such as appetizers before the waiter even makes an appearance, another drink from the bar when your glass gets drained and dessert without guilt. Only you, your waistline and the little Critter inside the Ziosk will know if you ordered the Mountain High Mudd Pie; there will be no admonishing eye contact from the human server who would normally take your order, subtly suggesting that, yes, those jeans do make your butt look fat.
We’re not going to talk about any of that. Instead, let’s talk about talk: the art of communication.
The image on the screen isn’t as cute and alluring as my collie, Mopsy, when she fastens her intent, brown eyes on my face while I’m cooking dinner, the mute plea, “Feed Me!” fairly obvious. Mopsy is hard to resist and I know exactly what she wants when she looks at me like that. No words need be exchanged.
A subset of that communication form is the art of showing up. Mopsy lounges in the kitchen, alert to any movement near the stove. She is ready and available to take up her post in case I should choose to grace her with some niblet from the skillet.
There is a popular movement in these politically polarized times advocating for days when certain members of society go AWOL during the work week. On the most recent, one euphemistically labeled, “A Day Without Women,” I evaluated whether or not to adhere to a busy work schedule this past March 8th so that I could be one of those women who stood up for my rights. If I did, I could miss my first (early morning) meeting with the local Homeless Coalition, I could skip writing an article that was due in two days and I could order take-out for dinner in my PJ’s rather than driving 30 miles in the rain to review a restaurant’s fare. The next few days were swamped with work and it would have been lovely to ignore the obligations on the calendar.
But Woody Allen supposedly said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”
And as a friend recently said to me, “I appreciate you because you are open and can be vulnerable, meaning you can communicate.”
We do put ourselves in the line of fire when we voice an opinion, when we show up to a meeting, when we go to work in person. A waitress must handle the needs of her hungry customers while she juggles the other tables in her section, when she answers questions about details of the bottomless broccoli included with an order of Sear-ious Salmon —is it that they are broccoli florets without stalks that makes them bottomless or does the broccoli have no pants?
She takes time away from schlepping from one table to the other to pause for a sliver of a moment — and she smiles.
My dog Mopsy engages with me more than a silent Ziosk as she begs for a small sample of whatever happens to be simmering away on the stove. Mopsy is showing up and doing her duty as a dog. She therefore has some hope of getting . . . something.
And those Ziosks? After anonymously accepting your lunch order, they’ll ring you up and make sure you know that a tip is still welcome.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.
Interested in Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage? Find it on Amazon and in Indie bookstores.
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