Trial By Food Court

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“It’s called a Food “Court,” because if you eat at one, it feels like you’ve been to trial and sentenced to eat prison food.”  – X

It was once a thriving place, one that thousands of people a day visited. It’s heyday arrived before the virus. I rarely go there anymore. Looking at the bricks on the outside evokes a “Walking Dead” vibe that is difficult to shake.

Before entering, I noticed the mask signs everywhere. “We proudly require our employees to appropriately wear their masks at all times for your safety” indicated one such sign. I knew well that this couldn’t possibly be true. Even medical professionals start doing stupid things with their masks and protective gear if given enough time to get sloppy.

Like many places, this place added security to ensure that people coming in would wear their masks. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, such public places provide great and literal ‘security theater’ that you can watch from a casual distance. It always provides something to enjoy.

Before the anecdote to follow, I’d like to mention that I did my double-order maneuver. I chose the eatery at the food court and ordered. I stood to the side. Known for its very rapid service, I waited patiently for about five minutes. People picked up their orders. I began to notice that people who ordered after me were getting served. Still, I waited. After ten minutes, I walked up to the counter again. I ordered the same meal I already purchased and paid for. I paid for the second order, too.

As I finished, the cashier who helped me with my first order said, “Hey, did you get your order?” I leaned in and said, “No, so I gave up and just ordered again.” He looked confused. “And you paid again?” I nodded in affirmation. The other two people in front looked at me and then each other, knowing they’d messed fairly spectacularly. A whirlwind of activity then commenced, with each looking at the order-up screen, previous orders, etc. They decided that they’d given my order to another guest. The other guest had said nothing when given the extra order. All the possible guests guilty of such a thing were seated in the food court. I interceded: “While they should have said something, they are blameless. One of you combined the orders and handed it to them. It’s not their fault. I paid twice because I wasn’t upset. Mistakes happen. I don’t want a refund. Just give me my food. By the way, that’s why I call it the Double-Order-Maneuver.” Because this particular thing had obviously never happened to any of them, they were clueless about how to proceed. A minute later, the cashier handed me my bag. “Thanks, Fred,” he said. “My name isn’t Fred. I used a fake name when I order in these places to cut down on communication problems. Obviously, I need to reconsider that tactic. Y’all have a good day and don’t worry about all this.”

I imagine someone had to figure out a way to explain to the manager that a customer gladly paid for the same meal twice.

I sat at a table for two in the food court, watching. There were more people than one would imagine. Several of the eateries in the food court were closed, with a couple barricades permanently. Covid keeps pounding coffin nails into the ones that attempt to survive there.

The kiosk of gumball machines sat forlornly to one side, it’s inventory inaccessible due to the ropes and tape. The piano, once attended by a cheesy but talented pianist, sat covered and forgotten.

A security guard and cleaning tech walked past me on my right. The cleaning tech was furiously gossiping to the security guard, who walked a foot away from her, leaning toward her to catch each word. The cleaning tech’s mask was already below her nose. As they stopped to wipe a table, the cleaning tech pulled her mask down to her chin. Though it seems like an exaggeration, I could see the spittle from her mouth arcing toward the female security guard.

People walked past. The two moved around, still standing close to one another. Whatever vexed the cleaning tech must have been very important. As I was about to circumspectly snap a picture, they moved to another table. The tech angrily pointed at a dropped straw wrapper as she snatched it. I took a picture anyway.

I took out my marker and wrote on a napkin, “Having a mask below your nose, much less below your mouth, is like having no mask at all.” I laid the napkin in the center of the table as I collected my trash. Doubling back, I walked the long way around the food court. By then, two more security people walked up and joined the two gossipers. Another food service worker joined them. Three of them had their masks on incorrectly. I took a picture of the group as they moved along. I noticed a few people were looking at the group with differing amounts of “What are you doing?” written on their faces.

I stood on the other side of a kiosk in the middle of the indoor hallway, watching. In less than a minute, the original security guard and the cleaning tech made their way back to my table. The security guard leaned over and read what I inscribed on the napkin. Her head snapped immediately back up, scanning around her. She then looked incredulously at the cleaning tech next to her, who still had her mask down. I didn’t need to know what was said. The body language might as well have been expressed using nautical flags.

I burst out laughing at the over-reaction. Instinctively, I moved all the way around the kiosk.

I waited fifteen seconds and when I emerged on the opposite side, the female security guard clutched my napkin. Her frenzied gait communicated that she was about to catch the other loitering security people and show them the napkin.

Her time would have been better served to tell the cleaning tech and her fellow security guards to stop walking around without their masks on their faces. This is especially true since it is the essential function of their presence. Barney Fife could keep the potential mayhem at bay without assistance; no one needs multiple security guards milling around asking for trouble.

The security guard pulled her mask completely down as she aggressively explained that someone had left an unwelcome napkin on the table. Naturally, the other guard pulled his mask down, too, possibly in an effort to hear better. It’s a common and stupid tactic that many of us are guilty of when wearing a mask for long periods. (Like we do when we turn down the radio when we’re driving and looking for something.)

In a move that should be noted for posterity, a man standing with the other two guards leaned over and read the napkin. Although I couldn’t hear what he said, he pointed at each of the guard’s faces, then up, then around. I’m sure he was mentioning cameras and people watching. As if on cue, both guards grabbed their masks and yanked them up above their noses.

The original security guard said something angry and crumpled the napkin in disgust.

I laughed again. She crumpled the napkin so theatrically that I couldn’t help myself.

While no one looked toward me, at that point I didn’t care. What were they going to accuse me of? Writing truths on a napkin?

 

 

3 thoughts on “Trial By Food Court”

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