I’ve been talking with the young chef who works with me at the fancy coffee bar from which we are both furloughed. We’re attempting to re-conceptualize our cafe menu in light of all the changes we’re facing, trying to guess at what may emerge at some point in the future when we’re able to serve the public once again.
Curb-side carry-out is the new black, but we’re also trying to imagine how our patrons will feel to actually come back into our space when circumstances allow. To sit down. At a table. With others in (relatively) close proximity. We spin out scenarios based on assumptions that are probably inaccurate, but what else can we do? Old data is no longer reliable, and we have to start somewhere, even when the most honest answer to just about every question is, “I don’t know.”
How do we re-imagine a business that’s based on gathering people together, when gathering will continue to be fraught for a very long time? We’re a public house (sans the pub.) Our patrons come in for lunch and a latte, but what they’re buying is a space to be. Surrounded by old brick walls, wood beams, the tin ceiling high overhead. The comfort. The company. The cozy chair in the corner.
Without that space, what is our business, exactly?
I don’t know. (See?)
It occurred to me after this conversation with my chef that I’ve been thinking about things all wrong. I’ve been assuming that this crisis is a temporary disruption. An interim. A Sunday. And when Monday comes, we’ll move into a new normal, disorienting at first, but mostly familiar.
But it isn’t Sunday. And I don’t think this is an interim.
I think it’s a shift from stasis to flux. I think we’ve entered the very long wobble of a future that won’t settle down. It’s like Eldredge & Gould’s punctuated equilibrium, and we’re in the phase of disruption, where rapid change makes previous assumptions obsolete, the phase where (to paraphrase Webster’s) new forms appear, especially from small sub-populations of the ancestral form.
I like the idea of new forms emerging from old. From the vestiges of what has survived for millennia. It gives me hope.
Why not have hope?
My question is, could these new forms that appear from ancestral forms help get us back to the garden? And will people still want lentil walnut tacos when we get there?