“You Should Do Carry-Out”

All day long I’ve been dreading the governor’s press conference, dreading the announcement that’s due any day regarding the lifting of the stay-at-home order that has shuttered my place of employment since mid-March.

I’m dreading the announcement because it will force a reckoning I’d rather postpone for a little while longer: that the work I’ve been doing for the past 20 years, the work of gathering people together in one place or another to serve them coffee and food, so that we might read stories to each other, and poems, and listen to each other’s music, is going away. Not for good, but for a good long time.

For as long as I’ve lived in this place by the river, my work has been an interaction. If the CDC guidelines are any indication, it’s about to be transformed into a transaction: boxes of food handed off to harried people whose faces, like my own, are half-hidden behind a mask, people to whom I cannot offer a table, or a hug, only a caramel latte in a carry-out cup, pushed across a counter from six feet away.

I’m not sure I can do it.

This is not my story, but still, it’s breaking my heart. The author is in New York City, and I am a six hundred miles west in flyover country, but I feel it, too. I feel it.

I don’t know whom to follow or what to think. Everyone says: “You should do to-go! You should sell gift cards! You should offer delivery! You need a social media presence! You should pivot to groceries!
I cannot see myself sketching doodles of the to-go boxes I will pack my food into so that I can send it out into the night, anonymously, hoping the poor delivery guy does a good job and stays safe. I don’t think I can sit around dreaming up menus and cocktails and fantasizing about what would be on my playlist just to create something that people will order and receive and consume via an app.

Like the author, I opened my first coffeehouse as a place where people could talk to each other. In those years before the iphone, I didn’t even welcome laptops. But the world has moved on. In truth it moved on long before this time of Covid-19. Covid is just the guy with the broom at the end of the cartoon, sweeping the dust from the stage.

Stage Four, I suspect. And no worries: the world still turns, the governor will tell us his plan on Friday, and this, too, shall pass.

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