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Eating Out During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Our First Three Experiences

June 10, 2020 Featured, Popular Culture Comments Off on Eating Out During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Our First Three Experiences

Normally we rarely eat out, I’m home all day and love to cook. Plus eating out often would break our low-income budget. However, we’ve actually been trying to eat out more since restaurants began reopening after COVID-19 pandemic closures.

I’m on disability so I get paid every month, my husband is an essential worker and has been getting full time hours most weeks. Our income has remained unchanged, our stimulus checks were additional income — so we’re trying to spend more than usual to get money back into the economy.

We’ve done takeout, but I’m not a fan of all the wasteful packaging. This post is about three recent experiences where we sat at tables and had a server, in three different jurisdictions.

SPRINGFIELD IL SATURDAY MAY 31, 2020

Right after I took this pic the other tables filled up. I’ve blurred my husband’s face to protect his privacy.
Fast food with a server, outside.

It was a beautiful day, but long story why we went to Springfield. Anyway, at lunch time we decided to try one  location of 400 restaurant chain McAlister’s Deli. Rather than going through a drive-thru and eat in our car we decided to try their patio, the interior dining room wasn’t open. The temperature outside was perfect and they had tables in the shade.  First time trying this chain for both of us.

The tables were 6 feet apart…barely. A server took our orders, we were all wearing masks. Drinks came in usual fast food to go cups, but I’d asked for “no straws” so we didn’t have that waste. The server brought a bill, took my card, returned with a paid receipt. All orders were to go but we could sit and eat so there was no tip option.

Neither of us had enough cash to tip our server so we ordered two cookies for dessert and asked about leaving a tip on our card. The server wasn’t sure. She returned with our cookies and a dine-in credit card receipt. This allowed me to add a tip to cover our original and dessert orders — a total of $25.52. I added a $12 tip because she was doing a lot of running inside and out, may not have been getting any tips. The two women seated closest to use did give her a cash tip. I chatted briefly with them, which was nice to experience again.

All our trash went back into the big to go bag and into a trash barrel. My husband then went inside to use the open restrooms.

Better than going through their drive-thru and eating the food in our car. I noticed they had an accessible route from the public sidewalk to the building, something I look for even when driving.

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, MO (ST LOUIS COUNTY) WEDNESDAY JUNE 3, 2020

My husband had a long dinner break between his afternoon and evening clients, both in St. Louis County. We decided to meet for dinner since I could take transit to meet him at a location midway between his clients.  This saved him driving home for dinner or eating alone.

This Wednesday evening it was a hot day out, but I stayed cool while on Metrolink. We’d decided on the relatively new Red Robin at South Hanley & Dale.  I think it was a Red Robin I ate at about 15 years ago, in Kirkwood. My husband had never been to one before.

Exterior of the newish Red Robin in Richmond Heights
Dining room, the red balloons mark tables where the host cannot seat guests.
Signs with the balloons explains why they are there

This time we got to sit in the dining room. All the tables were still in place but balloons & signs at many created spacing and reduced total capacity.  Nice dining room, an upgrade from the patio the previous Saturday. This time we had our drinks in real glass glasses, but still no straws! A folded paper menu created a pocket to hold plastic-wrapped utensils and napkin.  Our server wore latex gloves when bringing out our food — on real plates no less. But our utensils were plastic.

Plastic utensils & paper napkins, at these prices? Our server said they used to use metal utensils in the dining room.
I took home half of my mac & cheese, I reused my salad dressing and my husband’s ketchup containers to do so.

Total with tip: $31.03. Payment was via a wireless tabletop device from Zukoski. It was older, would only accept a physical card swipe or Samsung Pay — no chip reader or Apple Pay. I have some cards that are contactless, I should’ve tried one of those.

My 2nd time using a Ziosk at the table
Hmm, I should’ve slid the tip scale a little higher than the default of 20%. Or maybe I increased it from a lower percentage — I can’t remember.

This Red Robin location, like most, is company-owned, not a locally-owned franchise (yes, I asked).

SAINT LOUIS, MO SUNDAY JUNE 7, 2020

We went out for dinner again to celebrate the night before our 6th wedding anniversary. Not only did we want nice, we wanted local. We picked PW Pizza on Chouteau. I’d only been there a couple of times for meetings while working on participatory budgeting, my husband had never been before. We’d both been to Vin de Set, roof level, once.

I loved the interior, being able to see food in the big mirrors over the kitchen.
We were there late on a Sunday afternoon so they weren’t busy yet. It appeared like many tables & chairs had been removed.

We said booth when the host asked table or booth, he then tried to seat us at a booth immediately next to an occupied booth. He didn’t hesitate when I asked it we could sit one more booth over. They do have fixed plexiglass added between booths but why not be further apart when not busy?

Plexiglas partitions were added between their four booths in the main dining room

Again we have real glasses for our beverages, but we also had metal utensils rolled up in cloth napkins. We went to a pizza place but we both ended up ordering calzones. Like the previous two the menus were single use paper. On the front I noticed EOB for Employee Owned Business. I knew the P & W of PW Pizza stood for Paul & Wendy, so I asked. Their company has a program where full-time employees can earn shares in the company — an ownership stake. I’m a huge fan of EOBs, that’s one reason I buy King Arthur Flour.

 

Yes, I love cloth napkins, Every meal we have at home includes them, there is even one in my husband’s work lunch bag. For me this is an expectation of an upscale meal.
Paper menus don’t feel as nice as a heavy dinner menu, but it’s a fair trade off.
And inside the cloth napkin is metal utensils. Why couldn’t Red Robin have done this?
The menu is also a marketing opportunity.

Nobody that came to our table with beverages or food wore gloves. Not sure that makes a difference, just noting it. Our total before tip was $28.26. No contactless payment was available, I had to surrender my card. After inquiring they offered to manually enter the card number rather than swiping it. They said they’d wipe off the card after touching it, ink pens used to add tip get wiped off after every use.

Our calzones

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A month or so ago I’d have told you it would be a year before I’d be comfortable eating out, but even rarely it feels real good to be pampered at mealtime. Especially as a househusbands who plans & prepares all our meals.

This does remind me of the time before smoking bans, when I’d have to research a restaurant to see if smoking was banned or allowed. Now I want to research ahead of time to find out their pandemic-era measures, contactless payment, etc. Like the old days, the websites & social media posts will likely fail to communicate the information I’m seeking. Big chains will have an advantage.

It does feel good to eat a meal I didn’t have to prepare or cleanup, but also on real plates with cloth napkins (like at home). If I’m paying to eat out I don’t want plastic utensils, plastic cups, or paper napkins.

It’ll be interesting to see how the food service industry changes/adapts as the months go by. Hopefully small restaurant owners can make changes while surviving on reduced capacity.

 

Hoping For A Better World Before I Stop Breathing

June 8, 2020 Featured, Politics/Policy, Popular Culture, Steve Patterson Comments Off on Hoping For A Better World Before I Stop Breathing
Black Lives Matter sign along Gravois

I can still breath, but far too many can’t anymore — due to police brutality.  Here’s how Cambridge Dictionary defines brutality:

/bru??tæl.?.ti/ behavior that is very cruel or violent and showing no feelings for others.

Cruel or violent. No feelings for others.

The Police aren’t cruel & violent toward everyone, their clear target is black women & men. Breonna Taylor & George Floyd were the most recent victims.

I was just over a year old when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The killing of unarmed black men had been going on for decades at that point, though it didn’t make the news then. Now it seems we’re still grappling with one senseless killing when another occurs.

Since I was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer last fall I’ve cried a lot. But I’ve come to accept I have 1-10 years left to live. What’s harder to accept is my final years will likely be marked by a deadly virus and the continued killing of young unarmed black women & men.

I know as a white male I’ve been fortunate. My mom didn’t have to worry if I’d be killed just for being myself. Actually that’s not quite true, as a very out gay man my mom worried about AIDS or me being beaten to death.

Still I’ve lived my 53+ years unafraid of the police. I’ve been pulled over before and given the officers a hard time about not wearing their seat belts — a black person could never do such a thing. I grew up in Oklahoma City but never heard a word about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre when white mobs entered and destroyed a thriving segregated Black Wall Street. Not. A. Word.

Aerial over Washington DC shows BLACK LIVES MATTER in huge letters leading to the White House

Peaceful protests are the foundation of our democracy. Seeing the many protests all over our region is very encouraging. I have friends out protesting, I’d join them if it was physically possible.

Those who started riots & looting are not protestors, they’re agitators. They come out when the opportunity arises. The protestors are not rioters. Protestors are not looters.

The 7-11 at 17th & Pine was burned a week ago.

White folks are often uncomfortable during times like this when there are mass protests. Good! Black folks are uncomfortable every day so it’s about damn time white folks feel uncomfortable.

When I’ve cried the last few weeks it’s not because I’m going to die in the coming decade, but because young black  women & men have died so violently at the hands (knees) of police, citizen vigilantes, etc. Recently I also cry every time I see the video of the old white man shoved to the pavement by police in Buffalo NY. They just kept walking past him. Cruel & violent indeed.

Homemade billboard along SB I-55 in Illinois demonstrates the slave owner mentality still exists. Location is just south of Farmersville IL in Montgomery County.

The defense is often just following orders, following the lead of higher rank police. The culture of the institution is the problem, in every city from coast to coast. It’s pervasive. Old institutions take forever to change, but my time is limited.

I thought after Rodney King things would change. I thought so again after Michael Brown. Small incremental changes around the edges isn’t enough. We must rethink what policing means in 21st century America, including discussions around dismantling & defunding.

We must stop treating our black citizens like escaped slaves.

My bucket list includes travel and such, but I’d forget it all just to not have any more unarmed blacks killed. I’d like to go out knowing the world will get better, not worse, after I’ve stopped breathing.

Black Lives Matter!

— Steve Patterson

 

A Difficult Three Weeks, But We Have Toilet Paper

March 23, 2020 Featured, Popular Culture, Steve Patterson Comments Off on A Difficult Three Weeks, But We Have Toilet Paper

My most recent immunotherapy treatment was three weeks ago. Since then I’ve been especially tired and have had almost no appetite. Normally I’d be baking bread, making dinners from scratch, etc. I’d been eating so well I gained 5lbs my last visit. I’ll lose wait again my next treatment day, a week from today.

The last three weeks have been anything but normal, for anyone. Very surreal.  Seeing photos of stores being out of toilet paper made me regret not buying more on our trip to Costco last month.

My last time outside of our apartment was Saturday March 7th, we went to ALDI for our regular monthly trip. They had toilet paper, but we didn’t buy any — though I later wished we had.

My husband is a home health aide, so he’s out most days helping his clients in their residences. This includes doing their grocery shopping for them. After he finished one day last week he stopped at a nearby Costco to pick up items on the list I’d given him. Normally we’d go together, but I was too tired and I didn’t want to be exposed to other people.

My husband took a few pics, like crates at the entrance to demonstrate social distancing.
A sign on a crate lists items that are out of stock — like toilet paper.

As we’re putting away what he’d purchased I hit the jackpot. On the very top of our tall pantry shelves…six rolls of toilet paper!

This package of 6 rolls is part of a larger bundle of 30 rolls.

Yeah, there go my fears of running out.  Of course, we don’t know how long all this will last.

— Steve Patterson

 

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Shutting Down To Save Lives

March 13, 2020 Featured, Popular Culture, STL Region Comments Off on Shutting Down To Save Lives

The St. Louis region still only has one confirmed case of COVID-19, but to contain it from spreading some big decisions have been made — both nationally & locally. Flights from Europe cancelled for at least 30 days, major sports postponed, Broadway shows shuttered, music tours cancelled. College classes switching to online only.

Enterprise Center was to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA had said the March Madness tournament initially would be played without fans, but yesterday made the decision to cancel completely. Both local St. Patrick’s  Day Parades have been postponed.

Some had been upset about lost revenue by not having spectators at restaurants and booking hotel rooms by the NCAA decision to not have fans, now we won’t have players, coaches, family, etc.

Sometimes the right decision means saying no to short-term profits.  This also impacts workers who need their paychecks to pay rent/mortgage and other bills.

We can look back to St. Louis 102 years ago to see how effective such drastic actions are.

When the influenza epidemic of 1918 infected a quarter of the U.S. population, killing tens of millions of people, seemingly small choices made the difference between life and death.

As the disease was spreading, Wilmer Krusen, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, allowed a huge parade to take place on September 28th; some 200,000 people marched. In the following days and weeks, the bodies piled up in the city’s morgues. By the end of the season, 12,000 residents had died.

In St. Louis, a public health commissioner named Max Starkloff decided to shut the city down. Ignoring the objections of influential businessmen, he closed the city’s schools, bars, cinemas, and sporting events. Thanks to his bold and unpopular actions, the per capita fatality rate in St. Louis was half that of Philadelphia. (In total roughly 1,700 people died from influenza in St Louis.)

In the coming days, thousands of people across the country will face the choice between becoming a Wilmer Krusen or a Max Starkloff.” (The Atlantic)

Philadelphia did have twice the population of St.Louis, but also more than twice the land area. It was a wise decision to shut everything down. In doing so many lives were saved.

It’s impossible to know how many more would’ve died had the city not been shut down temporarily. There will, hopefully, be a point where our lives can return to normal.

Will normal be different than what we knew prior to COVID-19?  Impossible to say at this point. However, it is possible to see businesses learning how to live without expensive conferences & expos.

Over the last 20 years, the conference and convention industry has grown rapidly as the global economy has expanded.

In 2017, about $1 trillion was spent worldwide on business events, including funds to plan and produce the events and related travel, according to an Events Industry Council report. North America alone accounted for $381 billion.

Convention centers and similar facilities rely on these events to survive, often booking major ones years in advance. (LA Times)

Right now we’re looking at an expensive expansion of our downtown convention center. Do we move forward or put it on hold to see what the  convention business will look like a year from now?

Will Coronavirus influence the design of the upcoming MLS stadium? More hand-washing stations?

A lot to think about, especially if you’re at home for days.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Readers Happy To Have Professional Football Back In St. Louis

February 26, 2020 Featured, Popular Culture Comments Off on Readers Happy To Have Professional Football Back In St. Louis

Professional football is back in St. Louis and many couldn’t be happier.

The St. Louis BattleHawks kicked off their XFL home schedule in style Sunday, blowing by the New York Guardians 29-9 before an inspiring crowd of 29,554 at The Dome at America’s Center. (Post-Dispatch)

Football fans parked as far north as 7th just before Cass Avenue during the first home game.

Here’s a more colorful quote:

After some 1,530 long, excruciating days, St. Louis football fans were finally able see their sport of choice at the Dome again, no thanks to the NFL or a certain toupee-sporting team owner who shall remain nameless.

Yes, February 23, 2020 will forever be remembered as the day Ka-Kaw Nation was truly born, thanks to St. Louis’ new XFL franchise, the mighty BattleHawks. As early as 8 a.m. beer-thirsty Hawkamaniacs were setting up grills and rolling out coolers; by 9:30 a.m. the parking lots and even the top levels of some of the parking garages located around the dome were filling up with rowdy tailgaters. (Riverfront Times)

Those who responded to the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll were generally enthusiastic.

Q: Agree or disagree: I’m excited the St. Louis BattleHawks are playing their first home game today.

  • Strongly agree: 5 [27.78%]
  • Agree: 2 [11.11%]
  • Somewhat agree: 4 [22.22%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [27.78%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 1 [5.56%]
  • Strongly disagree: 1 [5.56%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]
Event workers outside the Dome during the BattleHawk’s first home game.

I’m glad to see the Dome getting used, and compensated. It appears, initially at least, that promoter Vince McMahon has a modest hit with the reboot of the XFL.

Week 4 will be important. The NFL has taken back the news cycle with the scouting combine happening this week. The XFL is getting to the point of the season in which the novelty has worn off, yet it’s too early to hype up a stretch drive for the postseason. It will be a real test to reverse the ratings decline.

The XFL is doing better than expected through three weeks. The numbers still compare favorably to other options on the sports menu. But the challenge will always be to retain most of the audience that has had only three weeks to get used to a new football league. (Yahoo Sports)

Hopefully for the St. Louis fans the XFL will do well enough to continue.

— Steve Patterson

 

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