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The Chinese Restaurant: Cant Start a Fire Without a Spark

Tired of my own cooking I drove the half-mile to the local Half-Mile-O’-Mall to see what the gods of franchise cooking had to offer.

Wendy’s new lawn banner pleaded with me to “Drive-through or walk in and order take out!!” but I wasn’t in the mood for a square slab of pressed steer protein shot full of holes, so pass.

Fifty yards of parking lot away was the sports chapel franchise Wild Wings. Before the world went smash you could amble inside, order a 25 buck bucket of wings slathered with a pint of sweet sauce plus an eight buck beer. Fortified you could watch their towering digital screens filled with giants nudging and grunting and smashing each other in pursuit of an oblate sphere. Drinking at Wild Wings was fine because — at but a half-mile from home — I was unlikely to take a four-beer DUI hit from the cop I’d open the conversation with by saying, “Look here son I’m not drunk as half that I look.”

Then there is the always acceptably mediocre Panda Express. This is a franchise I snubbed in a previous life but have come to rely upon in this one. Dining out Panda Express is my first and second choice. My third is to go home.  Panda Express has shuttered its dining area — online orders only (UberEats, etc.)–  but the drive-through lane is open.  I drive towards the Panda Express but stop short.

There are over 30 cars waiting in the line of the Panda Express drive-through. Average time to order, pack, pay and deliver each order would be at least three minutes per car. That’s an hour and a half to wait for your food. Put it another way that’s watching the Seinfeld Chinese Restaurant episode three times. (You know, the one where they wait for 30 minutes for a table and then leave just before they are called? Yes, that one. Three times. )

I have no idea what sort of folks can wait like that but I do not wish to be among them…

….. And yet through the power of Panda Express’ suggestion, I have formed a yen for Asian cuisine….. I ponder this in park and…..

(Exclamation mark appears above drawing of my head.)

There is, I recall, a standard American-style sit-down restaurant serving acceptably Chinese food just across the way.

Perhaps they are open……………………………………..

………….[driving through marginal traffic]……………..,.,………….

………… [parking lot with standard Taco Truck]

………….[circle parking lot avoiding ordering humans at the inevitable Taco Truck …….

…..Neon Oval sign glows in red “Open”]………..

…..park….. walk to the door and inside.

Empty. Emptier than an echo of a whisper.

Every table, round and square, covered with a crisp cloth table cloth. Every place in front of every chair is set with knives and forks and chopsticks and small ceramic teacup next to a tiny red pup tent of a perfectly folded cloth napkin. Every place at every table is crisp and clean and ready

and empty.

An elderly Chinese lady at the register welcomes me in that sort of broken English heard often in the Chinese of her age: a kind of swallowing of some words when unsure she is saying the right word…   as if she was a refugee of sorts and never had to speak much English out of the home.

She gestures to a table on her right where menus are stacked so we can separate ourselves according to the Empire’s decreed six feet of separation — a habit we have all almost effortlessly acquired.

I make my selections and she runs a calculator and I seriously overpay her in cash, no, keep the change, please.

She goes to the back of the restaurant and I wander back and forth between the crisp clean and ready tables.

Looking at the pass-through counter I see that the cook is a man of roughly her age as well.

And from the casual half-heard comments passed back and forth in Chinese and, yes from the tone alone, you know that they are man and wife and this crisp clean and ready restaurant is theirs; this is what they have; this is what they have made together; this is what sustains them and that it is far too late for them to start over. It’s almost too late for them to get up from being knocked down by an incoming pandemic from a country they had probably fled from as children.

My food came and I thanked her and left. It was fine Chinese-American cuisine. Better and more complicated than Panda Express.

As I pulled out of the parking lot I looked across the street at Panda Express. That 30 plus line of cars waiting for food was holding steady. Which I suppose is something.

Holding steady, that is. Something but not enough.

Holding Steady won’t be enough to save us. It won’t be nearly enough. To save ourselves we have to find a way to save that couple’s small restaurant. Their restaurant is one — only one — speck, one spark of a myriad. And those are the sparks, those are the embers that we must somehow tend until we can to free the flames we’ve imprisoned in our lackadaisical lockdown. Fail at that and the automobile food lines at Panda Express will not sustain us.

Holding Steady cannot sustain us. We can’t stand still like the hummingbird. Like parched sinners in search of a second life, we need to be born again in freedom. We need to pick up our dropped tools and realize the truth of the prophet: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Richard Palmer April 19, 2020, 8:28 PM

    My wife and I are trying to do our bit. We walk 2+miles to our local town almost every other day for excercise and for take-out lunch. Our tab is $15.00 or so + a $5.00 tip. We also do dinner take-out once a week- bigger tab and tip. But this kind of traffic is not sufficient to sustain our town’s small restaurants – let alone the other retail stores deemed ‘non-essential.’ I think we are through the catastrophe of mortality (ala the Black Plague), but have yet to view the catastrophe of our economy/small businesses you speak of. Unemployment numbers tell the tale of employees (my son was just furloughed from the hospitality business), but the reckoning from the world of small businesses will be the untold and most severe tale.

  • Jewel April 19, 2020, 8:29 PM

    If you should ever find yourself in Kansas City MO, or maybe Overland Park KS, just on the other side of the state line, go to Bo Ling’s. You know it is good food when most of the customers are Chinese.

  • CW April 19, 2020, 9:19 PM

    Priya. Soon. Hopefully.

  • Whatever April 19, 2020, 11:23 PM

    The virus was overestimated, the economic fallout underestimated. It’s going to get bad. Really really bad. It’s going to come in waves, first the unemployment of hourly workers. Then they don’t pay their bills and rent, so the next wave, then they don’t pay their bills, and the next wave.

    Does everyone understand there is a non-trivial chance of total economic collapse? Maybe not large, but it is higher than the original probability of “a million dead”. While you ration your food during the food riots burning your local large city, remember that we starved millions to save a few thousand from a virus that kills about half a percent of young healthy workers.

  • Jean DuBois April 20, 2020, 1:02 AM

    Economic collapse was something folks in the last real pandemic, the Spanish Flu, understood: if you don’t work, you don’t eat, and if you don’t eat, you die, at both the micro and macro levels. We seem to have lost that understanding.

  • Mike Anderson April 20, 2020, 3:40 AM

    Prepare for your next take-out expedition by swiping one of those cheapo cardboard signs (“We buy houses,” “Elect Schittforebranze”, “New Model Homes, $5mil, cheap”, etc) and spray paint it to read “Psst! Over Here! Good Eats, No Line” and stick in the lawn in front of this jewel of a restaurant, before going in for an Asian feast (I recommend the Mu Shu Beef). Big institutions create and prolong our misery, the little guys are our only way forward.

  • Gordon Scott April 20, 2020, 4:18 AM

    I was in a rush on Saturday and there was a 45-minute wait for takeout at the local family owned breakfast place. I’d have rather, but I had a long day in Walmarts ahead (not a lot of masks in western Wisconsin, by the way). So I went to the alternative Mex place, Taco John’s. I got a pretty good beef burrito with eggs and potato oles (oh-lays). The woman at the window said to me, “Thanks for supporting us.” She meant it, too.

  • ghostsniper April 20, 2020, 4:43 AM

    Can’t an employee sneeze all over a 25 buck bucket of (take out) wings slathered with a pint of sweet sauce just as easy as if they were eaten in the facility?

    All this take out stuff is a goofy farce.

    Regardless, this flu business has been the final nail in the coffin for us, regarding the stylish late 20th century nonessential habit of having other people prepare our food for enormous sums of coin. In the past we’ve done it rarely, maybe 5 times a year, but now we will most likely not do it at all.

    It’s not just the restaurants. For me it’s been a long downward slide of disgust in other people everywhere. I prefer to avoid everybody and have little reason to associate with others. I’ll venture out beyond the wire only if unavoidable.

    The very thought of tatted and pierced, diseased communists touching all over my food is enough to make me hurl. I wouldn’t let any of them mow my yard.

  • Chris April 20, 2020, 5:22 AM

    Couldn’t agree more. And there’s only one tool left to use. Forget about mustering anywhere anymore,we can’t even do that as a people we’re all so divided by design I think.
    I’ll help anyone who needs it. The rest need to stay at least 500 yards or better away…..

  • John Venlet April 20, 2020, 5:37 AM

    We’ve a smallish, but well stocked, store called Martha’s Vineyard here in Grand Rapids, MI. Sells wine, beer, liquor (huge selection for a smallish store), has a wonderful deli counter, sells hand made pizzas, etc. It’s owned by a Lebanese Christian, Kamil. Most of his family works with him (six that I know of personally), and he also employs about 25 other folks. During the first 3 weeks of the government sponsored economic shutdown, Kamil kept everyone onboard, though some hours were reduced, and then he had to let a half-dozen people go. When I stopped in to purchase a few items on Saturday, Kamil, though pleased to see me, was distressed because on Friday he had to let 20 other people go. He told me he kept them onboard as long as he could, but he burnt through $125K of his own money and could not afford to burn through anymore. He was tapped out. He felt terrible about it, like he was letting down his people. It is not Kamil who has let people down, it is the Chinese, elites, the powers that be, and the so called medical experts, who have let Americans and people around the world down. It’s time to get back to work, or the business failures which are just beginning, are going to cascade over all of us.

  • Marica April 20, 2020, 6:39 AM

    Off topic, but what’s happened to Andy? The weekend has come & gone and he hasn’t posted a PVP Diary entry since Friday. Has something happened to Seattle?

  • Terry April 20, 2020, 8:01 AM

    We live in a small town in Idaho. Population, 3000 +/- for over thirty years. My wife and I have been ordering food to go from a couple of our regular restaurants. I do not wear a mask.

    A few days ago I noticed a large sign in the window of the only “democrat” owned restaurant in town. Sign reads: “AVAILABLE”.

    This is great! Goodby, adios, don’t let the door hit you is the ass. The owners wife is a school teacher and the main thrust behind the communist doctrine called Common Core in the schools in this county.

    A democrat pair run out of here by a Chinese caused virus. There has not been a single case of “COVID-19” here so far. The shit is dangerous to leftist business people only. And yes, the two were seen entering their car wearing masks.

  • Vanderleun April 20, 2020, 8:20 AM

    Andy’s back at (he took the weekend off) at https://newwesthavens.com/2020/04/20/the-pvp-diaries-26/

  • James ONeil April 20, 2020, 9:34 AM

    Good on yer Gerard re the Chinese restaurant!

    I list tobacco among my many many vices. A local shop I frequent, Judy’s Smoke Shop (Not her/it’s real name) ran by a Korean escapee from LA, is now closed as a non-essential business.

    My normal order there, every week or so, was a carton of cigarettes. I plan, when she re-opens, to stop by and buy at least 10 cartons. Hey it’ll give her a little extra immediate money (OK, in the grand scheme of things, very little, but I suspect it will raise her spirits a bit.), it’s no skin off my nose (nor a significant number of extra spots on my aged lungs) and it may help her to climb out of the hole our China virus policies have created for small businesses.

  • John Venlet April 20, 2020, 10:10 AM

    @James ONeil – My local tobacconist also is consider non-essential, mostly anyway. Cannot your tobacco lady take orders over the phone, like my guy does, and then meet you at the curb with your order? That’s how we’ve been getting around the “rules.”

  • azlibertarian April 20, 2020, 10:36 AM

    We haven’t made it to any of our favorite restaurant haunts, but it isn’t because we haven’t felt the hankering. WifeofAzlib is one of those with a compromised system, so we’ve been extra careful about any unnecessary outings. Additionally Daughter#2ofAzlib made good her escape from an overseas military assignment with two of TheBestGrandkidsEvar™ [her terrific husband will join us later in the month] and we’ve been happy to act as their “home base” as they are between moves.

    But your “Holding Steady” reminds me of <a href="https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MBfjfOU25m8/TkPTwTR5R-I/AAAAAAAAAC0/XzOcMEfQGLE/s1600/holdfast.jpg"/Hold Fast, which I recall seeing in some movie, but I can’t remember which one right now.

    FWIW, the best BBQ anywhere (And don’t try to convince me otherwise. This is scientifically proven.) is the nearby Waldo’s, and I prolly ought to see if I could somehow smuggle some of their wares into the house.

  • James ONeil April 20, 2020, 10:55 AM

    Maybe, John V., but apparently gas station/convenience stores are essential and open. Hence folks can walk right in and buy their tobacco products, etc., there and are unlikely to make a pickup appointment at “Judy’s”.


  • Paul A'Barge April 20, 2020, 11:56 AM

    Bastrop Texas:
    1. Siam – fabulous Thai food, to-go of course. Clean and Yum
    2. Kyoto – fabulous Japanese/Sushi, to-go of course. Clean and Yum.
    3. Jalisco – fabulous Tex-Mex, to-go of course. Clean and Yum

  • azlibertarian April 20, 2020, 2:27 PM

    Apologies to all about the bad link. Not my day, I guess.

  • Teri Pittman April 21, 2020, 10:34 AM

    No, they do not understand how much more dangerous economic collapse is. I had this argument with a woman on a mailing list. She wrote me off list and we had a bit of a discussion. They have people so spooked by this virus that they think anything is preferable. I find the Asia Boss videos with the head of infectious disease in South Korea to be helpful in getting out the facts about the virus. The woman told me she watched that and was able to go and take a nap for the first time in weeks.

    I’ve read too much about the Great Depression to have any desire to go through it in my lifetime.

  • Vanderleun April 21, 2020, 11:41 AM

    I agree that the very low emotional tone of the Asian Boss interview is both informative and calmative. (It does have some drowsy patches due to the Korean language and the subtitles.)