I took myself out to lunch today. Okay, this doesn’t constitute BREAKING NEWS, but it is something I don’t do all that often. I never have. You see, in the lunch line of life, I’ve long been a packer.
Brown bagging became my lunch of choice early on, no doubt influenced by a traumatic experience in the 4th grade. It was a warm afternoon and Sharon Shifflett, the girl who sat next to me in Social Studies, threw up on her desk. The cafeteria had served beef stew for lunch that day. Need I say more?
The smell of a cafeteria can still make me queasy. Steamy air, fluorescent lights that buzz, hair nets. Cue my nausea. There’s just nothing appealing about them. Now I do want to say that all those cafeteria ladies growing up seemed super nice, I just couldn’t take what they were dishing out. And so, I packed.
Early on, my mom packed my lunch. She was a wonderful cook, but I can’t say that skill carried over into my school lunches. They were basic, but she did always cut my sandwiches on the diagonal – a classy touch that made me feel a little superior to the other kids with the regular sandwiches – even though I was eating the same overly processed meats that they were.
I’m a vegetarian now, but I still always cut my sammies on the diagonal. Thanks, Mom.
When I graduated from college and started working, I usually packed my lunch for one simple reason – it was cheap. I lived in the DC area and going out to lunch was just not in my vocabulary or budget. Occasionally, when I was feeling reckless, I would treat myself to a bagel sandwich at the mall near my office. Oh, and there were always the occasional girls’ lunch out for someone’s birthday or something. You know the one – where everyone gets separate checks and tries to figure out how to split the cheese sticks that were shared. Good times.
After a couple of years in the big city, I moved to Charlottesville, VA and worked as a department store buyer for several years. Retail schedules make for weird meals and never enough time to go out anywhere, except, of course, the mall. I ate a lot of Sbarro’s pizza during the 80’s – and I’m not going to lie – I liked it.
When I changed careers and became a development officer for a national veteran’s organization, I traveled a lot and had to take donors out to lunch. A lot of my donors were older, widowed women living in Florida. I always let them choose where to go and I know for a fact that Red Lobster is the preferred lunch spot for women over 70 living in the Sunshine State. Those cheese biscuits are really good, I’ll grant you that, but after a week out on the road, this seafood lover would be getting crabby.
I ran a local non-profit in my last job and most days I ate lunch at my desk. It’s not a good idea – especially for your keyboard. And invariably someone would walk into my office and say, “Oh, are you eating lunch?” What was your first clue? The fork in my mouth?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the midday meal, and I think travel has helped me broaden my lunch menu. Maybe everything seems more interesting in Europe, but some of my most memorable lunches have been in foreign lands. The Europeans think nothing of a two- or three-hour lunch, with wine, of course. Day drinking definitely upgrades a lunch.
My dear wife and I recently returned from a trip to Spain and Portugal where we had several extended rosé filled lunches. Dining al fresco in the middle of the day and never looking at your watch is its own form of intoxication.
I’ve never minded eating out alone, either. I think I got that dining confidence from my father who was a sales manager and traveled a lot throughout his career. When I was little, I used to worry about him eating alone so much. As I got older, I realized Dad was perfecting The Art of the Expense Account and made the most of his meals away from the family. He’d say, “Honey, my company would be embarrassed if I didn’t go out for a nice meal on the road.” Yes, my father was quite the salesman – in all manner of ways.
I think like me, lunch is a late bloomer. Think about it. Breakfast has long worn the moniker as “the most important meal of the day” – that’s a little pretentious when you think about brekkie items like Pop-Tarts and Donettes. And dinner is always the centerpiece meal for life’s great events – a date, a birthday, a wedding, retirement party, etc. Lunch is the meal in the middle of our busy days that folks most often skip. In some ways, lunch is not unlike the middle child – it has low self-esteem and sometimes feels inadequate.
Well, I’m now committed to giving lunch the attention it deserves, but I’m still not going anywhere near a cafeteria. Some memories truly do last a lifetime.