Taking Lunch

One of my colleagues who has worked from home for many years advised me that getting out of the house is imperative.  He told me that he makes a point of going out to lunch nearly every day just to make sure he gets out and around other people.  While I often have too many back-to-back conference calls to go out to lunch, today I have a a half an hour, which is just enough time to take a walk to pick up take out.  My husband just happens to come in about the same time I’m wrapping up my last morning call and asks me what I want to do about lunch the second I hang up.  “Want to walk to the Riverstreet Deli?” I ask.  “Sure!” he replies.  I rush around finding shoes and a jacket (can’t believe I need a jacket when just a few days ago I was sweating in a tank top and shorts).  I check with my husband to make sure he has the apartment key and we head out.

Feeling stiff and sore between my morning workout and sitting at the computer all morning, I opt for the elevator.  The elevator in our building has a mind of its own.  It decides if it wants to allow you to push the button to call it or not.  When it’s cranky, only a firm but gentle touch will convince it to come.  Then, if it honors you by opening its doors, it may change its mind and refuse to let you select a destination.  When it’s in a really foul mood, it will close its doors and then refuse to go anywhere.  If you dare to lose your patience and bang on its buttons, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be stuck until someone else comes along who it likes better.  Fortunately, people come and go a lot, so we haven’t been stuck for more than 30 seconds so far.  I’m pretty certain that it’s only a matter of time before one of us gets trapped for days.  While this should motivate us to take the stairs, it’s become almost a competition of wills.

Today, the elevator is only slightly cranky and we make it to the first floor unimpeded.  The rain has changed from a downpour to an almost floating mist.  We run across the street with our rain jackets zipped and hoods up.  I, however, couldn’t find any shoes appropriate for the weather, having packed my cold-weather shoes into a box somewhere in our storage closet down the hall, and am, once again, wearing my Chacos hiking sandals with socks.  While this is comfortable for fall temperatures, it doesn’t work out so well in the rain.  My feet are wet before we turn the first corner even though I step carefully around the puddles.  Fortunately, it’s not so cold that my toes freeze.

We walk quickly across the street while the light is green–it’s a difficult intersection to get a across with the afternoon traffic.  There are usually pedestrians around the neighborhood, but today we seem to be the only ones silly enough to walk in the rain.  We take the scenic route through the park and as we pass by the wetland, entering a wooded area, a fawn suddenly appears at the side of the path.  We stand still and try not to scare it, but we are clearly making it nervous.  We back away slowly to give it some room and it bounds across the path to the woods on the other side.  We stand still and watch some more, waiting to see if it has a mother near by.  After a few seconds, a doe appears in the brush behind where we originally spotted the fawn.  The fawn, now about a hundred yards away in the other part of the woods, starts making a woeful noise that perks its mother’s ears.  We back further away and take a different route, hoping that mother and fawn will reunite quickly.

We walk along the riverfront looking at the cityscape on the other side of the river.  Lookout Mountain has disappeared in the clouds.  Only the buildings immediately on the riverfront are visible through the mist.  It’s like a giant cloud has parked itself on the landscape.  We walk quickly today, not having much time, with me hopping over puddles as best as I can.  We wind our way under the Market Street bridge holding our breath–the giant trash dumpsters located there never smell fresh.  Arriving at the deli, it looks dark from the outside, but when we open the doors, it’s completely full of people.  Apparently this is a popular lunch destination–impressive considering there aren’t many offices on this side of the river.

The man at the counter greets us and tells us about their specials.  He has a gruff voice and a Northern accent, making us think of New Jersey.  He describes today’s sandwiches with relish, clearly proud of the food he serves–we assume he is the owner.  I order Muffaletta.  I don’t know what Muffaletta is, but I’m on a “try new things” kick.  Pat orders a “Classic Rueben” with no dressing.  The man seems somewhat affronted.  He says, “No dressing?  Do you want some mustard on it?”  Pat says no and the man says, “Dry?” shaking his head.  Pat affirms and the man tells him, “OK, but if it’s just a good Rueben and not a great Rueben, it’s your fault, not mine.”  Definitely New Jersey.  Pat smiles at this and agrees to the man’s terms.  We wait for our sandwiches standing by the counter, looking over the crowd in the room.  Many people are dressed in business casual.  Groups of mostly men sit at tables swapping stories from the office.  Then there are a few younger patrons in jeans and looking quite casual.

Most tables have 4 people at them and I wonder what they do that they’re able to come up with four people to go out to lunch on a Tuesday after a holiday weekend.  I remember back to when I started my first job out of college and we used to take an hour for lunch everyday.  Lunch was considered sacred back then–no one would schedule meetings between 11AM and 1PM since we had flex time and people went to lunch at different times.  Lunch disappeared from my schedule at least 10 years ago.  Working with mostly remote teams across multiple time zones made it impossible to set aside an hour to go eat.  Now days, I mostly hope one of my conference calls will end a few minutes early so I can grab some food to eat while on my next call.  I miss being able to go to lunch.

The cashier hands us our sandwiches in an old fashioned brown paper bag.  We thank her and head out the door.  We decide to take the short way home since I only have 15 minutes now before my next call and I’m leading the call, so I won’t be able to eat at the same time.  We pass Julie Darling Donuts and sniff the air much like the nervous deer we saw earlier.  The smells coming from the donut shop always make my stomach growl.  But we pass on by, neither of us much in the mood for donuts.

We dare to take the elevator again when we return to our building.  It behaves rather well and we make it to our apartment with 10 minutes before my call.  The Muffaletta is still warm.  The big round bun soft, but with body to it and a nice, slightly crisp crust.  I love good bread.  The meat is piled so high that I can barely fit the sandwich in my mouth.  Since we eat in the privacy of our own home, I don’t worry about the grease I’ve smeared all over my face until I’ve finished the sandwich.  It’s really good.  I remind myself that I wanted to get in the habit of eating really healthy again and that I can’t eat like this every day, at the same time realizing that I have been eating like this every day for several weeks now.  Finishing up my sandwich, I use up several napkins cleaning up just in time to go back to work.  In spite of the calories, my only real regret is that I didn’t have ten more minutes to savor my sandwich slowly.