In Arizona, the shelter in place order was lifted on Monday; salons are operating again, outdoor shopping centers posted their new hours, and restaurants started opening up for dine in… this was good news, right?
Inevitably, the first few weeks of quarantine were an adjustment; working from home with my partner, partaking in Zoom calls instead of gathering in person, and preparing organic food I’d carefully selected from Sprouts while wearing my thick mask that forced me to smell every burp I let out.
But, like anything, I suppose, I got used to it. I’ve grown to appreciate my new routine of making steamed oat milk with honey in the morning, followed by a day of work, an at home workout, and an hour or two of writing. I hadn’t been in the car with with my boyfriend in at least six weeks… not until today, when we decided it was time to check out my sister’s new apartment and swing by my best friend’s house to see her three week old baby in person — from a safe distance, of course.
“You guys hungry?” Matthew asked as we sat in my sister’s living room after poorly singing happy birthday to my dad on FaceTime.
“Yeah, you want to pick up some food?” I sincerely questioned.
“No, let’s go sit down together somewhere. Wouldn’t that be nice?” he was unprepared for any answer that conflicted with his.
My sister was in. My niece was in, though to be fair, she’s three and just made loud noises while wheeling around on her tiny pink tricycle.
They started looking up restaurants in the area, calling to confirm they were allowing customers to dine in.
“No, sorry, we’re only doing take out right now.”
“Just take out until June 1st, actually. Can I grab your order?”
“We’re preparing for dine in, but not yet. Try back next week.”
Finally, they landed on the chain of American chains… Chili’s.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place when I love Chili’s, just like there’s a time when Waffle House is the ideal spot to mow down… at 1am, when you’re drunk and ready for grease, syrup, and scrambled eggs, even though you asked for over-easy.
“Okay, guys. Just for you, because I’m hungry,” I generously offered.
The restaurant was two minutes away from my sister’s apartment and I must admit, a pang of excitement rushed over me as we entered the parking lot. I adjusted my green tank top and tugged the strands in my pony tail a smidge tighter — let’s do this.
I pulled the metal knob that was melded to look like a chili and immediately rummaged through my purse in search for my mini hand sanitizer. The hostess wore a mask that nearly covered her eyes; she must’ve spent at least 20 minutes layering on her shadow, perfecting the black winged liner, followed by thick fake lashes. I’m sure this level of effort would diminish after two weeks of being back to work, greeting impatient families waiting for their cheese fries.
As we walked to our table, I was shocked to see how many people sat comfortably in their groups, plucking at the free chips and salsa.
“Here you are,” eye make-up lady gestured towards the over-sized red booth.
We thanked her, because apparently Americans have to express gratitude for everything, which is unlike many other countries, I’m told. I actually remember an Uber driver telling me how obnoxious he found the faux appreciation.
After sitting for a minute or two, I started to feel dirty… like I was a freshman in high school again, sitting in the back of an upperclassman’s truck, being passed a joint, expected to hit it without question.
I was hungry, though, and I didn’t want to make it an ordeal. So, I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and allowed my sister to tell us about the archaic email system at her work. My nerves began to calm as I saw Brett Favre’s face on one of the televisions playing in a game from the 90's… oh, Brett, how could you ever have gone to the Vikings?
20 minutes after ordering, we were each handed our silver tin, covered in thin brown paper, with our average food sitting on top… their pesto aioli was quite enjoyable, though. I quivered as I watched my niece grab her tangerine pieces and shoved them in her mouth… had I become a germaphobe?
I applied another layer of sanitizer and took my last bite, immediately yearning to be away from the laminate upholstery and back in my Optima.
“Yeah, I almost feel like I cheated on you with an ugly girl,” my boyfriend suggested as we compared notes in the confines of my car, allowing our personal air conditioning to draft through. “It just… wasn’t satisfying… I feel… I feel guilty for some reason.”
We spent the next 30 minutes talking about relationships, making no plans to dine in this weekend, or any time soon. Who knows if that’ll change in the coming days, but for now, I’m happy to continue preparing new sweet potato recipes in the comfort of my spacious kitchen.