I have seen the best minds of my generation eat at food courts.
I have seen them turn their distinguished backs on the clerical, lifeless structure of the restaurant, the shackles of the dining table and join the anonymous, unrefined herd at the trough. Here food is distilled down to the barest functionality of survival through ingestion of cheap and manageable food stuffs and where social etiquette is wholly restricted to not eating off a strangers plate uninvited. Away from the inquisitive nature of waiters and the burly aggression of expectation, one can savour, in any fashion deemed acceptable the wares of the world brought to your nearest convenient shopping hell. There we can perch in sweet anonymity whilst observing the steaming miasma of humanity around us.
The robust palour of humanity, segregated by table choice alone, defined by whatever culture of cuisine has been perused, selected and shovelled down at that particular time. We go to work with as much care as was made to form the plastic plates from whence the feast is scoffed and the plastic cutlery with which butter could not be penetrated. It matters not. It is an exercise in choice, contained within parameters of excellence neither shallow nor exalted. We feel neither highs nor lows but letterbox ourselves between what is excepted and what is expected. The adventurous amongst us are not permitted to travel too far, their palates severed at a Dhal or a franchised Portugese burger of dubious authenticity. They are places of staunch necessity, none of your high flyers here.
Yet there are jewels to be found. The best Seafood Mee Goreng I have ever had was within the back woods of the Melbourne suburbs. One of the best Butter Chickens could once be found in an orange hue food court in a hellish portion of The Shire in New South Wales. They were secret plates, eaten in a shroud and belonged, after purchase to none but yourself. No shadow on your shoulder. No expectation of approval. A simple exchange of money for food with no further expectation.
Cuisine as prostitution.
A proposition worth paying for; a show worth revisiting again and again. Lonely folk with nothing but a Rogan Josh for company. Exhausted feet seeking reprieve with a cheeseburger. Office workers claiming time with a foot long. Teens inhaling Americana. Watchers watching the watchmen. We are exposed, vulnerable when eating, all carefully built affectations lost to the dribble of sauce, the splatter of noodle and the wiping of stains from a once crisp and clean veneer. You cannot hide what you truly are in such a setting. All you can do is watch and feel less alone.
We’re all vulnerable in the same way, capable of the same lack of aspiration at times.
Sometimes we want something lesser. Sometimes we need it. We are fallible, incapable of maintaining our sometimes impossible standards, our sometimes unrealistic visions of ourselves.
Sometimes we need to get down into the dirt, jump into the trenches and be reminded of who we are in relation to others. We need not stay there, need not commit one way or the other.
We have choice. To be more. To be less. To forever flirt with the two.
Stained tables. Plastic chairs. Overbearing lighting. Unpalatable music.
They are the tools of a society lost within itself.
They are beautiful in their lack of pretence, breathtaking in the honesty they bring from those lost souls who wander amongst them.
Long may the empire of the food court reign.