Mom and Pop’s

I have a curiously strong dislike for most chain restaurants. I don’t shun them, oh no….I try them, get disappointed and wrinkle my nose with a contemptuous “No, that’s a chain restaurant” next time I’m dining out. Olive Garden, Subway, Taco Bell, been there, done that!

A friend of mine that is my source of truth for all things economic, tells me chains are the future. They provide consistent quality across all the different stores. He said some things about brands and how they bring in business and keep the progress going.

Me, I’m still thinking about the amazing Spinach, sun dried tomato and mushroom Quiche I had, this weekend, at that little place with the funny merchandise in rural Virginia. “I had this amazing dish at the Subway in town and spoke to the lady there who gave me some tips about how to get the consistency just right…” — said no person EVER!

Apparently, I am in denial…I shut my eyes against the changes in the economic horizon, willing them to leave the world alone. Like a child, hiding under the sheets, hoping the boogie man would Just.Go.Away. This isn’t a corporate- bashing article…I am not going to talk about Walmart, I promise!! I am just another soul, hoping that the selfish traveler in me, gets the unique experiences that I love, on my sojourns.

For high quality food, I am recommended get-reservations-in-a-past-life, wallet- busters. True, the food there is heavenly, nothing like I’ve ever seen before, served like art, making me hesitate ruining it with my undeserving bite. But doesn’t the Jazz music aficionado, not want to dance to folk songs every now and then? I take pictures of my dish stealthily, so as not to look foolish in the eyes of my stylish co-diners and the tastefully disapproving serving staff.

Food, check…service, check…but warmth? coziness?

What if all I wanted is the comfort of a familiar $4 quiche, just made unique by the recipe of another person like me; and not a chef that went to culinary school in Italy? What if I want a self serve place where I chat with a young woman making my sandwich, as opposed to the chic waitress to whom I gave my order…and said thanks, but nothing else?

Why should the traveler in me, be forced into picking between a Subway and a Burger King, knowing that I am eating food that I could eat in my block, just a couple of 100 miles away?

That spinach quiche, the conversation with the lady about how the consistency of the filling was oh-so-perfect, the funnily impudent Christmas card that proclaimed “I believe in homemade presents, which one of my kids would you like?”….it made my day in a way that all the familiarity in the world at a Subway- the bread, the cheese, the interiors, would never make. We travel, to explore…we travel to seek sights and experiences that are unknown. There’s the comfort of familiarity; but there’s also the thrill of the unknown!

How do I explain to the economist, well read, armed with an arsenal of statistical tools and graphical wizardry, that as much as I would like for the country to progress…that such experiences are simply too steep a price to pay?

It’s not just about the food….If the same lady that told me how she made the quiche, were to have met me in a McDonald’s, the conversation would never have happened. The cogs in an efficient, corporate, assembly line would have gotten me my food in 20% of the time; at the cost of 100% of the experience+ the check and tax.

I force myself to rationalize, that mass produced, inexpensive, consistent quality of goods has its upside…undoubtedly. I am here, neither to deny the benefits of corporates, nor to vilify the powers-that-be. I am just trying to voice my quiet trepidation that the tiny quaint shacks of local Mom and Pop outlets might fall, to the corporate tidal wave that big-name chains tend to be. A balance would be ideal…but I don’t know if that is practical, or even possible.

But part of me, believes, that against all odds human experience…the desire for uniqueness, variety, freshness, novelty, will continue to outshine human consumption….That economics may dictate the flow of big money, but that the emotional tug for homemade tomato-basil soup will take me to the tiny cafe down the road, just like it brought every other person in that cafe around me….and that all of us there, will keep the cafe alive, and the little vegan place in town, and that amazing chinese place with the veggie dumplings….And that a few years from now, the cafe down the road will continue running out of its spinach-feta pastry by lunch, and I’ll feel lucky to get one at 4 pm, when I make my trips.

I ate at one Subway in my trip…and realized something had changed. I know… next time I don’t find a table at my neighbourhood coffee place, or they are all out of croissants, that I will cheer before I grumble…and celebrate quietly, the victory of experience over economics!

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