Creating a community while waiting for dinner

Our friendship began when she asked me if I’ve ever tried the carrot cake.

I said that I hadn’t — carrot cake is on the short list of desserts I don’t like — but that I’d had the molten chocolate cake and I was looking forward to having it again that night. I also have tried the beignets, I told her, and I hear they bring in their cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.

She asked me how long I’d been waiting. Something like 20 minutes already, I said. Another new friend who happened to be listening said she’d been waiting for 35 minutes. And our other new friend, who had been waiting for 40 minutes, just got called to go to her table. We cheered, praising her good fortune, wishing her a good meal.

Who knew that waiting for a table at the Grand Lux Cafe would create such a camaraderie?

In real life, strangers tend not to talk to each other. We might even avoid eye contact altogether. We stay in our own groups of friends; and when our friends aren’t there to provide a protective shield, we hide behind our cell phones, newspapers, or the intricate details of our shoelaces.

But when you share a common bond of being hungry, wondering how long you’ll have to wait, and picking a dessert in advance, there are no strangers in the world. Only fellow Grand Lux Cafe patrons who haven’t become your friends yet.

Left to my own devices, I would almost never strike up a conversation with a stranger. But as strange as it is to say, part of my heart opened up Saturday night while talking about carrot cake. The idea that we’re all in this together – we’re all alike, even if our dessert choices differ slightly.

Maybe next time we’re surrounded by strangers (unless they’re the type of strangers with candy and a white van), maybe we should all try a little harder to reach out. Thank you, Mrs. Carrot Cake, for inspiring me to attempt to make the world a little smaller.

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3 thoughts on “Creating a community while waiting for dinner

  1. It’s very funny reading this from the point of view of someone who recently moved between geographic regions.

    If I had read this post last year while I was steeped in the New York way of life, I would have agreed that we should try to reach out. But I would have been confused about the idea that strangers actually conversed in a normal restaurant location unless there were extreme circumstances.

    Reading it today instead, when I’m back in Houston, I find myself laughing, both at the attitude I would have had a year ago and at the idea that the only time Chicago strangers converse is when they are hungry.

    I can’t count on two hands the number of times in the last week alone I’ve had a conversation with a stranger just because. Maybe it was because he wanted to talk football as I walked toward my apartment after the Texans game ended, or because in the elevator he noticed that my phone has Swype.

    I guess it’s a scale, with New York on one side and Houston on the other. I don’t think I would have fully understood the extreme of the scale if I hadn’t seen this post about Chicago in the middle.

  2. I personally Love Carrot Cake. I also love talking to strangers. How fun to talk to strangers while ordering Carrot Cake.

    Mr. Carrot Cake.

  3. Nathan’s comment about New York reminds me of one of my favorite “talking to strangers stories.” It also happened in a restaurant…in New York…and the strangers were from Chicago…

    The Lehrers were on an East Coast college trip with Michael. We saw too many schools in too short a time frame. Exhausted and hungry, we stopped for dinner at the famous Carnegie Deli. Deep in discussion about schools we had seen, a stranger at the next table (just inches away) jumped in.

    “I couldn’t help but hear you talk about visiting Columbia,” she said. “This is my brother, Joel.” She turned to the gentleman on her left.

    “He’s an admissions counselor at Columbia!”

    Joel proceeded to talk about his school between bites of his pastrami sandwich.

    Midway through our dinner we discovered that these strangers, Josh and Wendy Miller were from Chicago and had school questions of their own. It was our turn to help them.

    Their oldest child would be starting kindergarten next year, possibly at the Solomon Schechter Day School, the alma mater of both Michael and Lia (our favorite blogger). We had a lot to say on that subject! Michael could barely finish his meal as he was bombarded with question about his experiences there.

    Tummies full and questions answered, we hugged, said our good-byes and wished each other the best of luck in the coming years.

    It’s been a while, but we stilll look back fondly at this communal experience of eating and sharing with strangers.

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