Pandemic Express

Sometimes, you just gotta have some Panda Express. So we got some Panda.

In these coronavirus-riddled times, it’s not so easy to go out and get you some Panda Express, though. It takes significantly more foresight, planning, and preparation to go out and pick up some cheap hot food from a chain restaurant than it used to. Not a huge amount, of course, but you can’t just slap on some sweatpants and drive down the block like you could in the Old Days. It takes deliberation. It requires a sense of purpose.

That purpose, primarily, is having to sit down and fill out the order form on their website. This is a double edged sword, because it gives you virtually unlimited time to actually contemplate what you want to eat without any line pressure, but then you have to wrangle with the universally terrible online ordering form. God help you if you want to order from one of those delivery apps – those are even worse! 

But once you’ve got your order set, it’s time to head outside. So slap those sweatpants on, find a clean face mask, and get your keys. Shit, where are your keys? You can’t hit the jump without your keys!

The situation at Panda Express was nothing like we could have expected. The place was practically barricaded. Our Panda Express is designed in a certain way: there are two doors, a front entrance and a side exit. You go in through the front and get in line, slide your way down the cafeteria-style serving station where you pick out your sides and meats, then check out at the register. Once you’re done, you’re right by the side exit, where you can leave and go back to your car to do whatever it is you do with Panda Express (we eat it.) 

That was no longer possible. Now, they had dragged a cash register and table into the front door’s vestibule, preventing further entry into the store. You were expected to place your order there, then walk around the exterior of the building to the side exit, where your food would be brought to you. This, naturally, confused us a good deal. We had ordered online, and ended up standing in line to order for a while before we noticed the arrows taped on the windows pointing around the edge of the building.

Fortunately that didn’t matter too much because it took a lot longer than normal to get our order. Panda Express normally manages to live up to its name, so we were surprised that we were stuck there for much longer than expected. Once our order was finally done, it was placed onto a semicircle of tables that formed a small pseudo-vestibule inside the dining room. There you could safely grab it without having to get too close to anybody.

It really was a strange, strange feeling to be waiting for food in such a matter. It had the atmosphere of a cowboy standoff: everybody was looking at each other, trying not to specifically catch anybody’s eyes, feeling uneasy. Some people were wearing masks, some weren’t. One of the masks we saw had one of those breathing valves on them, and those are completely useless for protecting others against the coronavirus. 

Eventually, we got our food and departed to another location to dine in the car. Amazingly, it was some of the best Panda Express we’ve ever had! Everything was fresh in a way that decidedly did not feel like it came from a steam tray. Perhaps with the new business model, they have a better chance to cook the individual dishes fresh. I doubt that Panda Express is preparing every dish individually – that’s directly antethical to their business model, after all – but having less food just sitting around makes for a better experience no matter what.

We’re kind of approaching a normality to the coronavirus situation. Not to say that we’re going back to “normal” as it was before the pandemic hit, but a new kind of normal, where people are adjusting to the realities of the situation. This is at odds with the obvious factors: the desperate calls to re-open businesses early, the antagonism towards having to wear a mask in public, the government being absolutely useless in every imaginable situation… but down on the street, people are adjusting. We all, on some level, know what to do. Keep your distance, only go out when you need to, cover your mouth, and wash your hands.

Why are we writing about this? Well, it’s a transitory period in the fabric of the world. We are living in the “during-coronavirus” times, and we’re lucky enough to be having this global pandemic in a time where even shmucks like us can record our thoughts and experiences for the world to see. The COVID-19 pandemic might be the most recorded-about disaster in human history, and a huge quantity of that is going to be normal people talking about their ordinary days. We’d like to be a part of that. 

We can’t wait for all of this to be over. The pandemic has changed so much of what we took for granted. And when it is over, we’ll be able to remember how weird it was.

Header photo by Tony Webster | CC BY 2.0

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