we make what we want of our noontime meal
THERE’S THE three martini, and the ladies who. And then there’s the rest of us: working stiffs in need of workday sustenance be it sandwich, salad bar, social hour or solitude.
We’re landscapers coming in from the rain for a $6 bowl of pho and tweeting techies heading out for a $12 date with our mobile lunch truck crush. We’re shoe salesmen hanging with Jimmy John, and U District cops slurping ramen noodles. As busy school teachers and hungry hairdressers, we eat quinoa tabbouleh because that’s what we like or last night’s leftovers because that’s what we can afford.
Unlike breakfast or dinner, “lunch is more personalized, more individualized,” says Michelle Barry, a doctor of sociocultural anthropology with a focus on food culture in Washington state. “It’s a m insanity arker in time, and a way to tune in to our own needs.”
At home, meals are too often dictated by the wants and needs of others: your spouse, your roommate, your kids. “Lunch is a time to not have to cater to everyone else’s hunger pangs and preferences,” Barry says. “You can talk to people if you want to, or not if you don’t want to. It’s a very self directed occasion and we don’t get many of those.”
NEARLY EVERY working day, bankruptcy attorney Jeffrey Wells, 62, leaves his office in the Logan Building and self directs to the Harbor Cafe, a book of historic literature tucked under his arm. He arrives early to avoid the lunch rush and snag his favorite table. He eats turning the pages.
A block away at Wells Jarvis, Emily Jarvis, 28, stays close to her desk. Lunch is a sandwich wrap from a nearby Starbucks, a salad from neighboring Kress market or leftovers, brought from home in vintage Tupperware. She’ll often work through it, taking a break from her briefs to check in on Facebook.
Unlike many of her professional contemporaries who telecommute wear casual dress and burn the midnight oil, Jarvis has taken a page from Wells’ book: She’s become a proponent of regular office hours. “I don’t even have my work email on my phone,” she says among the upsides of their alliance. To his credit, “When he’s at work he’s fully present at work, but when he’s home, he’s home.”
Wells is barely in the door of Harbor Cafe in the rear of the 1411 Fourth Avenue Building when owner Judy Lew greets him by name and rings up his order: the daily special, $6.95, dished up by her partner, “Chef Rut” Poladitmontri. If it’s Monday, it must be chow mein. Thursday, Thai green curry chicken.
Unlike Jarvis, “I would not take food back to the office.” Wells’ wife, a nurse, packs her lunch, but he’s not interested. and leaves most nights by 5:30. In the comfort of this utilitarian cafe there are no phones ringing for him, no paralegals in search of his signature, only the daily special and his book. “I use it as my oasis.”
Jack Wells, his late father, had his lunchtime oases, too.
Wells senior was the regional loan man for the Small Business Administration and worked in Seattle’s Dexter Horton Building during the Mad Men era. He’d think nothing of spending the afternoon with his cronies at fashionable Pioneer Square establishments such as Francois Kissel’s French Brasserie Pittsbourg and Czech chef Peter Cipra’s The Prague famous for its tournedos Rossini.
In his college days, and early in his career, Jeff would join his dad for a decadent lunch “once in a blue moon,” but as a young attorney his go to joint was Ivar’s Captain’s Table near his Lower Queen Anne office. His standing order: soup and a roll. “It was cheap and good,” and as at Harbor Caf “they knew my name.”
Lew knows most of her customers’ names, and when Alan Mackinnon shows up, as he does Mondays and Thursdays, she knows the techie who wants takeout has no time to waste. He’s in, he’s out, he’s back in his home office a block away. The counter staff at the Dahlia Bakery three blocks north know him, too. He’s there when he’s not here, grabbing their daily special.
“Going out to lunch is my big meal of the day,” says Mackinnon. It’s also his most important. In the dog eat dog world of software, he insists, “there’s a high cost to starting the day, because you have to get into the zone before the work begins and really becomes intense.” Morning hours are spent evaluating the prior day’s efforts, pinpointing where he needs to be by day’s end.
Lunch is the timeout before the tough stuff begins, the meal that keeps him going until it’s over, at 8 or 9 at night.
When Diana Austin and Laurie Tolson show up at Harbor Cafe twice a month, they’re in no rush. For them, lunch here is a treat. Co workers at NISH a nonprofit that creates jobs for the disabled they’ve been making an effort to brown bag it more often.
Typically, they’ll eat at their desks in the Century Square building and walk durin insanity g the lunch hour, heading to Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill or the Olympic Sculpture Park. “We do it to de stress, to clear our heads, to take a break from work issues,” Tolson says.
Their jaunts might occasion a lunch stop at Juicy Cafe in the Washington State Convention Center, a solid option for someone like Austin, who’s trying to adopt a vegan diet. Money plays into their choices, too. Despite modest prices at their usual haunts, “Going out gets really expensive,” Austin says. Eating in has another advantage. “If we bring lunch to work, we can have control over what we’re eating.”
CONEL YANOS is an Air Force vet with 20 years in, a former California corrections officer and, until recently, owner of a Seattle area home construction company. “I ate out a lot,” he recalls of his days as a builder, when he and his brother would turn to Yelp for direction then hit the streets in search of their native Filipino food, Hawaiian barbecue joints or authentic Mexican fare. The consequences, he says, were steep.
“We’d pig out. You just want to overeat and try everything.” In the service, he weighed 200 pounds. In construction, he topped 340 pounds. Now a Boeing mechanic, he tries to watch his diet and his wallet, bringing food from home: salads, yogurt, vegetables with pork or beef.
Working the swing shift on the 787 line at the Everett Modification Center, his “lunch” as workers call their mid shift break is a 30 minute window during most peop insanity le’s dinner hour. “Some of the guys I work with will drive out for takeout and eat it on the way back,” Yanos says. “That’s too stressful for me.”
Blowing off the EMC cafeteria, where a repetitive menu heavy with fried foods could run $10 to $15, he opts for insanity the factory break room where microwaves and refrigerators share space with lockers and a Ping Pong table.
As many as 100 workers might join him.
On a bad day, he sits alone, distancing himself physically and emotionally from grumbling co workers. “I don’t want to hear negativity. If you’ve been in the military, this is gravy compared to being in Afghanistan or Iraq.” On the best days, lunch turns into an impromptu potluck.
“Tony’s Chinese, and he’ll bring roast duck and Chinese vegetables. Jae brings straight up Korean food have you had that purple rice?” Yanos asks.
That multicultural experience the sharing of food and food culture in a company break room turns a tedious workday into a social occasion.
And let’s face it: For many of us, that’s what lunch is all about.
Troy Lynch is a product review engineer at Everett’s Boeing plant. He grew up in Jamaica, where, he says, workday meals might involve pushcarts selling jerk chicken, or visits to small, family owned restaurants serving oxtail stew, or rice and beans.
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