But first, get your silverware — wrapped in a cloth napkin, not paper — and your tray, and slide it along the stainless steel rail while you browse the possibilities, everything laid out for the taking, anything at all you could ever dream of.
Have you ever seen such a smorgasbord, such a cornucopia, such a profusion of choices?
Get the carrot-and-raisin salad and the cubed lime Jell-o in the parfait tulip glass. Get the chicken pan pie with the buttery crust or the baked spaghetti or the sliced turkey and dressing — they’ll ask you “with?” meaning gravy; say “yes” — or the fried chicken livers, perfectly browned with onions. Get the curdy macaroni and cheese and the fried okra and the creamed corn and the lima beans. Get the cornbread with the jalapeño baked into the top and the soft roll and, especially, get the chocolate pie with the whipped-cream meringue.
Tell the cashier “one” on your ticket and tuck the printout underneath your plate. Carry your tray to the dining room and find a seat. Set your tray on the table and take the dishes off one by one, arranging the bowls of vegetables in a semicircle at the top of the entrée. Never eat off the tray; everyone knows that. Make your table feel like home.
When the lady with the name tag — it says Suelita — comes by to collect your tray, tell her thank you. She smiles and speaks with a gentle accent that doesn’t sound like yours. It’s nice to hear. She’s worked here a long time, in this place with so many selections, in this place where anyone can have anything they want.
Look around at the other diners: policemen in uniform and EMTs — first responders get a free dessert. Old people, young people, workers and retirees. Black and white. Latino and Indian. Families and singles.
Have you ever seen such a potpourri of people, such a mixture of faces, such a containment of multitudes as here in a cafeteria, possibly the most unexpected place to consider — and celebrate — the idea of variety and diversity? But then, where better than in a place known for choices?
In this month associated with love and companionship, it’s worth remembering that we’re a state full of possibilities and options, and that in our most unassuming places — in our restaurants and outdoor spaces; our parks, playgrounds, and ballfields; in our farmers markets, churches, and public libraries; in our city museums, art galleries, and YMCAs; in our public schools — there’s always something for everyone, in these places where everyone belongs, in these places where there’s freedom to choose anything you want.
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