EVERY THURSDAY, I have lunch with my friend Jim, whom I met in 1988 at Christian Theological Seminary when we were studying to be pastors. Jim has since jumped the Christian ship and is now, in his words, an “apatheist”—one who doesn’t care whether God exists—a surprisingly common occurrence among those who’ve worked in the church. Despite our religious differences, we’ve remained friends and still find plenty to talk about each Thursday, despite the diligent efforts of restaurants to make their establishments so loud normal conversation is impossible.
I once discussed the topic of loud music with the owner of a restaurant, who explained the reason for it. “We don’t make any money when people sit at a table gabbing for hours on end,” he said. “We have to feed folks, then get them out for the next paying customer. That’s why we turn up the music. If they want to talk, they can go to a park.”
I’m not without sympathy. If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn’t want someone sitting at a table drinking endless cups of coffee, frittering away the hours, taking up real estate. Nevertheless, I’d like to think a compromise of some sort might be in order. For years, restaurants had two sections—smoking and non-smoking. We eventually did away with the smoking section, so today if you want to smoke, you have to go outside and puff away at the front door so everyone can pass through a cancerous cloud of toxins as they enter or leave.
Along that vein, I propose restaurants adopt a new two-section model—music and non-music. Those who prefer a quick meal in a lively atmosphere can eat in the music section, and those who want to linger over a pleasant meal, enjoying a meaningful conversation, can opt for the non-music section. The people in the non-music section would be charged more, and tipping would be mandatory. This is such a wonderful idea, I’m surprised no one has thought of it before me, and it makes me think I should have been a restaurant consultant instead of a Quaker pastor. Plus, there are times when it’s a whole lot easier to believe in restaurants than it is to believe in God.
Televisions in restaurants are another curse from the depths of hell. Recently, my wife, granddaughter, and I were eating at a diner. I glanced up and noticed the televisions were tuned to a cage-fighting match where one of the contestants, no doubt a bright young lad who has made his parents proud, was beating the other fighter over the head with a chair. I tend to be libertarian about such matters. If two consenting adults want to beat one another over the heads with chairs, that’s their business. But I don’t want to watch it, nor do I want my granddaughter to see it. So I approached the manager, pointed to the televised bloodbath, and said, “There are children here. That is inappropriate. Can you please change the channel?” He switched to a show about the Kardashians, which made me nostalgic for cage fighting.
I left the restaurant depressed about the current state of American culture, or what passes for it. Seriously, what have we become? I wish there were one person to blame for our social decline. I tend to attribute every problem in America to Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, but even those two men, as malevolent as they are and were, aren’t solely to blame. Philo Farnsworth, the Mormon who invented television, bears some of the responsibility. When he unveiled the first working television set in 1927, he said, “We’ll probably regret this,” then sat down in his recliner, asked his wife to bring him a beer, and watched the first cage fight.
I’m not anti-TV, I just don’t like mixing it with my food. If I want to see something, I go over to my neighbor Brian’s house, where I’ve watched television ever since my wife threw ours out. In all those years, he’s never made me watch cage fights, though I have suffered through some Colts games that were equally dispiriting.
Let’s make a deal, restaurateurs. Turn down the music and don’t make us watch two knuckleheads beating one another. Give us a little peace and quiet. In exchange, we promise not to come in five minutes before closing, expecting to be served. And if we want to go somewhere and gab for three hours, we’ll go to the movies like everyone else.