Tag Archives: Covid-19

Relativity in a pandemic

A busy McDonalds is like a well-greased machine. A coordinated team of short-order cooks; staff behind the counter ready to take your order. Queues of people waiting impatiently to pick up their triple burger, hold the onions, no cheese and a flurry of fries. A Manager hovers. Joel, someone’s vomited in the toilets. Sarah, supersize the “meal”. Dinesh, where’s the lady’s McMac?

Time is money. The faster people move through, the greater turnover. The greater the turnover, the greater the profit. It is not just time that is money, space is money too. The more space you have, the more seats you can fit; the more customers you can welcome; the more deep-fryers you can install; the more fries you can produce. Space is money on both sides of the ledger. You have to pay for space, so the space you have needs to be efficiently packed with people.

This is the space-time continuum of business profits. To increase profits, increase trades per unit time and increase customers per unit space.

And then came lockdown! Sand was poured into the cogs of the well-greased machine.

Fortunately, governments have promised a return to “the new normal”. It will be like coming back to a restaurant you have never visited before. When you do return, the McDonalds has changed. Behind the counter, there are fewer people. There are half the numbers of Dineshs to take your order, and fewer short order cooks called Sarah. (The unemployment queues are a little longer. Joel is there.)

No more walking through the front door – there is a limit on the number of people allowed in – but I’m sure it will be worth the wait. Once in, the restaurant feels familiar but somehow more spacious. The bustle and the impatience at the counter are gone. People are standing a prescribed two meters apart. Everything moves a little slower. When you pick up your order and turn to find a table, there is a “wow!” moment. Tables are no longer packed together. There are fewer people seated, and the seating is further apart. You were surprised, however, when you paid – those prices had really gone up. It was no longer a cheap, thoughtless bite-to-eat.

The whole thing takes much longer than you expected, which means you will be late back to the office. Maybe you will think twice, or three times, before coming back, and as you leave, you notice the “To Let” sign in the window.

The neighbourhood has also changed. The cheap but cheerful family restaurant is gone. It survived on volume trade. A well-spaced, sit-down service on melamine plates is too incongruous and too expensive to survive. The “all you can eat” buffets of carbs and fat have also disappeared – too many opportunities for “a Covey” to lick all the serving spoons or sneeze on the mac and cheese.

Fortunately, the internet will save us. Thank you, Google!

Without ever having to see or talk to another human being, you can do it all. You can sit, safe and alone in your bed-sit enjoying a lukewarm meal delivered in takeaway containers. There is an obligatory under-growth of warm, wilted lettuce nestling the spring-rolls; the fries have a flaccidity reminiscent of a moment you’d rather forget; the oils have begun to congeal. The whole experience is perfumed with cardboard and polystyrene. Delicious!