Outside Shake Shack

Exactly one year ago today, J and I walked into O’Hara’s Food & Spirits in Newton Highlands, MA and had lunch at our usual high top table: the first time we’d eaten inside since March 12, 2020. This time last year, J and I were freshly vaccinated, and we hadn’t yet been schooled in the Greek letters of viral nomenclature: first Delta, then Omicron, and now a litany of Omicron sub-variants.

This year, J and I are eating outside again, thanks to the current COVID surge here in the northeast. Over the past year, J and I have mastered a nimble dance, returning to restaurants when case counts are low and relying on takeout and outdoor dining when cases are high.

Right now, the weather is nice enough that eating outside doesn’t feel like a hardship. Plenty of restaurants have tables squeezed along sidewalks or in parking spaces, and it feels almost Parisian to eat outside while both cars and pedestrians stream past.

This weekend, J and I ordered takeout sandwiches from a local pizza place, then we had an impromptu picnic on the Newton Centre green. Families were reading books on blankets, friends were chatting on park benches, and a man was playing jazz standards on a colorfully painted outdoor piano.

I’ve often wondered if today’s children will someday remember the pandemic as “those summers when we ate outside.” Years ago, I saw a man with a dog sitting on a grassy embankment next to a disabled car. The man had his head in his hands, depressed; the dog, on the other hand, lolled on the grass with a doggy grin, clearly enjoying the sights and smells of a sunny day.

There are plenty of things we’ve lost over the past two years, but having a reason to spend more time outside is a welcome consolation.