Slightly Off Center

Out There

By Dennis Hinkamp

It’s July and the temperatures are pushing 100, school’s out, and tourists are stampeding through the wild places as if they were nervously crossing the biblical parted path in the Red Sea, fearing it would soon swallow them. Modern-day Moses is nowhere to be found. You’re on your own, kids. There is no script for this and the metaphors are many. The world has fundamentally changed since it last felt light and boundless. With apologies to Aldous Huxley, welcome to The Timid New World.  

For less literary life lessons and guidance, I always go to my favorite lyrical movie and Stephen King anomaly, The Shawshank Redemption.  

“Dear fellas, I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they’re everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” – Brooks, Shawshank Redemption 

Like Brooks, I’m starting to feel like life on the outside is moving too fast and I, at least momentarily, wish I could go back to my more predictable pandemic prison. I know that is illogical and unreasonable, but the world got itself in a big damn hurry, so it is going to take some time for us to reach equilibrium again.  

Every place I go to buy stuff from a package of macaroons to a shed to an oil change to a dental implant to a broken water main repair has been slowed because of a shortage of employees. The remaining employees are left a little cranky and forlorn. I’d give them a hug, but I don’t think we’re ready for that degree of empathy just yet.  

Food service appears to have the greatest need. From high- to low-end food, everybody seems to be cutting hours. You might think that more people would decide to eat at home, but apparently not. The roads are even more jam-packed with fruitless searching for sustenance. Where did all the food workers go? 

Though my theory might not hold up to scientific scrutiny, I’m going to go with “The Rapture.” It seems like any fair deity would give heavenly preference for those who toiled in minimum-wage food service jobs during their earthly existence. I imagine them up there lounging, laughing and never ever saying “do you want fries?” with that again.  

Of course, there might be a less spiritual explanation. Maybe YOLO (You Only Live Once) and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are really kicking in. Who would want to spend their one life dealing with surly post-pandemic hungry hippo zombie customers when they could be doing anything else? It is probably going to take a combination of higher wages, fewer hours, more benefits and providing each employee with open carry tasers to get them to come back. I worked in food services ages 15-23; I’m not pulling these ideas completely out of the intoxicating spring air.  

I like weird and there is plenty of it out there now as we transition. Masks, can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Around town you can see signs that say “masks required,” “masks recommended,” “masks not required if you are fully vaccinated” and the most passive-aggressive one “masks welcome but not required.” I look forward to future years of mask equity.   

I will circle back to my favorite movie pandemics and walls are funny things:

“First you hate them. Then you get used to them. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”– Red  


Dennis Hinkamp hopes to see you masked or mask-free this summer at the markets. Buy something, cook it, eat it. 

This article was originally published on July 1, 2021.