My mom had flown in from Philadelphia. It was the first time I had seen her, or anyone in my family, in 18 months.

After Friday takeout, my grand plan for a nice Saturday dinner a decent drive away was washed by the onslaught of rain. My more local suggestion, then, was to secure a table at a longtime Houston family favorite. So, we drove up Kirby Drive to Goode Co. Seafood.

We immediately ordered glass of wine, and my mom had the Damn Goode Margarita. Of course, a big bowl of campechana followed with salty tortilla chips. My four-year-old Evie tried and enjoyed grilled oysters, and while she said she wouldn't eat fried catfish, she tried and enjoyed that too. She also dug into stuffed crab. Our two-year-old Birdie ate a whole bunch of Gulf shrimp, while I got my crustaceans wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and jalapeño. Talk about comfort food. 

It was perfect. Everyone ate a lot and we had terrific service, though it was noticeable that the restaurant seemed to be down a few bodies. Plenty of restaurants seem to be down a few bodies right now. We were patient, and we hoped everyone else was too.

Most importantly for us, is it was the first time my family was inside a restaurant eating a meal in 18 months. I had been in a few, and my wife and I have been inside one together, but this was the first time with the kids. About 10 minutes through the meal, I realized it was Birdie's first time in a dining room as a fully verbal and very active human. With that knowledge, we immediately relearned all the tricks, all the negotiation tools, and all the necessary stances a parent has to take when things get just a little out of hand. 

Sometime during the meal, I took a moment to just listen. I heard those idle conversations from tables around me all combine into one constant murmur, a sound that helps to define the experience of sitting in a dining room during a busy dinner service. I focused to hear the music on the speaker system, and it felt good trying to make it out through the noise (huh, they like G. Love here?). Frequently a sharp sound, like a belly laugh or a child's whine, might cut through, but I welcomed that. I missed that.

At one point I got up and walked to the bar—no reason, I just wanted to see people standing and sitting, watching basketball on television, and just being there. How great it is to just be there.

This isn't perfect. The pandemic continues as Covid-19 still ravages parts of the world. We're not a fully vaccinated country by any means, and yet people in the food and beverage industry have basically worked through all of this, often amid dicey conditions. So, I hope we're patient with restaurant workers while acknowledging that the system is broken. It's not as if we're all okay again and the last 15 months didn't happen. The restaurant industry should change—with more conversations and action about sexism, equity, mental health, racism, food inequality, and power structures—just as many of us are likely to evolve as we learn from these past 15 months. 

If you're vaccinated and ready, however, I do suggest just going to a restaurant and sitting inside. Look around and listen intently. Remember what it's like to be part of a busy dining room, to have small conversations with servers and other guests, and to connect with food and a scene. On Saturday, I experienced all of that again. It's been a long time.

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