Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Lunch on the Lam

There was a time when I faithfully brought lunch to work. It was economical, and it saved driving, and it seemed vaguely virtuous. But I noticed, gradually, that never leaving campus made me batty. It felt like house arrest.

On the days when I leave campus for lunch – and honesty compels me to admit that that’s most days now, except for days with lunch meetings – I don’t get that ‘trapped’ feeling. Even the cafeteria doesn’t really do the job, since I’m still very much on stage there. I have to actually get in the car and drive someplace physically separate and distinct. Just changing scene – even if it’s only a mile or two away – keeps me sane.

Sanity is good – the world could use more of it, frankly – but money is money (and calories are calories). I can’t really bring a bagged lunch into a restaurant – they get kind of picky about that – and outdoor settings (parks) are weather-dependent. Since it’s been raining for what seems like years now, anything outdoors is either soaked or steamy. Neither particularly lends itself to going back to the office. And eating in the car is just sad.

As a card-carrying introvert, a little alone time at lunch helps me recharge the batteries. I know it’s anathema to admit that in a culture that uses ‘network’ as a verb, but it’s true. I’m more balanced and more sane in the afternoon when I’ve had a brief respite in the middle of the day.

So, a question for my wise and worldly readers. Surely some of you have faced similar dilemmas. Have you found good places for bringing lunch on the lam?

One of my areas of specialization! The mall. Most food courts don't care, or you can find a bench. Some office buildings have benches in the foyer, and in passage ways that connect buildings to one another. Transit hubs (train/bus stations, airports) - also great for people watching. Libraries and community centres often have places where you can hang out and eat (and they have bathrooms and drinking fountains). Similar spaces exist in other public buildings (courthouses, city hall). Starbucks hasn't ever kicked me out for eating my own food as long as I've bought a coffee!
In my time as an administrator, I actually found that eating lunch with my faculty colleagues (the same ones I always ate with before my ascension) was not only a great way to recharge, but also to not lose touch with them and their concerns. I was very deliberate in trying to avoid lunch meetings so that I had that hour of sanity as often as possible.
Back when I worked in an office, I felt a similar need to escape for a while in the middle of the day.

I usually drove to a local park, and weather permitting, ate lunch on a bench or on the grass. If the weather was not cooperative, I just ate in my car. Sad? Perhaps, but it was better than staying at the office.

Glad to see someone else recognizing that introversion is not a disease.
Seconding grumpyabdadjunct, libraries often allow food these days in certain places, and malls pretty much always do.

Many grocery stores have a "hot food" counter serving chicken strips, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, etc, with tables near by. But if you want to buy something else from the store and eat it there, no one will object. At the grocery stores I like, you can buy individual buns from the bakery and a few slices of ham and cheese by weight from the deli...

My other suggestion would be, assuming you live in reasonable commuting distance -- just go home. That can be the most relaxing break of all.

Card-carrying introvert here as well!

I like to eat lunch quickly and painlessly at my desk and use the rest of my lunchtime to go for a walk. I work at an urban institution, so it's easy for me to go outside and walk completely away from campus. It's exercise and it recharges the batties.
I'll second grumpyabdadjunct's suggestion of a library cafeteria. Most of them are quite nice now, and there is a default presumption that you will be reading or thinking instead of socializing. That said, if you can figure out another way of getting alone time, Steven Horwitz' suggestion is a pretty good one. As a fellow introvert, I am also a loner by instinct, but I have noticed I'm more cheerful in the afternoon if I have a friendly lunch with other people.

Can you spend one hour every day in your office, headphones on, dealing with stuff that isn't likely to stress you out? Or, can you go for a walk in a nearby park while dictating into a recorder?
Not that it helps you much, but my sister lives about a mile from campus, and I try to eat lunch there at least once a week. If the kids are home, I get to eat lunch with them and play for a little bit. If my sister is home when the kids aren't, we'll visit. Neither of these fully support my introvert needs, but they certainly mitigate the trapped feelings. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, my sister will be gone at lunch, and I'll just pop over there and eat in blissful silence and aloneness. I leave cookies for lunch rent, though! :)
I'm with anonymous a couple comments up: a quick lunch in my office reading a book or magazine, then a half-hour walk around town (weather permitting).
I'm going to caution against the eat-at-desk option. I did that most of the time at my last job, and I think it contributed to my feelings of anxiety and oppression. But it may be a good idea to make the eating part of your lunch short so as to take a walk/drive/etc.

Eating in the car may be sad, but damned if it's not comfortable sometimes.
I often eat on a couch on one of those "gather places" that interior designers seem to like in new academic buildings. It is in a very public place in an atrium of a building where I know most of the faculty.

In fact, it is so public, nobody seems to notice me when I sit there and eat. I guess they expect to see students sitting there!
Get a locker in the pe department and walk of jog for an hour.
Shower and return to your bag lunch in your office. Great way to get away, stay healthy, and sane.
I work at a community college, and my lunch escape is fishing. We have a few retention ponds on campus, one is on the edge and has been holding water for 3 years. Eat my sandwich real quick, get 15 or 20 minutes of fishing time in. The fish aren't big - 1/2 to 1lb, but on ultralight tackle, its great. Also, a bad day fishing beats a good day at work, so...
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