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Holinger: Why eat outside when you can eat indoors?

Published: Friday, July 8, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT

I love air conditioning. That, high speed dentist drills, incandescent light bulbs, and garage door openers make me happy I was born in the 20th century. Sure, contemporary culture has its drawbacks, but cellphones, photo-enforced red lights and Charlie Sheen are small prices to pay for temperature-controlled living.

So here’s what I don’t get: why do people today choose outdoor seating over indoor? Ravinia, for instance. Really? People don’t get enough of hearing Mozart in Symphony Hall during the winter season that they need to slap insects in time with Eine kleine Nachtmusik while sweat stains permeate their Ralph Laurens amidst thundering storms and Metra trains?

More and more Fox Valley restaurants suggest an American answer to Les Deux Magots, the famous 1920s Parisian hangout where the Lost Generation multitasked drinking and writing, drinking and painting, or drinking and philosophizing – sometimes simultaneously. Of course we do that in United States, too, but we call it college.

Recently I lunched with friends at Wheaton’s Egg Harbor and Batavia’s Daddio’s. Granted, both days served up a partly cloudy, mid-70s noon with a zephyr chaser. So when asked, “Hey, wanna eat outside?” I felt forced to answer, “Oh, yeah, absolutely,” or I might have lost my H. D. Thoreau Tree Hugger membership card.

In fact, I do love nature. I’ll even turn off the air conditioning in my car once January rolls around. But I draw the line at outdoor seating, and here’s why:

First, eating outside won’t affect the carbon footprint killing off our species, so the global warming argument won’t work. I can hear the air conditioning humming around the corner, keeping the customers inside happy as penguins on an ice slide.

Second, even in the shade (under an umbrella, awning, or leafy tree if you’re lucky), when the sun comes out, my eyes feel Oedipus’s pain when he speared them with knitting needles for being so blind (subtlety was not Sophocles’ friend). This necessitates flipping clip-ons up and down depending on the clouds’ whims. What may seem a minimal distraction to you, in fact disrupts one’s rhythm when buttering an English muffin or selecting condiments for a turkey burger; imagine Lance Armstrong on the last lap of the Tour having to dig into skin-tight shorts to answer a text.

Third, bugs – flying, crawling, buzzing and biting.

Fourth, vehicular fumes entering one’s nostrils with lunch entering one’s mouth.

Fifth, motorcycle acceleration when trying to hear a friend’s story about hearing loss.

Finally, curious passers-by staring at my plate instead of heeding their elementary school-aged children whining, “Come ON. The carnival’s over THERE. I need cotton candy, a lemon shakeup and a ride on the twirling tea cups NOW.”

In brief, I prefer my egg skillet and hash browns served under electric lighting, surrounded by wallboard, and eaten in a room whose Trane travels at 68 degrees. If I want mosquito bites, car exhaust, spoiled mayonnaise and warm iced tea, I’ll go camping.

• Rick Holinger is a contributor for the Kane County Chronicle and has been a resident of the Fox Valley for 30 years. Write to him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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