Friday, September 09, 2016

Coming in on a wing and a burrito…

I saw in the news yesterday the the long national campus nightmare of midnight starvation may be drawing to an end. Later this month, Alphabet/Google, in partnership with Chipotle, will be testing out a new service, in which drones will be delivering burritos and bowls (and a side of virus) to the Virginia Tech campus.


Why, when I was a girl, we never dreamed of burritos. Let alone drones.

If we wanted something to eat, by golly, we actually left our dorm rooms and foraged.

I was in college during a time when no one in particular actually gave a rat’s ass how crummy the dorms were or how terrible the caf food was. But even for its time and place, the food at my college was stunningly terrible.

Just how terrible was it?

Well, we had nicknames for a number of the dishes, and these nicknames included Abortion, Charles River Scum, and Puck.

I actually think that the food service kept these atrocities on the menu to keep the food costs down. Serve up Puck, and watch the meal count go down by a couple of hundred.

On our small, urban campus, where no dorm was more than a 30 second walk from the cafeteria, so many students took to calling over to see what was for dinner that they started posting menus in the dorms.

There was definitely fast food around when I was in school, but I don’t recall whether there was a McDonald’s nearby. Or whether I ever ate at a Mickey D’s or Burger King during the school years. (Summers, I definitely contributed to the tote board on how many burgers were served. One summer, while working at H. H. Brown Shoe, contributing (or maybe undermining) the war effort by polishing boots destined for Vietnamese paratroopers, I ate lunch at the nearby McDonald’s pretty much every day.)

While fast food wasn’t such a big thing when I was in school – there just weren’t that many outlets around – we did have options when it came to eating somewhere other than the caf.

On campus, there was a miserable little snack bar called Huey’s, after the Chinese guy who ran it. I’m not sure what was on the menu. Mostly I remember that, whatever it was – bagel, BLT – it was soggy. In that respect, Huey took a page from our general cafeteria recipe book. But some nights a soggy bagel was infinitely preferable to a heaping helping of Charles River Scum.

Occasionally, we crossed the street and bought dinner – i.e., a half pint of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream – from an outfit called Dirty Drug. Was it actually a drug store, or did it just sell a couple of flavors of ice cream?

Moving further afield, we’d venture over to the Purity Supreme market and pick up bread and cold cuts. And everyone kept a couple of cans of Campbell’s soup in their desk.

If we were feeling flush, we’d “dine” at Pewter Pot, the Fatted Calf, Jack and Marion’s Deli – where my cousin MB and I once witnessed a knife fight in the open-concept kitchen, or Ken’s a fancy-arse deli that specialized in cheese cake. (As far as we were concerned, anyway.)

On weekends, we might troop over to Cambridge for a sandwich from Elsie’s, Tommy’s or Tasty (later made famous in Good Will Hunting), or something more sophisticated at the Blue Parrot or Grendel’s (still going strong, and, I’m guessing, still observing the same standards of hygiene).

Was there such a thing as calling out for food and getting it delivered?

If there was, we never took advantage of it. Part of the fun of being in the city was getting out and about in the city. And part of living in a dorm was putting up with a tiny room with cinder block walls – no TV, no phone, maybe a stereo. We WANTED to get out.

Not today’s kids. They want IN. So Alphabet’s giving them Project Wing, which:

will use self-guided hybrids that can fly like a plane or hover like a helicopter. They will make deliveries from a Chipotle food truck to assess the accuracy of navigation systems and how people respond.

The devices will hover overhead and lower the Chipotle edibles with a winch.

The burrito-bearing aircraft will be flown by automation, but human pilots will be standing by to take control if necessary to comply with FAA rules, he said. Because regulations also don’t allow drones to fly over people, participants will be shielded, according to the company.(Source: Bloomberg)

This proof of concept is aimed at showing the FAA how all this will work without killing people. (No word on whether it will impact people taking ill.) For Virginia Tech, it’s part of an initiative that will give them some cred on emerging transpo technology. For Chipotle, it’s a way to sell more grub. For the students, it’s a way to laze around and get served by hip and happen’ tech.

I am not looking forward to the day when drones are sweeping through the skies delivering books, bedding, and burritos. I imagine feeling like Tippi Hedren in The Birds. I won’t be able to decide whether to venture out to do my burrito shopping (in my case, from Boloco, not Chipotle) in person, as God intended it. Or barricade myself inside, going through my supply of canned goods until I starve to death. What an existential crisis that will be.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but feel that we were better off, when Puck was on the menu, to have to hit the streets looking for something to eat, rather than, like today’s students, just app-ing up a burrito and waiting for a drone to drop it in our laps.

With that, I’ll leave you with a link to what the words “flying” and “burrito” meant back when I was in college.

Since I’m having trouble embedding a YouTube, I give you “Wild Horses,” by the Flying Burrito Brothers, with a note that wild horses couldn’t drag me into looking forward to drone-world.


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