It’s 11 a.m. Tuesday morning and I’m at the Quad Cafe. I’m standing because there is no place to sit. There are about 30 empty seats and yet, no place to sit.
Next to me is a young woman half my height and wearing glasses. She holds a plate of food. There’s a table nearby. A young man sits at it eating pizza and soup. The other three chairs at the table are empty. The young woman stands because there are no available seats—empty chairs, yes—but nowhere. To. Sit.
Two young men sit across from each other at the communal island that snakes its way across the cafeteria. They eat fast, barely chewing, staring away into space or at their food, trying desperately to avoid eye contact.
It can be assumed the Quad Cafe was designed with groups of friends in mind. You grab three of your buds, grab a four-top, chow down and laugh at each other’s dumb jokes. The perfect student dining experience. This ideal makes for a flat reality.
In actuality, the busier hours are filled with students rushing to the UC and frantically looking for empty tables to nab before anyone else can. Those that fall behind are forced to wait for a table to clear up or worse, give up on waiting and sit with a complete stranger.
Touchy, feely sentimentalists will argue that this is a great way to make friends. And I have made friends this way. But when you’ve got one hour to stuff as much food in your gut as you can before your noon class starts, friendship is not on your mind.
And so chairs remain empty—leprous pariahs never to be touched.
What’s so wrong with individual seating? Why can’t I sit at a small, isolated table facing a wall or window? One argument would be space efficiency. One-person seating is not an efficient use of space. You would, in effect, be seating less people in the same amount of space.
Except look around the room with your human eyes. All those empty chairs? Not exactly efficient, either. Your argument is invalid.
There might be scientific studies that show eating too fast or under too much distress is bad for digestion and causes serious health problems, but I’m too upset and distressed to look into it. So we’ll just have to accept it as a possibility at face value.
Next time you’re eating at Quad, and a philosophy professor asks you if the seat by you is empty, think of me and my argument for individual seating. With enough angry voices shouting in unison, we might be able to create real, permanent change. Only by joining together can we truly dine alone.