ONCE, IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AFTERNOON class on Victorian lit, my friend Roxane dialed out for beer. A six-pack of Coronas, a box of Lemonheads, plus a guy to drive it over in 30 minutes. "Don't forget the limes," she said. For the next hour and a half, Roxane was God, and Jane Eyre, with candy and a couple of cold ones, never read so well. Lesson being: If you can't go to the food, let the food come to you. Maybe it's about laziness, this love affair with the meal delivered. Or indulgence. Megalomania. Exhaustion. Spontaneity. A Freudian yearning for nourishment on call. A 1 a.m. epiphany that a lump of cheese and a squirt of mustard simply will not do. Here's a week in the life of no going out. No hunting. No gathering. From virtual grocery carts to cakes that fly: Food's on its way.
No names. No crooning sweet pleasantries. Despite the smiling, waving mascot on the menu, tonight there's just a disembodied voice on a phone. But first, a recording: "Pink Dot is your source for liquor, soda or prepared meals in around 30 minutes." Then a woman: "Whatcanwegetyou?"
"Uh, a bag of ice, please?"
"Visa, Master, Amex?"
"Last four numbers?"
Fumbling with the card. Awkward shifting of the phone. "Forty-five minutes," she says. Pink Dot, formerly PDQuick, formerly Pink Dot, and I are regulars, meeting twice a month for late-night/early-morning Diet Coke rendezvous.
At 1:28 a.m., three knocks on the door. Through the peephole, I spot a mass of familiar bushy black hair.
"What's new?" Normally, not so much as a "Hello" from any Pink Dot man -- so far they've all been men -- but Joe and I go way back: two bottles of Arrowhead. A cup of minestrone. A slice of mousse cake. He had asked me once if I was from the Philippines, and ascertaining that yes, I am, now speaks to me only in Tagalog. The gravelly voice, the mustache, the deep tan, and the thick glasses always askew -- he reminds me of jaded old men sipping San Miguel beer, smoking cigarettes, driving jeepneys through heat and perpetual traffic. Not so in L.A., where vintage Pink Dot drivers once shuttled around in VW Beetles with roof-mounted propellers.
Are they busy tonight? He glances down the hall as I sign the credit-card form. A little, because of soccer, the World Cup. There's some shouting from the apartment across the way. Joe eyes it suspiciously, weighing options -- Russian Mafia? Frat party? Clandestine love affair gone horribly awry?
So, Joe, what are people ordering tonight?
"Liquor," he grunts, handing over the chilly plastic bag. He notes my pajamas, the generous tip, the darkened living room, and looks me in the eye conspiratorially: "What are you doing with the ice?"
CHEF ON THE WAY
Legend of Chef on the Way spreads like an urban office myth: A man arrives, in chef's outfit, sporting a funny hat to deliver yummy gourmet goodies he's concocted himself. Intrigued, I have a menu faxed over. The iconography: two drawings of wavy-haired chefs with platters of food, jetting forward on roller skates. Though they've accounted for the scenario of one person ordering 10 dollars' worth of food ("Take the work out of planning dinner by having it delivered along with your lunch, now"), I roam the workplace collecting orders to meet the minimum delivery requirement: one Chinese chicken salad, one insalata caprese, one chicken-medallions hot entrée "stuffed with spinach and julienne vegetables" in Marsala sauce with mashed potatoes.
On the phone, Herbert has a "can do" attitude. Do they take credit cards? "Sure do!" Do they really wear the chef outfit? "Sure do!" Do they like wearing the chef outfit? "Of course they do!" Just before we bid farewell, he actually says it: "Chef's on the way!" An hour later, Chef Michael arrives, in dark-blue-and-white pinstripe pants with a white button-up coat, sans pouffy cap. "Yeah, I left it in the car," he grins sheepishly. "They say we have to wear it, but pshh." He'll deliver to about 50 people on a typical day, mostly to production studios and media outlets. The chefs make the food and then personally deliver it -- Chef on the Way is a total concept, couture fast food.
As evidence that Michael has made both the salads in the plastic bag himself, there are tiny splotches of dressing on his lapel. Chef on the Way is his first job in the culinary industry. Sadly, no roller skates, but Chef Michael has a twinkling black crystal earring and highlighted hair. He's articulate and accommodating, explaining in one quick burst that the chefs rotate -- cooking, delivering, preparing entrées or salads -- and that the service began in March and was conceptualized by two chefs in the catering business. On the plastic container that holds my chicken medallions, there's a sticker that reads: "Microwave me, toss your salad, use me again, freeze me." I also get a toothpick, a chocolate mint and a moist towelette. ä22