I’ve been spending a lot of lunchtimes at the food court — sorry, “Food Experience” — in the Corner Mall at Boston’s Downtown Crossing (not much of a mall and not much of a downtown at this point). There are other eateries near my office, but I stopped going to one deli after I found shrapnel in my chicken salad. I crossed off another deli when, on my third visit in as many days, the mustached, rubber-gloved guy behind the counter leered at me and said, “You like the way I make sandwiches, dontcha?” And a Mexican place was ruled out when a young woman tossed a handful of shredded cheese into my burrito, turned to a colleague, and griped, “I would never eat this cheese! It’s so dry!” (And I realized she was right.)
That pretty much leaves the food court as the only place with enough seating for the lunchtime rush. It has about a dozen vendors, and several of them try to get your attention by offering samples. The signs may promise Japanese, Jamaican, or Cajun food, but the samples are pretty much all the same: pieces of flash-cooked chicken, with slight variations in the levels of salt and grease. Yet there are always people (mostly women, and mostly under 20 or over 50) who ask for free pieces of chicken with ostentatiously curious facial expressions. (“Well, what’s this? I’ve never seen such a thing!”) They chew on the morsels very slowly and thoughtfully, hesitate for a moment, then regretfully shake their heads before moving on to the next seller of flavorless poultry. They’re not fooling anyone, but their thespian antics are worthy of compensation, and they add a bit of diversion to (or from) my meal. I certainly prefer them to the pornographic sandwich maker.