Over the weekend, I went to a notable chain restaurant for lunch. The line to order food was long. I was curious why the line was moving so slowly. I observed the cashier would take an order, receive payment, then spend a few moments wrapping the disposable drinking cup in a plastic bag. The cashier’s cadence of take an order, receive payment, and bag a cup created an odd ballet. A ballet that had no common sense what so ever.

The problem with common sense is, it isn’t.

— Benjamin Franklin

Wrapping the cup in plastic made no sense. The plastic would not magically keep the cup from transmitting disease. As a customer, I was only going to immediately rip the plastic off the cup to use the vessel for a beverage. I determined to inquire about the reason why the cashier was wasting her time, and mine on the uselessness of bagging a disposable cup. When my turn came at the counter, I asked politely if I could get a bag free cup.

“Hold on just a second,” she replied to me. The cashier then requested her manager. The manager, a middle aged lady, came over and the conversation that took place went like this:

“He {that’s me} says he doesn’t want a bag on his cup,” the cashier half asks and half states to her boss.

“We can’t do that,” the manager replied to the cashier; all of this is happening within my earshot. I must have made a face of anger or disgust as the manager then looks at me.

“Sorry sir, we aren’t allowed to serve you a cup without the bag,” the manager says. At this point there are a multitude of arguments running through my (soon to be ordered) mind.

Behold, the magic plastic COVID-19 killer.

First thought, what about the environment? The trash bins in the restaurant are overflowing with plastic bags that customers have discarded. All of that plastic is going to end up in a landfill somewhere, but that is the future’s problem, right? Second thought, the cashier (and the company) is refusing their customer. At this point, I should walk out of the restaurant. Third thought, where is the push back? Why isn’t someone in the company asking why is the plastic bag necessary? All of these thoughts hit me before I open my mouth, when I do speak I Socratically ask:

“Why can’t you serve me a cup without a bag?” I said. I was trying to not be a part of the problem. I also wanted to register my displeasure with the Kabuki theater of absurdity. The answer was upsetting, but typical.

“We were told we couldn’t give you a cup without a plastic bag, sir,” the manager responded. Okay, I understand you are just following orders, but who gave you the order? That was the true question, but arguing with someone who is so fanatical about the plastic bag is a recipe for disaster.

“I understand that you have been told to serve the disposable cup with a bag, but is that a health department directive or from the corporate headquarters? I want to know who I need to write to over this stupidity,” I said. I was, at this point, trying to derive where the ridiculousness was coming from.

“Oh corporate told us that!” the manager replied, I had thrown her a lifeline. Now, I had the source of the lack of reason. The revelation of some corporate directive was not surprising; the fanatical devotion to this directive was more troubling.

My mouth got ahead of my mind and I blurted out, “Well the bag serves no purpose and bagging the cups are a waste of time. You know, your trash can is overflowing with plastic bags, right?”

The manager’s mouth went into a smile and she said, “I know, and thank you, you just made my day. I realize this is stupid, but that is what they want us to do.” I was then served my disposable cup wrapped in a clear plastic trash bag.

After paying, I took the bag over to the soda fountain to get a drink. The fountain had a sign that said ‘THIS FOUNTAIN WILL BE CLEANED EVERY 30 MINUTES’. I sat down in sight of the fountain and waited for my food to be served. In all of my time in the restaurant, well over an hour, I waited to see if the fountain was cleaned. Unfortunately, in my time eating, the fountain was never cleaned. The restaurant staff was too busy putting plastic bags on disposable cups.