"The sun is up, the sky is blue, its beautiful and so are you."
I went to lunch today at Subway. The Subway restaurant right around the corner from my office is a small building, smaller than a small house and if you get there right at noon it is jam packed. Fortunately, I get hungry around 11AM, and this Subway usually has three people working, so the service is always excellent. Excellent service, however, has existed since the dawn of mankind, and while it enhances the miracle of the Subway restaurant, it is not the miracle of innovation and prosperity.
Today I walked right up to the counter and asked for a sandwich. Immediately I am confronted by no fewer than six options for bread type, each heated in ovens that are simultaneously powerful enough to process an entire restaurant's daily bread need, compact enough to fit in the cramped confines of a Subway restaurant, and inexpensive enough that they can include the oven while still being an affordable lunch option. Today I got the flat bread, a style of bread that, had I lived one hundred years ago, I could have gone my entire life without ever seeing.
I was then asked what sort of meat I would like. One common proxy for measuring wealth among pre-industrial times, and even today among the poorer nations, is how frequently meat can be afforded. Subway has twenty-four meats and meat combinations, as well as a vegetable sandwiches. None of them cost more than nine dollars for a full foot of meat. They have prepared the dead flesh of fish, chickens, cattle, hogs, turkeys, and fetal chickens, all of which they have sitting in little black tubs for my inspection and convenience. I don't get any cheese, but if I wished I could have one of five types of cheese.
They also have an array of vegetables representing a cross section of the botanical wealth of the planet. They have onions, originally from Central Asia. They have lettuce, first cultivated in the Pharaoh's Egypt. They have cucumbers, originally from the Indian subcontinent. They have olives, originating around the Mediterranean Sea. They have green and Jalapeno peppers, both quintessential New World vegetables. They have Spinach, a Persian edible leaf. They have tomatoes, originally from Peru. I say originally here, because all of these things are now grown across the entire planet. There is no major grocery store in this nation that does not stock all these things, all the time. Petty biological constraints like growing seasons, decay, and impassible oceans are rarely even considered by modern humanity in the developed world, we simply assume that, of course Subway will have lettuce, a springtime plant, and tomatoes, an autumn harvest crop, whenever we go in and they will both be fresh and hygienic.
My local Subway also has perhaps fifteen or twenty different types of chips, made from potatoes and corn (both new world crops) and spiced in every way imaginable to appeal to every possible palate. Every single bag of chips is vacuum sealed in a completely airtight bag, a technology now so commonplace it does not even have a Wikipedia entry (unless I am missing something), which keeps every bag fresh and crisp for months at a time (and edible for years after, as I can personally attest).
Subway also provides beverages. Water, the single fluid that was the primary constraint on human and agricultural growth for the majority of human history and the single most vital molecule for life, is given away for free. They have tea, which as a commodity has a long and storied history. They also have soft drinks make by the Coca-Cola company and Dr. Pepper, a category of beverage unimagined 150 years ago (invented in America!) and which has been the subject of industrial scientific inquiry for every single one of those hundred and fifty years, such that a new term, hyper-palatable, was invented to describe things engineered to be as delicious as possible on a chemical level.
Today I purchased a six inch long sandwich filled with chicken breast meat and topped with an assortment of vegetables, as well as a bag of potato chips (also considered hyper-palatable) and a cup which I filled with Dr. Pepper. I purchased all of this for seven dollars and four cents. To put this in perspective, when I was an hourly employee (all of a month ago), I "paid" more money for the privilege of being off the clock for thirty minutes than I did for a sandwich which required the collective effort of ecosystems on every continent, industrial farming around the world, a highly integrated transport system, and five minutes of the kind employee's time.
I did this in a small store in a small part of Austin, a store open to everyone, which accepts everyone equally. Star Trek didn't have shit on the egalitarian nature of the local Subway restaurant. I sit there eating and I see harried mothers, students from the local high school, rich men in fancy suits, poor men in fancy suits, sweaty day laborers beaten down by the Texas heat, sweaty stay-at-home types stopping by during their noontime jog, men, women, Hispanics, Asians, the visibly rich, the visibly poor and the socio-economically unidentifiable, scowling faces and smiling faces, highly educated intellectuals and non-English speaking immigrants, every one of whom is served with the same polite demeanor, provided the same meal at the same cost. I sit at a table for thirty minutes every day and I watch a human communion more universal than that provided by any church. I watch three hardworking people dedicating their lives to a meal that will satisfy most guests so thoroughly that they will give the entire experience no thought after they walk out the door.
This miracle is repeated three miles to the south, where there is another Subway restaurant. A similar miracle is performed just across the street at the local Thundercloud subs, and perhaps a mile up the road at the Schlotsky's deli. right around that same corner, in addition to the two sandwich shops, is a pizza place, a hamburger stand, a steakhouse, and a classy Cajun restaurant. This in a tiny commercial enclave surrounded by a vast suburban residential district.
One hundred and fifty years ago, there was no such thing as anesthetics.
We live in the future.
SUPER BONUS CONTENT FOR AN EXTRA HAPPY WEDNESDAY: The inestimable Dr. Boli on the nation's physical and literary infrastructure.