In the South Bronx at 3pm, kids would be walking quickly home. Moms would be preparing the bologna and cheese sandwiches and getting the juice boxes ready. It was the daily ritual growing up. The 3pm hour was the hour to relax after a hard day of elementary school and to just sit and veg in front of the TV while eating some quickly put together sandwich
While I attended college, my college friends and I had a ritual. Well, we had many-some, being odd ones. But one of my favorite rituals was tea at the rose parlor everyday at 3pm. Sometimes, someone played the piano. Sometimes, there were cucumber sandwiches. Other times it was just tea and cookies. Or cookies and tea. Historically, afternoon tea has been served in a day room, library or salon where low tables (like a coffee table) were placed near sofas or chairs generally. This ritual became so ingrained that I half expected my workplace immediately after college to serve tea. I remember looking at my watch (back then I actually wore watch before cell phones became our official timekeeper at 3pm and starting to salivate. Pavlov was certainly onto something, eh?
Our daily college tea had become such a sign of high civilization. Although, it also served as a way to stave off hunger. A tea sandwich is a small prepared sandwich meant to be eaten at afternoon teatime to stave off hunger until the main meal. But for some students it was just a “free meal. I came to appreciate the quiet and beauty of the finger food. ”The workplace after college, thusly, seemed so uncivilized with its oppressive offices and oddly placed cubicles and barely functional vending machines. Luckily, some of my colleagues felt the similar itch at 3pm and we would often just take a walk to experience the beauty of the National Mall. I guess I just felt the need to experience a moment of introspection and serenity every afternoon. That introspection need had become ritualized.
At all-day large scale meetings, oftentimes when breakfast or lunch is provided, there is also a mid-afternoon snack provided. Said snack usually consists of coffee, tea, soda, water, cookies, brownies and perhaps granola bars. The latter being somewhat frowned upon. Most people are wedded to that 3pm cookie. A granola bar just is not the same thing–At least not in my field. I once did pass a weight watchers meeting occurring in the boardroom next door and I didn’t really see the 3pm cookie being served. But hey, maybe instead of out in the hallway, the cookies were being secretly served inside. You never know.
What got me laughing yesterday and what started me on this tea and cookie memory lane retrospective, was the following scene. At 3:30pm when the meeting ended, we looked around the small meeting room. We raised our collective eyebrows. Someone noted that all the pens and notepads were gone. We laughed. Every single pen that had been in the bowl set up by the hotel staff was gone. Someone in our group took the pens. Or most likely, many in our group had taken the pens. But none of us ever noticed this pen-taking operation. Well, there were many many cookies, sodas, sugar packets, tea bags, napkins, brownies, candies (in the candy bowls), water bottles that were still left. At that moment, we may all have collectively remembered that old grandma that would come out to the restaurant with saran wrap or ziplock bags to take back with her the dinner rolls. My mom surely use to do that. When we were college students we did that. Anything we could get to eat that was not ramen noodles-or variation thereof- was gladly welcomed.
Back to the meeting. So, slowly, one by one we all went shopping. I went for the diet coke, 8 cookies on a hotel napkin, the contents of a whole candy bowl, several tea bags and handfuls of calorie-free sugar packets. The yellow ones….Those sugar packets are actually very hot commodities. Trust me on that one. Ok, when you leave a business meeting or when you leave a hotel room: Do you leave with what you came with or is that bag a little bit bulkier with the most random stuff you could just grab? Considering that those items were already paid for and that the hotel would just take these items back and resell (although already paid for…) them to the next meeting group, we all felt justified in taking the items. Doesn’t everyone?
The next day at 3pm I unpacked my justly liberated items, made some tea, decided which cookies looked best and sat for a few minutes enjoying the zen of my old-school ritual courtesy of the umpteenth meeting I had attended in the last week. Free tea and cookies really does taste yummy.