I never imagined I would be sitting in the gutter and enjoy fine dining, sometimes complete with white tablecloths and flowers.
Since the pandemic, New York City’s sidewalks have been transformed into extensions of restaurants and some streets have been closed and filled with tables and chairs.
Strange-looking wooden structures have popped up, some more elaborate than others, in gutters where cars once parked and trucks idled. New York City allowed outdoor dining through its emergency Open Restaurants Program during COVID-19.
As coronavirus gripped the city, restaurants turned off their lights, stacked chairs on tables, and locked their doors. Some looked like they closed for good.
As spring turned to summer, and summer to fall, restrictions began to lift and with it came something delightful.
We may not have been allowed to dine inside, but we could dine outside.
As a few restaurants came back to life so came the whir or saws and banging of hammers as ramshackle “temporary” huts emerged outside restaurants. Temporary has turned to permanent, for now.
Some shacks were barely more than a few sheets of plywood nailed together, with a chair or two inside. Others had floors, plastic plants, curtains, and Perspex windows.
As fall turned to winter and the days and nights became colder, we wondered how dining in the gutter would survive New York’s wickedly raw winds and frigid temperatures.
Then came the heat lamps.
Slick New York City style turned to “anything to keep warm” style. Thick socks, heavy boots, and four layers, at least, under coats. As we sat under the red glowing lamps, heads warmed but feet froze, and gloved fingers slipped on knives and forks as we gobbled our food before it got cold.
“Grateful” became a blanket offered to wrap around legs to keep the chill from creeping up from the ground. “Delight” became food served on a warm plate that allowed us to savor the flavors for a little longer. We would, however, have survived almost anything to help our local restaurants stay alive.
As spring arrived in 2021, the structures stayed but more tables and chairs spilled out onto any open space on the pavement—some on top of the grills as subway trains rattled below, others in disused doorways, under scaffolding, and always within inches of every passerby. So close, it was hard to resist swiping a french fry from a plate.
And with all this came a silver lining I loved—an opportunity to observe what restaurants served.
Many a time, pre-pandemic, I walked past a restaurant and wondered what it was like. Now I had a chance to see.
“That looks good,” I’d say to my husband as my eyes lingered on a paella overflowing with shrimp. “We should try there, I didn’t know it even existed” as a tray of appetizers passed carried at eye level.
Spilling out onto the streets—seeing the soul of a restaurant on the sidewalk—has made NYC a brighter place.
And it’s made me think about the new life we have received from God that we need to let spill out onto the streets of our lives.
It may be in our story that we tell of what God has done for us. Or it may be in the good we can show or do for others. As 1 Peter 4:10-11 (MSG) says:
Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!
Let’s be God’s representatives as Christ followers, filled with the Holy Spirit and putting him on display for our friends, neighbors, families to see—to make their lives a brighter place.
I want the word and actions
That spill out of me to
Be glorifying to you.
Sometimes, I realize, they are not
And I get it wrong.
Help me to think twice
Before I open my mouth.
Help me to reconsider
If they are not pleasing to you.
I do want
Everything that spills out of me,
To make your bright presence
Noticeable to everyone I meet.