Saturday, August 28, 2010

Show Me the Salsa

Let me first make it quite clear: I am no fan of Mexican food. Having attended college in the Southwest, far from my natural habitat and preferred haunts, I learned to loathe Mexican food much in the way those noble English prisoners must have done while rowing in the slave galleys run by the black- and greasy-haired whip-wielders of the Spanish Inquisition. Beans and rice with lots of spice. Grease in place of meat. Meat, did you say? From what animal did that come? I’m sorry, but when you put on enough taco seasoning, lamb, cow, and pig all taste the same. Forget venison, and those delicious Bambi-burgers one gets back home.

This all goes to show, or should go to show, that I have no bias in favor of Mexican food. Nor should the facts that I like low tables for eating (because I have long arms) and high tables for writing (to save my back), or that I once unsuccessfully sought employment at Chipotle, or that a close relative of mine once fought against the Americans with Disabilities Act, have anything to do with the issue at hand.

It seems that Chipotle is in trouble. Well, sort of. When trouble hits, most businesses bend over backwards to avoid it, with a flexibility that would make even Elastigirl green with envy; and Chipotle is no exeption.

Apparently one of Chipotle’s customers, a paraplegic college professor named Maurizio Antoninetti, couldn’t watch the Chipotle workers assemble his Mexican sandwich. (For those who don’t know, Chipotle burritos are done on an assembly line under the customer’s eye, just like the sandwiches at Subway. Speaking of which, I wonder whether Subway could get a ruling of copyright infringement on their production-cum-presentation method? I understand those can be patented.)

Because Mr. Antoninetti was confined to a wheelchair and could not see his meal being prepared, the Chipotle workers showed him “samples of the individual foods in serving spoons or plastic cups and assembl[ed] his order near the cash register or at a table in the dining room.” This royal treatment “fell short of the law’s requirements.”

This is not a parody. (The Harry Potter piece was.)

I know it is not a parody, because I read about it in the Washington Times.

Mr. Antoninetti sued, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two San Franciso area Chipotles (ones that Mr. Antoninetti supposedly frequented) were in violation of the ADA act. While “respectfully disagree[ing]” with the court’s ruling, Chipotle has already retrofitted its California counters, and plans on bringing those same design changes to a Chipotle near you at the next opportunity.

Now I do realize that it’s not a pleasant thing to be handicapped. Furthermore, since I plan on living to a ripe old age, there will no doubt come a time when I myself suffer from some handicap. Perhaps then I may take all this back, and sympathize a little more with Mr. Antoninetti. But I hope not.

I know a man who’s blind. He’s in his late thirties, a devout Catholic, and an excellent organist and classical singer who’s done concerts throughout the US and Europe. We’re in the same youth group where we are currently reading Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Like many religious authors, à Kempis uses blindness as a metaphor for spiritual darkness. The first time one of the group members quoted such a passage during our reading, I cringed mentally and tried not to look at this man—somehow I’d forgotten that since he is blind, he wouldn’t know that I had looked at him.

He was not at all bothered by the passage. He must have encountered such moments hundreds of times before; if they have any effect on him, he doesn’t show it. He’s a very cheerful man—easily the funniest and one of the smartest in our group.

Now the whole point of lowering the counters at Chipotle was to let Professor Antonetti see his food. He needed to have an equally opportunity with all of the non-wheelchair-bound, non-paraplegic people out there.

Can we get an equal opportunity for my friend who’s blind?

Anyway, he’d laugh at the idea. From his point of view, he already has an equal opportunity in everything that counts: friendship, faith—even worldly success. In fact, if you asked him, he’d probably say that he was incredibly blessed to have the life he does have—even if he can’t see them make his sandwich at Chipotle.


  1. It almost makes one pine for the days of ancient Rome when at least some degree of external stoicism was practiced. The handicapped might be lucky to be fed at all... "Men were men in those days."
    Mr. (I won't deign him the honor of a higher title) Antonetti doesn't realize that his biggest handicap is not physical.

  2. Um . . . pine for the days of ancient Rome?

    Remember, I was the one who dissed the stoics in favor of Lucretius.

    On Professor Antoninetti's lack of charity and humility (and hey, we might as well throw in reasonableness) I think, however, we are pretty well agreed.