A friend once posited that a universal student experience at UNC is a late-night trip to Cosmic Cantina while in the throes of a crisis of purpose. As I am a lifetime fan, ranking Cosmic within the top five of my favorite Chapel Hill eateries, I immediately wondered why it is so often the restaurant of choice during times of great emotional distress.
To be a student at UNC is to struggle constantly in a white water rapids mix of forces telling you at every time that you are A) excellent, the future, capable of great things and capable of doing these things in your 20s, nay, during undergrad! B) mediocre at best, not as standout as you were in high school, not as full of unrealized potential as you were when you were a 7 year old reading middle school-level books.
Cheryl Strayed once wrote a scathingly perceptive call-to-action for our generation, as comforting as it is painful, as all daringly true things must feel to their readers: “You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done. We get the work done on the ground level.”
I say to you here that Cosmic Cantina is the ground level. It is transcendent in its mediocrity, just like we are. We go to Cosmic Cantina drunk and exhausted and a little sad because Cosmic is all those things and less. It understands us. More acutely, it is indifferent to us, and that is comforting in its rarity.
A mini veggie deluxe is no less special of a snowflake simply because it is not, by all reasonable standards of cuisine, good. It is $3.72 worth of food that could be competitively priced at $6 but remains steadfast in its radical humility, the way that we all should.
The $2.28 that it does not claim is that of potential, the freshness of ingredients found during peak hours (midnight to 2 a.m.) or perhaps the once in a blue moon occurrence of finding the ingredients perfectly mixed so that one doesn’t have to suffer through the bite that’s all rice and half-melted cheese.
Shouldn’t we all be more like a mini veggie deluxe? Shouldn’t we all throw our potential to the wind, instead, sitting on the cold ground as Cheryl suggests, cold stinging our thighs because we wore a stupidly short skirt out for a 60 degree night?
Instead of joining in the chorus of laughter as we relay our addiction to mediocre food, should we not honor the establishment knowing deep down that it is more of a giant emotional mirror than a restaurant and that the former could be more worthy of our time, money and appetites than the latter?
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