The Day The Picnic Stood Still: A Picnic Expert’s Nightmare

BY IAN O’HARA

It was a sunny day in New York, like something you’d find if you Google image searched ‘Sunny Day In New York’. The bees were buzzing, kids were laughing, dogs were barking, and Central Park was alight with a sweet, energetic nature. What could go wrong on such a lovely day?

The other picnic experts and I made our way from our headquarters in the Lower East Side with a car full of gourmet eats and pillows and freshly laundered blankets so elegant you’d believe they were woven with love (and they were).

The event we prepared was for about 10-15 people and the guests were expected at Sheep’s Meadow at noon. Nicole, a dear friend of Perfect Picnic’s founder Wendy, joined us to arrange the tiers of desserts and harmonize the exotic flowers with the dishware–basically to make the setup look like a page from Good Housekeeping, except outdoors. We worked diligently to fill ice buckets for Prosecco; to pique the parasols at such complimenting angles; to explain to the fellow park-goers that this display was purchased through our website and that they too could have picnic just like this one if their hearts desired!

post 2 copy

The calm before the storm. (Photo by Ian O’Hara)


Noon came and there were no guests in sight. The emptiness of the perfectly-arranged picnic was attracting attention.

“Where are the people that ordered this?” one onlooker asked at five-past noon.

“How much did this cost?” another inquired.

“Do you know where John Lennon got shot? I heard that was around here.”

Nicole received a call from the hotel where the man who had ordered the picnic was staying. The picnic experts and I stood by as we waited for an explanation.

“Do you guys give away the food if no one comes to eat it?”

I could already sense the predatory mindset that surrounded the picnic.

I could already sense the predatory mindset that surrounded the picnic.

Then the catalyst came. We got word that the gentleman was cancelling, opting for room-service instead–something about making PB&J’s in their room while watching Maid In Manhattan.

A funnel cloud brewed in my mind, thinking about the next steps: Who do we contact? Is the customer giving permission to dispose of the uneaten food? Will I need riot gear to protect against the hungry interrogators perched nearby with their eager eyes?

Peace personified as food. (Photo by Ian O’Hara)

The hotel then sent two concierge representatives to help us through the process. A few of my picnic expert companions and Nicole had to leave to tend to other picnic matters, so it was me and one other acting as bouncers against the food-treasures sitting undisturbed on the blankets.

 

The hotel reps had plans to use Tupperware containers to transport the food where it would then be distributed among the kitchen staff. The more the plan was brainstormed, the more people crowded the perimeter. Any option to transport the food required effort and coordination, both of which was growing weaker as more questions about the picnic cancellation probed.

And finally, the two hotel reps gave in. “Everyone gets a sandwich!” one of the reps hotel reps proclaimed like a Central Park Oprah.

“Everyone gets a sandwich!” one of the reps hotel reps proclaimed like a Central Park Oprah

The crowd of hands and bodies stampeded our sacred space, first at a crawl then into a full on Lion King pounce. Some still wearing their shoes. They clawed at the platters and pillaged the plates of berries. Everyone was beaming in happiness, and I was sinking into a saturated worry.

post 3

Me against the park-goers. (The Lion King)

I got Wendy on the phone, needing guidance on how to properly handle the situation: Are there rules against giving this much food out in the park? Is this a lawsuit waiting to happen if they end up getting hurt on our blankets? She calibrated my perspective and encouraged me to be strong and assertive to regain composure of the situation while maintaining a level-headed friendliness.

“Oh my god, this is just like Coachella!” one female yelled.

“Can we take a to-go bag?” someone asked using their shirt as a temporary basket.

My soul was crying.

The crowd milled around for a few minutes, bartering with each other for gourmet sandwiches or fruit, just like they do at Coachella apparently. By this time, the concierge reps had given in to the blithe nature of the community we’d suddenly fostered, and they were as happy as could be. I wasn’t so at ease, leaning against a tree with an armful of pillows over our red wagons, watching the scene organically fizzle out.

The trays had been picked clean and the people returned to their original spots in the park, counting over their contentment and fanning themselves with the flowers that were once our decoration.

The sunny day had fallen cloudy. The liveliness of the picnic spirit had been muddied. And when the other picnic experts and I reconvened, we picked up the pieces, exited the park and headed towards our headquarters like a war torn ship sailing back to harbor. Except the ship was called was the USS Mixed Emotions and the ocean on which we sailed was the New York subway system.