One of my favorite movies is “Duets” in which character actor Paul Giamatti plays a burned-out salesman who gets mentally confused about his location. When you are traveling about the country a lot and  stopping only for the chain hotels and restaurants, I know this can happen. Thankfully, I don’t have to travel as much as I once did. Back in the day — I think I am mostly talking about the 1990s — most of my lengthy conversations seemed to occur with the bar managers off that list of chain restaurants so familiar that I won’t trouble you with it. After a decade of “Cheers” being “appointment TV,” it seemed every bar-restaurant worked hard to “know your name.” And one of the realities of traveling alone is that you are drawn to eating at the bar, not so much to keep your drinks refilled, but for the company. ordertaker_406x250Others are there for the same reason and, if you travel much, you begin to run into the same people at the clusters of hotels and restaurants that typically are not far away from urban-area airports. My impression is there was a time when the chain restaurants accepted the fact that part of their bar manager’s job was to socialize with the solo expense account travelers. Some time ago, I began to notice the special attention we once received was waning. I’ve learned and observed that chain restaurants are heavy with checklists, and many of these tasks are directly related to maintaining restaurant food safety. Increasing I find the chain restaurants I trust no longer have a “chatty Cathy” behind the bar but “Bill the busy bee” because he is constantly in motion. Then everybody’s heard about the $15-an-hour wage push. I initially just kissed it off as a political tactic in an economy with meager job production policy. Lately, however, I’ve noticed something else. These little boxes are appearing on the tables of restaurant chains. Wait staff will cheerfully tell you how to use them, maybe to order dessert or pay your tab. But, as yet, use of the machines is optional. But those of us who’ve long preferred to sit at a table, be brought a menu, and chat with the wait staff are just about to lose this last human contact. We know where this is going. Pretty soon, we are going to be stuck with ordering from a table-top computer. Maybe, just maybe, whoever delivers the order from the kitchen will have a personality, but then they will be soon gone. Yes, that person who drops the plate from the kitchen will probably be making $15 an hour, but there will be a depression in restaurant employment, and those customers traveling solo will be left talking to a fly on the wall. The small staff remaining in those restaurants will be left running to complete their work, for those food safety checklists will still have to be done daily. The good news is these major chain restaurants we’ve come to rely upon are, for the most part, pretty safe places to eat. We’ve come to trust them and count on them to offer us varied and more healthy menus. For some of us, they seem a step up from the fast casual restaurants that make people stand in line over one of those splash protectors that cover the bulk food containers. For neither the sit-down plug into the table-top computer nor the cafeteria line option gives us any social feedback. Food safety is important, and the checklist systems that restaurant chains use to make sure everything gets accomplished is a proven way to go. One can argue about minimum-wage amounts, but not that employees should be paid a decent amount for what they contribute. But in the jobless economy we’ve created, we solo travelers are not only going to not be sure what city we are in, but we are also not going to have anybody to talk to. It just is what it is. I cannot even think of anything that can be done about it. I’ve only used this restaurant example as it is something I’ve experienced. But recently, I read about robots doing the harvest in fruit orchards and, horror of horrors, computers that will write news stories and express editorial positions! Is there a karaoke bar around here somewhere, or should I just hum a few bars into this table-top computer?