Vibes at Panera

The back room is packed when I arrive at Panera. Pass young couple discussing immigration policies of national politicians, father feeding infant girl, mother restraining young boy. Woman with mole on her cheek sits by wall, recounting shopping adventure with hollow-eyed woman in shawl. Young couple holding hands, eating bagels, solemnly planning tasks of the day.

Spot lone empty seat. It’s mine!

When you sit long enough at one table, the table becomes marked as yours. Your spirit remains when your body leaves. Even first-timers leave it free. Vibe becomes your maître d’.


A Silent Moment at Panera

Young father cradling infant in left arm, holding bottle of milk in infant’s mouth with his right. Infant sucking vigorously on nipple while sleeping.

Infant looks up at father, eyes wide open. Father whispers gently to infant. Infant falls back asleep.

Father smiles as infant twists neck resolutely, mouth still shut tight, pulling at nipple, coaxing final drops. Father pulls nipple from infant’s mouth, rests bottle on table, strategically positions son over left shoulder, where dry diaper awaits its fate. Father gently pats infant’s back. Infant burps; diaper meets its fate.

Father wraps infant again in cradled arm until infant falls asleep. Father places infant in carrier, sends text.

A silent moment at Panera.

The Electrical Storm

Tables all taken when I arrive at Panera mid-morning, too early to be that full. Straighten up in restroom, visualize seat opening up when I’m done.

Favorite seat opening up as I enter dining area. Dump books, knapsack, and coat.

Long line to cash register, stretches to door. Note to woman in front, “Long line.”

Blames last night’s electrical storm. Says power company won’t even give estimate of when they might be able to give an estimate, so severe is the damage. Compares to historic event in 1998.

I ask how long it took to get those houses up, predict this time will be faster because technology is improved.

She agrees, asks how power affected my house. Admit I lost power for just long enough for clocks to all go out. Pretty lucky.

Fill iced tea cup, set up office, plug into Internet.

Oh no, power is out at Panera.

Good Banter at Panera

Standing behind young woman in beverage line, pouring ice chips, then iced tea into my cup as she squeezes four lemons into hers. When she sees me standing behind her, I anticipate, she’ll apologize for making me wait even though she was there first. I’ll tell her she beat me to it. That’s how strangers in line together banter at Panera.

Instead, she reaches for her lid. Then, as she slaps it securely over the mouth of her cup with her left hand, she hands me a second lid with her right. “Might as well get two as get one,” she says. Also good banter.

She hands me a second straw and moves on to find her seat.