The day Panera changed my life

As some of you may remember, when I last did freelance I worked at a Panera on Hilton Head Island (I didn’t work AT panera just IN panera…) everyday from usually around 11am til 9-9:30pm.  Now that I am back to doing freelance full time I am starting to remember some of the challenges that I had in finding semi-well lit areas with a mild temperature and ample opportunity to plug my laptop in. I liked panera because every booth had a plugin, it was well lit, the staff was friendly, the coffee was hot and it was right by my gym.

With these memories unfolding as I try and get my sea legs back bring me back to a time when I had only first heard of Panera.

When Panera opened on Hilton Head everyone was excited.  Since I lived in a cave in South Dakota for 5 years and a bomb shelter in Minnesota for 18, I didnt know what a Panera was. I pretended to be excited and hungry like everyone around me.

The day panera opened there was electricity in the air.  I was going through an arbys phase (read: fat phase) so I wasn’t too keen on trying Panera on that day.  I wasn’t too sure what the expect and I couldnt leave the fate of my lunch unknown.  What if I didnt like it and then i would be hungry the rest of the day? So I skipped it.  I actually avoided panera for about 2 weeks before I finally gave in.

Panera’s driveway is on the busiest street in Hilton Head.  Its a 4 lane death trap that they expect you to dart over just for dry baked goods. I digress.

I got into the parking lot without incident. I drove around the parking lot three times (ala @jaredwsmith) looking for the perfect parking spot.  I was really just trying to prolong the time that I had before I had to go in and face my uncoolness.

As a side note: I hate trying new things. I have had my hair cut the same way since 8th grade, it has always been the same shade of brown.  I always eat turkey sandwiches with american cheese and I drink plain coffee with milk and sweet and low.  I won’t even try splenda.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I especially hate trying new restaurants.  I get very cranky when my blood sugar is low and I would hate having to go somewhere, drop $10 on lunch and then not eat it because I dont like it.

I slowly walk up to the door and I am greeted by a mob of people hungrier than the entire continent of Africa.  The door at this specific panera is at an angle and the counter is at another angle creating a sort of triangle effect which makes it very difficult to create straight and orderly lines of people.

I decided to duck behind the person furthest back in the line so I could decide what kind of turkey sandwich I wanted to get. There are 6 distinctly different turkey sandwiches on the Panera menu, with all the types of bread, the permutations are endless. My heart was racing. The crowd was thinning and I was rapidly approaching the counter.

When the girl got to me she was plump and friendly making me feel that if I ate here enough I might be plump and friendly as well. I felt good about the decision I was making.

I asked for “a turkey sandwich”. She asked which one “the one with turkey on it”. she was sweet and obviously saw me sweating through my bra and she simply suggested the sierra turkey sandwich.  I was grateful to have her in my life at that moment. She asked what I wanted as a side item, bread, an apple or chips.  I asked for an apple.  turns out they are macintosh apples which are disgusting and fodder for another blog entry. She handed me a cup (she knew how salty that sandwich would be) and asked if I wanted a cookie as well. I accepted the cookie (read: fat phase).

Then she told me my total. $14.56. No kidding. I had to dip into my emergency candy reserve funds to pay for lunch. I handed her my visa and while it was processing she tried to ease the pain by telling me that “it was for the best” and that I would “just LOOOOOVE the sierra turkey sandwich” and that “its SOOOOOOO good”. She handed me a buzzer and then started at me blankly as I looked at her and then looked at the buzzer. What the fuck was I supposed to do with this thing?

She then looked at the floor and then eventually looked past me and asked for the next person in line.  I was, for a fleeting moment, this girls best friend. I wandered around the new mob of people that were starting to accumulate in no particular fashion around me.

Then my buzzer lit up and started shaking violently. I was overly alarmed.  Now I had this crying device in my hand with no cradle to put it in. I must have looked panicked because a man in a striped brooks brothers shirt pointed me in the direction of my $14 sandwich.

I looked at him like “yeah, i know, just testing you!” and walked down the aisle. I was greeted by a manager at the end asking me how I was doing that day.  I was confused, starving and broke.

I got my bag and vacated but not before getting a diet pepsi. The drink station was chaos. There were kids and adults everywhere just looking for carbonated syrup. I waited in the back until everyone cleared out and walked up to the station.  I got my diet pepsi and I went to put a lid on it.  I have a small issue with lids.  Particularly clear plastic ones that need to go on clear plastic cups.  It took a little finess, readjusting my purse and putting my bag ‘o sandwich on the floor, but I got it.

Triumphant, I walked out of panera with my head held high.

I got back to the office, ate half the sandwich then threw it away with the apple and half of the cookie.


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