On New Year's Eve, I had a solo lunch at Panera Bread. They have a sandwich that I just love (their Sierra Turkey), and sometimes (especially days when I've nothing to bring from home for lunch), I indulge. I particularly like to go on my own, a book wedged in the crook of my arm. The book is only for after I've eaten, though. I don't like to eat and read at the same time (although I wish I did). There is never a dull moment, however. There is plenty to observe. Here is what I noticed:
1. While I was in line to order my food, there was a man standing behind me with an accent, perhaps South American. I was called up to order before I had time to peak at the face behind the voice. When I was waiting to pick up my food, he was standing beside me again, speaking with a petite woman. He looked different than I had expected from his voice--shorter, and with a different facial structure. I like to think a person will look a certain way and then be surprised. I saw this man and woman leave when I was halfway through my sandwich. They must have eaten quickly! Although I was also taking my time.
2. Shortly after I sat down, I heard a woman sitting on her own behind me make a phone call. She called someone who she was supposed to meet at the restaurant, but whom she had never met in person before. She wanted to make sure they weren't both there already and simply missing each other. She told him where she was sitting, and that she was wearing a red jacket. I knew if it was a date, she'd surely be wearing a red carnation or a red scarf, so figured it must be a business meeting.
3. Panera has introduced a new bread for my Sierra Turkey sandwich. I don't like it as much the old bread. There is less flavor, and the consistency, although similar, is somewhat off. The sandwich was still delicious, but not as familiar. I will adjust, I'm sure.
4. Across the way, there was a table full of mothers and children. At one point, two boys in matching red parkas ran back and forth across the area where people wait in line to order food. They made sounds like car motors. I wondered if they imagined gears inside themselves that made them go. Probably they were just goofing around. The younger of the two was new to walking. Instead of rolling in a practiced gate, his feet hit the floor--slap, slap, slap. Everything thrilled him.
5. A girl was sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked just outside the window I was sitting beside. Her face was expressionless. She had ear bud headphones in her ears, which I assumed were attached to an MP3 player. She stared ahead, then at her lap, then ahead. I thought she must have been thinking the way a person thinks when they are so focused they forget there's an outside world. I do this while I'm driving home from work sometimes. I had two friends/coworkers tell me a few weeks ago that they passed me on the interstate on the way home. They waved and made faces, trying to get my attention. I stared straight ahead. Must have been an extra thoughtful day for me.
6. After some time, a man in a sharp suit came through the front door. He didn't look like he belonged at Panera on New Year's Eve. He was the person that the woman in the red jacket was waiting for. He greeted her, but in a distant "I'm very important" or "I have something you want" sort of way. They moved to a larger table, also behind me, and he began to interview her. I wished he had offered to buy her a lemonade.
7. At the table full of moms and children, I noticed two boys (obviously in a different family than the two boys in the red parkas) enthralled with handheld games. They were interested to the point that these games must have been Christmas gifts, less than a week old. The restaurant could have disappeared, and I don't think they would have noticed. I wondered how long they'd be that interested in their games.
8. I relished my potato chips. I love potato chips because they're crunchy and salty. I especially love the extra crunchy sort they have at Panera. I ate every chip and every chip piece. I washed this down with plain water--no lemon for me.
9. I saw what I assumed to be the mother of the thoughtful girl in the car return to the car with a bag of food. The two sat for a while. The mother spoke, but the daughter did not remove her headphones. I did not notice when they drove away.
10. A pair of middle-aged women came to sit in the table right next to mine. It seemed like they might talk about family and dieting and what was on Oprah the week before. They did talk about family and dieting, but not Oprah.
11. I heard the man in the fancy suit ask the question, "What are you doing right now?" I knew he was asking the woman what she was doing "right now" in her professional life, but I thought it would be funny if she answered, "Being interviewed at Panera." Then I thought it would be funny if the boys in the red parkas ran by, slap, slap, slapping an interruption.
12. I recently read the book HARRIET THE SPY, and I enjoyed it greatly. I felt a little like Harriet at Panera. I felt conspiratory as I made notes in my book. I felt a little guilty for eavesdropping.
13. Just as I was closing my notebook to pick up my reading book, a man walked past who had been sitting behind me. He was having a solo lunch, too, and I had completely forgotten about him with everything else going on. I wondered if I was in his notebook as "the girl who kept looking around." Maybe I looked speculative. Maybe I looked nosy. Maybe I looked lost.