Freedom in Unlikely Places

I laughed when he first walked up. Lunch was almost over and we figured he must not be working today. He was on his way out the door, but he sat down for a minute to catch us up on his family. It was a funny moment because he didn’t know we were coming and we didn’t plan it until the drive. We had talked about it other times as we frequent the area grocery stores.

Today we finally decided. We took the detour from our normal route for a change. The quick visit was something fun in the middle of a busy work week.

So where did we go, you ask? It was just another Panera in another town. But this person used to work in our local Panera. I know too much about “my” Panera, or at least I used to.

When the Panera opened a few years ago, I became a frequent customer. I found “my” corner in the first week. It’s where the comfy chairs are and the table in between is the perfect height for me to use. This was such a new experience for me. I wasn’t used to having a place where I could go and work outside of my home. I wasn’t used to finding tables “built” for me in public places. Everywhere else tables are too high, too short, or too small.

Panera was a kind of gift in my life. I went there many times the first year it opened. And I loved it. I got to know quite a few of the employees and they got to know me as one of their “regulars”.

“One small coffee, please. And can I have a mug this time?” It was more fun to use a real mug and mix the different coffees together for just the right flavor.

Then I’d hang out in my favorite spot and the friendly faces of the people at Panera would walk by on occasion.

“How are you doing?”

“What are you working on today?”

“Oh, you’re here early (or late)!”

These new friends learned my routine for a while. I spent hours writing in that space. I have gathered there multiple times for many reasons…writing group, small group, business meetings, celebrations, fun with friends, and just because I needed time in “my” corner.

In some ways, it has changed since the beginning. Many of my original Panera friends have moved on to other locations. I’m also not able to visit quite as often for now. But whenever I get the chance, I pack my bag and make plans to stay a while. As long as my table is free.