I am writing in Panera this morning, finishing a chapter, eating a breakfast sandwich, drinking some hibiscus iced tea, listening to perfect background music, after a nice long walk on the beach this morning. It’s a nice day. I’m in a happy place. Plus, you know, free refills.
It isn’t crowded and a supervisor here has six or seven workers cleaning the hell out of this place. One woman pushed a carpet sweeper (not a vacuum, one of those quiet ones so I can still hear the music, thank you) under my feet several times, but I resisted telling her the egg she was getting was already there when I sat down. With each new area, her boss reassured her she was doing a fantastic job. Another gentleman cleaned the one other chair at my table—over and over for a few minutes I might add; the chair is clean. Then he took the supervisor’s encouraging words to heart when she told him to take his time and clean every single chair as perfectly as he had the first; he asked if I wouldn’t mind moving to the other chair so that he could clean mine. I happily obliged. It gave me a chance to see my earlier work from a different perspective. Honestly, it helped me see so much from a different perspective. Interestingly, he looked very familiar, but after teaching so long eventually everyone looks vaguely familiar.
The supervisor heartily apologized but I said it was absolutely not an issue, that she should be very proud of her employees. I told her I’ve been working with people about the same age as these workers for thirty years and I’ve never seen such dedication to completing the job, and doing it right. She thanked me and agreed they are that reliable. She turned to the woman closest to me, the carpet sweeper, and said, “Did you hear that?” and the worker smiled wide and said, “Why yes I did! Thank you sir!” and she clapped and a few other workers clapped and the supervisor laughed and smiled at me and whispered “Thank you again,” and I told her, quietly, “really, thank you.”
I then recalled that the young woman who brought me my breakfast sandwich was especially helpful in placing it down and asking if there was anything I needed and if I wanted a refill on the iced tea she’d be happy to get it, and she would be back to check. Yes, I’m at Panera. I did, in fact, need a refill of my hibiscus tea but decided to retrieve it myself. When I returned, a cinnamon roll had been placed at my table and the young woman said, “This is from Ellen (the supervisor).” She saw my tea as I sat down and said, “Oh I was going to get that!” and laughed and walked away.
These are very special-needs workers. I just learned they’ve been employed here for quite some time and the gentleman I recognized used to work at a Farm Fresh Supermarket I frequented before it closed down; he retrieved the carts. I am glad to see him working again.
The list of things that are absolutely right and good here is extensive. I am one among millions these days caught in the current of irrational leadership, negative reinforcement, unwarranted personal criticism, and basic meanness and hatred. Here among these fine people is the example of all we can be; the potential each of us can hope to obtain; such ethics, such basic decency to others.
I am coming back. I found my new office. Please, if you are ever on Lynnhaven Parkway in Virginia Beach, Virginia, just near the mall, patronize this Panera. They’re setting the example.