Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Story #2: Paneradise

The restaurant had the same exact smell every time I walked in. It was a blend of baked goods and cleaning chemicals, with maybe a little coffee bean aroma thrown in there too. Not a bad smell, just a work smell. It was the smell I smelled so much, I forgot I was smelling it. 

I had arrived. Promptly, as always. I walked through the doors with purpose. It was 8am.  

Joe was the manager in charge. He swiped me in, "Welcome to Paneradise." 


"You're on dining room." 

Excellent. The dining room had been my life all summer. I owned the dining room; from the upper level, to the lower level, to the bathrooms, all the way down to the back of the house, all of it, mine.  

I went to survey the damage. The trash was full by the brewed coffee.

I grabbed two trash bags from the back of the house and headed toward the coffee stand. There was a group of customers, younger men and women maybe in their thirties, chatting about the rain. I stood in the middle of the entryway, not sure if I should ask them to move or just wait until they noticed me with the bags. One guy did notice. He grabbed his friend by the shirt and pulled him aside to make room. I was apologetic. 

"Sorry, let me just change the trash here real quick." I said, opening the cabinet door and taking the trashcan out. The rest of them stepped away and muttered their consent. I looked inside the cabinet. Trash was everywhere. Without a second thought, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled into the cabinet like an animal. At this time I was very aware these people were still watching me. These coffee sippers, dressed in business casual--suits, ties, skirts, heels--were looking at me bending over, rummaging through trash with my bare hands. I tried to remember what pair of underwear I put on that morning; I hoped to God it wasn't showing. 

One of the men muttered something and they walked off.

The trash smelled bad; very bad. Always, the trash smelled just putrid. I started walking to the back of the house, my thoughts still hung up on those business people.

I heard a voice to my left. "Excuse me, Ma'am?"

It was a middle-aged guy. He was sitting at a booth with a woman, I assumed his wife. I looked behind me and realized I was the only associate in the dinning room. Ma'am? I thought. Do I look like a ma'am?

Rule number one of Panera Bread Associates: no jerks. We were all pleasant workers, painfully pleasant. I pulled off not being a jerk quite well, better than most I think.


He was looking at my name tag. "How do you say your name? Is it Diane? Deena?" he paused, "Danny? Dah---"

I wondered if I should wait and let him continue guessing. I looked down, making sure I was still wearing my own name tag.

He seemed like a nice person, intelligent even. He probably had a good job. Most likely he knew how to "do life." After all, he had lived a long time; longer than me. Why then, I wondered. Why do people like him guess my name? That was probably the third time it had happened that week. He asked me how to pronounce my name. This can only imply one thing: he doesn't know how to pronounce my name. That was totally acceptable, not unusual, and in fact quite common. But then why? Why do they try to guess? All of them do it. All people, everywhere, guessing my name.

Rule number one: no jerks.

I was kind and gracious. "It's Danae." I said. I said it clearly, projecting my voice. I said Dah-nay, giving a slight emphasis on the nay and not the dah. 

"Danae." He repeated, thoughtfully.

I smile. "Yes." I lingered, not sure if I was free to dispose of the garbage still in my hand or not.

"That's a pretty name." His wife said.

"Thank you." I nodded my head, smiling again. I looked in the direction of the door leading to the back of the house, then down at the dingy bag of garbage in my hand. I realized I was still nodding my head.

I noticed the couples' dishes were empty. Again, without thinking, I asked, "Can I get those out of the way for you?"

"Yeah, sure." The man said, leaning back in the booth.

I immediately realized this was a mistake; a rookie mistake. I was attempting to carry too many things at once. This was hazardous and risky. No, it was downright stupid.

"Are you sure you have all that?" The woman asked.

I figured it was go big or go home. "Oh yeah," I said, "I've carried a lot more before, trust me." I was confident, reassuring, suave, and professional. But then...the orange soda. I noticed the orange soda; I watched it in the tiny little cup. My hands were incapacitated with trash and the weight of the dishes. There was nothing to be done except watch the tiny cup tumble off the tray, onto the table, and finally seeping into the man's light khaki slacks.

What to do? I needed to apologize of course; apologize a lot. I needed to give more apologies than necessary and sound genuine. I was genuine! I sincerely felt horrible. The woman even complimented me on my name...

We needed napkins. Who drinks pop in the morning? I thought. Maybe it was really watered down orange juice. Regardless, spilling on a man's pants was not good. I dropped all the dishes back down on the table and left the putrid bag of trash at the couple's feet and went for the napkins. I returned promptly. The man could take care of his own pants; I wiped the table, being careful not to let any more orange soda/juice drip off.

The man was obviously peeved. He was wearing some pretty nice slacks--and such a fine, off-white color too. After a minute, the couple said something about needing to go. They got up and left the booth.

To my surprise and delight, all of the dishes, cups, trays, and trash made it to the back of the house in one trip, and the couple didn't complain to Joe. Success.

The rest of the morning was uneventful. It consisted of me bringing dishes back, cleaning them, wiping tables, and brewing coffee. Then lunchtime hit.

Lunchtime at Panera Bread reminded me a little of Walmart on Black Friday. I imagined there could be a line of people charging in from the back of the parking lot, screaming, pushing, shoving, dying...

No, not really. Lunchtime was just really busy.

To make matters worse, people were hungry. The restaurant had table service, so costumers sat down and waited for their food. I could always tell who they were. I was not a server usually, I just walked around looking for messes to pick up. Nevertheless, they watched me. Like starving creatures with hungry eyes, they watched my every move. They Looked at my hands, noticing only my dirty white rag. They asked with their blank expressions how it is that I only had this one pathetic rag and no food at all...

The children were by far the best part of my job. You see, kids, bound by some unspoken law of prepubescence, never manage to finish their food. They don't even come close. Instead, perhaps they organize little clubs or social societies determining who was truly the most gifted at discovering ways to destroy their meal and display it to the rest of the world. 

When families left their tables, I couldn't even be upset. I was honestly impressed by the sheer magnitude of the mess left behind. These children did things I would never think of: full bags of potato chips dumped on the floor, stomped on, crushed into thousands of tiny pieces, glued down by streaks of peanut butter or soup. Also, combinations of jam and peanut butter spread across seat cushions and along the walls, Macaroni noodles arranged in the crevices and lining the seats of the high chairs. Soggy bread could be found everywhere, along with cookie crumbs, spilled milk, juice boxes, dirty napkins, wipes, forgotten toys, food we didn't even serve, and disturbing pictures. Trust me, I've seen it all.

It was not so bad, really. I stayed busy and time went by fast. Soon my shift was over and I clocked out. With the employees discount, I bought a nine dollar salad for two bucks. I ordered it to go. I always ordered it to go; never would I linger there longer than necessary.

I walked out the door with a sense of accomplishment. The shift was over. Just another day in Paneradise.

My summer job is over! School is now fast approaching. Gearing up for my junior year. Thankful to be getting a degree! No matter what age you are, higher education is always worth it!

This post ended up being much longer than expected. I hope it was enjoyable. I'm probably not going to have the time to write like this after the semester begins.

I'm enjoying the bit of free time while I can.



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