Most of them are early workers by the looks of things, and then you have me.
Quite often you see us huddled under the awning waiting to be let in like hungry cats, first scurrying to our favorite booth to make camp for a peaceful half hour.
There’s the tall, African American girl who limps that works at Barnes & Noble. I always wonder, what does she do from the time she leaves at say, 6:45 till 9 o’clock when the store opens? None of us are really on chatty terms, so there’s no way of finding out. And the only reason I know she works there, is because I’ve seen her stacking books.
A pudgy Spanish guy is another regular who always waves to me from across the room. He’s the one who taught me how to use the microwave.
Hortense and Phylis are two women of color who work on Park and 84th. I’ve seen them enter the building on my way home. I only know their names because quite often they’re called out on their breakfast orders as they sit, eating like queens, without ever taking off their coats.
Mustn’t forget the African night watchman who wiggles his legs like Ike Turner. Must be some kind of nervous twitch, or else he’s just jiving as he waits in line. He likes Hortense, flirting with her by the Dark Roast Decaffeinated. He smiles at me I’m sure because he knows I’ve noticed, there’s a little early morning spark in the air.
Behind me, is a bespectacled guy about 35 fingering his wedding band with a look on his face as if to say…boy, I’m gonna kill her one day.
Behind him is a very short redhead drinking a pumpkin latte the width of a soup pot wafting under everyone’s nose. That’s the thing about Panera, they give you a lot for your buck, as well as pumpkin.
I’ve grown especially fond of some of the workers. Not all of them, since we do have a touch of attitude here and there, like when Cassie refuses to wait on you until she gets her lip line just right. Me being of glamorous origins, tries to understand this even though, if I don’t get coffee soon, I’m just going to lean over and break that fucking pencil.
My hero though is Audrey who, at 3o years of age, is the mother of two little girls she self-supports with the sunniest smile on her face when she speaks of them. Puts me to shame since other than myself, I can’t manage to take care of a cat.
I always say how comforting ritual is, even if it’s this mundane. To sit in a vast diner reminiscent of Route 66 amid familiar faces you only see there, is a blessing.
It’s grounding, steadying you for the day.
There’s never a time I emerge without feeling fortified and fond of all that rests around me.
If one of them is missing or doesn’t show, I find myself wondering, did Phylis miss her train? Is one of Audrey’s girls sick?
And where the hell is Cassie…did she run back home to get that fucking lip pencil?