Working Lunch

     Monday at lunch I happened into a local faux-upscale, mass-produced “boutique” eatery (Panera) for lunch. It was just before noon. Bad timing on my part.
     The noon lunch rush is not a good time to find yourself in a dining area made up to resemble a low budget office. It really has nothing to do even with the actual business. They sell gussied up turkey sandwiches, scones, cinnamon bagels, and other trappings of a modern American middle class desperately and openly striving for some semblance of a life unique to one’s time and place. The fact a customer is looking at the same exact menu that exists 2,000 miles away never seems to bother anyone.
     So if it wasn’t the menu, with its sourdough bread bowl (real funky thinking by the way), what was it that threw me off? It certainly wasn’t the décor. For all its casual pretentiousness, Panera (and its cousins Starbucks and Atlanta Bread Company, and any number of other regional upscale “cafés”) doesn’t try to do too much with its furniture. Booths and tables look like they come from Larry’s Giant Restaurant-Supply Emporium, probably somewhere in the “Not Denny’s” aisle.
     No, it’s the customers. Specifically, the tools who bring their laptops, legal pads, fax machines, copiers, pen holders, and summer interns with them to eat a twenty minute lunch.
     I must have missed the memo that human beings cannot be out of touch with everybody they’ve ever come into visual contact with for more than three seconds. Apparently it was circulated sometime late last decade, as otherwise sane adults began acting like Armageddon was imminent if they couldn’t be reached on them there newfangled cell-u-lar phones.
These are the same people who up until that time had somehow managed to stumble their way through several decades of relative ignorance, before seeing the light of instant communications with other people terrified of being alone with their thoughts.
     Standing in line at Panera, I counted no less than twelve people staring intently at their computers. And I could only see half the dining area. It’s apparently gotten so bad at Panera that they have a sign posted that says they turn off the free wi-fi during the lunch rush to discourage their own customers from establishing a base camp at table three. I guess people need to be reminded that common decency dictates that you eat and clear out when a place is jammed to the gills.
     I mean, I could barely move in line, what with all the office equipment being jostled about.

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