The first time I entered a Panera Bread was sometime in high school, perhaps my sophomore year. I was there with a couple of friends, looking only for some decent food and a place to consume it. What I found was much, much more. You see, there at Panera I found my home away from home. I found my comfort zone. I found the place where I would later discuss every part of my life with a good friend. Panera became, for me and my friend Matt, our "date" spot.
Matt is, by far, the best friend a girl could ask for. We talk about everything - life, death, sex, scandal, music, movies, school - and we always can count on each other for the honest truth. Our friends often joke that we're like a married couple in the way we get along and because of how frequently we are together; thus we have adopted the comparison as our own and make it perfectly clear that although this is not a monogamous relationship, our marriage comes first. In order to maintain a healthy relationship we find ourselves on Panera Dates -usual spot, usual order, most unusual conversations. Our "dates" are unlike anything else, and, to be frank, would not be quite so incredible anywhere else. There is just something about Panera that makes the conversation flow, the problems sort themselves out, and the mac 'n' cheese taste a little better. Maybe it's the soft jazz plaing overhead; maybe it's the fire burning softly in the fireplace; maybe it's the tranquil colors and decor. Maybe, though, it's simply that it's so undeniably us. Whatever the reason, it's our Panera Dates that, in a way, have come to define our relationship.
Our relationship, much like our Panera Dates, is both complex and simple. There are the intricacies of the things we discuss and the way we relate to each other and our friends, but there are also many ways in which we just sort of are. We know that no matter what the topic, we will both give and recieve nothing but honesty. It's difficult to be untruthful in a place like Panera, which is brimming with hearty foods that taste home-made, arousing aromas of the freshly baked breads, and heartfelt conversations all around. Even looking around, removing ourselves from the equation, it's like a microcosm of the world in which we live. There are parents and children of all ages in the open areas; there are young people on legitimate dates sitting in the corners; there are old friends catching up on the sofa by the fire; there are students with textbooks spread about and business people on their laptops at the tables near the windows. Panera seems to serve all types, and in my many Panera Dates with Matt as well as lunches and dinners with other friends in the same location, I have witnessed both the kindest gestures and the cruelest of injustices. The things we have experienced together inside our favorite Panera could not possibly be duplicated - not the events, not the conversations, not the emotions, not the laughter. It is all unique. Panera is unique. Our Panera Dates are, yes, unique.