Three months ago, I got a Panera Bread card, which if used properly according to the lady at the Panera cash register who gave it to me, would yield me free goodies and discounts at any of the locations of the bakery and bread chain.
For the first two months and 25 days, I accrued a free bagel as I didn’t spend much time at Panera. You might think this was a paltry reward, but I was pretty pleased with my edible treasure. Then about five days ago, my rewards began to multiply mainly because I spent a good part of the past week mooching off Panera’s free Wi-Fi after Hurricane Sandy stole mine away.
Let me say right off the bat, that my family is extremely fortunate. We have been cold and bored and a bit isolated without any communication ability during the last four or five days, but we are safe. This is where I insert a note that a lot of people are not so safe and it would be nice if everyone could give a bit to the American Red Cross to help the not so fortunate out. Here is their website. http://www.redcross.org/
On Day One of my life without power, phone and the internet, I did not seek out the sanctuary of Panera Bread. No, I stayed home with my husband, dogs and daughter who had to evacuate her apartment . For the first hour, we were fine, but then what happens to mothers and daughters everywhere, who are forced to be in the same room with each other for more than an hour, happened to us, and we started to pick at each other. Suddenly, our close family moment turned into a “Do we have wine?” moment. We all went to bed early.
We made it through the next two days. On the morning of Day Three, my daughter got a text from her apartment complex that said it was safe for her to return home. Like a bat out of hell, she packed up her stuff and screeched out of the driveway with some homemade food and clean clothes which I washed before the power went out.
With the house so quiet, my husband and I realized how much we missed the internet. I suggested we try out Panera to see if their Wi-Fi was still operational. Panera turned out to be our very own port in the storm as I visited Panera with and without my husband about 10 times in the ensuing day and a half.
Panera’s Wi-Fi was my practical reason for going back again and again, but there was a more emotional pull that drew me there: freshly baked scones. That night, I ordered a wild blueberry scone with Hazelnut coffee. My husband ordered “Man” coffee which is coffee that has no flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, sprinkles or any type of foam or whipped cream topping. Despite his distrust for fancy coffee and most pastry, we were at ease in this place, and we felt at home.
On Day Four, I met a friend for breakfast at a Panera near her home, and upon placing my order, I learned I had earned a $1 off a beverage. I was stunned. In such a short amount of time, I had a reward. I was so overcome with emotion, I almost cried. I believed that earning this Panera reward was no less exciting than being crowned Miss America. Okay,there is a slight chance that being marooned without phones and internet made me a little off kilter, but I was having a moment and I enjoyed it! To celebrate my “prize”, I ordered a chocolate chip scone.
Later that day, I took my laptop to the Panera near my home and worked there again for about an hour. While I was really starting to like Panera, I was feeling a bit guilty that I had abandoned my old friend, the gym. It beckoned to me saying,
“Donna, these scones are going to come back to hurt you inch by inch. Remember, we are open too. We don’t have Wi-Fi, but we have treadmills.”
I told the gym to mind its own business. Later that night, my husband and I needed a place for a quick meal. I quietly suggested Panera, and he didn’t object. It could have been my imagination, but Panera was growing on my husband too especially when he found out I earned a free pastry when we placed our order. I used that reward on an orange scone. Denise, the woman behind the register, let me pick out the scone I wanted. She and I had become friends in the past few days. She called me by my first name, and I knew the names of her three children and what they did for a living. Yes, we had bonded.
On Day Five, I got back power, phones and internet but not before I had breakfast at Panera. I had a feeling that this would be my last day to visit on a daily basis. I said goodby to Denise and the scones who looked sad to see me go.
“What will you do?” Denise asked.
“I will go back to my life before there was a Wi-Fi crisis,” I said bravely. “I will apologize to the gym and try to make a fresh start there. It’s the right thing to do.”
“You don’t have to say goodbye forever you know. You can come back once in a while. There are no obligations. You have the card; use it.”
I gave Denise a faint smile and a nod. “I will return; maybe not tomorrow or the day after, but I will be back.”
And with that, I walked out the doors and down to the freaking gym which is in the same shopping center as Panera. Don’t tell me Karma doesn’t have a mean sense of humor.