A while back I stopped going to Starbucks in order to avoid what most certainly would have turned into an assault charge with a triple shot of prison time. But that’s an entirely different story, which you can read about here.
However, instead of just giving up coffee altogether, I simply started patronizing another popular establishment: Panera. In fact, I patronize that place so much, I refuse to call it by it’s official name, Panera Bread (or St. Louis Bread Company if you’re from St. Louis). You see, I happen to know lots of little useless pieces of trivia and I know that the folks at Panera are secretly calling you and your friends a piece of bread in their official name. Pan means "bread" in several languages and era means "time." Get it? Pan-era, or Bread Time. So to call the place Panera Bread is like saying Bread Time Bread and they can go fuck themselves if they think they can pull that shit on me. So next time you walk in there and they greet you with, "Welcome to Panera Bread!" simply reply, "Don’t call me bread, I’m the one patronizing you, remember? YEAH! I know about your little inside joke. Can I please have a small coffee and a bacon egg and cheese sandwich on a carpet slipper, because those things are freakin’ yummy! Do you sprinkle them with crack or something?!"
Bread Time Bread?Incidentally, "ciabatta" means "carpet slipper" in Italian. See? Useless trivia. Yes, folks, it is certainly an adventure to go out in public with me, but if nothing else, I guarantee it will be a memorable, hilarious, and zany experience.
Lately, I’ve been going to Panera a lot (I’m telling you, there is crack in the ciabatta), and I am starting to feel like the cashiers are trying to pigeonhole me for their own personal job satisfaction. They light up with glee when they see me and immediately have my coffee cup waiting on the counter and my order already rung up. Now this would be all fine and great, but I’m not one of these people who gets the same thing, every single day of their life. No, I have a wild, adventurous spirit, and once or twice a year I want a gingerbread bagel instead, i.e. twice the amount of crack. Have you guys tried those things during the holiday season?! Fuck me, they are good! Give me a half dozen of those for free and you can call me bread as much as you freakin’ want!
Seriously, swine flu fucked everyone!Oh and fuck you, swine flu! Yeah that’s right, swine flu can fuck right off, because that is the reason Panera doesn’t have a bin of free bagel samples at the door anymore. It became their policy to get rid of the free bagel samples during the swine flu breakout in order to lower the transmission rate. Either that or they got tired of me grabbing two giant handfuls of gingerbread bagel pieces and running out the door each morning shouting, "BREAD TIME! BREAD TIME! SEE YOU TOMORROW, BREAD TIME BREAD!!! No seriously, fuck you swine flu, you killed a major part of my morning ritual happiness.
Speaking of morning rituals, the one thing I love about Panera is that as crazy as I am, there’s always someone more batshit crazy than me there, which makes me feel completely normal. You see, I’m the type of person who loves to bust out with something hilarious or sarcastic to a total stranger, just to see if they will laugh at it or get all awkward at the fact that I just breached the sacred stranger divide. The whole world is my little improv theater and if you are anywhere near me then you are certainly involved in some way.
The AMP’D Station, where coffee meets crazy to form just the right blend.There’s no better place to do this than at the counter where everyone prepares their morning coffee, or something I affectionately call the AMP’D Station (Addiction Medication Preparation Demonstration Station—I happen to like things that rhyme, in case you didn’t know). The AMP’D Station plays host to all kinds of strange people, and anywhere there are strange people, you will find me there, eagerly poking them with a stick just for fun.
So here is a list of people you will find at the AMP’D Station and the best way to fuck with them for your own personal morning amusement.
1. The Polite Coward
Natural selection doesn’t have manners.This is the person standing on the outside of the crowd, waiting patiently for everyone to leave before they move in and fix their coffee. If this were a Serengeti watering hole, they would be the zebra that dies of thirst, because they were too timid to find a spot amongst the throng of other zebras. You can easily spot them, because they make short jerky movements while taking false steps toward the AMP’D Station whenever a hole opens up and is then rapidly filled by a more aggressive person.
Once they finally make it in, The Polite Coward makes spastic hand motions when reaching for sugar, napkins, or a stir stick out of TOTAL FEAR AND PANIC that they may accidentally reach in front of you. Generally they are very polite which makes it even more fun to repeatedly mess with them by constantly reach for things, a millisecond before they do. The most rewarding part of this is hearing them utter things like, "Oh I’m sorry. Oh, no you go. Oh look at me, I did it again. Oh wow, my bad. Wow it is crowded here. Oh excuse me, I’m so sorry."
2. The Perfectionist
Although, you are still absolutely flawed.You can spot this person easily because they’re the ones disrupting the flow and continuity of this whole process. Panera serves four kinds of brewed coffee: light, dark, decaf, and my personal favorite, hazelnut. The Perfectionist doesn’t just fill a cup with one of these, but puts some of each in a cup, thinking that they’ve found some secret formula for the best of all worlds. This is particularly annoying to someone going in to fill their cup, because The Perfectionist is bouncing between the coffee towers like a tennis ball. They also keep bumping into everyone since they’re busy backtracking to add more of this and some of that in order to get it perfect.
These are the same jackasses that then appear at the counter and pour in one part half and half, one part 2%, and one part skim milk. I’m not sure how they figured out that they take their coffee with exactly 17.33333333% milk, but the best way to mess with them really takes some balls on your part. First you have to place your cup very near to theirs, preferably in front or behind. Then you "accidentally" pour a bunch of half and half into their cup while exclaiming, "Oh shit, is that yours? I’m so sorry, I guess I got confused. I thought that was my cup. They all look the same. Good thing there are free refills, right? I truly am sorry." It is important to say all of that with incredible sincerity or they will go off on you. But if you are sincerely sorry for them, and let’s face it, you really should feel sorry for them, then they will likely just run off to find a new cup while melting down inside their own head.
3. The Trashy One
You have made a pour choice.No, I’m not talking about someone who dresses trashy, rather a person who has a bigger carbon footprint than an industrial factory. These are the people who use 15 stir sticks to make one cup of coffee. Seriously, I have seen people put in a packet of sugar, use a plastic stir stick, throw it away, and then proceed to repeat this process well over ten more times. Why they don’t just put all their sugar in and then stir, I’ll never know. Do they know something about solubility chemistry that I don’t? Because I’m pretty sure you could stir it all in at once and just use one stir stick, or better yet, use one of the metal spoons conveniently located right next to the stir sticks.
The best way to mess with The Trashy One is to actually take the ENTIRE container of stir sticks up to the front of the store and as politely as possible, tell the people behind the counter that it is getting low and you figured they would want to refill it before the next rush of people come in. Sure, the people behind the counter might mock you for being bizarrely helpful, but let’s face it, they’re mocking all the customers anyway, calling them "bread" and stuff.
A subset of The Trashy One is the type of person who puts way too much coffee in their own cup and then ends up carefully pouring tons of coffee into the trash can just to make room for their cream. I love messing with these people because I already know they are dicks. They couldn’t care less about someone having to clean up a lake of coffee in the bottom of a trashcan, since the bag certainly has a hole in it from all the stir sticks. If you time it just right, you can throw something away while looking in the other direction and knocking their entire cup into the trash can in one ninja-like movement. Again, apologize profusely while casually dropping this verbal bomb on them: "Oh I’m so sorry! No really, my apologies, but I guess, no harm no foul since you were throwing it out anyway, right?" Don’t wait for an answer, just take your coffee and immediately leave.
4. The Camper
iRidiculous.This person stands at the AMP’D Station for what seems like a fucking hour with a vacant look on their face, while babbling on the phone. Oftentimes they are putting endless sugar packets into their coffee, one at a time, without a clue as to how many they’ve already put in. I swear, I have gone to Panera, ordered my crack sandwich, gotten my coffee, eaten, and left, while this person stood the entire time at the AMP’D Station making their fucking coffee.
These are also the people who come to Panera and treat the place like their own personal cubicle or something. If they EVER make it to their seat, they will ALWAYS be that person who has a laptop, PDA, spreadsheets, books, binders, a cactus, and a picture of their wife and kids sitting on the table. These people are incredibly fun to mess with because they’re completely off in their own little world. I like to strike up conversations with them WHILE they’re on the phone, because nothing flusters The Camper more than yanking them out of their reality and forcing them into yours.
The way I figure it, they’re polluting my nice, quiet breakfast experience with their overly audible, inane babble, so I say it’s fair game to totally interrupt their morning experience with inane babble of my own. Go to the side of them without the phone and ask them questions that don’t make any sense, but sound kind of normal, and then wait for an answer. "Excuse me, but have you ever tried the chicken salad soup sandwich here before? I’ve heard people say it’s good, but I can’t help but wonder just how appealing it is? What do you think about it?" In order to really throw them off their phone conversation, it is important to ask multiple rapid fire questions which they can’t just answer yes or no to. If they ignore you, which they likely will, feel free to tap them on the shoulder and repeat your questions louder.
5. The Freaks
Who ever said, "the freaks come out at night" clearly haven’t been to Panera in the morning.This is really kind of a catch-all category, because most of you out there have some really fucking weird coffee behavior!
For instance, there’s the person I like to call Sir Mix–A–Lot. I have seen this dude ask for two cups, which he uses to mix his coffee with by pouring it from one cup to another, even after he starts drinking it!
Winnie the Pooh pours an entire container of honey into his coffee and then goes and asks for more!
The Bee Gee sings and dances while making his coffee, wearing a sweatshirt open halfway down his hairy gorilla chest with NO undershirt.
The Cat Burglar is known for trying more than once to find the perfect flow rate of cream by carefully dialing the lid back and forth like she is trying to crack the dial of a safe.
The person I like to call Mary Poppins actually hums the song "A Spoon Full of Sugar" while adding sugar to her coffee, EVERY FUCKING MORNING!
Shitty Shitty Bang Bang is a crusty, eccentric, geriatric person, farting up a cloud of filth foul enough to curdle the cream.
Then there’s me. Yes, I have no delusions about the fact that the guy randomly chatting up people on phones, pouring things into other people’s coffee, knocking people’s coffee into the trash, and behaving unpredictably, certainly falls into The Freak category. Actually, I have toyed with the idea that The Freaks of Panera are just other people, like me, trying to fuck with people for their own personal morning amusement. The jury is still out on that theory though.
My best advice is that I wouldn’t recommend messing with The Freaks for your amusement, because they’re clearly fucking nuts. Besides, The Freaks are already providing enough amusement for everyone anyway, so you might as well just sit back and laugh at them.
Oh and in case you care, I take my coffee with enough skim milk so I don’t burn all my taste buds off, and as many sugar substitutes as it takes to make it a little sweeter than me. You see what I did there? I ambiguously described my coffee preparation ritual, leaving you with really no idea how much cream and sugar I actually use, because honestly, I don’t give a shit how much. I’m just there for the social entertainment.
In the comment section below, please share your own morning coffee preparation ritual and any strange behavior you have witnessed at your coffee shop. Extra credit to anyone who contributes additional ways to mess with people at the AMP’D Station.