Would you like a baguette?

I’m at Panera Bread, trying to order a cup of chai. There’s nobody at the bakery counter, so I stand in line at the cafe counter. Someone comes out from the back of the house and starts sweeping the bakery, so I ask her if I can get a cup of coffee from her. She doesn’t look up, so I laugh and say, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”

She jumps. “Oh!”

“Can I order coffee over here, or should I wait in the line?”

“Oh, no,” she says, and starts punching things into a register. “Just a cup of coffee?”

“No, actually,” I say. “A cup of chai.”

“A chai latte or an iced chai?”

Now, the menu doesn’t say chai latte, but Hot Spiced Chai. “Not a latte, no coffee in it,” I say. “But still hot.”

“That’s a latte,” she says.

“But I don’t want the coffee,” I repeat, because I quit drinking large amounts of caffeine over four years ago and I am afraid.

“There’s no coffee. A latte just means, just means it’s–” she holds out her hands in some kind of gesture I recognize as “Good-God-what-is-the-word-I’m-looking-for”– “hot!”

“That’s what I want. Just a hot chai. No coffee.”

She rings me up and makes me a big mug of chai. “Here you go,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say. “I’m sorry. I’m just easily confused.”

“Me too,” she says.

“We should be careful around each other,” I say.

She looks at me like I’m an idiot, or maybe that’s just self-defense, because I think she’s confused. But that’s okay, because she just walked over to my table and offered me a baguette, because they had too many baguettes. She has been passing out baguettes to various people. Not everyone, though. I’m not sure why.

And I noticed that most of the people, when they accepted their baguettes, got this look on their faces, like she was an idiot.

One man said, “Do I want this huge loaf of bread? Do I look like I’m an idiot?”

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