I’m not really a breakfast person. I prefer savory food to sweet, at breakfast time, and frankly, I’m too picky in the morning to be satisfied by much. I live in the southwest, sort of, and I’m not for chili or spicy things in the morning. I want my food this way, not that way, and I prefer to spare the world my finickiness and just make my breakfast myself.
But a couple of years ago, I developed a fondness for picking up breakfast on my way to work. And my neighborhood Panera has a delicious bacon, egg & cheese on ciabatta. No, seriously, it was better than the same sandwich at other Paneras—I’ve checked. It’s a fried egg, white cheddar, and bacon on ciabatta bread. And I think the difference was in the sandwich maker, whose name was Maria. I’d get a neatly made sandwich, bread in perfect alignment, with a little salt and pepper. Everything about it went well— it was never overdone, ingredients in perfect harmony. The Platonic ideal of breakfast sandwiches, as far as I was concerned. Maria always made and delivered the sandwich with a smile. I always smiled back and said thank you, we wished each other good days.
They opened up a Panera with a drive-thru, closer to work, and I’ve been going there. Let me be clear—there’s nothing specifically wrong with the sandwich I get there. It won’t be neatly assembled, which is dangerous with a sandwich filled with molten cheese, or the bacon will be all on one side of the sandwich. They’ve stayed on the griddle too long, or I’ve gotten unmatched pieces of bread, such that the top and bottom are on different sized pieces and again, there’s a burning hazard. That hint of salt and pepper is always missing. It’s essentially the same sandwich, while managing to miss the thing that made it so special. And I think that thing was Maria. She made a lovely steel-cut oats with dried cherries and almonds, also, bless her.
I went back to my neighborhood Panera, and Maria has never been there again. I hope it means that her talents have led her on to ever greater successes. But on a day in which I’m thinking about strangers whose contributions have made my life better, Maria comes to mind, and I wish I had told her how exceptional a sandwich she made.