When I was sixteen, I worked as a cashier at Panera Bread.
I remember apologizing to customers and saying “I’m new” every time I messed up an order.
I remember my mentor and friend, Sam, training and teaching me. (there’s a lot of different types of breads, guys)
I remember having a crush on the boy who prepared the sandwiches.
I remember waking up at 5:00am to open up the bakery, and I remember the smell.
I remember hiding in the freezer pretending to restock the cream cheese.
I remember pretending to be busy just to avoid answering the phone.
I remember breaking the receipt machine with a line of customers out the door.
I remember accidently asking the manager where the manager was on my first day.
I remember making myself a mango smoothie before the end of each shift.
I remember accidently setting a napkin on fire while slicing a bagel.
I remember being hired, and I remember leaving.
However, something I will never forget is this: it was a Sunday afternoon, a typical lunch rush had me a little anxious but the line was moving fairly quick. I am someone who very much learns by doing. After taking orders all morning, I had familiarized myself with the summer menu and was feeling confident. I was able to loosen up and carry on a short, polite conversation with several customers. For anyone who has worked in customer service you know “the voice.” Well, I had an entire persona. “Bread is life, Kale yeah!” This afternoon was no different.
“Hi! Welcome to Panera, what can I get for you?” I said energetically as I readjusted my apron.
I looked up and saw a tall African American women standing in front of me, shaking and crying. My first instinct was to ask her what was wrong. “Are you okay?” The loud room around me fell quiet. I focused my attention upon her. She tried to respond through her tears but her speech was slurred. I could sense her fighting herself. She was embarrassed and trying to apologize. This stranger, this human, was under the impression that she was an inconvenience to me and those behind her, holding up the line, causing a scene. On the contrary, the room around us continued to shuffle. Phones buzzed, coffee cups met eager lips. I was the only one who noticed, who had engaged. How could that be? She rummaged through her purse frantically searching for her wallet. I did not break eye contact and asked what I could do for her. Do I need to call an ambulance? A million thoughts overwhelmed me. She assured me that this had happened before but I could put two and two together realized she was having a seizure. Without a second thought, I quickly gathered her order together in one arm and held her hand in the other. I could see my boss out of the corner of my eye. I was abandoning the cash register with a line out the door but I did not care. My responsibility, my service had fallen to her. Leaving her alone was not an option. Being aware, being accountable, that is what counted. I opened the door and we walked outside to her car. I placed the bags into the back of her van and handed her the iced tea she ordered. There was a car seat to my left and a pile of crumbled up receipts covering the ground. Perhaps she was a mother, a wife, a friend. I sat on the curb and we just sat there talking for a moment. I asked her to stay with me until she had finished her drink and felt better. Before she pulled out of the parking lot, she grabbed my arm and thanked me repeatedly.
I like to think that she lived close by. I like to think she made it home safe and was greeted warmly but her family. But, the reality is, I have no idea what happened next, and I never will. I met a stranger on one of the worst days of her life, but will never have the opportunity to be with her on her best. She was one person. I served hundreds of individuals that day. Hundreds of stories we are often too distracted to read. Make time, care. Someone is watching and they will thank you one day.
Let this be a notice; people notice you noticing.