Saturday, March 28, 2009

Following the Directions at Panera

I know I am a curmudgeon. I wish I were more tolerant and serene, less judgmental and way less prone to agitation. Not likely, given my schematics.

I pray as I do mostly in hopes of re-wiring, pleading with the Good Electrician to remodel me. My wife assures me she has, over the years, noticed real change in me...I think she means for the better (as in, more light, less heat), but maybe she is pulling my leg as I often pull hers (which is to say, I am a better actor than pray-er, a dimmed and low-watt bulb).

Anyway, yesterday, after about five hours of study at Panera, I packed my stuff and waited in sure and certain hope for Jacob, my son, to collect me after he got off work. It was raining. Nasty--nothing like the poor folk in Fargo were experiencing (I needed no sand bags), but it was really wet and damp.

Computer case and briefcase slung over my shoulder, and conscious, as I always am, of trying to stay out of people's way, I took my interim stand just outside the front entrance. For about ten minutes I played doorman, opened the glass doors for people scurrying in, head-down against the elements, also for people covering their heads, bracing themselves to bolt for their cars. I could not help but see the traffic jam inside.

A sign that greets everyone entering Panera, with an arrow and words, indicates that the line for ordering forms to the left. Beside it is one of those movable floor posts, made for theatres, airports and such, with nylon strapping at the top that uncoils, stretches and attaches to another post a little further on--to make a lane. At my Panera, the strap cuts the lobby in two: the left side is the pastry display, the free samples and the cash registers. The right side creates a path for exit. Also, the coffee is there.

For the 10 minutes or so I watched, everyone entering the lobby went to the right--against the sign's counsel--and formed the ordering line there: the Great (pedestrian) Wall of Panera. It kept people from the coffee. It created problems for people trying to leave. More than once I heard "Ex-cuse me, please!" from frustrated folk as they tried to make for the exit. Several irritated stares were exchanged: Hey! I am in line here! Yeah, well, you and the line are in the wrong place!

Vicariously, Pharisaically, I was irritated too, even though I had no dog, really, in the fight. I was already outside. But more than once I thought to go in, to tell the people in line, "Get over to the other side of the strap. Read the dadgum sign! Can't you see you are clogging things up? What is wrong with you?"

Yeah, boy, I have changed a whole lot. The prayers of a righteous man may avail much, but much prayer has not availed to make me the least bit righteous.

Okay, so maybe the folks came in all wet and bothered and did not see the sign. Or maybe it is not all that big a deal where they stand while they wait and on a rainy afternoon we all need to cut each other some slack. Or maybe it is just that people look at other people quicker than they read written guidance...and if someone is standing over there, that must be where the line forms and so I will fall in behind them and stand there too. Of course, I then become a reason for those arriving after me to stand in the wrong place, and all of this congestion and irritation could have been avoided if the first folk had read the sign and done what it said, or if the next person in line or the folk after them had read the sign and stood in the right place so that the folk coming after them would have followed their example and been in the right place and things would not be so unpleasant inside as the rain falls outside...

And why is it that we look to each other first, always look first to what everyone else is doing instead of following the directions that someone wise and experienced has written for our instruction and comfort?


Anne L.B. said...

Wide is the gate and broad is the way ...

Nice illustration, Tom.

Tom Steagald said...

Thanks, Anne.

And thanks, too, to Caleb for joining my modest followers list...meaning the list is modest, not that my followers are modest, though I am certain they all of them are, modest and humble and sweet and kind and, you know, modest.

Caleb...did I mention that I am doing a new book for Upper Room?

Rachelle said...

Hmmm. Why read the person and not the writing? I guess it's human nature I guess. Most people will "read" Christians long before they'll read the Bible. (I suppose that's what you were saying but I'm kind of a dim bulb myself and was proud of myself for figuring it out.)

It reminds me once again how important it is to reflect Christ's love as much as I can, if people are going to be watching me and making assumptions about Jesus. But then I just feel so dadgum hopeless (love that word "dadgum") because I know I can never represent Christ adequately.

And by the way, I totally relate to that uppity righteous feeling of standing there wanting to straighten everyone out! Darn it, follow the rules already! Of course, everyone who knows me is aware that if I ran the world, everything would be totally perfect. :-)