TTWA Assignment: Imagine you are on Yelp. Write a review of the restaurant everyone is talking about. In the fourth paragraph, admit you’ve never eaten at the restaurant, but argue why your misinformed opinion is still more important than the other reviews on the site.
I based this story on a girl I once worked with at the National Institutes of Health. Most of the story is true to a point. She was my first real ‘love’ I guess you could say. As is the way with these things, you tend to romanticize the past a bit, an error I’ve tried to remedy by mixing in a little farce.
Panera Bread, E. Jefferson St., Rockville, MD
I frequented at this Panera Bread nearly ten years ago on a date with the most beautiful girl on the planet. Tara heralded from a small community near Eugene, Oregon in what I always imagine as the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi. Imagine for a moment a girl as beautiful as a mountain sunset, eyes like a copper sea, freckles dotting her face like constellations, and a smile like lightning that might strike weaker man dead on impact. Now imagine breakfast muffins stuffed with blueberries, hot chocolate foaming with whipped cream, and bearclaws . . . ah the bearclaws drizzled with syrup and cinnamon cradeled between not one but two (!) plates, perfect for sharing. Now combine the two images . . . go ahead, I’ll wait . . . Got it? This, ladies and gentlemen, is where I spent the summer of 2004, the best damned fast food restaurant on the planet.
Tara dreamed of becoming a doctor (she had already scored a 41 on her MCAT and she hadn’t even finished her undergrad yet), yearned to research as well (she had applied for an MD, PhD program on the West Coast), and before returning to school to graduate, she had accepted a position across the country as an intern at the National Institutes of Health and then . . . THEN planned to visit India for two weeks in August to teach women in poor mountain communities. On top of these advantages, Tara was also drop-dead GORGEOUS, sexy as sin, and entirely unconscious of either fact like an absent-minded supermodel scientist. Panera serves its hot chocolate in a large round cup, practically a soup bowl; upon inspecting the quantity, Tara insisted we share. An indirect kiss! I could have shaken the hand of the barista then and there for the impractical but generous serving sizes.
She and I were interning together at a malarial research facility a mile from NIH. Every morning that summer after incubating bacteria or dissecting mice, we’d sneak off to Panera for bagels and coffee. I don’t think I was ever that hungry, to be honest. But I’d grab one of everything, just to while away the hours. For an hour or two, she’d then tell me about Oregon, her dreams after med school, some of her favorite Indian poetry, everyday stuff like that. I’d tried to ignore the fact that I was drowning in her words, her smile, the half-price breakfast danishes and exquisite dry roast coffee.
At the beginning of August, Tara left for India and then eventually Oregon. I tried emailing her but . . . well, this was an area before skype or texting. She wouldn’t have time anyway. In many ways, she was the most alive person I had ever known. The number of her dreams could fill a textbook: backpacking across the U.S., visiting Cuba, curing cancer . . . I wasn’t one of them, I suppose. After a few months, she stopped emailing me and well . . . that was that.
Confession time: I don’t really think I actually ate anything at Panera. Due to my family’s history with diabetes, I passed on most baked goods, and though making some concessions for the hot chocolate — an indirect kiss is still a kiss — honestly I don’t remember. Still, my opinion stands firm: the best Panera in the entire country. No other restaurant compares to the Jefferson St. Panera in Rockville. Some days, I just sit outside on the veranda and watch the cars pass, evesdrop on post-docs complain about government funding, or throw crumbs at hungry sparrows. Tara always chided me on that. She thought it made them too reliant on humans like we were enslaving them with free food or something. “How are they going to learn to hunt on their own?” she’d say. “They’ll never be able to leave this area now.” Looking back, I think she was trying to tell me something.
Best coffee in the whole D.C. area. Five stars.