The Manly Panera








As I paid my weekly visit to a Panera, I turned my observational skills up to the highest level. I was nosier in my observing of the crowd than I normally am.  From the start, it was quite clear this Panera was much more “man-centric” than the other ones I had visited. The tables of (mostly) men went something like this:

  • One gentlemen was a Kurt Vonnegut look alike (he looked like he was much more focused then me).  He was focused on his computer.  I think he was trying to make an Amazon purchase.  No new novels seem likely….
  • One gentlemen seemed capable of studying (pastor) much more deeply than me-I saw him look up twice as his food was delivered and as an acquaintance said “hello”.  As he stood up to leave, he probably played football/basketball in high school.  Maybe he was a coach?
  • Two booths over two men were talking something spiritual (I heard “Holy Spirit”).  As I focused all of my nosy skills into my hearing, I would guess one of them was very involved administratively with the Catholic or Episcopal church.  As with most priest, they look like one of their spiritual gifts was accepting other people’s hospitality.
  • A VERY retired couple with walker and cane (he had a US Army hat on.  I would guess WWII vet, but he told me Korea and Vietnam) enjoyed each other’s company.  The husband was more mobile so he placed the orders, got the coffee refills, and still smiled as he awaited  for every word his bride could offer. After I thanked him for his service, he did not hesitate to tell me what a great wife he had.  How she held the family together while he was away.  Brief words exchanged with her revealed she had a German (I think) accent.
  • There was a table of four guys (it seemed to be a rather fluid group.  It was as large as 7 and as small as 2) who looked like all early retirees or soon-to-be with their newspapers and a constant hum of sports and current events.  As the conversations warmed up and the wannabes left the table, the core group sounded more like a support group as they discussed work issues, including some problems with younger fellow employees.
  • Behind me a couple of tables, was a couple of guys who didn’t give me much to work with.  As the one gentlemen picked his food up, he seemed to give me a rather stern look.  Was I in his normal booth?  Did he not like my t-shirt declaring myself as a visitor to the Grand Canyon?
  • The last table was the most interesting to me–a group of definite male retirees all listening intently to one another.  Every corner of the table was filled!  The only one who faced me directly was wearing an orange crocheted hat. (Kind of like a hybrid of the above.)

I considering discreetly (or indiscreetly) snapping a picture of the hat., but I could not image how the conversation would go if I felt compelled to ask.  I didn’t want to pull him from his friends, and even though I did chat with him briefly, the “would you pose for a picture?” question never came up.

As I went for a refill, my muse also needed his coffee refilled as well.

Me:  While backing away from the decaf coffee, “Sorry about that.  Go ahead and jump in.  I have what I need.”

Orange:  “No problem.  Whenever you are done is fine.”

Me:  “Quite a hat you have there!  Did your wife make it for you?”

Orange: “No, my daughter did.”

Me: “That looks like something my wife or daughter might make for me.  It looks good on you.”

Orange: While failing to extricate his coffee cup from the dispenser and spilling coffee on the counter and the floor, “Whoops.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

Me:  “As long as it is your eyes.  I was afraid when I got older I would lose the ability to pour coffee and talk at the same time.”  I laughed a little and Orange joined in.  (I figured a person wearing a hat like he was wearing MUST have a sense of humor!)

As I gathered napkins to clean up his mess, he wandered back to his seat.  I let the management know about the mess while heading back to my booth.

The hats I found on-line are only a taste of what I really had the pleasure of seeing.   While his hat had a brim, it was not a rigid brim.  The brim seemed to droop slightly toward his nose.  The rest of the hat could not properly hold a firmness usually associated with a hat.  Due to yarns inability to effectively combat gravity, the hat seemed to sag in numerous places.  The yarn, however, was quite adequate to provide a very attractive ball for the top.  A different color of yarn may have given the hat a little more flair, but it was clear, the man wore it with pride.

While I admired his hat as I looked at it through the eyes of the women in my life, I now had an explanation why he could wear the hat with pride and no reservations.  He loved the hands and the heart of the person who made the hat for him.  And, his diminishing eye sight allowed him to spend over an hour at Panera confident he was the most stylish dresser there.

As I spoke to my daughter last night while we discussed an issue of incredible importance in her young mind, I made a similar comment of how age greatly fades the way we view people’s opinions.  She is a mess about a few things, and I tried to convince her how 20-30 years from now the things she is all worked up about will not even be a second thought.  She didn’t seem convinced.  After seeing my orange-hatted friend, I believe I still have some additional learning to do.  Maybe if I am really practicing what I preach, I will schedule the unveiling of my original orange hat for a special event sometime before retirement.  Unless my family also embraces an attitude of “Who cares?”, this special event will have to be a solo one…


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