Friday, November 29, 2013

Cute & Creepy Asian Kids Love Panera

Lunch during a rough day at work is going to go one of two ways:

Option 1: The most unhealthy, comforting food your can find, consumed in huge quantities with the goal of putting you in a pain-killing, carbohydrate-driven coma for the rest of the day


Option 2: Something fast and reasonably healthy to keep you kicking @$$ and busting heads for another four hours

Recently, I was having a bit of an Option 2 day, so I cruised down the road to Panera, getting there at 11:45 to make sure I beat the lunch rush, only to find...

That I was in the middle of the lunch rush.

A quiet expletive.  A moment reconsidering Option 1.  And finally, resignation to my fate.  I stood in line.

Sesame Chicken Salad.  Autumn Squash Soup.  Bag of Chips on the side. No drink.

I looked around for a place to sit amidst the hoard of my fellow suburban office-park drones, and found two open tables - one located next to two Asian women and two young kids, and one located next to some old dude who looked like he might not have showered in days.

Needless to say, I sat down next to the Korean family (I picked up on the language they were speaking), sitting on the long, communal bench side of the table and settled into my lunch.  Part of that process involves opening my bag of chips and throwing them into my soup - I know, it's a little bit odd, but I love eating chips in novel ways.  By now I have come to expect surprised reactions when people see me do this, but I was not prepared for the reaction I got from the little Korean girl sitting beside me.

You know the feeling you get when you're being stared at?  That prickly, sort of primal sense that you are coming under threat?  That sense hit my brain like a 2am fire drill.  I looked to my left to see my mealtime neighbour staring at me with intense fascination.

Hey, no biggie.  So I blew her mind by putting chips in my soup - happens all the time... I offered a quick half-smile in return and then turned to my tray to have a few bites of food, thinking about how I was going to approach the latter half of my work day.

Alarm bells again.

I looked again to my left, and the little Korean girl had silently slid across the communal bench, closing fully half the distance between us, presumably to get a closer look at my chip-topped soup eating.

I glanced at what I presumed to be her mother and her aunt, only to see that they had no awareness of the situation at all, too absorbed in whatever banal conversation they were having with each other.  At that point, my intense observer had lost the innate cuteness that all Asian kids seem to have, and had instead transitioned into the creepy zone.

Deciding that maybe I should eat a little faster, I returned to my lunch, only to find that I was having trouble speeding up my eating pace.  I don't think I had ever noticed how difficult it can be to eat quickly when you know you are being stared at.  It is really disconcerting.  Every bite, every chew, every swallow seems 10 times as loud, and 100 times more awkward than normal.  Sitting there, feeling her laser-like gaze on me was starting to get very disturbing...

Then, looking down at my tray, I suddenly saw one, then two, small sneakers show up in my peripheral vision.

This creepy little girl was now standing on the bench, directly beside me, silently watching me eat my lunch.

Yeah, it was pretty much just like this...

At this point, I figure that I am basically in The Ring, and am going to die a horrifying death that will never be explained.  This girl's "mother" and "aunt" aren't reacting because I am obviously the only person in the restaurant who can see her, so any reaction I make will just make me look crazy (or... crazier... whatever).

I convince myself that my only hope for survival is to scarf down my lunch and get the hell out of there before the novelty factor of soup-topped-with-chips wears off and she gets bored with me.  So, I inhale the rest of my lunch, my last bite of food marked by her yelling into my ear


Gahh!  I nearly jump out of my skin.  Reflexively, I respond, probably a little louder than I meant to, "Yes!  I'm done!"

She looks at me studiously, the way I imagine a viper eyes up a target before striking.

At this point, I go into full-on, deer-in-headlights mode, my brain furiously trying to remember what ghosts and demons from Asian mythology do to their victims.  Fairly certain that it is neither pleasant, nor quick, I find myself incredibly relieved to hear her say

"I need to go now..."

and return to her table.

A bit shellshocked, but pleased to have dodged an Asian-themed, supernatural demise, I got up from my table, and returned to work, eager to get back to whatever spreadsheet or gantt chart needed my attention most.

I think I'll just have lunch at Cosi next time...

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