Obviously this is a very hard thing to do without seeming like a huge weirdo.
I work at Panera Bread, and I usually keep my head down while I bus the tables and sweep the floors, but sometimes I unintentionally overhear bits of conversation as I work. Today though, I listened closely. Not to be a creep, but to look up for once and realize how much is going on around me. When I lifted my head and opened my ears, a boring day at work was transformed.
A group of boisterous old men come in almost every morning at 6 a.m., pushing the tables together and staying through lunch.
“…kids had golf balls in the backseat,” I heard one say as I wiped a table nearby. “And they just start throwing all of these golf balls out of the back window of the truck!”
They were laughing uproariously. “The guy almost got out of his car he was so mad. We told ’em they thought they were having fun -”
“-having fun?!” His friend cut him off. “They’d kill someone having fun!” They all continued laughing.
It really was a funny story, how he told it. You had to be there though.
A few hours later…
I was eating a bagel on break and happened to sit by three women talking deeply about their families and relationships. Apparently, one of these women finally had a talk with her son (Fred, Frank?) about his destructive girlfriend.
A little backstory:
- Fred/Frank was dating a girl (an on-again-off-again relationship) who was constantly in fierce competition with the family. More specifically, his new girlfriend seemed to have it out for his mother. She broke up with her last boyfriend because he was a “Mama’s boy.”
In their long awaited conversation, this mother told her son that she was genuinely sorry it didn’t seem to be working out between him and his girlfriend. She knew what this girl meant to him. For the first time, Fred/Frank revealed to his mother that he and this girl were officially “off” and this was the happiest he had ever been in his life.
Come on, this is the stuff soap operas are made of.
And even more hours later…
“I wish everyone could live forever,” my head snapped up as I looked in the direction of the small child the sentence had come out of. His mother was holding him, stroking his hair. I stacked some salad bowls in a neat pile.
“I wouldn’t want to be immortal,” said his brother, who seemed slightly older, leaning over the table. “It would be so boring.”
“Yeah, that’s right honey, that wouldn’t be any fun. All of your friends would be gone!” said their mother distractedly, as if discussing an upcoming playdate.
On a boring workday, I forget that people are coming to Panera for lunch with a grandmother they haven’t seen in twelve years, a boyfriend who might be breaking up with them, or friends they have met in the same spot every morning for as long as they can remember.
It is so easy to forget that people are stories. Sometimes all it takes is a little shameless eavesdropping to remember – life is so much bigger than scrubbing dirty soup bowls.