Most people have a favorite haunt. For the cool kids, it’s a small coffee shop or a locally owned business. Mine is Panera Bread.
What can I say? I gots to gets my Panera. I generally go twice a week, taking in mind the scheduled soup calendar, which I have of course memorized. Always the same order: a bowl of Low-fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup with an apple on the side (only available on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays).
Why do I love Panera so? A myriad of reasons. For one, the black bean soup is delicious and moderately healthy. Furthermore, I once heard the saying that a restaurant can have good food and service, good service and prices, and good prices and food, but not all three. I would like to disagree: Panera has all three.
I think the underlying reason I love Panera so much is its predictability. Some people who frequent smaller institutions with homemade food may claim that their dish of choice tastes a little different each time. Not so with Panera’s black bean soup. Every time I go, no matter the place or time, the black bean soup tastes the exact same. I swear, they’re cloning the stuff in the back. Even its cost remains constant regardless of location: an even six dollars which I can pay in full without being asked if I would like to round to the nearest dollar to save a collapsing hospital or something equally tragic.
There is something to be said for dependency. I believe a wise man once said, “There are three things you can depend on in this world: death, taxes, and a delicious bowl of Panera black bean soup adding up to an even six dollars.” I could be at home, in New York City, in California, in Rhode Island, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (the heart of America), and the Panera black bean soup is always the same. I know this because I have visited Paneras at all of these locations and the black bean soup has always been the same.
Maybe I should branch out more. Maybe I shouldn’t nearly cry when I accidentally visit Panera on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday and am forced to get a bowl of the Low-fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup With Pesto instead (probably I shouldn’t do that). Maybe I should even try a non-soup item.
But I find a comfortable constancy in my soup choice. No matter what happens, the Panera black bean soup never changes. I get older; I watch people around me change; I watch myself change. Now, about to enter senior year, I watch my friends tentatively start the process that will spread us all out across the country and maybe even the world, leaving us alone in new places with none of the comfortable constancy of home.
So I order black bean soup. Years after I had my first bowl (or cup, rather – I was such an amateur then, getting a You Pick Two when the black bean soup was really the main event), it still tastes exactly the same.
It’s good to mix things up. But it’s also good to remember that not everything has to change all the time. And so I buy my Panera black bean soup for six dollars even, and it tastes the exact same.