There Is a God and He Put a Panera Bread in Cupertino

SO as many of you may know I’m a big fan of coffeehouses and sandwich shops: they’re quiet places where you can chill out, have a nice meal, focus on your book, and, if wifi-enabled, whip together a decent blog entry with free refills on your soda.

And my favorite of all sandwich places? A tight, long-running contest between Panera Bread (nee Saint Louis Bread Company) and Atlanta Bread Company (especially the one near Perimeter Mall in Atlanta).

Now, I’ve been eating and reading since I was a kid, but my love of sandwich shops I think really started with Le Boulanger in Menlo Park during my internship at SRI. Since then, however, Atlanta Bread Company and Panera Bread became my favorites because of their high quality, good portions, salad/sandwich combos, nutrition information available online, and good iced tea.

But it may take a while before Atlanta Bread Company comes to California, and as part of the Big Adjustment I’ve been looking for a replacement. Up till now I’ve had little luck – the sandwiches at the search engine that begins with a G are good but not Panera-grade, and Le Boulanger in Mountain View, while very nice, is somehow not quite the same.

So imagine my delight when I find that a Panera Bread has opened in Cupertino! I found it of course with Google Local, which lets you ask questions like “panera bread near mountain view, california” and get coherent answers, along with a nice map interface that will lead you right to a place like this on Steven’s Creek Boulevard in Cupertino:

Cupertino is a bustling town perhaps best known for some fruit company, but its charm for me is that it’s roughly midway between my new home with its Olive Tree and my new workplace at The Search Engine that Begins with a G. It’s blessed with (normally) temperate weather, which is perhaps why when I first showed up the patio was filled with diners (most of whom had departed by the time I decided to start taking photos).

The real delight is inside, however. Panera has a truly staggering selection of breads and pastries, and can assemble these into a wide variety of made-to-order sandwiches and specials that are best topped off with a cinnamon roll that’s as asymptotically close to the Platonic Ideal of a cinnamon roll as you’re likely to get in this world. (Yes, I read the nutrition info on the cinnamon rolls, and so limit myself to one every other time I go. I enjoy being able to go through the door; this enables me to eat more cinnamon rolls).

So happily I drop in and order my typical Bacon Turkey Bravo / Asian Chicken Salad combo (with cinnamon roll, of course), get my iced tea, noticing some guy who’d ordered the same thing get his meal, and sat down to read a book on C++. SO I’m sitting there, reading, having a good time, getting hungrier and hungrier, and eventually realize “this ain’t right”. So I head up to the counter and ask, and the manager’s face flushed and he said, “I’m so sorry, I think somebody snagged it. We’ll make you another one right away.” I slapped my forehead – the man I’d seen hadn’t picked up a meal identical to mine, but instead in identity, mine. Not their fault – but they made me another sandwich anyway.

And gave me a bag of cookies.

So, Panera Bread rules!
-the Centaur

P.S. Thank you, God; normally you know I don’t like to put your name in titles or stuff like that (name in vain and all) but, hey, that was really nice of you to drop one of those off there and you deserve the credit. Thanks!

The Olive Tree

Well, I’ve been away from posting for a while handing all the things that have come with traveling to the other side of the country to start work at some search engine that starts with a G. However, I’m proud to report that at least one task is out of the way: it looks like I have a place to live!

Now the two most important features of this house were a place to put Sandi’s artroom …

…and my library …

but the coolest thing: it has olive trees!

Mmmm … I can smell me some Lebanese cooking in my future.

-the Centaur

Life Moves Pretty Fast…

… if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it. And one thing I missed is that my favorite breakfast joint, West Egg Cafe, had a showing of art by my favorite artist, Sandi Billingsley, and I didn’t even announce it here.

Well, Sandi’s show was called Egg of the Phoenix, featuring herself and her friend Donnie Ripner, and if you had seen it, you would have seen things like this:

Sorry you missed it! I guess you’ll have to come to California to see her next show.

-the Centaur

Return of the Donut

Once again, Happy Donuts eases the pain.

So I’m out in Silicon Valley visiting friends and hitting the old haunts. Upon my arrival I snarfed an In-and-Out Burger, perused books and storyboarded the next half-dozen fanu fiku pages all in the Mercado shopping center, near where my old buddy Z used to live. Then today I prowled the Mountain View crossroads at California and Castro – scouring the vast stacks of the even-larger-than-I-remembered BookBuyers used bookstore …

… dining at a local middle eastern joint …

… finding gits at Global Beads and the East West bookshop

… and finally parking it in the Books Inc. cafe to get started on drawing next week’s page. However, jetlag, a growing sore throat and a menton shortage conspired against me, and I eventually decided to cash it in.

But not before one last trip to Happy Donuts.

The home of “the big donut” is as I remembered it – a vibrant place with a plethora of laptops, numerous lauging posses, and deep conversations of computer implementation. Though, truth be told the same things were going on at a lower volume level at the Books Inc. cafe – but that shuts down at midnight, whereas as of 1am Pacific Time Happy Donuts seems to be just getting started. Even now, an hour later, seven laptops are going, a couple is digging into a vibrant conversation about politics and civilization and culture and personality types, and a posse of digerati are reminiscing over the interesting characters who have dotted their social surfing.

As my Sandi points out, we both run ourselves ragged – not because of the rat race itself, but beyond it: we are both creative people and want to produce, not just consume. But for me, production by itself is difficult; if I go home or back to my hotel after a long day of work all my mentons are drained and I just want to take a nap. But just like taking a walk can rejuvenate me at work, a change of scenery can rejuvenate me at home; and nothing does it like a bookstore run followed by curling up in a cafe for some drawing, writing, or reading.

And it doesn’t even have to be a quirky independent bookstore. Consumer culture is not entirely useless: as my friend Gordon points out, a good store captures something important in its Snow Crash three-ring binder: the flower floating in the globe of water on the warm wooden table in front of the local artist’s stage at every Border’s in America does not quite have the charm of the performance space of your independent bookseller, but if implemented to spec it has a damn good shot at creating a great place for people to think, meet, talk and share . In fact, I find the carefully-designed frappucinos at Barnes and Nobles beat most independent baristas on sheer yumminess, even if the space in which your independent delivers his iced mocha makes up for its slight bitter taste with a whole helping of local charm. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the point remains: what one man can do another man can do, and at least in this case one man can create a great place for me to think.

But even then, after a few hours, my energy seems to run out, and if I head back to the ranch I’ll soon find myself in dreamy slumber. Which is a good thing … unless I have something to do, like trying to get out a page or break my weblogjam. And that’s where Happy Donuts comes in – the last best hope for keeping oneself awake until the page is done, or in this case, the essay. Silicon Valley tends to roll up the streets a little earlier than Atlanta, with a few exceptions, but this ends up a good thing, as it drives people far and wide to Happy Dounts for their caffeine-sugar-wireless fix. And Happy Donuts doesn’t rest on their laurels: they work it, providing a huge number of donut varieties and other foodstuffs and tables and powerstrips, all for your working/surfing/chatting/dining pleasure.

And it works – so well, in fact, that I feel compelled to visit every time I come to the bay, and am rewarded each time by getting SOMETHING done while I’m here. And because it keeps working, I keep comin. As one lady in the digerati posse said to her friends on their way out, just a few moments ago: “Thanks. This was a good idea. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Mmmmm. Happy Donuts does ease the pain.
-the Centaur

End of an Era

At last, the renovations are complete! 5 King’s Tavern Place is now on the market!

It’s a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath two-story townhome in the Westover Plantation complex, with new fridge, stove, microwave range hood, dishwasher, carpet, walls, ceilings, faux finishes, light fixtures, doorknobs, and ceiling fan pulls.

You name it, we fixed it.

Kudos to Sandi for her wonderful job faux finishing it AND managing all the subcontractors. And kudos to Bolot Kerimbaev for his superb job taking all these wonderful pictures.

“Minutes from downtown! Recently updated! Formerly inhabited (that is, ready to move in, folks). Contact Kelly Carnahan for more information about viewing this property at 770-491-1494 or townhomes at!”


Little Soho Midtown Street Fair

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Article 33 from March 14, 2004.

A quick note — the community of merchants at Georgia Tech’s new Technology Square at 5th and Spring Street are sponsoring a street festival. Sandi and I just returned from two days showing her art. Even though Georgia Tech is on spring break and the advertising for the fair was pulled at the last moment, we got a lot of foot traffic and Sandi sold one of her newest paintings.

The organizers of the street fair are determined to make it a success — they want to turn 5th Street into a popular Midtown walking location on the weekends and plan to hold a street fair like this every weekend. They are actively seeking artists, musicians, vendors, and passersby to help turn this festival into a really big thing. Email rgarrison135 at aol dot com if you want to set up a table.

It runs from noonish to fiveish on Saturdays and Sundays. So check it out!

She Was Dancing All That Time

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Article 31 from February 7, 2004.

SO Mom contracts pneumonia early in January, and life goes on hold.

I’ve learned a lot in the last month: “pneumonia” is not so much a disease caused by an agent, like SARS or Alzheimers, as it is a physical condition: buildup of fluid in the lungs which impedes the ability to breathe – often progressively, sometimes fast. Sometimes this condition is caused by a virus, sometimes by a bacteria, and sometimes just by inflammation; but for smokers, people over 45, or those unlucky enough to be both, it can be VERY difficult to fight off.

And then there are the complications. Forget bedsores and rashes, arms scarred from IVs and throats raw from intubation, or even the simple indignity of a nose dried out by the omnipresent oxygen tube; the real fun is still to come.

Pleurisy, another “process”, arises when fluid collects between the lung and the chest wall, making what little breath you CAN draw an agony; it becomes worse when the pneumonia infection leaks in, filling the space with pus. You have to drain that out surgically, in a procedure called a VAT (Video Assisted Thoroscopy) which is far better than cracking the chest wall open but still leaves the patient with tubes draining fluid slowly, slowly, from a hole in their side.

Which opens the door to staph.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aurorae — MRSA or, more poetically, drug-resistant flesh-eating bacteria. A third of us have *some* strain of staph colonizing our bodies peacfully at any given time; but given the right conditions, staph can turn nasty, blooming into an itchy red rash which is ripe to infect others or, worse, slip into a healing wound to cause blood poisoning (septicemia or bacteremia).

But a bacterial infection is not an annoying neighbor named Ted or his ill-behaved dog Spot, to be easily cured by a restraining order or a stiff whack with a newspaper. An infection is an entire *population* of a particular type of bacteria, millions of them, breeding and reproducing according to Darwin’s law of evolution by natural selection.

In the hospital environment, Darwin’s law rewards the toughest individual bugs — the ones who can colonize and survive on the insides of IV tubes or cling tenaciously to an ill-washed hand, the ones that inflame your body with infectious sores so they can spread like wildfire — and the ones who can surivive the typical spectrum of antibiotics that the hospitals typically use.

Hence MRSA — a description of a particularly nasty evolution of staph, typical to populations of individuals in close contact like prisoners, drug addicts, high school wrestlers … and hospitals, where it colonizes health workers and attacks vulnerable patients.

Doctors are aware of this now. They’re careful with the antibiotics they *do* have, using only the ones they need. And they bring in the big guns only rarely in an attempt to keep knowledge of their arsenal from the mindless gene-memories of their bacterial foes. And they try to alert their patients — use all your antibiotics, as prescribed, so that your body isn’t left with a tiny residual population of the most resistant bugs.

Oh, and they wash their hands. A lot.

Staph still slips through, of course; but they stop it, most of the time. But you can’t *count* on them to stop it, unless you or your loved ones take charge of your care. The doctors care about you — really, they do, even the ones you wonder about — but they have ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred patients to consider, and if they see something unusual — a fever, restlessness, unexpected difficulty breathing — that could … just … quite … fit into the normal progress of a disease, they’ll assume the treatment is working and will stay the course.

And of course they have to contend with a vast number of fools, both patients and family, where by fools I mean those people who don’t really want to know what’s going on and don’t really want responsibility for their own health care decisions. So even if you do ask, the doctor is likely to tell you “she’s getting better”.

Only you can know your loved one’s health condition. Only you can see that this fever IS unusual, see that this restlessness IS getting worse, see that she is visibily NOT improving — and it is up to you and your relatives to read up on the condition; to assess that more needs to be done; and to send in your very own IFFM (Infinitely Formidable Family Matriarch, in our family my father’s younger sister) to bust the doctor’s heads and get them to call in the specialists your loved one needs.

So your mother’s getting better. And you do what you can. You HAVE to do for her, but you CAN’T do to much. If you DO too much, you’re likely to wind up in the hospital yourself, puking your guts out because of the stress, doing no-one any good. So you need to get help. But you can’t do everything — not even you and her cousin and the IFFM and all the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews can do everything. Even when you have to turn to outside help, they can’t do everything.

You can hire a sitter to stay the night with her so she doesn’t pull out her IVs, leaving you to go get a good night’s sleep, but then the sky can fall and the roads turn to deadly sheets of ice and you’re left with the realization you, yes you, are the only one who can stay to help her. But even then, sooner or later, you WILL have to leave her, even if only for a little while, to put food in your belly. And when the roads clear, you’ll have to leave her longer — or you’ll have no job to go back to, and no food to put in your belly even if you want to.

But somehow it all gets done. Someone’s there to stay with her almost every day, to the point that she sometimes asks the nurse to put up a NO VISITORS sign. But even then, you can’t do everything. She will say and do things she would never otherwise do, demanding the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. Her loving friends will leave in tears, distraught because she says they’re not doing enough for her … after they’ve just stayed the whole night watching her to make sure she didn’t pull her IVs out in her sleep.

But it does no good to get upset. Stand up and take it calmly. Comfort the caregivers: remind them that pneumonia and pleurisy and surgery and septicemia are wearing her down, and making her say and do the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. When she recovers, she will be back to normal.

In fact, when she recovers, if she’s lucky, she’ll remember none of it. Don’t be upset when she asks if it’s the first time that you’ve been to see her since she’s been sick, even if you’ve already stayed three weeks at her side. She will get better. She’ll recover from the disease and the drugs and the surgery and tell you about how she remembered going to all those parties.

The … parties, you ask? Oh, yes, she says. Just a few weeks back — when YOU remember a tube stuck down her throat and her tongue dried to sandpaper and her arms restrained to the side of the bed because she kept trying to pull all the tubes out in her sleep — SHE actually came home from the hospital.

While all of YOU waited, breathless, in the ICU waiting room, not knowing whether she was going to live or going to die, SHE had already *gone* home. And she *partied*. She went to her birthday party (six months away) and to her sister-in-law’s birthday party (also six months away) and to a homecoming party thrown by her brother in law — but when she left the party, she left her presents, and could you call the restaurant and see if the presents were still in the lost and found.

You’ll tell her what really happened, and tell her how worried you were; and she’ll
roll her eyes at herself and tell you how she thought she had just gotten back into the hospital, but how she knew that it was just the cocktail of drugs they had her on that was messing with her brain and if she could just get those out of her system, then she’d REALLY get better.

Then the pain and fog will lift and, energized, she’ll tell you to gather her bills, to pay her taxes, and to check out a probate issue that needs to be settled — and at once you can see she’s still sharp as a tack.

And you’ll smile. Because you can see she’s coming back. Because you know she’s going to be OK. But most of all, you’ll smile because you now know that all that time she was writhing in the ICU, she really wasn’t in pain. She was out partying.

And she was dancing all that time.