I just wanted pancakes

Michael Fisher
4 min readMar 26, 2017

The exercise of free will can be a messy business.

This morning I walked to Mission Beach Cafe just after 8:30am and a line had already formed. “Fuckers,” I thought, knowing and not really knowing that this is how it works. They don’t even open till 9.

Instinctively, and pridefully, I walked further up Guerrero in search of an alternative. After a brief survey of 16th Street I found that there isn’t one, really, except for the Pork Store Cafe, which I know won’t be as good. Should I just settle for a bagel shop, or an ordinary cafe? I wondered. No, I want a nice breakfast, my heart says. I feel I should listen attentively.

Winding back up Valencia, I feel a passing sympathy for Carlin’s, the very average family-owned coffee shop I sometimes drop by en route to the Bart for an early morning flight. There’s no chance I’ll walk in this morning. I want a cafe that feels homey, warm, and welcoming, and that has really good food. Day-old pastries and socioeconomic diversity simply will not do.

An hour earlier I’d been torn between breakfast and yoga. There’s a class I like at Yoga Tree on Valencia, which I hadn’t been to in months. It’s led by a couple I know, and the guy often plays very soulfully on the guitar. It would be nice to see and hear him. But did I really want to get up and walk there by 9am?

This dilemma reappears most Sunday mornings. After tossing and turning for the better part of 20 minutes, I rose, did my Qi Gong exercises, and sat down to meditate. This, I told myself, would help me make the right decision.

Following my breathing, my consciousness was permeated by the scent of pancakes, the warm butter and maple syrup melting on the plate before me in my mind’s eye. I noticed this craving and let it pass into the ether of other sensations: heaviness in my chest, legs taut in their cross-legged position. Then my consciousness shifted to compassionate awareness of all beings. The wider hunger that stretched beyond my stomach and its deeply felt need was the larger, all-encompassing Truth, I saw. Fleetingly, I thought of doing something, maybe feeding the homeless instead of treating myself. But as I bowed to the blank wall before my bed and exited my meditation posture, I remembered only the pancakes.

Outside the Mission Beach Cafe, or the MBC as they sometimes call themselves on the menu, I justified the insult of waiting for a table before 9am by reading the New Yorker. This felt like a subtle rebuke to the culture I was indisputably part of, the yoga pants and expensive hoodie people who (I like to think) see themselves more innocently than I do.

The truth is that I was worried about getting a table, worried my private hunger would not be sated. I glanced up at 9:03 and saw that the door still hadn’t opened. What was this, an art opening? A VIP event?

As I stood by silently fuming, two men retrieved a long bench from a nearby garage. They set it along the side of the restaurant for more people to sit and wait. Still, the door hadn’t opened.

“In reality,” Adam Gopnik writes, summarizing a new book by Yuval Noah Harari, “we have merely a self-deluding, ‘narrating self,’ one that recites obviously tendentious stories, shaped by our evolutionary history to help us cope with life. We are — this is his most emphatic point — already machines of a kind, robots unaware of our own programming. Humanism will be replaced by Dataism; and if the humanist revolution made us masters the Dataist revolution will make us pets.”

I felt like a pet when I got to the front of the line and realized there was a list!

At this point I got snippy with the bearded white guy who asked if I was on it.

“Dude, I’ve been standing here for 20 minutes, I just want a table.”

This was both a poor argument and a lie. But he seemed willing to oblige my ill temper along with the other patrons.

“Well, if you can just wait while I seat the other single party ahead of you,” he said. As a dear friend pointed out via text, at least he didn’t say “taste it.”

As I continued to wait I insisted on standing inside the MBC, where inoffensive hip hop boomed on high quality speakers. “Fuckers,” I thought again while looking around for a menu.

Once I was seated in a plush stool by the window, I felt little aggravation. Only eagerness. My complaints, it seems, are contingent on knowing I’ll be fed. Well.

This too is part of Donald Trump’s America. The legions of liberal-minded, affluent self-care takers who bulge through the streets of cities like San Francisco know how to rehearse arguments for the apocalypse. But over House-Cured Salmon Crostini and Spinach Salad, or Mission Beach Dropped Eggs, one wonders who really cares. And why should they?

For the record, I chose pancakes.

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Michael Fisher

Writer, teacher, recovering academic. After finishing my PhD in American history, I moved to San Francisco in 2016. This blog tells the story.