I was supposed to go on a date to a cereal bar. It’s in South Pasadena, a little jewel of a Southern California village with independently owned businesses that sell things like vintage clothing, artisanal ice cream, and bowls of cereal. I pitched a story about going on a solo date to the cereal bar. I thought it would be a cute idea to take myself on a romantic adventure to this aggressively adorable concept restaurant. I could make some sort of little joke about being in a “bar” but then there’s a deft narrative twist: Surprise! This bar serves cereal, pal.
I must in good conscience tell you now that this is not a story about eating at the cereal bar. It is instead a story about missed chances, and failure, and things that happen when you make other plans. It still ends with breakfast.
I decided to be single on purpose for the first time in my adult life. I had spent most of that time chasing or running away from charming people with a penchant for boiling themselves alive in substances while telling me what was wrong with me. I figured I could find out what was wrong with me on my own, maybe with the help of a qualified professional and new friends in church basements with a fine spread of doughnuts and coffee. It is a fact that if you hang around one of these places long enough, someone will at least attempt to help you figure out how to save your own life. And the coffee and doughnuts are free.
So I had this cereal bar assignment, but every time I tried to head twenty minutes east to South Pas, something came up: a business meeting in Santa Monica, a full hour in the other direction in non-rush hour traffic; a work trip; a more pressing deadline; an illness and then another illness and another.
Then, unexpectedly but not, I started seeing someone I liked very much and had known for a long time. I tried to get us to the cereal bar. Now it could be a regular date story, with Cookie Crisp (him) and Grape Nuts (me). That I thought such a combination could ever work is evidence of my unrealistic hope with regard to that relationship.
We didn’t make it. He was working; I was working; the cereal bar had limited hours; things got difficult; we stopped seeing each other, but it was amicable. We’d been friends forever, through plenty of other breakups.
It is okay to listen when life tells you something clear and true, even if it’s not sexy or romantic. Still, the cereal bar stayed on my mind. One sunny day in December when my body stopped fighting me, I decided it was time to just do it.
I got in a car from one of those ride share apps that are actually just taxi services. The driver and I traveled up the 110 through Mount Washington, past Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, talking all the way and when I walked up to the shiny storefront of the cereal bar, it was closed.
I was not surprised. I wasn’t really supposed to go there, anyway.
There was a Mexican bakery next door. I am not a religious person but I have a near-spiritual reverence for pan dulce. When carbohydrates speak, I listen.
I wandered in and stared at the rows of gleaming pastries, the conchas, the cakes, the chocolate bars from far-away countries. I smelled the café de olla, the café Oaxaca, the café a dozen ways. It was a diverse little crowd of hyper-focused adults on their laptops and young mothers with kids in prams. The whole place was spotlessly clean—no small feat in a bustling coffee shop/bakery/restaurant on a popular street in a walkable little town—but I saw nary a dropped straw wrapper on the floor.
It struck me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt for the first time the extent of the hairline fractures in my small dark heart. They glowed, a golden web of disappointment. I wanted to cry. It had been such a year.
I got an iced coffee, a Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon, and some sweet bread. Everything was delicious, so I bought a dozen dessert empanadas for a friend from Norway. She was in Los Angeles with her theatre troupe to perform a show called Almost Ibsen. Improvised tragedy. I would see it that night, and love it.
I will take a date to that bakery one day, maybe, but I don’t care if I ever do because I know I’m going to take me there, definitely, again. I think perhaps I am supposed to be my own date for awhile. Maybe forever. I don’t know if I am the type of person who is suited to people. Breakfast is easier than people.
La Monarca Bakery has eight locations in Southern California. It was founded by two Mexican immigrants, Ricardo Cervantes and Alfredo Livas, who were inspired by the panaderias back home. They came to California to get their MBAs at Stanford, and they stayed to open restaurants. All eight of their bakeries serve breakfast. It is so much better than cereal.