I knew he was trouble when he walked in. Tall, well dressed, self assured, he strode to the back of the coffee shop to the couches—clearly he saw someone he knew. But there was something palpable in the air. Anger.
I wish I didn’t, but I have radar about these things. Call it sixth sense, call it ESP, call it busybodiness. I call it tuned in, observant. Even with my headphones on, the music turned up, I knew something was about to happen.
This story isn’t quite as dangerous as I’m making it sound. Not quite. But almost. The facts were that this man—middle-aged man—went to the back of the coffee shop to confront what I found out (what we all found out) was his ex-wife. He wasn’t physically threatening but he raised his voice—in his defense, so did she. Then for the next hour they argued.
Yes, an hour. Raising their voices frequently, I couldn’t help but hear them. We all heard them. It was unpleasant. At one point, one of the guys who I see almost every day turned to me and said just one word: “Brutal.” Later in the hour another guy—I’d never met—and I shared a few pleasantries. First we acknowledged the stress and anxiety we were both feeling. The awkwardness that was unavoidable. Then we chatted about the road work outside. He was an engineer for a large project our town’s in the middle of. He said that sometimes people yell at workers, swear at them even. He was a nice young guy just trying to do his job.
The coffee shop I always go to (I called it a club in the title because it sounded better between coffee and culture) has been problematic for me lately. I finally figured it out. I’m a regular. I’m comfortable, as comfortable (almost) as I am at home. I know the baristas, I know the cashiers (even the new ones), I know a lot of the regulars. We chat. It’s wonderful, but I feel like I’m losing my edge.
This morning one of the other regulars apologized for sitting at “your table.” He smiled when he said it, but it turned out another regular had said something to him. We all smiled, but it made me realize even more that I’m too comfortable. I have “my table,” I know the irregulars who come in just to fight in a neutral place or escape someone swearing at them, the barista has “my special drink” (for the record, I only have it once in a while because it costs $5.40 compared to $2.00 for a cup of joe), I know the prices of everything, where everything is. I even alerted the staff this morning that the bathroom was out of paper towels.
I’m too comfortable, leading me to complacency, I realized this morning as I nodded to all the regulars on the way to my table (which I reclaimed after it was vacated—hey, it’s near an outlet), settled into the chair in the same position as yesterday, proceeded to log onto Twitter and Facebook. Then I caught myself. That was the whole reason I started going to the coffee shop in the first place—I was doing those same things at home, having trouble concentrating…and writing.
As for the argument, the angry words died down, the well-dressed ex-husband left, and the boyfriend came back to sit next to the ex-wife. It was all starting to make sense. But the culmination of the fight was still one more distraction I had trouble tuning out, proving once again I’m just too comfortable.
It’s time to shake things up again. Maybe next week I’ll try a new table.
Have you ever had this happen to you in a too-familiar public place? Do you get complacent in your routines (like I do), leading to lower productivity? Have you abandoned routines because it becomes TOO routine? What techniques have you tried?