11 Coffee Shop Commandments

1408971366.556579.IMG_7976The RB closed. It’s as simple as that. One day when I got to one of the two coffee shops in town, the guy behind the counter explained—to me and to everyone else in line—that Sunday would be “our last day.”

Want to buy a coffee shop? He directed us to the sign next to the cash register. Only $10K, he said when I asked what they were asking. Basically the cost of the expensive espresso machine, he said. Of course there’s the rent. That was my next question, briefly entertaining the notion of buying the place—having a coffee shop all to myself. What writer wouldn’t want that?

But seriously. This is a problem. Granted I live in a town of only 8,500 people. But here’s the thing. Both of our two coffee shops—the RB and the MRC—are always crowded. MRC is always my first choice. In fact, I wrote one of my WIPs at the choice corner table. (It’s the most coveted table in the place.) But I would go to the RB when the MRC was full (which it often was even before RB closed). And if you sometimes (or more than sometimes) work in a coffee shop, this is especially a problem.

That’s not what this blog is about. By the way, I don’t want you to get the impression I go to the coffee shop every day (I don’t…not anymore). No, this blog is about coffee shop etiquette and acceptable coffee shop behavior. How you should (and should not) behave in a coffee shop—according to me, of course, because it is my blog and it is critical to my life right now with coffee shop real estate (and I mean in both the table- and shop-sense) at a premium. Good behavior is mandatory.

Here’s my list.

1. Thou shalt not talk on the phone. Especially all the time. One woman does this non-stop (she used to be at the RB and has now moved to MRC—yes at the coveted corner table). She had her headphones plugged into her phone last time I was there when she was; she talked for over an hour before I couldn’t stand it and had to leave.

2. Thou shalt not listen to movies/trailers/music outloud. This seems self evident (to me), but I’m just saying.

3. Thou shalt not hog electrical outlets. Back to the phone-talker. She does. Talk on the phone and hog the outlets…many outlets at once. What is she doing? It’s hard to imagine what combination of electronics could require four plugs. Shouldn’t she get a room (and by room I mean office)?

4. Be polite and friendly to all. This includes pulling in your chair when someone is trying to go by, keeping your voice at a normal speaking, inside—not outside—voice level, kindly greeting others who greet you first. You know, all the things most of us learned at home or if not at home then in kindergarten.

5. Don’t act like you’re at home—you’re not. No matter if you do go everyday (or almost everyday). Don’t speak in a loud voice (even if it’s an interesting story), don’t yell across the coffee shop to other patrons, and never ever put your feet on the furniture…yes, that means you Miss Pink Flip Flops who just put her foot on a table.

6. Make yourself comfortable, but not for too long. And if you do stay too long, for the love of God, don’t bring your own food, particularly coffee. Or soda machine. Or… is it just me or is this self evident? Even if you don’t buy something to eat every day, I like to at least sometimes buy a bagel or croissant—just to show I understand it’s a business. (Maybe then the RB wouldn’t have gone under and then maybe other places won’t go under like the RB did).

7. Make friends with the barista. Sometimes this is impossible (no matter how much you try). But let’s face it, if the barista’s not happy, no one’s happy. Smile at the people behind the counter, put something in the tip jar, care about their lives.

8. Chat with your fellow “coffee shop workers”—but only if they want to—and then not too much, after all—like you—they’re there to work. Making friends with other regulars can be fun and also is helpful when you’re looking for someone to empathize with about other particularly annoying “co-workers.” Need I mention phone-woman again? Or the couple who had the huge argument one day?

9.  Thou shalt not take cuts in line—yes even if it’s to ask “a quick question.” Again, is this not self evident? And yes, I’m talking to you, lady, the one who cut in front of me a few minutes ago to ask for napkins and didn’t even bother to excuse herself to me.

10. Clean up after yourself. Throw your trash away. Bus your table. Brush crumbs away. Sometimes things are so busy the staff doesn’t have time. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is standard. (I’d extend this to the bathroom… there’s nothing worse than going into a public bathroom that someone hasn’t bothered to keep tidy during their visit. Throw paper towels away where they belong, don’t leave hair in the sink, and—well, I hate to be the toilet police, but shouldn’t guys always lower the seat?)

11. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor-writer’s computer. Now this is totally in fun, offered to me by one of my writer friends at MRC. He calls this the 11th commandment. By the way, he does covet my computer. Last month I got my first new computer EVER. A Macbook Pro. Retina display. Super light. My first very-own, non-handmedown computer. It’s pretty slick, I do have to say, and I have to pinch myself occasionally to believe it’s really mine. Don’t worry, there are downsides, if you doubt it, take a look at the blog I wrote about email.

Can’t we all just get along?

What about you? What are your pet peeves and commandments—or am I just too picky for words?


First Day of School: Reflections


Wikimedia Commons

I woke up sad. I couldn’t figure it out until I set out on my daily routine. As I drove to the coffee shop, I passed the school zone flashing light and remembered: today’s the first day of school. For the first time—in more years than I can count—it’s a day of little significance to me. In fact if anything, it’s an inconvenience.

School zones are limiting my speed, school buses are clogging traffic, the coffee shops are more crowded with moms who just dropped kids off at school, and no doubt I’ll need to adjust to different busy times at the grocery store as well.

It’s the first time since my son started pre-school that I haven’t packed up a kid for the first day, taken a first day photo, or even dropped a kid off for college—my daughter graduated last June and moved to California. My son’s still in medical school, but he lives on his own of course, and he most definitely does not need my help getting ready for his 4:30 a.m. surgical rotation.

Sometimes I hear moms complaining about the first day of school—because summer’s over and they miss the beach and other summer activities. Other moms breathe a sigh of relief and head out to the gym or errands solo, grateful for a much-needed break from the constant companionship. I remember having years when I felt each of those emotions (although truth is I had many more when I missed my kids after they went back to school at the end of summer).

Now, as I sit in the usual coffee shop, I can’t concentrate on writing (not fiction anyway); I can’t think of much of anything but the years gone by, and to be honest I’m having trouble keeping tears at bay. I miss those first days. I miss the drop offs but especially the after school pick ups with all the stories that would pour out, the laughter, tears, teacher stories, homework complaints and even the extra-curriculars I had to rush to get my kids to after school.

After one first day—I think my son was in sixth or seventh grade—I asked him how the day went, and he told me it was great. That was the problem, he said. The first day was always great: all new and exciting. Seeing all your friends again, meeting your new teachers, checking out the new kids, seeing what the year had in store, wearing your new first day outfit (okay, that was just my daughter). The bad part, he continued, was the realization that you had to go back the next day… and the next … and the next.

And I guess maybe that’s what’s making today hardest. The next day. And the next. And the next…

How about you? How is/was the first day in your household? Do you have trouble with transitions (like I do)?



Coffee Club Culture


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (not my coffee shop)

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?