OK, no I didn’t actually do that. But it makes about as much sense to me as a fellow writer’s recent suggestion that I should go down to my local coffee house to write my blog.
“Good morning, Charlie. How are you today?” This is the guy sitting next to me at the Starbucks where I am scheduled to meet with a client. This guy has his laptop open on the table, his Bluetooth in his ear and a notebook covered in scribbles. By the look of the stale coffee, he obviously set up shop hours ago using this as his permanent office. Right now, he's on the phone.
“Not too bad. Not too bad at all. I played 18 holes on Sunday while the wife and kids were at church. I told her I wasn’t feeling well. You know how it is.” I think we all know how that is. “Did you get a chance to look at those numbers I sent you?”
I am assuming that this obnoxious non-church-going liar has an acute hearing problem. That’s the only thing I can think of that would account for his shouting every word. Or maybe it’s a design flaw – his mouth should be located next to his ear.
I try to read the newspaper while I wait for my client but I can’t think over the, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” going on beside me. There is a brief break in his sales pitch and it gives me an opportunity to notice the music blaring away. I realize that they are trying to sell the CDs at the counter but does it have to be so loud? Maybe that’s why the idiot next to me is shouting. Nah, he’s just a jerk. I know this because he launches into a sexist joke. The punchline is, “My name is Tonto. Tonto Goldstein.” I’ve heard this joke twenty times.
I look desperately for another table. No dice. I now understand why this was the only table open. I close my eyes and go into my yoga mantra: “Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup…….”
It’s not working. He’s still there. The crowd is getting bigger. Three people holding their hot Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Lattes and double-shot Caffé Macchiatos are coveting his table and giving him stink eye but this is clearly not his first rodeo and he easily turns his head away from them without ever skipping a beat.
The noise levels are growing. The hard floors, bare walls and plate glass windows bounce sound like a Lakers game.
In mid-2011, Starbucks quietly began a process of systematically reducing the seating and available electrical outlets in their stores just to avoid freeloaders such as the jerk sitting next to me. And in many stores you now “buy” WiFi access in two-hour increments through your loyalty card (which is like a frequent flyer card that gives you credit for coffee and food purchases). I can’t say that I blame them but it’s interesting to note that it is 180° from Starbucks original branding, which was to recreate an Italian bistro that encouraged people to meet their friends and stay as long as they liked (thus the comfy sofas and conversation corners).
By the time my client arrives, the speakers are pumping Elvis ballads, the jerk next to us is getting desperate about closing a deal, and unseated customers are developing that mass-murder glaze. We ended up fleeing like rats from a burning restaurant with “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” echoing in our ears. We took refuge in my client’s car, balancing our coffee on the dashboard while trying to plan grant strategy. It was nuts.
Yes, I know that J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh coffee shop with baby Jessica dozing in a pram, because her unheated flat was too cold. (They neglect to mention that the coffee shop was owned by her brother-in-law and she wrote in the back room, not out front surrounded by customers.) I’m no J.K. Rowling but I suspect that Joanne (that’s her name) couldn’t do it in a Starbucks today.
Are we having fun yet?