Coffee Shop Blues
The “coffee shop” has become proverbial. Archetypal even. So much creativity, synergy, business, and overall fairy magic seems to radiate out from the bean stocked, foam covered holes-in-the-wall that encircle the Western World. Lives of this generation change in coffee shops.
The advertising campaign that finally puts the start-up in the black is devised by a group of three sleepless people from marketing as they split a biscotti at the corner table. The award winning article is pitched via the free wi-fi on the lap top that is sitting way too close to the vente-black..whatever. How many courtships began when someone struck up a conversation about the new blend that just arrived?
In my life, I have entered a coffee shop solo of my own volition twice. Twice. That is to say not going there because someone I was with wanted to go, or because I was meeting someone there. Not going there while working on a piece. But to go in to try to capture this transcendent quality all on my own. To enjoy drink in solitude and to soak up the atmosphere in hopes of either inspiration, connection, or both. I have done it twice. So much has been said about such moments, I had to at least try it out.
Nothing. Both occasions were complete wastes of time. Awkward, goofy, silent, lonely wastes of time during which no work got done.
Coffee shops and their mystique just don’t work for me. And I have been to some nice looking, independent coffee shops in my time. One of the most popular such places in my entire county is a literal 90 second walk from my apartment. I own a lap top, and am an introvert writer. Many people very nearly lose control of their bowels when I tell them I rarely go in there, and have never done so while writing.
And why not? For starters I don’t drink coffee ever. No matter how much whipped cream and Hershey Kisses you dump on top of it. But I could always order tea, which most coffee places also have. So that isn’t the main reason.
And of course I am an introvert. Me chatting it up with the barista is about as likely as me attending an outdoor alternative music festival. That is to say it could under very tight conditions happen, but not likely. The idea of me approaching another customer and asking them what they think of the coffee in order to start a conversation is about as likely as me going to that same concert and jumping into the mosh pit.
This almost eliminates the social appeal of such places for me. Unless someone that was gregarious and outgoing to a fault were to engage me, and be so damn charming I would welcome their intrusion into my tea drinking. (This scenario is probably as likely as me being naked in previously mentioned mosh pit.) And even then they would have to find me equally interesting to continue talking to me. Which is also not likely.
Which brings me to my next point. A quiet guy with a hot drink and a lap top in the corner table of a coffee shop. How many times have you read this book? Seen this movie? Four trillion or so? I know that many see coffee shops as the great equalizer. An uber-eclectic place where people of all stripes can consume the almost universally beloved beverage. Which might be true for those who come in and go out with their order. But as far as the people who stay in there, I find it safe to say that it tends to be the same demographic. Slightly more patient versions of me, or people who love the idea of me, so long as the guy with the laptop is attractive.
With so many of the same type of people, I am not going to stand out. The days of, “I see you’re a writer, what do you write,” are over. Nobody cares. Thanks in large part to the ubiquity of coffee shops and those that frequent them.
Yet still that vision of the coffee shop persists, and for many people it is true. “The people! The networking! The coffee! The artistic, independent vibe! The potential next Kurt Vonnegut clicking away at his laptop at the table next door!” To all that I say, “The pressure!”
Yes. The pressure. There are so many enthusiastic blog posts about independent artist, chick-flick,waiting-to-be-discovered-but-not-yet-ready-for-prime-time, creative juices, coffee bean inspiration, love at first sight, epiphany inducing, Gen-Y brainstorming, ragged plaid shirt and fedora wearing, cream and no sugar magnificence surrounding “The Coffee Shop” that I feel like a dullard and a failure just sitting in one if I don’t get a visit from the Archangel Gabriel with all nine muses in tow behind him.
They all probably drink coffee too.
Put another way, there is both so much physical noise and metaphorical “noise” or hype attached to the coffee shop scene that I have yet to feel inspired to action while in one. I can’t write a blog post with all of that racket, let alone work on revisions for my novel, or fall in love with the girl that runs the froth machine. (I don’t even know if there is such a thing as a froth machine. I’m making a point here.)
None of this is to say I don’t like such places. Sometimes I do. But with all of the creative, social, and professional success so many of my peers have experienced just from the simple act of sitting down by themselves in one as compared to my only ever feeling out of place and awkward when I do so, I think I am best served by going in only when someone else wants to. And even then, only if the place also serves tea.