Why I work in coffee shops

Coffee shops are the most romantic public spaces.

Inside a local independent coffee shop, the kind that’s been around since Starbucks and has its own decades-old character, using twinkle lights to decorate before every college freshman did, I sit with my hair falling in my face, huddled over a laptop making my best “stressed out” face.

I am indeed stressed out, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t receive some satisfaction from pushing my disheveled bang away from my eyes, moodily sipping my coffee, wearing a carefully chosen oversized blazer over a button-down shirt, appearing like I both do and don’t have my shit together. I’m attempting the French girl essence I’ve tried endlessly to emulate since my French style book-reading early high school days. “Look like you’re not really trying” is appealing advice for a perennial try-hard. If someone looked at me, they might assume I was doing something more important than writing a blog post. For example, I could be doing my actual homework or work. But I’m just enjoying the sensation of messy hair, cold coffee and the clacking sound of laptop keys.

To my right, a woman has achieved peak romanticism. I recognize her (it’s Buffalo) so I can’t watch too closely as I write this. But her thick, curly red hair glows in the sun as she reads a book with a yellow cover, thick red block letters spell a title I’d have to look too long at to read, and (and!) she has a glass of red wine on the table and nothing else. I have a feeling she knows how romantic this is and fully embraces it. I admire that.

To my left, another girl highlights terms in a textbook, making clean, handwritten notes in a notebook next to it. For me, that is impossible. The pressure of the heavy textbook trying to close itself irritates me. My handwriting is sloppy and illegible. Illegible was actually one of the first big words I learned, since my teachers knew I was doomed with bad handwriting at a young age and they wanted to clue my parents in by writing it on my report card.

A bearded man buys two glasses of wine (both red and white) and removes his coat as he takes a seat, presumably waiting for a date. Sweet of him to order his date’s wine ahead of time. Or maybe they’re both for him.

Clearly, by everything I’ve written above, coffee shops aren’t personally the most efficient workplace. I get terribly distracted. I eavesdrop on conversations made by people on dates (couples can’t possibly have that much to talk about), friends (their problems are relatable and insightful, I could use their advice too) and even baristas. I sneak peeks at what books people are reading and keep tabs on whether they’re actually reading them, want to look like they’re reading them, or suffer from the same generational attention deficit that I suffer from in which peeling your eyes from your cell phone for over four minutes is an irrationally difficult struggle.

But while I may struggle with keeping my attention, it’s better than working at home. At home, I can clean, do laundry, eat snacks, lay in my bed, watch YouTube without headphones and do seemingly one thousand other things without accomplishing any homework. And those are less fun than drinking and observing.

In public settings, even, especially at a cafe surrounded by other people working or reading, working is expected and validated.

So I continue to run on overpriced coffee and crispy croissants. And keep my curiosity fed with a bad knack for eavesdropping and (even worse!) writing about it.


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