OVER THE YEARS I’ve done a lot of writing while seated in a nearby Starbucks. Tens of thousands of words have been typed while sipping on coffee or tea. But lately I’ve had to change my habits.
Over these same years I have come to know a number of the regulars who show up at the same Starbucks almost every day. I call them “The Usual Suspects.” Now I find that the time spent writing has morphed into time spent chatting. Not chatting about any significant issues or philosophical concepts just, more accurately, shooting the breeze.
In this group of regulars are several ex-military guys (Marines and Navy), a former Big-Ten College Football player who now sells sports memorabilia, a part-time college instructor, and a couple who are retired public school teachers.
A few of us are dealing with medical issues that seem to crop up as we age. At 68 I am not the youngest, nor am I the oldest. We all, more or less, come from the same generation or are close enough to not be looked upon as ‘kids’ or ‘geezers.’
The tone and topics of our conversations tend to be set by whoever gets there first. It may be Sports in general or fishing in particular. When it is fishing I tend to keep quiet since I know nothing and care even less. Some mornings the topics wander from cars, to grandchildren, to the baristas behind the counter, to travel. This is a group that has seen most of the world – on their own or courtesy of the Military. One topic that doesn’t come up often is Politics. On those rare days when it does surface I stay mute except to remind one gent that he is pushing his pacemaker to the wall. Just before the recent elections one of the guys noticed that I wasn’t joining the conversation and asked me what I thought about the candidate/issue in question. I replied with, “How about those Cubs!” The next day I actually received an email from one of the guys apologizing for allowing tempers to flare over coffee. I told him there was no need to apologize. I don’t set the topic nor would I try to stop anyone else from talking about whatever they chose to bring up.
Because of all this conversation I find that I don’t get any writing done. I’ve even given up on taking my computer with me to Starbucks in the morning. I know that nothing will get written.
So what do I do now? Most afternoons I grab my computer and go just up the street, in the opposite direction from Starbucks, and find a table at Java Haute – a very nice locally owned coffee house. It is quite a bit larger than the Starbucks and seems to draw more from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a mere two minute drive away. At Starbucks the customers tend to be more “in-and-out,” students from Indiana State University, and older folks like “The Usual Suspects.” The Starbucks also has music playing and is, on the whole, noisier. At Java Haute almost everyone is hunched over a computer or in quiet conversation. Both places are located on the same busy street but Java Haute seems to have less traffic noise. Go figure. And at Java Haute I rarely bump into anyone I know so my conversations are few and I can actually get some writing done.
Another difference is that, in the morning I almost always get the same thing – a “Venti” iced coffee with cream, no sweeteners. Some mornings they see me pulling into the parking lot and have it ready and waiting before I get through the door. In the afternoons I usually get only a bottle of water. I need the caffeine in the AM to start my heart, in the PM that caffeine would give me a case of the ‘yips’ and impact my already questionable typing skills.
I never thought I would have to plan things out like this. Years ago I had the habit of writing every morning, with pen and notebook, in the middle of a donut shop. It worked but I put on weight. Apple fritters and Dramatic Tension don’t mix.
Why don’t I just write at home? It would be cheaper and I could do it in my underwear. True, but I find that I succumb to too many distractions and the lure of the television and the refrigerator. Naps are easier at home. I wouldn’t have to just slump over a table next to my beverage. And, anyway, if you could see how I’m dressed right now sitting in the middle of Java Haute, you’d say that I haven’t compromised very much on writing at home.
Morning chit-chat has altered my entire day. It has spread my commercial largesse to two establishments without improving my choice of wardrobe. I’m actually getting more done this way. Hopefully there is an atom or two of quality in it all.
OK, enough of this. Now I need to go to the restroom after drinking all this water.