As a sometimes journalist, I've found that cafe-loitering works even better than networking. The coffee is better and I usually don't even have to stand up. As people pass through the shop, they stop to fill me in on the latest, tell me what their friends are doing, give me phone numbers, brush some of the dust off me, and head on their busy way. I introduce myself to complete strangers. I buy coffee quickly when the shop manager comes by, looking irritated. I gracefully accept when the manager tells his barristas things like, "If it gets too busy, have the deadbeat with the laptop take out the garbage for you. If she doesn't buy another mocha within the hour, call the cops." And in between the fast paced chit chatting and coffee drinking, I do a fair amount of people watching.
Over the course of an afternoon watching people come and go, I generally come home with some new convictions regarding the nature of our existence. Most recently, I have decided that only certain people should participate in the trend of wearing pants with cute slogans printed on the seat. I'm not saying that big people should not wear these pants, though they might run the risk of bending over to tie their shoes only to come up and find the "Surfer Girl" crossed out and "Axe Handle" written in. Or "Your ad here". But by and large (no pun intended), big is fine. The problem I'm referring to is people with extremely unfirm buttocks. I was soured on my mocha by the sight of a petite but wobbly bottom slooshing its way toward the door today. The pants said "Cutie Pie", but they would have been more accurate if they read "Jell-O Pudding". It was frightening. I don't care what size you are, if your butt has the consistency of a plastic baggie full of water, don't put something I'll feel compelled to read on it. Thank you.
My other revelation for the day was that cell phones are just as evil off the road as behind the wheel. The problem with cell phones is that people usually use them to keep in touch with their loved ones and close friends. Their intimate circle. Their confidants. The people with whom they share anything and everything. And when they get a call from these people, they are instantly transported to their safe little happy place, where everything spoken is kept private, between friends, and the chaff is sorted from the wheat and all that. Except that their loved one is at home or behind the wheel of an SUV causing accidents, and they are seated in a coffee shop, turning the stomachs of the loiterers at the table next to them with tales of how they're getting along with the new colonoscopy bag. One lady sat down, called a friend and spent five minutes apologizing because she knew she was interrupting dinner but just wanted to say hi, asked to talk to another household member and then asked if she was interrupting their dinner, then went on to describe another doctor's visit. Another soul whipped out their phone to call and complain about their boss in long and trivial detail. I was trying not to listen (it's really hard to type while singing "la la la" with your fingers in your ears) when she said, "Hold on, I wrote a poem about it." As much as I wanted to ignore her, I couldn't wait to hear what she found to rhyme with "stinks at scheduling".
The other evil thing about cell phones is that they bring people closer together. Like when they're trying to escape their home office so they can actually concentrate on work. The love of my life will call me several times while I'm out, to relate a cute baby story, to tell me he loves and misses me, and to ask me if I know where the remote control is. To be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way, but I'm well aware that it puts me right up there on the list of cell phone abusers as I try to answer baby care questions. ("What do you mean 'it's everywhere'? How far has the rash spread? It's still just on her butt, right?" or worse, "What consistency is it? Are we talking instant oatmeal or gravy?") Meanwhile the people at the next table have decided they didn't want chocolate brownies after all.
Yes, I remember the slower pace of life before cell phones, laptops and colonoscopies. When people went to a coffee shop and expected to talk to the people physically present. When people remembered that there was such a thing as too much information, and didn't have pants with the words, "Look at my butt" printed on the seat.
But for now, my time to sit and remember those days is over. The manager is giving me the evil eye again, and if I don't go buy a refill, he's going to use his cell phone to call the cops and I'm going to be headed out the door with a shoe print on the seat of my blue jeans.
I love not having an office.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.