Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seats At Starbucks

I live in NYC. Most neighborhoods here have a Starbucks sprinkled about every few blocks. One neighborhood I frequent has two of them on the same block.

Because of my lifestyle, I find myself at Starbucks frequently. I live very far uptown. Oftentimes I don't have time to go home between meetings or between an appointment and picking my child up at school. I'll find a Starbucks, get some coffee or tea, iced or hot, depending on the season. I'll get out my iPad and do something useful until its time to do the next thing on my agenda.

I consider myself an expert at Starbucks.

Everything I am about to write applies to every Starbucks I've ever been to. It is also true for every independent coffee shop and smaller chain establishments.  Anyplace that serves a variety of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages.  Anyplace where some people take their drinks to go, some people stay for a short time, and some people stay there and work for hours on end. Any place that has individual tables and communal tables.

It might be a Starbucks in midtown. It might be that tongue twister of a place, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Sometimes I’ll get confused and refer to it as the Coffee Tea and Leaf. It could be a homey establishment in Williamsburg built with responsibly sourced materials. The one that only serves organic coffee grown in Brooklyn.

For the sake of simplicity, I will just keep referring to all of these places as Starbucks.

If you are the person taking your coffee to go, who is texting the office as you wait, slightly impatiently for that beverage, then I'm not writing about you today.

If you are the person getting the coffee to stay, who has a laptop, some folders, some drawings, a to do list of stuff that you want to power through at Starbucks, then I am writing about you. If you are an interior designer, here to meet with some perspective clients, you too.

I see the same behavior every time I go. You get on line. Your eyes dart nervously around. Casing the joint. Anywhere there's a limited supply of something or a sense, real or imagined, of scarcity, the behavior surfaces. In this case, the perceived scarcity is seats.

Your head goes back and forth from the object of desire - the seat - and the barista making your beverage. At this point, you are in a bigger hurry than the type-A business lady ahead of you. She's rushing to a meeting. You're rushing to a table and chair.

So much adrenaline over so little.

Sometimes it unfolds differently. You walk in and before getting on line you stake your claim. You snag a chair with your jacket before ordering. Maybe you're choosy. You want a seat near an outlet. This unleashes a barrage of nervous hovering.

Sometimes you table stalk.

For a while, all of this was happening outside of my consciousness. But when things are consistently happening and we're not really thinking about them, behaviors can become contagious. That is what happened to me. I started doing some of these things because the people around me were doing them. I started feeling urgent because the people around me were feeling urgent.

Until I didn't anymore.

One day, I became aware of the fact that there is a predictable set of anxieties that seems to overtake people at Starbucks. I began to watch this anxious behavior. It was interesting. It was a lot like watching a documentary.

Then the anxiety ceased to be contagious. Then I started an experiment. I was the only subject of this experiment. Here are the results.

Every time I go to Starbucks with the intention of drinking beverages and working I will focus only on ordering my beverage in the beginning. The universe will provide me with a comfortable place to work I say to myself. I will not look around for available seats while I am ordering. I will not scan about while adding sweetener or milk to my beverage.

Once my beverage is all nice and customized and I've grabbed some napkins, then I allow myself to choose a seat and sit down.

It always works out. Every single time.

The vast majority of the time, I find a seat immediately. Oftentimes, in spite of it being crowded, I have more than one seat to choose from. Sometimes there is an abundance of seats. Sometimes, it's pretty tight, but someone will get up just in time for me to sit down.

There was one time recently when things looked a little dicey. Every seat was taken, and there were people standing and  anxiously circling people who were seated but looked like they might get up soon. It reminded me of this show I used to watch as a kid called Wild Kingdom.

I wanted no part of it.

It was a beautiful day. There is a lovely, shady public space with tables and chairs half a block away. I parked myself there for a bit. I got some work done. I got some fresh air.

Again and again it worked out, one way or another. Then I realized that it would always work out. That the feeling of not enough was a feeling and not a fact.

I idly thought about what might have happened if I had all this work to do but there were no seats at Starbucks and it was raining or snowing, making the public area impractical.

There is a public library two blocks away. There are regular tables and chairs along with these comfortable leather armchairs with a little desk attached. You can't drink coffee there but you can take some time to book shop. I have a particular fondness for the new fiction and new non-fiction sections. As long as I have my iPad and a to do list there will be space for me. Having plans A, B and C takes all of the concern right out of it. It’s all good. It's all something to look forward to.

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