Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Moving In

I often work on my laptop in the coffee shop. For months, this meant that, whenever the battery ran low, if I were in the middle of something and needed to keep working, I had to relocate from my usual spot, to an alcove containing a power outlet. This was of course confusing for the staff, who would go searching for me in the usual spots and who would sometimes give up and conclude I had left, before realising that I was tucked away in the alcove recharging… A couple of months ago, a staff member had had enough of this, and out of irritation ordered me to use the power outlet located near my normal booth. Why, you might ask, hadn’t I been using this outlet previously? Well, because it’s right next to the ceiling. This is inconvenient enough for my friend G. Gollings, who is tall enough that he can stand on the booth and plug things in. I am considerably less vertically extended – in order to plug anything into that power outlet, I have to grab a footstool, wedge it precariously into the booth, balance even more precariously on top of it, lean against the wall, and stretch to my full height so that I can barely tip the plug into the outlet with the tips of my fingers.

This had never particularly seemed a good idea, until I was given to understand how inconvenient it has been for the staff here, when I hide out in the alcove and they can’t find me. Not wanting to lose the good graces of my coffee shop, I duly mastered my new routine of reorganising the coffee shop furniture and performing my high wire act every time I expected to need power.

Returning from Europe, sporting a sprained ankle that makes me even proppier than usual, I decided a change of routine was in order. So I brought in an extension cable and power board, plugged these in, and left them dangling down from the ceiling onto the top of my booth – a donated permanent fixture for the coffee shop, as the whole point is that I not have to risk life and limb to plug something in, every time I come in. The staff are in hysterics about this. For some reason, watching me pile furniture up and climb to the ceiling every day wasn’t much entertainment, but the thought of my actually modifying the environment so as to avoid the need for this maneouvre – that’s hilarious.

What’s even funnier is that one staff member came over and went, “Ohhh! So that’s why you’ve been doing that!” I looked blankly, and she said, “I’ve worked here five years, and I never realised there was an outlet up there!”

Now think about this for a minute. She’s been watching me come in here, pile furniture up, climb on it, hop off and settle down and work for a while, then reverse the whole process before I leave. She must have seen me do this dozens of times. But she has never known why I was doing it. How could she possibly have interpreted it? A nervous tic? Phobic ritual? Morning exercise routine?

I’m wondering if they’re all laughing so much at the extension cord out of relief – because they now finally understand what my whole bizarre routine has been about all along.

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13 responses to “Moving In

  1. Naadir Jeewa July 4, 2008 at 8:41 am

    One thing I’ve always wondered about working in coffee shops:

    What’s the maximum length of time that can pass between ordering something without feeling like you’re squatting?

  2. N Pepperell July 4, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Now see, this is one of the reasons I go to the same spot all the time: I figure that I’m sort of like a standing, baseline source of income – that, and I hold meetings there, which brings in other people who order things as well :-) So I make a sort of in-kind contribution to their marketing… ;-)

    In foreign coffee shops I tend to get worried if things start getting busy – if it’s quiet, I figure they’re happy for someone to lurk, just so the place doesn’t look like no one wants to sit there… ;-)

  3. rob July 4, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Generally, I start to feel the guilts around the 45 minute mark, if I’ve only bought a coffee. I can hold off for another 15 or so minutes, but once the hour hits, I really start to feel anxious. By that time, of course, I’m ready for another coffee anyway.

    If I’ve ordered food as well, I figure that buys me a bit more time, and so I can sit comfortably for up to an hour after I’ve finished eating.

    (Thinking about it, though, it’s funny to note that if I were having a social coffee with someone, rather than working on my own, I probably wouldn’t start feeling the guilts anywhere near as quickly as that, so the guilt obviously stems from the heightened self-consciousness that comes with sitting on your own in a social space.)

    Things are different if you’re a long-time regular, though. I’ll happily do a three-hour-plus session on two coffees, if I feel I’m viewed as a regular. Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do more than, say, four hours straight in the same place.

  4. Infinite Thought July 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Not only a woman philosopher…but a crazy person to boot!

    I like this little story. Wish there was a coffee shop like this near me.

  5. N Pepperell July 4, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    rob – Yes, it’s the coffee rent calculation. :-) To be honest, as much as I write as though I live in this place, I’m often only there for small bits of time as well. It’s rare that I’m on campus, and don’t duck in, but it’s also rare that I stay more than an hour. When I mark, though (which I’ve been doing recently), it’s not unusual for me to spend hours there. When I have a lot of one-on-one meetings, I also tend to like to hold those in the coffee shop, as well – in that case, though, I don’t tend to feel guilty about the time, since the other people wandering in to meet me usually buy something… I take that to reset my coffee rent meter…

    IT –

    Not only a woman philosopher…but a crazy person to boot!

    These aren’t the same thing?

  6. L Magee July 5, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Is there is a subsequent post on cafes, marginal rents and Marx in the wings?

    “I’m often only there for small bits of time as well”???

  7. N Pepperell July 5, 2008 at 7:16 am

    “I’m often only there for small bits of time as well”???

    All large bits of time are built of small bits, aren’t they? Therefore I am necessarily often there for small bits of time. This follows, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

  8. Drew July 7, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Time is the time it takes for us to convert some small bits into a larger bit…

  9. N Pepperell July 7, 2008 at 10:00 am

    So do you think I need to worry about coffee shop compression?

  10. Drew July 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

    I think that might depend on how much coffee you drink ;)

  11. N Pepperell July 9, 2008 at 10:56 am

    lol – I’m actually working from a coffee shop in Sydney right now (free wireless and caffeine – I might just be in heaven…) – the staff here are already nagging me about putting aside my work and focussing on the more important business of drinking and eating: “Email will wait!”, they tell me. Hmm… You mean I don’t have to answer email as soon as I see it?

  12. Lynda July 9, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Did you happen to notice that a certain event is holding a certain event at ‘your office’? Moving in on your territory alright; but don’t despair, I doubt the requisite gender ratio will be upset too much ;-)
    And, though I know you can’t be there, I’m hoping that your ‘installation’ is still in place (territorial marker? shrine?) – that’d be a hoot.

  13. N Pepperell July 9, 2008 at 11:08 am

    lol – no – I hadn’t known that. But my territory marker better still be there when I get back!!

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