My coffee shop has recently begun opening on weekends. During the week, I often work here because the office is too busy – I’m more likely to find uninterrupted thinking and writing time in the coffee shop. During the weekends, opposite concerns drive me down here: the office is desolate – I’m often the only one around, in an airless, windowless space. When other colleagues do come in, their offices are some distance away, meaning that they are always nervous about frightening me when they print something out to the common printer, which is located near me. They adopt various strategies to try to ensure they don’t startle me by suddenly showing up in my otherwise evacuated part of the building: the tentative “hello? it’s just me?”, the affected cough or other tic to make enough noise to ensure I know they’re nearby – one colleague whistles and sings his way down the corridors… When I’m alone, I frighten the security guards, who don’t expect to run into anyone during their weekend patrols. When they go, “Hello?” at me, it’s with a different tone – wondering if they’ve surprised a burglar (we have things stolen, fairly often actually, from our offices, so security have some grounds for being wary of what they’re walking in on…). All-in-all, best to go in just to print things out, and otherwise hide in the coffee shop.
The coffee shop, though, is a completely different place on the weekends. The issue isn’t primarily that it’s empty – in the mornings, it generally is, but by the afternoon it does a decent business. And in any event, when I first started coming here, it used to be this quiet during the week – it’s nice, in a way, to return to the isolation I used to be able to find here a couple of years ago, before the place became more popular. But the staff over the weekends! During the week, there’s a sort of neglectful familiarity of which I’ve grown very fond over time. On the weekends, the staff… they are… er… attentive… They come up with all sorts of small, creative ways to improve the usual offerings. They will actually offer options and ask questions. They are efficient – they will pause briefly on taking an order, work out the most time-sensitive way of filling it, and explain their reasoning as they set about their work (by contrast, the weekday staff waves me on to my seat – they’ll get around to filling orders eventually, and at some point come wandering around the nether regions of the cafe, calling out and asking who ordered something until someone claims it). They are empathic – they warn me – and apologise – when anything is scheduled to take place in the coffee shop that might disrupt my ability to work there (by contrast, the regular weekday set has done things like send a film crew in to film around me while I try to work, just assuming (probably safely enough, given my work habits) that I’ll just ignore whatever is happening around me, and won’t object to being trapped at my table for hours…).
The consequence of these different coffee shop relations into which I am suddenly interpellated is that I am a slightly different guest over the weekend than during the week. I find myself ordering different things, no longer feeling bound by politeness to accept the “usual” that the weekday staff start preparing now as soon as I walk in the door. Some of the weekday staff came in today – staff who are relative newcomers in the weekday scene, staying in the background in supporting roles while more senior staff dominate the show. Compared to the newly-recruited weekenders, however, these weekday staff are veterans – they know the script. Initially, it looks right to them, seeing me sitting as usual at the table I also often monopolise during the week. But then: double-take. Something is out of place. I am drinking tea, not coffee, sampling food in which I never show any interest during the week, and chatting casually with the weekend staff about my own work. None of these things match their weekday experience of me. Their conclusion is clear: the weekenders must be doing something wrong – I have stepped much too far out of character… The veterans call me by name, asserting their familiarity. No doubt they will soon set the newcomers right.
The staff at the coffeeshop I frequent keep me within fairly set boundaries. They’ll allow me to take my usual French Roast hot or on ice, but my occasional requests for a cappuccino or a bottled water are cheerfully waived off. Hot tea means I must be recovering from a cold. On the plus side, word of encouragement and extra cookies, when I seem especially out of sorts with my reading.
lol – yes, it’s a very… disciplinary space, isn’t it, the coffee shop? Habermas missed this, I think, in his analysis of the constitution of the bourgeois public sphere…