Friday, June 10, 2011

Cafe Telecommute: Coffee, Company, and a Little Bit of Work

About once a week, I take my laptop and task list to my favorite wifi cafe and work. If I don't do this, I begin to feel fairly isolated, not that I really mind days alone, but I feel a little more human when surrounded by other workers while someone makes and brings me coffee.

Working at the cafe allows me to accomplish a long stream of desk chores, creative writing, and work that home  sometimes doesn't; laundry awaits there, the dog has needs, something cries out for cleaning. And here, where I currently sit clicking away at moderate speed, I listen to the music of voices, the clink of flatware on plates, the belching of steam from the coffee machine. The pleasant white noise of public conversation and dining relaxes me. And after coming here for almost a year, I have begun to know by sight many of the other telecommuters who park themselves in front laptops as they await their own steaming cups of java.

As my step-daughters will tell you, people-watching at this particular cafe is a blast. Today there is the ambling, shaggy-haired server who had one too many last night and could not remember to bring me my bagel, much less toast it.  The sweeter of the two women who usually work the AM shift is behind the counter. She always smiles, and earlier this week shared with me conversation about what we endure comfort-wise to live in the aging homes of this historic town. The business people are here--some in suits and wound up tighter than a clock. They come with mouths clamped awaiting business partners, prospects, or interviews. The telecommuter crew like myself comes in dressed casually. Our body language is more relaxed at our ends of the tables. The unshaven gentleman to my left, in fact, legs sprawled apart as he half-reclines in the comfort of his t-shirt and shorts, is an example of that. And as I write, he has taken a business call, the nature of which completely contradicts his pose and dress. The woman to my right has come in to complete her Bible studies. She has folded her legs neatly to the side as she writes, her prim pearl earrings a perfect compliment to the tailored blazer that Jackie O would approve. Even her shoes have a swirl of blue that echoes the pale turquoise of her outfit.

My favorite people here are the crust punks. They come in wearing black or brown, but whether the fabric they sport initially started as that color is up for debate. Some boast burls of spiked or dreadlocked hair (some things White people shouldn't even attempt). The tattoo jocks visit here as well, their t-shirts blasting calligraphic swirls and designs that echo the ink illustrations embedded into their skin. The hairy-legged lesbian couple that comes in on occasion receives enthusiastic cheers from the crew working the barista bar. They are a genuine gender-plex and I am afraid to slip and say "ma'am" to one of them should we bump into each other.

At 10:45 AM, it's not too early for wine, according to the woman with the glass of Chardonnay across from me. Her husband, almost as wide as he is tall, has opted for a more breakfasty approach with his own toasty bagel and coffee.  They sit beside each other as opposed to across from one another. The yoga students come and go, pecking at the counter for the vegan products (this is nearly entirely an organic-based foods cafe, by the way). Tired mothers trip in with chubby, bouncing babes in the crooks of their arms and chic retro-themed diaper bags slung across their shoulders.

On other days, I have met quite interesting people: the Italian who sells Italian products for restaurants, the private investigator who transports people safely away from their stalkers, a blogger who makes quirky cartoons of his cats and has a rather large following of like-minded folk. And there are the people that raise questions within me. The bleach-blonde short guy who comes in regularly to read on his Nook (I never see him working. What does he do?). And one day, I sat next to a young man in the most oddly mismatched outfit, the best part of which was his pair of screaming-orange capri pants. He slept with the hood of his parka across his eyes for the entire duration of my visit. Why was he so tired?

This cafe attracts a wide range of clients due to its location at the base of our walk-to-shop district in the center of town. We drink locally grown coffee and eat breads from independent bakers. A well-known local artist has a long painting of landscape and highway streaming down the length of one wall. A bank of windows lets in gentle light from the west. The counter crew, while they don't quite seem to know how to interact on a child-friendly level with my kids, has been kind enough to help me feed a local, homeless man.

Among the mismatched, quirky, gender-bending and the straight up and down, tightly bound conservatives, I have found a home here: or rather an office away from home without all the red tape and politics. I don't have to get along with these people. I just have to sit beside them and watch pleasantly at the little circus of life flowing through cafe doors. I can't think of a better place to finish a tedious project.

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