Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer of Selective Seating

There are specific circumstances that bring out the worst in humans. Really really bad traffic, severe pain or suffering, to name a couple... and intense heat. Today, an astoundingly hot day in MA, I found myself between engagements in Brookline with some free time. Seeking solace in a cooler place, I went to a nearby Starbucks. Walking in, I immediately felt the relief of the AC and looked around for a seat. Not surprisingly, there were none. Not only was every table occupied, but everyone looked fairly well situated. One person even had a little blanket wrapped around her, indicating to me that she had been in the AC for quite a while. One woman had a young child with her and, in my defense, it looked like she was packing up. I went up to her and asked if she was leaving. If this woman had had fur, or quills even, they would've bristled. "Look, I won't be leaving for a little while, OK!?" she snapped at me.

Immediately, I realized that I had stepped into an intense territorial seating zone. From our brief exchange, it was very clear that she had been asked this more than once. I grabbed my cool beverage (which I admit with my head hanging low in shame, was in fact an iced coffee...) and grabbed a seat in the shade right outside. Thankfully there was a breeze (in my experience, moving hot air is always better than still hot air) and truly the heat was bearable in the shade. The seat battles continued, however. On multiple occasions, people exited in utter frustration and anger because people were not budging from their seats. One person came out and shared his frustration at people avoiding his eye when he looked around for a table to share- "They were acting like I was leper", he said to me, as he took the shaded seat next to me. One woman came out, furious, yelling to her companions, "There are people in there who've been there for like six hours, and are not eating anything!!! It's like MIT wannabes in there!!!"

I can't speak to her MIT comparison but, I can appreciate her frustration. We were all trying to stay cool, and some people were sitting solo at tables with multiple seats. I can understand wanting my own space, but on a day like this (or in other weather extremes), I can also appreciate the need to be a little more aware of others who may also need a few minutes out of the heat.

The whole coffee shop phenomenon is pretty fascinating, if you think about it. There are people who depend on them, their 'away from home and not the office' productive place. I definitely do homework in them from time to time. But then there are the times, where I just need a little bit of time, like today, to thermoregulate and rehydrate (I also had a bottle of water).

I'm honestly not sure what the solution would be for this kind of situation besides a little bit of table sharing. I'm not really a fan of time limits throughout coffee shops but could support separate areas for shorter vs. longer stays. Kind of like lap lanes at a pool. I used to swim at a pool that had fast, medium, and slow swim speed lanes. It was awesome. There were the hardcore swimmers who went uber fast with their own section, then us mid way folk in the middle, and the 'mosey on down the pool' lappers on the other end. But back to the table sharing. Yeah, OK, sharing a table with a stranger might not be cool with everyone. Strangers can be scary. Especially the ones who talk about their armpit hair like its their pet whose name is Carl (true story). Or the guy who says his name is Squid and his job today is to be your spiritual guide (also a true story). But I'm not saying you have to be best buds with said table sharing stranger. I have on multiple occasions shared a table with someone I didn't know at a coffee shop, and if they started getting chatty, I would politely explain (with a grand sweep over my multiple books/flashcards/other productive paraphernalia) that I was working on some stuff and don't really have time to chat. More often than not, they get it. Other times, they went to sit elsewhere and chat with someone else. And on some occasions (like with the armpit Carls and Squids of the world), I would take leave if it was clear that the social cues for 'leave me alone' were not getting through. Personal space definitely plays into this. But if having more control over your personal space is an issue for you, I wouldn't recommend crowded coffeehouses in the first place:)

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