1. No punch-cards for you
People have those little punch cards and after every 10 cups of coffee, after ten marks or punches or what have you, you get a free one. It would be pointless to try and keep track of your coffee consumption by the 10. Once in a while the barista will just give you a cup on the house, not because it has been 10 cups and that you are owed—via policy—a free one, but because she’s busy and doesn’t care to ring you up at that particular moment. You toss a crinkled dollar bill in the tip jar and go work.
2. Barista #RealTalk
You get there early. Set up shop. You beat the rush. The barista tells you that she is not ready for the onslaught of commuters because she drank too much last night. And she tells you if one more person wearing Sorel boots and a North-Face simultaneously orders some kind of half-caf, sugar-free pumpkin concoction while spitting into a white wire, that she may just keel over and die. You nod, reminding her how easy of a customer you are—“Just a house-coffee, splash of 2%“— and that she can be genuine around you. Save the phony smiles and how-are-you’s for the early morning commuters. Sigh of relief. A smirk on a shitty, cold, soon to be busy morning is what you gave her. You toss a crinkled dollar bill into the tip jar and go work.
3. There is “the spot”
There is probably something like a set & setting psychology, we’ll call it atmo-psychology, about productive spaces. It’s a place where flow-states and high productivity occur at a frequency unmatched by any other spots. Your spot, naturally, is within reach of an outlet, maybe in a corner, by a wall and overlooking the whole floor, where you are a witness of the coffee-house goings-on, a place where you can watch people—first dates especially, you can tell when they met on Tinder or Grinder—to distract yourself from the horror of your work. Deadlines looming. If someone is sitting there, in your spot that is, you stop in your tracks and your flesh gets hot. You imagine a conversation where you are asking the person to move. But instead you sulk, sit near the spot, eyes on it—and when the person leaves you perform a cockeyed blitzkrieg with your laptop in one hand and bag in the other to claim it.
4. You start thinking you work there
Just as the barista may exert intense and careful focus when doing foam art—a lovely flower bloomed in boiling milk mixed in light-brown espresso—you take care in your office upkeep. At the little counter where you pour cream or sugar or grab a wooden stick-mixer, if you spot a little milk stain, you’ll clean it. Tidy up. If the creamer is a little light, you will tell the barista, nicely and with care, because you do care, that it may need a refill soon. If there are excess sugar crystals left from a careless patron tearing open a Splenda packet like a fiend, you’ll take a napkin and softly comb the sugary-dust into the little circular trash hole in the middle of the counter. No one wants to do work while surrounded by mess. You take care of your office space.
5. You could found your own company or start a family with all the regulars you know
You will make friends. Let’s call them colleagues. Though one of you may be a poet, the other a freelance programmer, and the other an improvisational actress, you all share the same office space. One of them will tap you on your shoulder and you will take off your headphones, annoyed at having been interrupted, and she’ll say, “Look at that couple—total tinder-date.” You both laugh in agreement, and get back to work. You may smoke and take cigarette breaks together. You may not smoke and take cigarette breaks together. One of them will catch you staring at someone very good looking. The other may stare at you because you’re good looking. Office romances are, by and large, taboo, unproductive. The only common denominator among you and your colleagues—besides blurred, tired, and red LCD-eyes—is that you all have found a quiet place with calm lighting, where you can read or write or merely bum-around. So long as you order cups of coffee— or from time to time a blueberry crumble muffin or a sandwich even though they aren’t good—and toss a crinkled dollar bill into the tip jar, your office is rent is paid.
If at least 4 out of 5 of these signifiers are true for you, you can then, emphatically, thank the barista and get back to work.
I wrote this at Eva’s Coffee Cafe in Chicago, IL.