just nursin’ this lukewarm cup o’ mud

2/18/10

BlockedCoffeeshopOutlet(bl).jpg

The WSJ has an interesting article about coffee shops in New York – specifically Brooklyn – that have banned laptops. I cannot think of a better rule, and if caffeine makes you smart, perhaps the baristas in Los Angeles will follow suit. When I walk into a coffee shop and every 4-person table is taken by one motherfucker who brought a laptop, his own teabag and paid for a cup of hot water… and then SAT THERE FOR FOUR HOURS… I want to frisbee his 13″ Dell into oncoming traffic.

I say this knowing full well that I was that guy in the late ’90s. I wrote the first draft of two entire screenplays at a coffee shop off Beachwood Drive in Hollywood, because I hated my house and I had one of those tangerine iBooks. In my defense, this was before the days of wireless internet, and coffee shops had yet to explode into the cultural phenom they are today. Even now, I will occasionally open a laptop at a coffee joint, but that happens twice a year whenever I’m waiting for Tessa.

There are two times a laptop should be allowed in any coffee/eating establishment: when there’s nobody else there, and when there’s an actual bar-like situation, meaning stools that only allow you to take up one seat. Oh, and if the coffee shop in question is a national chain. Other than that, people who hijack tables with their computers are nothing more than goddamn parasites, draining both bandwidth and money from the establishment they frequent.

5% of men who work on laptops at coffee shops do so because working at home is infeasible. The other 95% do it because they want to put their penis inside someone else. You know it, they know it, and the struggling owner of an independent coffee shop knows it as they turn away customers because there’s nowhere to sit. How about this, laptop people: pay for your own internet at home, and STAY there. And if you come to a coffee bar, bring a book and order lattĂ©s while you pretend not to stare at someone’s tits – at least that way, the owners can make rent.

I know this rant puts me in “crusty old fuck” territory, and besides – in a few years, it won’t be laptops, it’ll be the iPad, flexible color Kindles, iPhones with holographic images and a Complete Awareness Machine called THE YouORB™. By then, the internet will be ubiquitous and beamed from the sky, making the idea of an access point inside a coffee shop as quaint as a lamplighter.

That’s fine, but in the meantime, you laptoppers gotta quit hogging all the tables and actually spend some money at a local establishment. You could even try talking to people – we used to do it in a place called “college”, and as I recall, it went pretty well.

0 thoughts on “just nursin’ this lukewarm cup o’ mud

  1. kent

    I guess things are, as they say, Just Different In Iowa(tm) — all the coffee shops in town advertise their free internet as a selling point, and even the still-smoky Tobacco Bowl always has a laptop contingent. It’s never felt like a problem here.
    Maybe in big cities the concentration of assholes is such that it tips into annoyance.

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  2. Sean

    Our local coffee shop, The Waltz-Astoria, has a big sign with the wifi password behind the bar, and the word “ENJOY!” written underneath it.
    If you run a coffee shop with couches and stuff, then you are advertising for a living-room-away-from-home feel. If you’ve gotten so damned hip that you simply can’t *STAND* the number of people who are just *lounging* where you’re trying to make a buck, then replace your couches with smaller chairs.
    In fact, you could replace the whole thing with plastic molded chairs that are just comfortable enough to enjoy a meal, but make you not want to stay too long. Then bolt them to the floor, and replace the carpet with tile.
    And then replace the menu with food that’s cheaper to make and easier to keep under hot lamps. Offer some kind of incentive for kids, maybe a little toy that goes with a small-size meal. Turn on the bright lights, maybe put in a drive-thru in the back.
    I have zero tolerance for people who go into a business under the guise of pampering their consumer, and then get annoyed when their profit margin isn’t what it should be. I’m sorry, did the “coffee-shops-make-people-rich” scheme not work out for you as well as it did for Howard Schultz? Guess what – there aint no guarantee in life. If you want to make money, there are ways to do it, and if you want to treat your customers well, then you might have to tolerate a lower margin on your investment.

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  3. littlerattyratratrat

    What Sean said. Whether it’s a student hanging out all morning, drinking coffee and studying Spanish vocab, or a professor hanging out all morning, working on lesson-plans or grading papers, or one of Ian’s nemeses there for to surf the web and sometimes venery…that’s what a coffee shop is.

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  4. tregen

    I just ask to use the seat if there is no where else to sit. No one has every said no.
    The unfortunate reality of working in LA is you can be an hour early or risk being one hour late. I am stuck waiting at Court, or for depositions, or whatever… all the time and i usually find a coffee shop, pull out the laptop and work for an hour or so while I wait. Most of the time there is ample sitting and most people are there to buy coffee/food to go. If there is not a lot of seating, I don’t spread out and generally use up the same amount of space I would if I was eating. I think much more annoying than laptop users are people with Kids who let their kids run all over the shop, screaming, putting their hands all over things that do not belong to their parents, and generally being terrors. The same parents roll in their huge $1200 stroller and leave it in the aisle ways and refuse to even budge if the place is crowded. How about this, kids people:Why don’t you make your coffee at home, and STAY there?

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  5. CM

    I think this rule is stupid. A lot of people go there precisely so they can drink and eat yummy stuff while they are working. Maybe they should just make a rule that you can only use half the table or something. The whole point of going to one of those places is to get work done while you sip your java! What if you take up a four-seat table and you DON’T have a laptop? People have done that.

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  6. wottop

    Why not just sit down at the 4-person table? People have discovered that they can be rude because polite folks won’t call them on it.

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  7. tregen

    And before everyone jumps down my ass. Kids take up a ton of space, many many parents bring their own food and drinks because their little special gift can only eat/drink organic, free range, fair wage, green friendly alfa hay. the kids then proceed to make a mess over a four square yard area and when it’s time to go, the parents leave their $1.5 tip on the table and walk out. Ever been to your favorit sushi bar, wait in line for an hour only to see three five year olds sitting at the bar eating the mac&cheese in the biodegradable plastic containers their parents brought the food to the restraunt in? I have and it makes me want to walk up behind the parents and just backslap the back of their heads. sorry but the subject is close to my heart.

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  8. Anne

    “The other 95% do it because they want to put their penis inside someone else.” LMAO — I loved reading this as I sipped my tea here at home.
    Some of the coffee shops in our college town (PVD) are getting wise and have long, shallow counters running along street-fronting windows where laptop people can sit, one to a stool, and do their thing. It really helps a lot.
    Tregen, I agree that some parents do not PARENT their children in public spaces — any public spaces. It’s definitely annoying and you’re right to blame the mommies, daddies, and nannies who let this happen.
    That being said: I remember when we had three kids, two under age 2.5, and I would occasionally meet friends for lunch at the local Thai place with one or both tot in tow. Yes, my kids probably squawked a few times and got antsy. I might even have discreetly breastfed at the table! But for a cabin-fevered mom like me, just that brief hour of good ethnic food and unfettered friends kept me going for weeks. So have mercy as much as possible!

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  9. tregen

    Anne,
    I am actually very tolarant but was just trying remind everyone that one persons angel is another persons demon.

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  10. josie

    Me thinks that place will be closed soon. What’s the harm in a host milling about every 20 minutes to jovially consolidate patrons? Customers will be trained in no time, and they’ll have the added benefit of creating community in the process. Signs like that remind me of corporate lunchroom Nazism.

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  11. Rebecca

    Wonderful rant! I too have sat down with people on occasion, and just told them I’ll leave in a few minutes, or when their friends show up.
    Tregen, have you been to The Lost Bean on Newport, now that you live in Tustin? I love that place, but it’s generally crawling with toddlers running wild, and so I quit going.

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  12. tregen

    I have been to the The lost Bean. Now, I go to Cream Pan in old town Tustin (a block or two from the new place). A French/japanese bakery. I have to tell you, it is absolutely the best bakery in OC but supplies are limited. Want a real honest Parisian baguette, better be there before noon. real croissant, pan chocolat, etc. but with the added twist of also selling japanese influence bakery goods. The cafe attached is incredible et pas trop cher.
    T

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  13. Carolyn

    People, I’m with Ian on this one.
    If you want to keep your darling coffee shop who caters to your whims in business then you better GOD DAMN CARE about the the entrepreneur bootstrapping the budget to make an HONEST LIVING WAGE on their business. Its a symbiotic relationship. Go ahead and chill for hours on end during non busy times, but when the lunch/morning coffee/late night dessert date/etc time comes, you better pack it up OR order something and contribute. Show some consideration to paying customers who would like to rent out a piece of the coffee shop timeshare by eating and drinking. And while you are at it, cut the clutter. You don’t need a fourtop table to spread out on your notebooks to birth your bullshit webisode series manifesto on “dating life in LA” or “being a starving artist” or whatever the hell you think you are creating. Its derivative crap, and no one cares.
    But I digress.
    I just yelped about Susina Bakery on La Brea about this very issue the other day. They lose at least a star or two because you can’t count on getting a table for two for an intimate dessert date on a weekend night much less on a random weekday afternoon because of all of the laptop pricks taking up cafe real estate with their fat asses. And they are most insufferable, entitled, antisocial assholes you would ever come across.
    So, YEAH, things ARE different in Iowa.

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  14. xuxe

    well first of all, some of us laptop toting coffee shop space occupiers are female. so there’s that…
    funny timing though for this post because i literally just spent about 3 hours yesterday working from a coffee shop called the “actual cafe” (as opposed to “virtual cafe” – get it?) they are pro-community interaction and that is their angle on hoping to decrease laptop tethered self absorbed twiddling in their shop.
    but here were! all 13-14 of us typing away with blatant disregard for community on a thursday afternoon. i do my work in a cafe occasionally for a block of time because if i have a big nasty item to tackle i will often procrastinate. a lot. but something about getting out into a new environment pushes me over the edge to get it done.
    so i ordered about $20 worth of soy lattes with agave, giant salad, and vegan soup and cranked through work like a mofo.
    i use my phone as a modem rather than free wifi because it’s faster, so i don’t cost them anything in bandwidth or whatever.
    so i’d say in the case of your NYC no latptop straight-edge coffeeshops they should just stop being passive aggressive about their profit margins and instead of banning laptops, just tell people they have to order a minimum amount of stuff if they want to park for x hours like they do at bars. tell the customers to put their money where their laptops are. they should be all shaming people like, “hey you with the hot water. we got bills. you wanna order something or should i charge you for that napkin?”
    but anyways, back to the actual cafe. so it happens to be right on the same block as my kids’ school, so after my great cafe work productivity output, i walked over to pick them up and…
    i brought them back to the cafe so i could do even more work! i bought each of them a $2.50 donut (!) and also got a soy chai latte again with the damned agave. so there went another $10 or so.
    my youngest tried to bust out a juice box and granola bar which he had in his school bag. at which point i dutifully informed him that was strictly forbidden because the cafe has to pay their rent by selling shit, so there can be no outside food and drink.
    meanwhile, my older son jumped on this cool bike they have inside that’s hooked up to a battery to generate power for some kind of interactive display which i paid no attention to because i had already dug out my computer and jumped back into work mode.
    after all this, my kids cleaned up after themselves and bussed their table, which they’ve been trained to do because they are not feral and we went on our merry way.
    so there you go! the cafe experience works even with laptop and kids, even at the “actual cafe”!
    but chances are i won’t be there on weekends in february when they are trying to enforce strict laptop-free community interaction, since my weekend coffee consumption must be accompanied by brunch. now, if they go ahead and start a brunch situation over there, then it is ON!
    http://www.actualcafe.com/about_us.html

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  15. Sean

    Tregen – say something. It’s that easy. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to sit in judgement on how other people aren’t taking care of their kids, but if you say something, remind the incredibly overworked and underslept parent about something that, to your delicate sensibilities seems obvious, but to them might just be circumstantial, then it’s easy to fix.
    Carolyn – if someone wants to make money, then make that a priority. Don’t set up couches and offer wifi.
    It is interesting that as soon as someone starts insulting what they consider “the leisure class”, they automatically can’t stop themselves from also carpet bombing “artists”. It’s a palpable hate you’ve got going there, and let’s hope that whomever is at the far end of your ire isn’t actually making the TV show or movie that you end up loving. Because, guess what, you can’t actually know who’s doing the good stuff and who’s doing the crap.
    From where I sit, with a three year old and a baby on the way, several freelance jobs and more bills than I know what to do with, I sincerely hope if someone can find an oasis in a coffee shop for two hours that she or he doesn’t get some self-congratulating shit-head calling them out for finding the time to express themselves.

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  16. Ehren

    This is such a pet peeve of mine. I do think that coffee shops have always advertised their free wi-fi here, but maybe there’s a sea-change. I do know that on a winter’s day, it would be nice to find a cozy coffee shop and spend an hour nursing a chai and read a book or chat with a friend. This is almost never possible because there is never a free table, due to insane laptop usage. These coffee shops are losing business because they have a low dollar per seat-hour ratio, as I don’t want to just get a coffee and then go back out in the cold. I can understand how a college coffee shop that’s never at 100% capacity would never need to introduce this rule. And I have located all the coffee shops that have mostly individual couches and chairs, as they end up sacrificing raw seating capacity in order to make sure that freelancers only take up one space.

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  17. Tammy O.

    Meh. I’m sympathetic to both sides of this argument, and I think the economics of the coffee shop are actually more complicated than we’re acknowledging. (For instance, in a community where brand loyalty is king, to-go orders can constitute a huge revenue stream for a coffee shop with no impact on seating/space. Just ask all the fans of Stumptown or regional premium brands and they’ll tell ya how far and wide they’ll travel for a cup to go.)
    Laptoppers may take up seat space, but they represent the actual customer base of a lot of coffee shops. They’re the regulars, like ’em or not. A coffee shop that depended on people who wanted to pop in for a cozy cup of joe and a book when the mood struck ’em would not keep a coffee shop in business. (No offense to you, Ehren, but the fact that it’s hard to find a laptop-free cafe is not the main reason you’re not hanging out in cafes any more.) It doesn’t make any sense to kick out your loyal customers in hopes that you’ll get more occasional ones. So, I think that coffee shops have to develop some creative and pragmatic strategies. Maybe a mix of suggested minimums, more customer engagement, wi-fi donations, laptop-free areas? I’m sure there are more.
    I also just think our culture has changed. People don’t use/enjoy coffee shops the way they used to.

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  18. Bob

    To me the issue isn’t laptops vs. no laptops, or little kids vs. no little kids. It’s people who realize they’re in a public place that has to be shared with others vs. people who think they’re still in their living room.
    I’m fine with people using laptops, as long as they realize that they are sharing space with other folks who (a) need a place to sit and (b) would like some peace and quiet. I’m particularly ticked off by a burgeoning Silicon Valley trend in which people crank up music on their laptops in the coffee shop. Recent exchange between me and a patron three tables down, whose laptop is blaring something or other through a pair of 39-cent speakers:
    Me: Could you turn that down? Please?
    Troglodyte: This is a public place.
    Me: Exactly. That’s why you need a pair of headphones.
    Troglodyte: I don’t think you can actually hear this.
    Me: If I can’t hear it, how did I know to ask you to turn it down?
    Troglodyte grumbles, but turns off the music/stock report/Gaussian white noise.
    This actually happened.

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  19. kmeelyon

    Wow, Ian! Ranty!
    You must be one of those folks who is equally able to get work done at home as when he’s out. I actually sometimes go to coffee shops to work because I’m more likely to get things done if I get my ass out of my house. And as a person who lives alone, it can be really lonely to do all my work sitting alone in my apartment and if I did that, I might never see a human being all weekend.
    But I’m not sure that me and my laptop take up any more space than me and my plate of food. Someone can still take the seat across from me. They just may not be able to chat me up as well. Maybe I’m spoiled by San Francisco where everyone works in cafes. Some of the hipper places have time limits which I guess is good. I’m not usually hanging out in the hip crowded places though.
    I guess I tend to go and work at cafes where it’s not jam-packed or tons of people table-hogging, partly b/c in places that crowded it’s hard for me to work anyway. But I agree with you about how annoying it can be if people sit for hours and and hours preventing others from sharing the space.
    That said, I don’t think that sitting at a table with a laptop in front of me is really that much different than when I sat in Columbia Street Bakery in 1988 with my textbooks in front of me or a notebook, studying.
    And when did wanting to put your penis inside someone else become a bad thing? As a single woman, I sure wouldn’t mind putting my penis inside someone. :) It didn’t even occur to me that this could happen if I went to more coffee shops….

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  20. kmeelyon

    Okay. I’m back. I just read the WSJ article and I must agree that it’s just rude to use a coffee shop as a library and not order food or bring your own food and tea bags. That is something I would not do. In fact, I am often getting full breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at the spots I work in. So I’m with you on that point!

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  21. tbruns2002

    Boy, I really feel weird now…I don’t go to coffee shops, do people really do these things I just thought it was a setup for a meet/cute in movies or something like that.

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  22. sam

    This rant had me laughing out loud, Ian. I love it.
    People who hang out in coffee shops without buying anything are losers. Individuals who spread out and dominate a 4-top by themselves are losers. These are the same motherfuckers who go to the gym and open their gym bag and spread their shit all over the fucking place and dominate an area spanning 12 lockers. I can’t stand those assholes.

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