Turn Your Head and Coffee

For as hectic as American life is supposed to be, we grownups sure spend a lot of time loitering. Look at what has happened to bookstores. All the major ones now have cafes and comfortable reading chairs, so that customers can lounge around like unemployed layabouts without having to actually, you know, buy anything. Which makes them not customers at all, really, but bums. They used to chase you out of places for using the merchandise without buying it, and now they encourage it. Barnes & Noble has become less a bookstore and more a homeless shelter for people with homes.

And coffeeshops. I don’t even know how coffeeshops stay in business, particularly when you consider their appeal to young bohemians, who, by definition, don’t have any money. You buy a $2 cup of something, and then you sit there for 11 hours, sending text messages to friends, reading semi-legible underground newspapers, and posting notices regarding your band’s need for a drummer. How does the place make any money from that?

Many of these coffeehouses now have “wi-fi” connections, too, which means you can bring your laptop computer and go online — thus encouraging people to spend even MORE time there, not buying anything. The only thing I can guess is that coffeeshops are run by the same people they cater to (i.e., hippies), and that making money is therefore not a priority.

(Some cities are considering establishing wi-fi connections everywhere, so that you can literally go any place within the city limits and have Internet access on your laptop. All sensible people realize that within 24 hours of any city implementing this plan, there will be 100,000 car accidents caused by people using the Internet while driving, possibly just so they can e-mail their friends to tell them they’re e-mailing them and driving at the same time. I’M JUST SAYIN’.)

Despite my distaste for both coffee and hippies, I have become a coffeeshop habitue in recent months. The problem was that I found it hard to get any work done at home because of all the distractions: the Internet, the e-mail, the TiVo, the music, the woman in the apartment downstairs who communicates only by yelling. I thought that if I took my notes and my laptop to a coffeeshop, I could get some work done unhindered.

Turns out I was right for once. Though I’ve sampled a few others, I’ve found Coffee Garden, at Salt Lake City’s charming 9th & 9th district, to be the best place for me. They have many small, round tables that are perfect for parties of one, and the place is big enough, with a lot of seating, that I don’t feel guilty occupying space for a few hours at a time when all I’ve bought is a hot chocolate and maybe a pastry. Some places are so tiny that you feel obligated to buy a ton of stuff to justify sitting there. (I once ate at a restaurant in New York where there were literally only nine tables. To assuage my conscience, I had to buy a full meal, when my original plan had been simply to a) have an appetizer and b) run out on the check.)

I like Coffee Garden very much. The staff is friendly and personable, though I did notice a sharp increase in that when I began purchasing things from them. They offer wi-fi Internet, but you have to pay for it — which means I don’t have it, which is good, because you’ll recall the Internet was one of the distractions of home that I sought to escape. Someday the Internet will be installed in our bodies and we won’t be able to escape it anywhere, but that day is not today (Monday).

I do have issues with all the hippies, of course. Despite its new Starbucks-fueled prominence in mainstream American society, the coffeeshop is essentially still the second home to the North American hippie (slackerus knowitallus cannibus). Salt Lake City has a university and a community college, too, which naturally increases the number of hippies roaming the streets. I do not enjoy overhearing their conversations when I am trying to write, although having a laptop in front of me and being a fairly adept transcriptionist does enable me to take down their sayings without their even realizing they’re being recorded. For example, I have just listened to two scruffy women in their 30s say these things to each other:

FIRST SCRUFFY WOMAN: Oh, you HAVE to go to Burning Man with us this year! We always build this giant tent and everyone comes to listen to David play the guitar.
SECOND SCRUFFY WOMAN: Yeah, I need to go sometime, just to get out of the city, you know?

“The city” she refers to is Salt Lake, a relaxed metropolis with a population around 200,000, nestled in the mountains, trees lining every street. But she said “the city” like she’s being caught in gang crossfire every day on her way to work at the porn factory.

Like most coffeeshops, there is a tip jar on the counter at Coffee Garden. Now, I admire the chutzpah involved, but I reject the idea that simply taping a piece of paper that says “TIPS” to a jar and putting it on a counter means that you deserve tips. Obviously it didn’t happen out of necessity. People weren’t clamoring for it, crying out, “We want to tip you people, but we have no place to put the money!!” Clearly it was the other way around. The coffeeshops started putting out the jar, and now all of a sudden OF COURSE you’re supposed to tip them, like it’s been a tradition in American society for decades to include a gratuity when someone pours a specified, regulated amount of coffee into a cup for you.

But hippies and mandatory gratuities aside, coffeeshops are fine for relaxing, writing, reading or lounging. In all the hustle, not to mention bustle, of the modern world, it’s nice to know there are places we can go to “get away from it all.” Someplace besides home, church or nature, I mean. Someplace more hip.

Being a man of my word, the column was written entirely at Coffee Garden, with the usual tiny bit of fine-tuning done on my home computer prior to posting it. I wanted to include a hippie conversation in the column, and wouldn't you know it, I only had to wait about 20 minutes before I heard one.

Neither the word "habitue" nor "chutzpah" has ever appeared in "Snide Remarks" before, and certainly never both in the same column. That's the kind of history-making writing that your subscription dollars were paying for during the time that "Snide Remarks" was only available by subscription.

You may recall the woman who lives downstairs who communicates only by yelling from this column. But if you remember sharply, you'll recall that I claimed she lived ABOVE me, not below me. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out the woman who plays her CDs really loud first thing in the morning lives above me -- I confirmed this by pounding on my ceiling, which caused her to turn her music down -- and the woman who communicates only by yelling lives below me, which I discovered when I saw her on her balcony and recognized her voice. She and the CD woman are two different people, where previously I had believed them to be the same. Since she lives below me, that means it was the yelling woman's balcony I stood on while trying to reach my own in this column.