The Friends friends had their couch at Central Perk. The Cheers crew had their special seats at the bar. I have my chair at the Daily Grind. Every weekday morning, in lieu of any paying job, I walk the mile down the hill to Pullman’s sleepy downtown and I park myself, coffee in hand, in the ratty brown chair in the corner. It doesn’t matter how warm it is, or how cold. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t turned the gas on to the back room’s fireplace, leaving the room without heat; I just use my coat as a blanket. My chair is the last remnant of the ratty furniture that has been there since my first day in Pullman, the last piece not to be replaced by newer, cheaper, less comfortable stuff. You could probably clone me from the skin and hair I’ve left in that chair.
And there’s someone in it. Someone who isn’t me. People, in the back room, that’s supposed to be quiet, and they’re quizzing each other. They have a white board and notebooks and one of them seems to be the quizmaster. Math! That isn’t a chair for math! It’s a chair for writing and pondering and reading long books. It isn’t a chair for math!
But they don’t seem to know that. So now I have to sit in a less comfortable chair, with my computer on a table instead of my lap, which is way less ergonomic for my tendonitis. I understand that it’s a case of first come, first serve, and though I could probably take each one of them individually, they’re in a group, and I doubt they’ll take the single-attacker approach of the movies (seriously–why don’t those guys just gang up on him all at once? Ninja code? I don’t get it.)
The thing is, I don’t choose the Daily Grind for its superior coffee. In fact, it has potentially the least tasty coffee in town, with the most hit-or-miss baristas. Cafe Moro, down the street, not only has better coffee but they give it to you for a dollar if you bring your own cup. I used to work there, so I’m friendly with the staff and the regulars alike. But they don’t have any plush chairs, and it’s hard to sit there for much longer than two hours. They don’t have the kooky Grandma’s-basement vibe. Neither does the new Thomas Hammer, a block down the other direction, whose coffee I haven’t even tried because I’m turned off by the plasticky mod decor and ridiculously long line. Starbucks is farther away and smells faintly like rot since they’ve started serving food–not just our store, but across the board, I’ve noticed–plus, last time I hunkered down there, three mommies plopped down in the chairs grouped with mine, running over my foot with a stroller while one of them unceremoniously popped out her breast.
(For the record, I have no problem with public breastfeeding. I think people are all together too squeamish on the subject. I do find it distracting, however, when I’m trying to do work, and then there’s the difficulty of trying not to stare. There’s also the lack of consideration from women who might have at least asked, “Is somebody sitting here?” before crushing my foot and allowing their toddler to toddle through my personal space. I can’t work when I’m making silly faces at a baby.)
Maybe I’m being unreasonable here, allowing myself to be ruled by ritual. Though, to be fair, I never said I can’t write without my chair. I’m writing right now, on what used to be a pew, typing away while my backside slowly goes numb. And yesterday, I wrote a fair chunk of prose on my own couch in my own apartment with my own cat sitting right next to me. But it’s the principle of the thing. No one would think to take the Thursday morning coffee group’s table (one positive of being kicked out of my chair is that I get to eavesdrop on the eight retired gentlemen chatting over coffee a few feet away; equally interesting are the four ladies knitting on the other side of the room, but they are still distractions), or the reserved table at Bucer’s in Moscow that is usually empty even when the rest of the place is packed. And yet I, being only one single person and not the owner of any particular establishment, though the money I’ve spent here could probably buy this place a new espresso machine, am forced to take what I can get.
I should probably save my money and take my coffee at home, put that money away to buy my own coffeehouse one day, one where I can reserve the most comfortable chair but still sit in a room with other people, all of us reveling in our public piece of quiet. A place where the baristas always remember my drink, but don’t start steaming milk when they see me coming, in case I change my mind. A place where knitting circles can meet and students can quiz each other, but just out of earshot of those of us who want to concentrate. Where the fireplace is always working and the coffee is excellent and refills are free. Where everybody knows my name.