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I’ve become a coffee shop whore

Mmmm, coffee.

Actually, I’ve become a coffee shop john if we’re going to make the prostitution analogy correctly. I’m the one paying, after all. I’ve been freelancing full-time for 21 months now. (And I’m still not broke! I know, I’m as shocked as you are.) As nice as it is to sleep late, take vacation days without need of approval, and to crash on the couch in the afternoon if my headache has my brain in a headlock, it can get lonely if you let it. Hypothetically, if I had enough groceries I could stay in my apartment for days, if not weeks, at a time. That’s great if there is a nuclear incident in my vicinity. All I’d have to do is duct tape the windows closed to protect myself from stray neutrons. But it can also get rather claustrophobic and boring no matter how many movies I can watch on Netflix streaming.

Lately I’ve been going to coffee shops to work. A lot. Like, way more than I ever did in the first 16-18 months of working for myself. I’m going so often that my backpack smells like coffee grinds. There’s something about getting out of the house and being among people that helps me focus on work and stops me from crocheting cat sweaters in my pajamas. And this town—oh, man—this town has a lot of coffee shops. They’ve got at least three custom roasters within a 10-mile radius, maybe more. It’s much easier to find a place to loiter all day in Chapel Hill than it ever was in Indianapolis.

As a result, I’ve become a wellspring of highly specialized coffee shop knowledge. I know who serves the cheapest cup of decaf and who makes the prettiest leaf designs in a latte. I know who charges for Internet access and how to tether my phone to my computer to circumvent that and make the best of my limitless data plan. I know the password for the network at one place and I know that the wine shop across the street has faster wi-fi that’s free. I know which place doesn’t have wi-fi. (So, so freakish.) I know to keep a pack of gum in my purse to get rid of that coffee aftertaste on my tongue. I know who closes at 6:30pm and who closes at 9:30pm. I know not to go to one place between 1:00pm-4:00pm on weekdays because all the seats near electric sockets will be full. I know not to go to another place, ever, because all the hippies hog the seats all day. I know which place is the quietest and which one is more of a meeting place. I know which place serves sandwiches and that they shut down the kitchen at 2:00pm. I know who serves coffee in paper cups instead of a much nicer mug when you order it “for here.” I hate that the place with the coconut flavored decaf is so far away. I know which place has tables at the best ergonomic height and which one’s tables cause me to slouch and aggravate my headache after two hours. I know which tables are wobbly and how many napkins to stick under one leg to steady them. I know that one place gets awful afternoon sunlight glare, so I should only go there on rainy days. I know to bring a jacket to the place that has the air conditioning ramped up to the icicle setting.

So, yeah. I know WAY too much about the coffee shops in this town.

Hanging out at these places has also let me overhear strange conversations and see some…interesting people. Last week I went to read at the place with the cushiest chairs, but someone else had gotten there first. To nap. And snore. LOUDLY. I couldn’t even drown it out with my MP3 player and headphones (which are part of my Essential Coffee Shop Accessories Kit®, along with a computer mouse and a small screwdriver set). The very next day at a totally different coffee shop, a totally different guy was sleeping at the table next to me, snoring, though not as loudly as the first guy.

Obviously the baristas have switched everything out with decaf.

It’s also strange how many serious conversations you can overhear at these places. A father and daughter were sitting at table next to me talking about her sports injury and had a rather tense conversation about his concerns for her health and athletic future. A woman who I think was a professor had a conversation with someone asking if they’d speak on her behalf against some sort of formal complaint. Yesterday someone used the word “anonymize” in conversation which I’m not sure is a real word or not. Different dictionaries seem to have different opinions on this.

And of course, there’s always the customer who bitches about the price of coffee.

I’ve left places because the person next to me had the worst case of body odor ever. I’ve left because someone kept sneezing and hacking, and ever since I saw that episode of Mythbusters I know that the germs go EVERYWHERE. I’ve left because two boys were dicking around on the Internet for HOURS and giggling every minute, putting any school girl to shame.

There are also the people with weird hats, cool shoes, and the occasional person with very short arms, probably due to a genetic issue, who I tried very hard not to stare at but felt guilty for glancing at twice.

Anyway, it’s interesting being part of this coffee shop culture. It’s fluid and ever changing, like a river made of people and their quirks. Perhaps some of the baristas or other regulars have noticed me as that girl who’s always working on her laptop. I hope they don’t mind that I’m seeing other coffee shops. I thought about putting a sticker on my laptop from one place, but thought that might seem rude to the other coffee shops, like coming home with lipstick on my collar.

I should probably get back to work now and maybe get a refill (only $0.87) because, of course, I’m writing this from a coffee shop.

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The Freelancer’s Guide to NYC Caffeine · April 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm

[...] How about you? What are your favorite places to work in the city? And for those of you not in New York, where do you go? Note: I got the idea for this list after reading PastaQueen’s post here. [...]

37 Comments

Carbzilla • April 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I think it’s really great you’re getting out. When life was a little cushier for me and I only needed to work part-time, I really missed the camaraderie of co-workers. Being unemployed for almost a year has sucked, and I find myself envious of people adding Facebook friends. I can’t remember the last time I added a friend, but I try not to let it get me down. :)

Cheers!

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Jaime • April 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm

It’s not really a coffee shop, and I have no idea if they have wi-fi, but please go to Foster’s Market one day and have lunch so I can live through you vicariously. I used to go to the one in Durham on a regular basis, and I MISS IT SO MUCH.

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Teresa • April 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

When I lived in California I spent hours loitering in coffee shops. When I hung out with my friends, all we did was hang out in coffee shops (or so it seemed). I love coffee shop culture. Unfortunately, here in Mooresville NC, there aren’t nearly as many coffee shops. There is a lot to be said for living in a college town, and one plus is definitely the unrivaled opportunities for the pursuit of caffeine.

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Dawn • April 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Sounds like a good life to me :)

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Dawn • April 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Oh lets hope your coffee shops don’t have those darn fudge balls those are evil in a delicious way lol.

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Mindy • April 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I’ve actually been thinking about escaping from my office to go to a coffee shop to get some writing done. Here in the office, my co-workers keep asking me questions and since I’m the boss, I feel it would be rude of me not to answer them.

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PastaQueen • April 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm

@Mindy – You should do that, but be sure to leave a jacket on your office chair. People will think you’re at a meeting. They’ll think you’re such a hard worker! I wish I was joking about this, but I read an article that says it’s true.

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Jaime • April 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

@PastaQueen – Ha! I once had a boss who would leave his office light on all night so whoever was leaving late would think he was still there working.

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Lisa • April 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I was going to suggest Foster’s Market but someone beat me to it. Somehow I think you already know about it anyway. :)

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kathy • April 5, 2011 at 5:21 pm

One of my favorite things to do is go to the bookstore and have a great cup of coffee with a free book!

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Elissa • April 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

You’re speaking the story of my life, sister!

In NYC, our apartments are so small, most freelancers hit the local coffee shops to get any work done. In my case, the usual NYC problems with working from home are compounded by the presence of a very needy cat. I also have it all mapped out in my head, and I think I shall do a similar post listing my favorites in the city.

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Dee • April 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I loved reading this post because it made me nostalgic about my own coffee shop days as a grad student, and for two years that I worked for myself. Wonderful, wonderful!

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Debby • April 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm

PQ, I love your blog! First, I got a great laugh at my mental image of you knitting cat sweaters in your pajamas. Then, I learned that lattes have a leaf design in them (which I truly didn’t know because I don’t drink coffee). And then, I got to see a picture of actual leaf designs in cups of lattes. You are so cool!

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PastaQueen • April 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm

@Debby – Most baristas can make hearts, too. And then some people go way above and beyond the simple heart and leaf designs: http://bit.ly/elsdFj Lattes can be art!

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brenda • April 5, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Cheapest decaf and prettiest leaf designs? I definitely don’t want to have coffee with you with those kinds of criteria.

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Lisa • April 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I love coffee shops and all those lovely cushy chairs. However, I never spend serious time in one because there never are any spots to settle in and plug in my computer. Obviously, my own coffee knowledge is far beneath yours!

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Jessica • April 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Haha…you crack me up!

I definitely need to visit coffee shops more often, rather than just zooming through the Starbucks drive thru for my lattes.

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fdx • April 6, 2011 at 3:00 am

occasionally I do this too, but I find if I’m there alone and working away and then need a bathroom break I get all sorts of anxiety as to how to keep my seat while also keeping my valuables safe while not carrying a laptop and purse to the bathroom with me. This is not a city where you’d ask your friendly coffee shop neighbour to keep an eye on your stuff.
I loved your description though. It reminds me of college days where I did this much much much more (although wifi was less of an issue since noone had it).

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fd • April 6, 2011 at 7:12 am

screwdrivers?!

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Sarah • April 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

PQ, thank yoU!!! you reminded me of my glorious grad school days as well. I used to do homework and grading in my office, however once it was time to write that thesis i just couldn’t do it. i spent a lot of time at my 2-3 favorite coffee shops in Austin writing. Likewise, to this day, I love to go work at Panera and eat and work. I just wish that my job would let me go work wherever I wanted. Sadly, I am at the point that even the work from home in pajamas knitting dog sweaters days would be a happy change from my cube farm of listening to talk radio next door.

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Charity • April 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

In case you are a frequent customer of starbucks, if you get a gift card and register it online, you can become a (some randome color?) star member after buying like 5 drinks with your card and then all of your refills are free:) And you will get free coffee on your birthday. I’m not trying to advertise for Starbucks, just trying to stick it to the man and get free stuff!

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Debbi Does Dinner Healthy • April 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Oh my, I laughed all the way through this! Do you get a little thrill when you discover a new one? At least you’re a COFFEE SHOP whore, could be worse. :-)

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Jackie • April 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Now that spring is back again you should try the Weaver Street Market for a change of pace so that you can sit outside. It gets quite busy but it’s a nice atmosphere and lots of people-watching to be done!

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Kyle • April 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

All of the Starbucks near my old apartment STILL know me by name and know my order, from when I was blogging and would go there to work. For me it wasn’t even the human contact, it was just the need to force myself to get up and look nice and go out of the house.

PS. We have almost the same start date! You’ve been a freelancer for 21 months. I’ve been a full time photographer now for 22 months! Before that I was a freelancer, so maybe the uncertainty wasn’t as hard a transition for me, but the concept is the same :)

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elena • April 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I really enjoyed reading this. It made me want to go to coffee shops more often. People watching is one of my favorite past-times. Coffee is my other favorite. Decaf coconut sounds divine!

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Leah Kadwell • April 7, 2011 at 4:57 am

I, too, seem to get my most effective writing done in coffee shops – for me it is the coffee shops/restaurants of the big hotels in town…. I have 2 that are my favorites. I frequent one so often that half the time I go there, the staff give me my lattes with the pretty art for free : ) I feel like a celebrity.

Since most of the guests in the hotel coffee shops have just arrived in the country (India) and are on jet lag, I wrote a blog entry once on the propensity of travelers on sleep deprivation to order club sandwiches as the jet-lag remedy of choice…. interesting observation to say the least….

All hail the mighty coffee shop!

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Stacie • April 7, 2011 at 8:22 am

Ohhhh I miss living in a city with a lot of coffee shops. I love spending hours upon hours at a coffee shop – it’s great for people watching. Now, I live in a small town that has a Panera, Starbucks, and two local coffee places. Panera is overrun by the lunch crowd – in and out — Starbucks doesn’t have people that sit and talk (problem w a drive-thru) and the local places close at like 4pm.

I usually frequent Starbucks for 2 reasons. 1) it’s quiet-ish so I can get a lot of work done, yet be around people; 2) FREE Coffee. If you have a registered gift card — you get free refills on coffee and tea, free customization, and free drinks for every 15 you buy.

It seems like you’ve got a lot of options – so lucky!

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Danielle • April 7, 2011 at 10:10 am

@PastaQueen – Even better – my old boss had a Mac that he set to turn on at 9 am, off at 6 pm so he could come and go as he pleased, and people thought he was so busy!

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K • April 7, 2011 at 11:55 am

Anonymize? Were they, by any chance, conversating?

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Mama_Dee • April 8, 2011 at 11:46 am

I had to look up Anonymize! According to the web, its usually used for medical stuff you want to be quite about…..hmmm

Thanks for taking me out of mommy mode to think about adult things for while! :)

Oh and I heart coffee…..totally addicted!

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Sergio von Douche • April 8, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Apropos of nothing… you remind me of Adele.

If you would just post a Vlog, we’d have acoustic proof.

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Becky Brandon • April 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

Damn good writing. I wish I could make my own blog pop like that. You rock!

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Mark Fuller • April 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

I adore coffee. I could even substitute coffee for water…hahaha nope, just exaggerating here. I was smiling all through out the article. A feel good writing. Thank you for breathing fresh air into the blogsphere.

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mom taxi julie • April 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm

How funny! I always wonder about people that are working so hard at the coffee shop. What are they working on? Why are they working here?

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Beep • April 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm

May I suggest Local Yogurt (though not a coffee shop, it is awesome and the yogurt is delicious and reasonably healthy), Parker & Otis, and the Beyu Cafe as three cool local places where I’ve enjoyed working? All are in Durham and likely within your ten mile radius.

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Sonia • April 27, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I once saw a skateboarding gorilla at a Starbucks. Awesome.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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