DC is known as one of the bloggiest cities in the US. Walk into any coffee shop and it’s not much of a surprise. I spend most of my time in big name bookstore coffee places because most independent cafés are packed with unemployed hipsters hogging all the outlets. Downtown bookstores tend to attract more casual visitors and tourists, so even when it is crowded, it doesn’t take long for a spot to open up. There are regulars though. Definitely not the kind that spent last night at Fatback or the back room of The Black Cat. I’m sitting across the room from a guy reading a book called “How to Talk To Anyone,” and honestly,he looks like he needs it. Still, there are four guys wearing all black as I take a quick peek over the screen of my lap top.
Just had to move my stuff to a table close to an electrical outlet. My mood brightens with the screen and my eyes thank me.
The self help guy is chatting up an employee picking up discarded books from empty tables. The gentleman blathers about being on Twitter and Facebook and all the projects he’s thinking of. Bookstore Guy nods politely before unceremoniously pulling himself out that vortex of small talk, leaving the guy to crack open a book that, from here, looks like it says “The Ethical Slut.”
That guy who shot up the Discovery Channel Building earlier this year? I sat next to him a few times. Hard not to notice a guy who takes out several bricks of bank wrapped dollar bills. That was a dude screaming for attention, which he inevitably got when someone would ask him about all the cash. His schtick was offering money to people to read books by Daniel Quinn. I once dated a woman who tried to get me into Quinn.
I dislike Daniel Quinn with a burning passion.
I’m now in front of a woman who is quietly sobbing as she reads something off of her iPhone. We make eye contact for the briefest of moments before we both look away.
Working in these conditions can be a strenuous exercise in concentration. At another a store I often see one guy bring in person with some sort of mental handicap. Because of the effect of that person’s condition on his physical appearance, it’s hard to tell what their relationship is. Father/son? Brothers? He looks older, but he could also be significantly younger. They're usually holding hands when they come in, mostly so one doesn't lose track of the other. When they sit, the caretaker usually reads some newspapers while his companion stirs and mutters, often not very quietly. He’s not disruptive. But he constantly fidgets and will occasionally let out random grunts and moans making people sitting nearby more than a little uncomfortable.
I try to vary where I work just keep things interesting for myself. It's a good excuse to get some exercise walking to different places around town. Sometimes to more than one place within the same day.
After awhile I started noticing the same people in different places. At first I thought it was déjà vu until a few familiar faces sat near me one day the week before Thanksgiving last year. Collectively, they were an older crowd. People who looked like they had just retired from the work force and had plenty of time to spend in these places.
They chatted and gossiped as people do, which was not unusual until I realized that they were chatting and gossiping about baristas and bookstore employees throughout the entire city. They didn’t just talk about who they liked and who gave better service. They got into amazing detail about different workers’ vacation plans, outside interests, and even who had just gotten engaged.
I started coming to a different place recently which has it’s own regular gathering when I’m there on Sunday afternoons; a group of guys discussing historical events. I notice that it starts with a nerdy middle aged man usually in some sort of khaki pants, a short sleeve button down shirt, glasses, and bed head that would take a professional stylist to create on any other person. I joke to myself that this is the kind of guy that would be working at The Library; the place where I work. Sure, enough during the course of one of their conversations, he admits as much.
He’s then usually joined by a much older gentleman leaning heavily on a walker. One or two other guys may stop by depending on the week. They chat for an hour or two talking about civil war campaigns and political elections from a hundred years ago.
I’m guessing the other guys eventually leave because the gentleman in the walker will often wander onto tangential conversational topics. My unknowing colleague is very accommodating though and stays until his older friend is finished. He’s a patient man, continuously offering encouraging nods and grunts to the elder who often enters territory that should probably be reserved for therapy. It’s history of a different kind.
Every time the older man finishes and gets ready to go, his only audience member helps him get ready and makes it explicitly clear that he will be there at the same time next week. Just to chat. About anything. Oddly enough, I don’t usually hear him say very much. The old guy usually just mumbles and grumbles as he meanders off.
I didn't get very much work done today.