She sat in the coffee house, laptop open, cell phone at her ear. The place was full of singles and couples, all with laptops opened, and the quiet tapping sound of fingers on keyboards made up the rhythm of the coffee shop’s soundtrack.
It was a neighborhood place, locally owned. Mismatched furniture; old wooden kitchen tables and chairs, worn leather couches, wide-armed chairs, wobbly end tables; an assemblage that looked comfortable and welcoming. The walls were busy with a display of pictures hung up for sale and shelves filled with games, toys, books, and magazines for use by patrons.
This was the kind of place that would be filled with families on Sunday afternoon, kids hunched over a board game or iPad, whipped cream topped hot chocolate next to them, while their parents enjoyed a latte and read. Evenings found the same spaces filled with college students working on assignments and flirting.
As laid back as this place was, as much as it exuded a mellow 2nd generation hippie vibe, there was a well understand code of behavior expected from patrons. You came here to have conversations with people; people in the same room. You used this place as a kind of off-site living room, where you could go and just read a book or check your email. It was acceptable to interact with people; a quick nod, a hello, even a conversation. It was also a place for solitude, a chance to spend an hour reading a book or playing a game or writing.
What you didn’t do was have loud, pretentious conversations on the phone. And that’s what she was doing. It was clear from her dress and behavior that she was new to our small Wisconsin city. Her outfit was more about hipster fashion than comfort, and there was sharpness in every movement, even in how she picked up her coffee cup, that spoke to her outsider status. People shot aggreived looks, the Midwestern equivalient of a New Jersey “Whattayadoin”, but they were ignored. Her voice rang out, everyone sharing in the one-sided conversation, all of us futilely trying to ignore the harsh sound, instead ending up mentally filling in the missing half of the conversation.
I closed my Kindle and brought the empty coffee cup over to the bus tray. The vibe was gone; it was time to go home.