A thousand clever lines / unread on clever napkins

[Taking Back Sunday – Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut from the team)]

For the most part, I tend to avoid being a walking cliché of what people think of when they think of writers. GIS for ‘writer’ gives me the following results:

Let’s see how that holds up when compared to me:

1.       I’m uh…not white
2.       I don’t wear those thick-rimmed glasses. Even when I wore them (pre-2006, when I got lasik) I never wore that thick of a rim. However, I did have what my friends called lentes de fondo de botella (bottle-glasses, since I was as close to legally blind as I could have been).
3.       Unless I’m at a wedding or a job interview, you won’t catch me wearing a tie.
4.       I don’t smoke
5.       I don’t use typewriters
6.       Dude in the second picture looks like his pen is unscrewed. <shakes head sadly> I never do that because I have ballpoint Pilot G-2s .07 or 1.0 and 95% of the time I’m writing with those
7.       I’m a lefty

But there’s one cliché I kind of dig and that’s the “writer at a coffeehouse” and before I started being a FOR SERIOUS GUISE writer, I talked mad shit about this particular stereotype. Now I live it. BUT, in my defense, I also talked shit about that writer stereotype using a macbook and I’m still a proud anti-macbook person. I have a beat-up Toshiba from 2006 that still works.

(It’s not the one I use for my writing. I use a Samsung now)

Anyway, so, in Brownsville, where I spent my formative teenage years, these were the options (2003-2006) if you wanted to get some studying done with a group of by yourself outside somebody’s home:

1.       The Brownsville Public Library (before its super-fancy redesign)

2.       Starbucks, FM 802

3.       Starbucks, Boca Chica Boulevard

4.       Starbucks, UT-Brownsville Campus

5.       U-Mix (A smoothie place)

In college, the selection didn’t change much. My options were the above, but now I counted with the addition of a few select places on campus: The Oliveira Library, Scorpion Café, and the occasional hidey-hole on campus. If you were lucky enough to have a job on campus, you could also use those offices to study for the most part.

And don’t think these were the fancy spoiled-ass Starbucks that are more common in the big cities. These Starbucks were small. And if you didn’t get a seat, pues te jodiste. So when I left for Houston, I got to discover the coffee houses I had heard so much about on the interwebs.

And I looooooved them.

There was one in particular I love, and still love, and heartily recommend to anyone looking for a coffee shop: Inversion Coffeehouse on Montrose Boulevard. Montrose, for those not familiar with Houston, is the city’s counterculture/gay district and home to the largest Pride parade in the Southwest. So it was no surprise there’d be coffee shops here that were just like the ones I envisioned before I left.

I loved that people would go, set their laptop alongside the wall-to-wall window, and start typing away. Some would have medical or legal textbooks and strewn highlighters about them. I find that inspiring because I feel like other people are there being productive so if I go there I should also be pulling my weight, too. The first few times I started going I’d be going with a friend of mine who was working on her master’s thesis. As she wrote, I worked on my own homework for my MFA and provided some emotional support. 

It was only fitting, then, that three years later I’d end up spending every other Friday there, and I finished the bulk of my thesis there. To the extent where I include the coffeehouse in the acknowledgments section.

Another one I’m fond of is Black Hole Coffee, off of Graustark street. Although parking can be a pain in the ass here sometimes, the layout of the inside of the coffee house is pretty comfortable. Feels more casual and loungy than Inversion does.

Both places have fantastic coffee, too, and kolaches, and little snack tidbits here and there and I highly recommend them. Inversion, for instance, has the Honey Badger, which is a hyper-caffeinated drink that’s also perilously tasty. Black Hole has a pretty good (for a coffeehouse, anyway) selection of sandwiches.

But before I’m accused of being a hipster (is that even a thing anymore?) I can tell you guys that I find myself going to Starbucks because of how ubiquitous they are. I mean, I’m not even talking about the THREE STARBUCKS WITHIN 30 YARDS OF EACH OTHER on W. Gray, but elsewhere? On my commute from my house to work there’s 5 Starbucks just off the highway. I don’t really have a favorite, to be honest, because the service is uniformly great but I’ve been frequenting Starbucks more often because both Inversion and Black Hole are way inside the loop. For the non-Houstonians reading this blog, I’m talking about this here.

I won’t eat their sandwiches, though. About a decade ago I was dealing with a high-grade fever that made it impossible to keep anything down. One day, I felt better, and purchased a Starbucks sandwich that I ate at my office break room, with my hands hovering over the trash can.

The sandwich stayed in my stomach for maybe 30 seconds before it came right back out and ever since then I have a mental block against eating Starbucks sandwiches or wraps. (I also have similar blocks with rum and green tea)

So on to the writing aspect: if you’re going to hole yourself up at a coffeehouse, whether it’s a hipster joint or the only Starbucks in town, be sure to mind some very basic etiquette. I found two blog sites here and here

But, I’ve got my own spin on the lists above

1.       Don’t be a dick

Funny how this rule seems to pop up often…almost as if it’s a good tip for life in general. Now, there’s plenty of ways of being a dick in coffee shops. Like, not tipping, or not ordering anything. I mean, maybe the coffee house isn’t getting much business that day but if you’re going to spend six hours there studying you better buy something more substantial than a small, cheap, coffee.

2.       Mind your boundaries

One chair = one seat. Your laptop bag goes in the floor. Your purse goes in the floor. All things considered, you should really only have space for your laptop and an open book or two. This is not the ideal space to have an entire Celtic Cross spread of notebooks and books and your laptop. Also try not to air-guitar or headbang. This is the one marked advantage writing from my home office has over coffeehouses: I really get into the music.

3.       Dress comfortably but…remember you’re in public

This means, keep your personal grooming to the car or at home. Keep your shoes on. Make sure you’ve showered sometime in the last week. I’m comfortable in basketball shorts/pajama bottoms and an undershirt at home. I’m not going to be wearing that at a coffeehouse.

4.       Headphones

I do enjoy the casual quiet hubbub of coffeehouse sounds (and I’m not the only one, considering both Songza and Spotify have playlists of this exact thing) but sometimes I really just want to rock out and I doubt that Inversion’s going to start blasting Sabaton, so headphones are appropriate.

Oh, and be sure they’re properly plugged into the headphone jack or you end up accidentally blasting Sabaton throughout Inversion.

5.       Order something!

I mentioned it as part of 1) don’t be a dick, but it bears repeating: You’re taking up space. Places like Inversion or Black Hole get quite busy at some points during the day. If you’re just holed up in a table and just drinking water, you’re costing them money. Tip, too, by the way. It’s a nice gesture, and you leave someone with the impression that that person typing away at Word on the corner is a nice person.

6.       Take all phone conversations outside

Seriously. I’m not going to be bothered by the couple sitting a table over discussing about getting matching tattoos. I am going to be bothered by the person next to me yelling loudly to his roommate in the middle of the coffee house. And I’m going to give that person the dirtiest stink eye. On this same note, it should go without saying that this applies to Skype conversations and going on Facebook live or Periscope. If you’ve cleared it with the coffeehouse, cool, if not, the door is literally six strides away.

7.       Tell people about the coffeehouse

Starbucks won’t mind you not telling others about Starbucks because at this point I’m half expecting there’s going to be a Starbucks opening up in my attic this coming weekend. But the local coffee shops? Put them on blast! Yelp, Google reviews, tell your friends, bring your friends. I’ve said the word Inversion multiple times in this blog post to the point that some of you might suspect I’ve been sponsored by them. I haven’t. But like I said, I did write a hell of a lot of my thesis at Inversion and I am appropriately grateful for them giving me the time and space to work.