I step through the door and the rich, bittersweet aroma of coffee encases me. It’s 9:30 on a Saturday morning. To the right there are wooden tables: square, rectangular, and circular. To the left there is the start of the line to the register. The line of people winds up to the counter through walls of bagged coffee beans and coffee cups. I step into the line and look up at the menu hanging on the wall above the register. One of the baristas lifts the menu from the wall and reveals a hidden compartment behind it. In the compartment I can see more bags of coffee beans. I see people, no more than five, sitting at the tables to my right. They are all drinking coffee or tea.
I get to the register, order, and pay. I pick up my order when they call my name, and I sit down. I relax and take a whiff of the latte I hold in my hand. One little sip and I lean back. Looking around at the other customers I see that they are working. Two men sit next to each other typing on their laptops. The keys make that light “tap tap” when hit. Two young women sit together at a table with notebooks open. They hold pencils and are discussing how to make a paper better. A man walks in with his little girl. He picks up a drink for her, and they take a selfie. Then his phone rings, and he answers it. It’s a call about work, and he continues to talk as he walks out the shop. His daughter follows him, sipping at her drink. Then there are two older ladies, chatting casually as they sit there drinking. They are just chatting, but then one whips out a daily planner and says, “Maybe I’ll just work around it.” One more minute and she puts it away again. A magazine has replaced it on the table, and the two start chatting again.
By 10:00, the shop has filled up with people. We are packed in like sardines in a can. The noise level has tripled at least. People talk; baristas call out orders; blenders whirr; ice is scooped and then crushed by the whirring blenders. An alarm keeps beeping its high-pitched song for a solid fifteen seconds until it’s turned off. A hiss of steam like a sputtering, and dying, train whistle pierces my ears. Someone tops a couple of drinks with the squirt of whipped cream. It sounds like water being sprayed from a hose as it comes out of its stainless-steel bottle. These sounds never stop. It’s a constant scoop, whir, beep, hiss, spray. There is a continuous hum of chatter. There is even music, but it’s easy to forget because of all the other sounds that penetrate my ears. There I am, listening. I’m sitting down sipping coffee while I watch the busy buzz around me.
A man in a clean white shirt, grey pants, and shiny brown shoes sits and talks into his phone. He fiddles with his empty coffee cup. His car keys lie on his table next to him. Most people who come here pick up their drinks and walk right out. Those who sit are never just drinking coffee. Despite all the laboring sardines packed into this coffee shop, the area where this coffee shop is located is not big or densely populated. It is not a bustling city or even a hard working town. It is only a small quiet borough with the population numbered at 5,116 by the 2010 consensus (Lackawanna).
My father once told me of a coffee shop he had frequented in 1999 in Paris, France, called the Café de Paris. The Café de Paris had large glass windows that looked into the street. All its tables were round. Some of which were outside on either side of two doors you enter by, covered by canopies which were there in case of rain. The two doors were adjacent but separated by a wooden pillar. Waiters served the tables, both those outside and inside, he said. They wore black waistcoats and little white aprons. People came to the cafe dressed nicely. They came to see and be seen. They loved to talk to each other, and that was the main sound you would hear. It was a background hum of chatter. No music, whirring, or beeping. Just people talking to each other, and the clink clank of ceramic against ceramic. You could hear yourself talk. You could sit in that cafe for hours with one cup of coffee and no one would bother you. No one did their work in the coffee shop. You could have a long conversation with a friend about sardines, but it wasn’t a work place. The atmosphere was very relaxed.
Outside the cafe on the street, people talked into little earpieces that you couldn’t see as they went by. They talked about work as they walked from one place to the next. Outside the cafe, everyone in Paris was busy working. On the cafe’s door there was a sign. It said, “The use of cellphones in the cafe is forbidden”. Talking on your phone in Paris, France in 1999 in a cafe or restaurant was considered bad manners, my father told me. This sign hung on the café’s door like a great, impenetrable shield. It separated work from life.
By 12:00 there are again only five other customers in the shop. I can hear the music, and the scooping, the whirring, the beeping, and the spraying are now spaced out between pockets of silence. The chatter has receded and those left in the store are still working. One man sits at his laptop. An older man sits and reads intently on his iPad. People keep coming in and out, picking up their orders and leaving. One lady walks in wearing a pair of grey sweatpants, a grey hoodie, and a grey pair of sneakers. She has earbuds in and is typing on her smartphone.
I finish my coffee. I had taken two hours to drink one cup. I get up to leave and place my mug in a plastic container. I walk to the door and open it. As I close it behind me, the sounds of the coffee shop are replaced with the sounds of cars. A road goes right past that coffee shop, and it is currently filled by cars. Cars whiz this way and that. Horns beep and wheels screech as they drive right by. It is 12:17 on a Saturday afternoon in a small borough in America in the year 2018. People are always working.
“LackawannaCountyMunicipalityMap.”LackawannaCounty.www.lackawannacounty.org /index.php/municipality-map. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.