The Starbucks Experience: The Writers, The Regulars and The (Possibly) Homeless

For those of you who read my football posts, you know I made a New Year’s resolution to write for at least 20 hours per week. Rather than spend most of my day thinking about writing and getting mad at myself for not writing, I decided to buckle down and force myself to actually write. My other New Year’s resolution was to spend time each week thinking about applying for a job. I’m happy to report that four weeks into 2013, these resolutions are going decent. I haven’t gotten to the 20 hour goal every week, but I’m always hovering around it.

A major reason for this spike in writing time is me finally realizing I need to leave my apartment everyday if I want to be productive. No matter how much I tell myself in the morning that I’m going to spend at least five hours at my desk writing, it just never happens. I’ll spend 45 minutes at my desk playing with a Rubik’s Cube (seriously). Then I’ll go “check on Molly” in the living room, which turns into me playing fetch with her for 30 minutes while the NFL Network is on TV in the background. Then I decide it’s best if I move my work area out to the couch so I can keep an eye on the dog while writing. Well now that I’m officially taking a break, I might as well check the DVR to see if anything good taped last night that I should watch. Then a quick search of my most-visited websites for any new content, and all of the sudden it’s 3PM and I’ve done about 30 actual minutes of writing.

So for the last three weeks, Starbucks in downtown Culver City has been my new office. While several distractions still exist—the ability to mindlessly browse the web, the temptation to watch the baristas make drinks in fancy machines—the biggest ones (Molly, TV, my bed) are all gone. Typically I go to Starbucks between 9-10AM and stay for at least four hours, sometimes longer.

When Julie was asking me all about my new daytime life at the coffee shop the other day, she was stunned by my revelation that I never order anything from Starbucks during the entire time I’m there. I’ve been there 15 of the last 21 days and haven’t ordered a thing in that time (it should be noted that I’ve never drank coffee in my life to this point, so this is a bit easier for me than others). I think Julie was actually appalled by this, like what I’m doing is probably a felony or something. I countered that plenty of people go to Starbucks for the sole purpose of doing work, and a lot of those people don’t order a damn thing. Starbucks knows this. They also know that people freeloading off their wi-fi isn’t going to hurt their sales so they might as well let people hang out all day and hope those people eventually order something. Right? Or am I totally crazy? Now if you want to make the argument that my behavior at Starbucks makes me no different from the homeless people who hang out there all day and never order anything, that’s perfectly fair. I’m only about two more jobless months away from officially joining their ranks anyway.

Well until the other day I thought my etiquette at Starbucks was just fine, but now I’m a little unsure. The poll at the bottom of this blog post is for my readers to weigh in on the debate. Please take a look.

The original point of this blog post was for me to provide insight into what it’s like hanging out all day every day at a Starbucks in Los Angeles. Coffee shops are notorious hangouts for unemployed, wannabe writers, and LA is the wannabe-writer’s capital of the world. So you’d think a Starbucks in LA would be overflowing with douchey delusional fake writers. Turns out no matter what time I’m at this particular Starbucks it is overflowing with people on their laptops. Unfortunately I can’t confirm that the majority of them are writers. Not everyone allows me to creepily stare at their computer screen.

But some of my fellow java house squatters are definitely working on screenplays and scripts like me. It always boosts my morale to think about how bad their scripts probably are. But I also notice a good percentage of those people with laptops doing real work, like filling out sales reports, emailing their employees, designing marketing collateral, etc. So the demographic of laptopers at Starbucks is probably a 50/50 split between gainfully employed people and painfully unemployed people like me.

But of course some of these writers stand out over their peers, and not everyone who hangs out all day at Starbucks has a laptop. So let’s go a layer deeper and explore some of my favorite regulars at the Culver City Starbucks:

SpongeBob SquarePants Guy: This guy may or may not be homeless, but he probably is. I’ve never been to Starbucks and not seen him. He either sits at the outdoor seating if the weather’s good, or he comes inside if the weather’s not good. I call him SpongeBob SquarePants Guy because he’s always wearing a giant yellow hat in the shape of the SpongeBob character, and he’s always drinking out of a plastic travel mug that’s also shaped like Bob. He wears the same bright plaid pants and sweatshirt every day (a detail that leads me to believe he’s homeless), and he always has a mini-DVD player and a case of DVDs with him (a detail that leads me to believe maybe he’s not homeless). If he is homeless, he’s the type of homeless I appreciate…doesn’t bother anyone, never asks for money, minds his own business (this probably means there’s no way he’s homeless, right?)

Homeless Dude Whose Pants Are Always Falling Down: Pretty self-explanatory. He’s the polar opposite of SpongeBob Guy on the homeless spectrum. He’s always asking for money, he’s loud and his pants are always falling most of the way down so you’re forced to see a lot more of him than you ever wanted. I have no idea what type of things he says to people because I’m smart enough to know that you always keep your headphones in your ears at Starbucks. I do know that almost every day of the week, the Culver City Police show up and escort this guy off the Starbucks premises.

Straddling The Fence Between Homeless & Homed Guy: The most confusing guy in the whole place. He often sits at the same table I’m sitting at and spends most of the day doing crossword puzzles. He eats a bag of Cheetos every single day, and every now and then he makes a phone call to someone who seems like his AA sponsor or parole officer. I say that because I often hear him saying things like, “There’s this guy sitting down at another table dressed in SpongeBob SquarePants gear, and it’s taking everything in me not to go over there and hit him.” (Swear to god I heard him have that exact conversation.) So I’m thinking he’s calling some sort of mentor/sponsor person in that case. He also wears very old, ratty clothing, and he seems to know an awful lot about the other homeless people milling about. My best guess is that he’s a former homeless person who’s gotten his shit together and is doing his best to stay out of trouble. I can tell you that he’s very polite and courteous when you move your backpack to free up a chair for him.

Foreign Couple Feeding Each Other in a Very Sexual Way: Speaking of people sitting at a table with me, I should let you know that at this particular Starbucks they have a large table in the middle of the place that fits up to eight people. So if you’re unlucky enough to have to sit there, you’ll be surrounded by strangers. The other day I was sitting there minding my own business when I looked up to see this man and woman literally feeding each other bites of blueberry coffee cake. Like it was their wedding cake…they were putting it in each other’s mouths, wiping it on each other’s cheeks and lips. It was so fucking strange. I hate when people do crazy shit like that and then I hear their foreign accents. Because I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the awkward public-feeding is customary in their homeland.

Sweatpants Movie Writer Who’s Always Creeping Me Out: This guy I’ve seen a few times. He’s obviously working on a movie script (I base that on the fact that I’ve totally looked at his computer screen and notebook when he goes to the bathroom, and he is in fact writing a pretty bad-looking script). He always wears sweatpants and a sweatshirt, always the same color. And I swear he spends the entire time staring at other people. And usually it feels like he’s just staring at me. I’m not positive that he really is, but all I know is every time I look up from my computer screen, there he is, looking directly at me. Buddy, that screenplay isn’t gonna fix itself. You might think about spending less time giving everyone the creeps and more time developing your protagonist.

The Guy With Terrible Spatial Senses: You know the guy. Of course you do. Because he doesn’t only exist at this Starbucks. He’s the guy who treats a small public space as if he’s alone in his study at his Beverly Hills mansion. He’s sitting at a table with three chairs. Two of the chairs are covered in his belongings. The chair he’s sitting in is pushed all the way back to the point where it’s touching the table behind him…so no one can walk by without having to tell him every fucking time to push his chair in. He’s got computer cords everywhere. He’s basically running a military command center out of a crowded public space and he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.

The Guy Who’s Way Too Excited About Being a Regular: Anyone who’s worked in the food service industry knows this guy. He’s a regular and he knows it, and loves it. He does everything short of giving each Starbucks employee the wink & the gun as he enters. Prior to ordering his coffee, he talks to the cashier about whatever’s on his mind for 15 minutes, and then after they hand him his coffee he proceeds to stand as close to the barista as possible to continue his conversation. Only the barista has like 325 drinks to make so he’s super annoyed by the regular. My advice for you: Never be the first person this regular makes eye contact with after he realizes the barista is blowing him off…because he will transfer that conversation to you. He obviously wants to talk and he doesn’t care who’s on the other end of that conversation, just as long as it’s another person. Don’t let yourself be that person.

The Woman Who Tries To Be the “Mom” of Starbucks: I don’t even know if that’s a good description for this lady, but she definitely reminds me of an overly-concerned mom. I’ve only seen her at Starbucks three times, but each time, after about an hour of her being there, she stands up and announces to the entire place that “sitting for too long is really bad for you. So I’m gonna stand up for a few minutes.” Again, I’m not lying or exaggerating. She makes that PSA loud enough for everyone to hear. I think she’s always hoping people will stand up with her. She’s looking for companions in the fight against sitting for too long. But when everyone ignores her, she proceeds to shake her head and make a “pfffff” sound under her breath, just so we all know how disappointed she is in us. And just like the regular guy, if you accidentally lock eyes with this woman, she will give you a one-on-one talking to about the dangers of all us fatso’s sitting down for too long. When I’m in a bad mood and she’s there, I always catch myself hoping she eventually dies from a heart attack or clogged arteries. That’ll teach her.

Douchey Red Sox Hat-Wearing Weirdo Who Brings His Own Sandwich and Water to Starbucks: Wait, that’s me. Hopefully my 17-inch MacBook helps people realize that even though I bring the same sandwich packaged in saran wrap every day, I’m not homeless. Yet.

Now take the damn poll.

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Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team. ¬†You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.