Coffeehouse observation No. 328 – Like, um, cut it out!

If the woman at the next table uses the phrase “like, um, you know” one more time, I may need to scratch up some bail money. Can I count on donations?

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Coffeehouse observation No. 323 – Flash: O.J. did it!

I just overheard a couple of guys in the coffeehouse talking about O.J. Simpson. Apparently, he did it, the LA cops screwed up the investigation, and some of the people involved lied. These freakin’ legal geniuses should have come forward years ago! Now we know the truth. … By the way, this was intertwined with a conversation about the mob. I’m not sure how they were connected, but there you have.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 312 – It’s worth a conversation about, well, conversations!

I’ve hit onto something, um, different. At Empresso, the coffeehouse I frequent most often in Stockton, I’m among the older patrons. But at my temporary coffeehouse, not so much.

Sure, there are a few who are older at Empresso, no doubt. But it’s pretty obvious to those who see me that I’m graying and balding on top and a bit broader than I once was in the middle.

I’m a middle-age guy. There! I’ve admitted it! Now everyone get off my back! And while you’re at it, off my lawn!

Whew! I better cut back on the caffeine. … Ya, sure, as if that’s gonna happen!

Anyway, I’m away from Stockton for a while and I had to find a temporary port of call to satisfy my caffeine cravings. Actually, I had to re-find this particular port of call.

Pure Grain Café has been around Vacaville for years, but it wasn’t until shortly before I left for Stockton that they opened a coffeehouse in historic downtown Vacaville – coffee, pastries, sandwiches, soup and salads. It is that now-familiar morph between straight coffeehouse and luncheon deli.

It’s a sunny and bright place. The Vacaville city seal is a sun shining down brightly on the golden rolling hills around and outside the city. Pure Grain Café’s interior is painted yellow to match the sun. And many of the patrons are in their sunny golden years.

That means I’m not so much “the old guy” anymore. A couple of times so far this week, I was among the youngest patrons in the coffeehouse!

It was great to sit there enjoying a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin, surfing the Web, and watching a few of Vacaville’s long-time residents. Like many coffeehouses, Pure Grain Café is a place where old friends wave and call out to each other and then plop down beside each other at a table to spend the next few hours talking. Just talking about this and that and the other thing. Talking about everything and simply nothing at all.

It is difficult in this electronic age where lives can change – fortunes forged, fortunes pissed away, careers made, careers decimated, friendships solidified, friendships destroyed, loves gained, loves lost – all in the click of a mouse or in the sending of a text. We seem to have lost the art of conversation. Sad. We miss so much by failing to carry out one of the most human of activities – conversation.

We all should take the time to have long, meandering conversations that seem to go nowhere and everywhere at the same time, conversations that solve the world’s problems, great and small, and conversations in which recipes for “the world’s best chili” or “the world’s best burger” are exchanged with impunity.

We should return to those conversations in which words spoken are as important as the words left unspoken. We should return to those conversations carried out under willow trees dancing in the wind, on boats with water slowly lapping against the hull, in hushed tones of conspiracy or love or both, and conversations accompanied by boisterous laughter.

Conversations should be lively, animated and meaningful. If not, why not just text the person.

I did not eavesdrop – at least, not much – but it was clear that the conversations among old friends going on at the tables in Pure Grain Café were lively, animated … and very meaningful. My table was the only one on which there was an electronic device. Those conversations – those meaningful conversations – required no email, instant messaging or texting. No electronics at all were used to carry out the actual conversations.

Don’t get me wrong! Electronics and the amazing Internet are vital to our world and they will be essential to bringing this country more economic stability. But personal conversations are just as vital.

Let’s talk about it, at least.

Go to Coffeehouse Observer for more coffeehouse observations.

All rights reserved by Keith Michaud ©

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Coffeehouse observation No.296 – Today’s guest commentary

[Sometimes the best stuff that happens in a coffeehouse happens to my friends in coffeehouses when I’m not around. Here’s something a former colleague and Facebook connection posted to my wall and it seemed appropriate here as a guest commentary. – KM]

“I thought of you today. My daughter took me to a cafe in SF and while we were sitting there, this young woman answers her cellphone and then proceeds to have a too-loud conversation with her mother in which she complained bitterly about her father while debating whether to see him or not, then discussed ad nauseum her psychiatric condition and which of the recommended medications she should take. I just kept thinking, ‘Anyone who thinks this is a conversation that should be done in public is clearly disturbed.’”


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Maine governor is looking more boorish all the time

Maine Gov. Paul LePage during another of his finest hours.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage during another of his finest hours.

[This is something I wrote for my other blog, “Letters From Away.” This guy has got me a bit cranked up so you may read more about him as time goes on. He is ruining a perfectly good state. You can follow the link to that blog for more links to newspaper stories on this guy. … I need more coffee. — KM]

I had planned to reserve judgment on Maine Gov. Paul LePage until he had been in office for a while longer. After all, the man just took office a mere few months ago.

But frankly – and with no offense intended to my Maine family and friends who may have voted for him – LePage is looking more boorish and less like a statesman all the time.

It is one thing to stand up and be strong, but it is completely another to bumble your way through things causing chaos and destruction, and then boldly justify your awkward ways. He is more a bull in a china shop than he is a sage owl masterfully handling the duties and responsibilities of his new job. His coarse ways may have served him well in business – I cannot see how – but it does not serve the state well for him to continue his bad-mannered, loutish ways.

From all accounts – at least, accounts that do not come from the governor’s office or are not manipulated by the governor’s puppet masters – LePage is a boob.

He has offended almost anyone with any sensibility, from the growing African-American community in Maine to women to environmentalists to workers and unions to the working poor to art lovers to, well, anybody.

I once wrote in a column describing how clumsy the mayor of Vacaville, Calif., handled a situation. An entire neighborhood in Vacaville was flooded – at the time it seemed that city maintenance practices might have played a part in the severity of the flooding – and the mayor acted callously toward some very concerned neighbors. I wrote that the mayor came across as gangly as a moose on a frozen lake.

I was wrong. That mayor was as graceful as an eagle soaring in the sky.

LePage is the gangly moose on a frozen ice.

Of course, some Mainers – especially those who voted for LePage and those who continue to support his bumbling ways – will decry my characterization of the man who was elected by them to lead the state. True, it seems as if I am an outsider – someone “from away” – and I should not have the right to criticize the work that has been done.

Well, I will criticize it for several reasons:

My sister and her family live in Maine. It is important to her, her husband, my mother and me that my nephew Max and niece Sophie live in a state where they can continue to thrive.

My mother lives in Maine. I will never get her to move away to a warm climate in the winter. She rarely stays with my sister in southern Maine longer than a week, let alone for a long, cold Maine winter. It is where she was born and it is where she wants to be. She should be allowed to enjoy here life there.

I am a Maine native and I fully intend to return to Maine, although LePage’s antics have made me think twice about it. Maine is where I want to be; my economic circumstances keep me from it, but I will there eventually, LePage or not.

Mainers deserve better than what LePage has done so far.

I have a vested interest in the success of Maine and it does not seem as if LePage can lead a row of ducklings let alone a state.

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Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coffeehouse observation No. 283 — A little off-color humor

As past visitors will recall, I have worked in the past as a writer and editor for. Some of the things said in a newsroom are pretty off color. Funny, but off color. So, on Facebook I clicked “Like” for Overheard in the Newsroom, which distributes some funny and off-the-wall things said in the newsroom. This one happened to include a reference to coffee.

Multimedia editor: “Iced coffee is like sex with a condom.”

See, off color. Funny, but off color.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 279 – Nearly forced to break out coffeehouse ninja skills

Overheard something yesterday that still has me a bit cranked up. Two mature – ah, heck, they were elderly – women were sitting at the next table and talked on and on about their China doll collections.

Yep, they had catalogs and everything. Even had a 16- to 20-inch doll with them and talked about going to a “doll show” on Saturday.

Then they started talking about world and national events, solving all the problems of the world from their seats there in the coffeehouse. Political unrest overseas? They figured it out. Political unrest in Wisconsin? They figured that out, too. Obnoxiously loud car outside the coffeehouse? They figured out a solution for that, too. Amazing.

But then their conversation shifted to the unemployed in this country and one of them uttered these world: “They should just retrain themselves and find a job. That’s what I think.”

Yeah, 13.9 million unemployed Americans – and that’s just the number of people who have not given up on seeking employment – are simply going to “reinvent” themselves into rodeo clowns or international spies or whatever. Simple as that.

It is not! I should know. I am five days short of being unemployed for two very long years. Those two women do not know what they are talking about.

I seriously considered breaking out my coffeehouse ninja skills to throat-punch those two women. But I restrained myself. I figured I would be wasting a perfectly good throat-punch.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 277 – There’s an etiquette to all this, you know!

Coffeehouse etiquette is overlooked far too often.

Granted, I am no Emily Post – those who have seen me can attest that I am a guy and those who know me rightfully might question my place to offer up etiquette suggestions.

But this is not about how to properly place a tea setting. This is about plain, simple manners to consider when venturing out to the neighborhood coffeehouse.

Mainly, coffeehouse etiquette follows everyday norms of behavior and several rules that apply to checkout lines also apply in coffeehouse etiquette. Unfortunately, some people simply do not get it.

Polite, reasonable adults do not stroll into the “15 items or less” line with a fully loaded grocery cart and pay for the items with a check. Not unless they are looking for someone to throw down with the evil eye. An express line should be just that – an express line.

And polite, reasonable adults do not wait until their groceries are checked and bagged to realize that they forgot to pick up Gold Bond Medicated Body Powder and then run off to search the aisles of the store as fellow patrons wait – impatiently – to buy their own items. Their lives are important, too, and “I’ll be right back” only emphasizes that the person is a nit and never should have been let out of “the home” in the first place. Grocery stores – and other establishments that have checkout lines – really should consider installing trap doors to be triggered whenever the words “I’ll be right back” are uttered. People who have forgotten an item and offer up those words should be forced to go to the end of the line.

Also, polite, reasonable people do not wait until their groceries are checked and bagged to decide just how they are going to pay for them. People who are still in the Stone Age and pay for items with checks should be encouraged to at least start writing out the check even before they are asked “Is plastic OK for you, today?” They should not wait until the checker asks “Will that be all?” to start writing out the check. A shopper should know the name of the store they are in. A shopper should know the date. A shopper should be able to sign the check while the checker finishes up what he or she is doing. If a shopper is prepared, all they need to do is write in the amount. The people standing in line behind check-writer will appreciate it.

There are some pretty similar coffeehouse etiquette rules, all pretty much based on common sense and planning.

First and foremost, be polite to your host. The coffeehouse owners and/or baristas are there to take your order, take your money, serve you beverages and treats, and do the best they can to provide a pleasant and even entertaining experience. Do not be rude to them.

And don’t forget to tip them. (I personally fail at this one far too often. I have been out of work for two years so even quarters, dimes and nickels mean quite a bit to me. When I am working and I have money, I am generous. When I do not have money, I cannot be nearly as generous as I would like.)

Polite, reasonable people do not cut line. You never know just how jittery a coffeehouse patron might be or how a person who has been caffeine-deprived might react to such a violation of person space. To expect no reaction is like poking a bear with a sharp stick and expecting it to simply roll over.

A person should not wait until they get to the register to begin deciding what they want to drink. They should know what they want and order it. And they should have a backup drink just in case the barista is unable to fill the first request.

A coffeehouse patron should not wait until the barista is asking for their money to begin considering whether to ask for a pastry. Caffeinated beverages and pasties go together like Linsey Lohan and the legal system – you cannot think of one without the other. Of course, it is perfectly OK to ask “Is that cherry or strawberry?” if it is unclear. But do not wait until the barista asks “Will there be anything else?” to look at the pastry display for the first time and say “Hmm, what do I want? What do I want? I just don’t know what I want. What do I want?” That will not make friends of anyone standing in line behind you.

Polite, reasonable adults should not spill on other coffeehouse patrons. Do I really need to explain this one? … OK, here’s a clarification – spilling coffee, period, is wrong. Don’t do it. Spilling it on another coffeehouse patron is worse. Spilling it onto another coffeehouse patron’s laptop is a hangin’ offense.

Polite, reasonable adults should avoid ordering overly obnoxious or complicated drinks just to impress friends. Other patrons in the line will only roll their eyes and be convinced that the person making the order is a coffeehouse snob. Or worse, a coffeehouse neophyte. And I doubt the baristas at the neighborhood coffeehouse will be overly impressed by an order for an extra large, extra hot, extra shot, no-fat, half decaf soy mocha with extra whip cream and chocolate powder, especially when there is a line out the door. If there is a long line, keep it simple; keep the complicated orders for when there is no line.

Polite, reasonable people do not wait until the barista has handed over the drink to pull out their wallet from the handbag that was likely designed to be hoisted by Himalayan sherpas. Have the money or alternative payment method in hand. And if the coffeehouse hands out drink cards – buy 10 and get the 11th free – have that out with the money. A polite, reasonable person most likely will forgo the stamp if the line is long and they cannot immediately produce the card. Or – and this most likely is faster than fishing through a large duffle-bag purse for a wallet – ask for a new card.

Polite, reasonable people do not take up more space than do small nations. I have seen people place their books, laptops and other belongings on one table and move to a completely different table to read a book or newspaper. I have seen a boyfriend and girlfriend sit at different tables and then sit on a coffeehouse sofa smooching, tying up two tables and a sofa on a busy day for the coffeehouse. That leaves patrons standing and it is not polite or fair.

Here are a couple of other etiquette items that should be considered. And I would not mention them unless I had reason, such as grievance violations of each of these:

Do not ask to use a complete stranger’s laptop. Just don’t do it.

Do not let children run around screaming at the coffeehouse. Just don’t let it happen.

Do not loudly dictate a letter over a cell phone. For that matter, do not speak loudly – on your cellphone or to a “bestest buddy” – in the coffeehouse. Other people are trying to accomplish other things at the coffeehouse – even if it is quiet time between appointments – and they should be given the courtesy that we should all expect.

Do not forget headphones or ear buds. If I am using the WiFi graciously offered by the coffeehouse to its paying patrons, I do not want to hear screaming, yelling, music or talking coming from someone’s laptop that is loud enough to drown out the music in the coffeehouse. That’s just plain rude.

Polite, reasonable people will bus their own tables. It is simply rude to consume a bagel at one table and move to another, leaving behind the plate, crumbs and wadded up napkins.

OK, I have had my etiquette rant for 2011. Now go out and enjoy your coffeehouse.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 275

Overheard in the coffeehouse spoken by a twentysomething college student: “Yeah, someone right out of high school doesn’t get it because they haven’t lived yet.” Huh?

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Coffeehouse observation No. 272

I believe that the conversation going on at the table next to me is reducing my IQ by 10 points each and every minute it goes on.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 266

A woman just walked into Exotic Java and talked as if she had been sucking down helium! I swear to the coffee gods that she talked as if she was a cartoon character.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 129

A guy just asked one of the coffeehouse servers “is the Internet broken.” I’m struggling to decide if that annoys me or if I find it prophetic. … In reality, I believe he was having a problem pay-to-use computers at the coffeehouse.

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Coffeehouse observation No. 98

There are times at the coffeehouse all I hear is blah, blah, blah …!

Coffeehouse observation No. 76

I wonder what it is that makes nutcases come up to me and start spouting their insane notions. Is it written on my face: “Lunatic, come forward and be heard!” I think not!

A guy just came into the coffeehouse, ordered a coffee and, as he’s leaving the coffeehouse, makes a beeline right to my table and starts asking me if I had seen some internet broadcast about a half-dozen conspiracy theories.

Or, at least, I think that was what he was saying. He was not particularly coherent.

Um, I’m guessing “nutcases” and “lunatic” are not the preferred words.

Coffeehouse observation No. 74

I don’t get it sometimes how a person can loudly carry on a conversation in a public place. This guy at the next table at the coffeehouse was trashing his brother and the brother’s girlfriend. Come on, Dude! Take it outside at least.

Coffeehouse observation No. 69

I nearly forgot. At Exotic Java earlier, I overheard an animated, yet friendly, conversation about whether the coconut is a nut or a fruit. Fortunately, there is WiFi at Exotic Java and the participants were able to learn that a coconut is a fruit. A drupe, to be most accurate.

Coffeehouse observation No. 65

I’m not sure what is worse, the woman who was sitting nearby earlier and clearing her throat every 15 to 30 seconds (Take a drink of water or something, for crying out loud!), the guy who has the every-other-word phone plan who replaced her (Dude, really? How many times to you have to say “Hello? … Hello?” to figure out your phone dropped the call?), or the loud, obnoxious woman who is starting to move tables around the coffeehouse. And she doesn’t even work here (She is just plain too loud and her being here may cause me to leave for the day).

Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coffeehouse observation No. 51-61: Observations about coffee dates

A coffeehouse is a great place for a first date. It is more casual than, say, a dinner date or movie date or dinner and movie date. It is more casual than a luncheon date, even. It is a chance to be more at ease during what could be the first and only real chance to impress a woman or man.

And there are chances to bail out of the date with grace because it is such a casual date.

But there are some things that coffeehouse daters need to keep in mind. Below are a couple of observations made over the years that could help in getting to a second date.

1) Don’t be late. If you were impressed by the person enough to ask them out on a date – even a coffeehouse first date – respect them enough to be on time. Being fashionably late is not cool for a coffeehouse first date. It’s not cool for any date.

2) Dress nicely. First impressions are important. Being nicely and neatly dressed might be better than being fashionably dressed. But it is a coffeehouse date, so don’t dress up too much. Take fashion into account, but don’t go Lady Gaga.

3) Don’t spill on yourself. First impressions are important. Heard that before. Well, spilling a coffee beverage – and that’s what you’re most likely going to have in a coffeehouse on a coffeehouse first date – is not cool. It will make you look clumsy, leave a visible spot for your coffeehouse date to stare at throughout the date, and stain your clothes long after he or she has walked out on the coffeehouse date.

4) Don’t spill on your date. Do I really have to go into why this is a bad thing? Really?

5) Don’t spill on anyone else at the coffeehouse. First impressions are important. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it before. But spilling on someone at a neighboring table will make you clumsy – yeah, you’ve heard that before, too – and make you appear inconsiderate. After all, would a considerate person spill something on someone, anyone? No. And people on first dates are looking for people who are not clumsy and are considerate.

6) Don’t flirt with someone else at the coffeehouse. This also means not asking another coffeehouse patron – someone other than your coffeehouse date – for their phone number or starting a conversation with a person at another table. Just don’t do it.

7) For God’s sake, break up that muffin into bite-size bits before shoving it into your mouth. It is not impressive to spit muffin bits at your coffeehouse first date. Or to regale him or her with conversation with your mouth full of bran muffin. Chew your food! Swallow! Then talk!

8 ) Put the cellphone on vibrate or, better yet, silent mode. Saying you “have to take this call” and then answering it with “Hey, Baby, I can’t wait to see you tonght!” is not cool on a coffeehouse first date. Actually, it’s not cool on any date. Unless it is an emergency, every call, every voicemail message can be returned after the coffeehouse first date.

9) Don’t be judgmental, loud or obnoxious. Truly judgmental people are unacceptable. Loud people are rude people and do not merit the time of day. That’s not being judgmental. Obnoxious people are, well, just obnoxious.

10) Be polite and honest. Being polite doesn’t cost anything and it is much, much more impressive than being rude. And being honest should be a much more valued trait than physical appearance, income or the type of vehicle or home a person owns. If the coffeehouse first date is not going to lead to a second date, do not say “I’ll give you a call.” But be kind. There is no need to be impolite, dishonest and unkind, even if you plan never to see the coffeehouse first date ever again.

There, I hope that clears up for people planning a coffeehouse first date. I’m sure there are other tips, but you are just going to figure out those on your own. Good luck!

Coffeehouse observation No. 48

Some telephone conversations should not be held in a coffeehouse. Boy, oh, boy …

Coffeehouse observation No. 43

I am sitting next to a table at the coffeehouse where a woman is speaking in a very lovely British accent. It may be the Brit’s best export. … Oh, and she’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Why I (heart) rugby” followed by a list of reasons. I’m not going to stare at her chest to read the list. I thought that best for international relations.