Why I Can’t Work at Coffee Shops

by Abby on July 12, 2013

Women use their laptop computers at a coffee shop

Photo credit: Frederic J. BrownAFP/Getty Images

As a freelance writer, I can technically work from anywhere I have a computer. I know lots of people who regularly set up shop in Starbucks to work. I am not one of them. I wish I were. This week my kids are in half-day camp at a place outside of my usual 5-mile radius. It doesn’t make sense to drive all the way back home between drop-off and pick-up. So I tried the coffee shop thing again. Here’s how that went.

I pick a small, local coffee shop. Not that I’m anti-Starbucks, but I figure my chances of sitting near an outlet are better off the beaten path.

I walk in, order my latte, ask about wi-fi, find a seat. There are no plugs in sight. Oh, well. I have at least a couple hours of battery life on my laptop.

For some reason, I can’t connect to their network. 20 min. go by. Never mind. Less temptation to waste time on Twitter. I open up the file I’m editing and get to work.

A man sits down at the table next to me. He is very jittery and sniffly. He sneezes into his hat, twice. Ew. I move my coffee cup to the other side of the table. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Cut and paste, delete, add, rewrite.

Man, they’ve really got the AC cranking in here. It’s like 90 degrees out so I’m in a T-shirt and shorts. If I were home I’d put on a sweatshirt and socks. And I definitely wouldn’t have shoes on. These chairs are pretty uncomfortable, too.

Hmm, that’s the second pregnant woman to come in here. No wait, there’s a third! That’s kind of unusual, right? Is there some kind of baby boom happening that I don’t know about? I wonder when Kate Middleton will have her baby.

Now a chatty teen and her mom sit down next to me. I learn WAY too much about the social dynamics at horseback-riding camp. OK, I’ve really got to get back to work. Focus, focus…

Now a crowd has gathered near my table, waiting in line for the barista to grind their coffee by the pound. That grinding machine is REALLY loud. Is that guy behind me reading over my shoulder? He IS! That is so rude. He’s totally, obviously, not even discreetly reading what’s on my screen. Creep.

I have to go to the bathroom but I don’t want to leave my laptop unattended. Plus you have to get a key at the counter. What a pain. I’ll just hold it.

They’re playing pretty good music, at least. Old-school REM, Elvis Costello, Edie Brickell. I once heard a college radio DJ who was probably in his teens refer to her as “Eddie Brickle.” Wha..?! She’s music royalty! She’s married to Paul Simon! They shouldn’t even let you work at a college radio station if you can’t pronounce Edie Brickell’s name.

OK, I have edited maybe half a page, I’m freezing, I have to pee, and all these sneezy, chatty, nosy people are freaking me out. I am in HELL. Why would I EVER try to work anywhere but home?! It’s even right in my job description: “work-at-HOME mom.” Oh, well, might as well swing by the grocery store before I have to pick up the kids. At least I’ll have something productive to show for this morning.

And that is why I never work at coffee shops. The End.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Shani Gilchrist July 12, 2013 at 8:55 am

YES! But I can work at Le Pain at the communal table during off-peak hours. There’s something about parking oneself and all of the tons of *stuff* that comes out of my bag into the very center of that table that signals for people to back off. Especially if I’m on the wall-side (where the outlets are). But that’s probably the only place where I’ve been successful at writing/editing/eating/caffeinating in public. 🙂


Abby July 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Off-peak, near a wall, surrounded by stuff… OK, I think I know what to do next time!


Lou Mello July 12, 2013 at 11:42 am

This is so funny, I saw your notification email as soon as I pulled up a chair in Starbucks this morning. I am doing Rotary Club visits and had a couple of hours between the breakfast meeting and the lunch meeting. Got my laptop fired up and found a plug and spent about 20 minutes before packing it all up to find the restroom. Then relocated to a table with a chair so hard I think I still have indentations on the posterior. Then the register next to me came on full blast with freezing A/C and that caused me to re-position once more. Only good thing is free wifi and a cup of coffee. Now sitting in a nice meeting room in a Convention Center with free wifi awaiting the lunch group if Rotarians to arrive.


Abby July 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Yep, sounds familiar!


Kathleen Basi July 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Haha! This is totally me, too. I don’t understand why writers are so in love with coffee shops. If I need to get away from home I do better out in nature, where there’s not so much racket and distraction. And the distraction there is, is soul food.


Abby July 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Ooh, well said. I have really been noticing the benefits of spending time in nature lately.


Angie Mizzell July 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

Edie Brickell… yes! You’ve described almost every single experience I’ve had at Barnes & Noble while Blake is in preschool, complete with the spotty wifi and the loud talkers. But you got a great blog post out of it! Which I’m sure you wrote at home. 😉


Cynths July 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

Lol. And here I was planning on doing just that. Thanks for sharing.


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