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Archive for the ‘Crazy People’ Category

Advice to People Who Own Cafes: Do Not Be Creepy

In Crazy People, Food, Social Conventions on February 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Earlier today I had a bad cafe experience. Bad to the point that I will almost certainly never walk into the given establishment again. I had an appointment in SE Portland this afternoon and was biking down SE 52nd, an area that I am unfamiliar with. I noticed that I had some time to kill, and thought that I would spend perhaps half an hour in a coffee shop, doing coffee shop things. Namely, sipping coffee and reading news. That was all I wanted. A nice place with coffee and wi-fi. This, I thought, was a simple and straightforward thing to ask for. I walked into the first place I saw, an establishment that shall remain unnamed but did advertise as a cafe on its exterior signage.

A man who was certainly past middle age but definitely not elderly greeted me. “Hello!” he said. I looked around for something like a point of sale, bar, counter, or other place where orders could be transacted. There was none. Various refrigerated display cases abounded, but most things weren’t labeled.

“Hungry?” said the man. I wasn’t really.

“Can I get a cup of coffee?”

“Sure! You want something else? We got lots of food.”


“We got meatloaf!”

At this point I really should have held my ground and just stuck with the coffee. However, perhaps because it was sort of close to lunch, my resolution broke and I asked if they had any sandwiches. “Sure,” said the guy, “I can make you a sandwich.” He went on to extol the virtues of their offerings, declaring it to be the “best food in Portland.” I know he did not mean it literally. He merely meant to say “our food is good.” However, I found the remark to be rather naive and kind of arrogant.

The man eventually gave me a ham sandwich the size of my head. I stared at it, and wondered how the hell I’d been so irresolute to order something I didn’t actually want. I began to eat the sandwich. I cursed my lack of steadfastness, and resigned myself to lunch consumption. (To be fair, it was a very good sandwich, though by no means among the best in Portland.)

Then, things got weird. The sandwich guy, instead of walking away and letting me eat the sandwich, sip coffee, and read news in peace, sat down at my table.

“So,” said the man, “what’s your name?”

I was kind of stunned. Suddenly, I was eating a lunch I didn’t really want and had a completely unsolicited dining partner. Over the course of my sandwich-consumption, the man asked me what my job was, what part of town I lived in, what it was like being a bicyclist, and sundry follow-up questions. He also asked me if I wanted to play chess. At the end of it he said “You come back now!” and I left. It was like he’d tried to adopt me as his new BFF, just because I’d walked into his place

I know that he was trying to be friendly. However, it was still very disconcerting. I don’t think that things like my name and profession are particularly private, (this website, after all, has my name on it) but the man earlier today violated a few unspoken rules about what happens in a place like a cafe, bar, or restaurant. To wit:

Don’t aggressively upsell customers. Upselling (“would you like fries with that?”) is fine.  Aggressively upselling, though, is alienating. While it did work in this instance (I bought a sandwich) can harm you overall with repeat business. For instance, I don’t want to go back- I didn’t like being strongarmed into sandwich-acquisition.

Respect the personal bubble. Given that I work as a tour guide, I’m pretty much extroverted and friendly on a professional basis. I enjoy it, but it means that I get socially drained on a fairly frequently, and often need to recharge with a bit of solitude and noninteraction. I was on my way to an activity that was going to be somewhat socially taxing, so I wanted to take some time to collect myself before having to activate the social subroutines. Coffee shops are usually a great place to do this- you can chill out in a nifty space while sipping a tasty beverage. The man in question, though, did not respect my social cues- I was hunched over my phone, reading news, and not interacting with my environment. Most people can detect when a person is in their own headspace, and respect it. This guy didn’t, and it felt highly weird and kind of inappropriately squicky.

Personal questions, out of the proper context, are weird. This is the big one. In the context of ordering food and drink small-talk, banter, and the like is all fine. While tour-guiding, I banter incessantly with people (“Where are you from” works as fantastic conversation fuel, as the vast majority of people I see are tourists) and if a barista, bartender or other service person is completely silent, then that comes across as cold. However, buying something does not mean that a given service person should suddenly quiz you about who you are, your occupation, your proclivities, or what your deal is. (This goes both ways, too. Never hit on your barista. It’s weird.)

If a customer is a regular, that’s probably another matter. I don’t mind having actual conversations with my local bartender because I actually know who he is, see him all the time, and have an established thing going. Chatting with regulars is a pretty organic and nice thing to do, because in that instance the relationship is something that has a fair amount of bedrock and social interaction is actually earned. What happened to me this afternoon, though, was just kind of creepy and space-violating.

So, yeah. Service people: don’t interrogate your customers. I’m not your new special friend. Sometimes, all I want is coffee. Go away and let me read the news.

This is Ironic, Right?

In Crazy People on June 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm
Please let this be ironic. That is the only palatable reason I can think of for this thing being on N Mississippi.

A Found Card

In Crazy People on June 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm
A neat, orderly little stack of these cards were inside the lobby of my company’s building earlier today. I’m just going to choose to believe that it’s all part of a work of satire, or a clever hoax, or a whimsical piece of performance art. All of those options seem far more appealing than a true believer earnestly searching for something that’s not there.

Awesome Thing: Tea

In Awesome Things, Crazy People, Food, Politics on July 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

Tea is beautiful. It is, without a doubt, my single favorite beverage. Other than water, it is the only thing that I drink every single day. It is more flavorful and stimulating than any sort of juice, not as blunt or intense as coffee, and far more peaceable than anything alcoholic. As much as I love coffee and beer, Portlander that I am, tea is foremost in my affections. The first thing I do in the kitchen is put on the kettle and I inevitably begin my day with at least one cup of the stuff. If I don’t have to go to work I’ll generally down a few cups throughout the day.

It’s the ideal beverage for writing or reading. At the keyboard, I’m usually typing between sips, and while reading a book on my porch I often have a mug close by. I associate tea with literary endeavors, with the inspired creation of words or the calm, solitary appreciation of them.

The words “tea party” have now become utterly synonymous with bombast and nonsense. I find this not only disconcerting, as a tea lover, but also deeply weird. Tea, the most peaceful of beverages, the most contemplative and calm, the kindest and most thoughtful of stimulants, is now a signifier of yowling, yelling yahoos.

Tea does not deserve this. More to the point, tea does not fit this. The contemplative nature of the beverage clashes horribly with right-wing ideologues, with upraised fists and brandished signs. Tea is a learned beverage, the least barbaric and most civilized of all drinkables.

I believe it’s reputation will persevere. Tea, after all, has been with us for millennia, and the maniacs now screaming in its name have existed for less than thousandth of the age of the beverage. Tea will, once again, be known as something calm, rational, civilized, and logical. Until then, my favorite drinkable will take its lumps, not of sugar, but of irrational defamation.

Ten Hours

In Crazy People, Travel on March 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

“If you have any guns they have to go in the trunk.”

“I… I don’t have any guns.”

“That’s fine if you do, they just will have to go in the trunk. I’m a firm believer in gun control! Keep both hands on the gun when you’re firin’ it! Ha!”

And thus began my ten-plus hours in a car with what can only be described as an ultra right-wing hippie. I’d gone to Craigslist to get a rideshare to San Francisco. I had several possible leads, but the only one that left when I wanted to (and wasn’t going in a completely decrepit car) was one that I felt sort of sketchy about. The guy’s reply had contained spelling errors, on the phone he’d seemed sort of out of it, and he said that he could take me to a BART station, but not into SF proper.

I had a bad feeling about this rideshare. A bad feeling that turned out to be entirely justified.

The guy’s bead obscured most of his face and chest, and his hair was in a white tangle on top of his head. I tried to keep the conversation focused on niceties like travel and music, but every so often things like this came up:

“I’m more Republican than most Republicans.”

“I say, you get six months on welfare. Six months! If you don’t have your shit together after that, you should put a bullet in your head!|

“This fuckin’ health care bill is government-run extortion! Just a big present for the insurance companies! Before we had insurance, everyone could affor health care!”

“That government bailout was bullshit. Fuck ’em.”

“There are people living off welfare. Did you know that? They’re reachin’ into my pocket to live. Fuck ’em.”

“I’m in favor of local currencies.” Me: “What do you think about the gold standard?” “I’m all for that shit!”

“I used to be in a gang. I hurt a lot of people.”

“If you can’t take care of your own shit, then fuck you!”

“This world would be great if there weren’t so many fuckin’ idiots in it!”

“We haven’t been a real democracy for over fifty years.”

(I would like to emphasize that I try to use exclamation points sparingly. However, given this man’s volume, passion, etc. necessitates liberal use of them.)

Ten hours of this. Ten hours. I managed to sleep for a while, and we did have some pleasant conversations, but for the most part this guy seemed to be driven entirely by anger. When he was talking about things he enjoyed, like music, hiking, or drug experiences, he lit up, and went on about how wonderful it was. However, it only took a slow car, the presence of the highway patrol, or any other aggravation to get him going on about “fuckin’ idiots” once again.

It was not his conservatism that bothered me. (Conservatism weirdly blended with hippie philosophy, I might add.) I can deal with people less liberal than myself. What bothered me was that his most animating feeling was rage, the thing that fueled his conversation about politics, society, life, etc., was disdain for others, frustration at something that he saw as wholly malevolent, a lack of joy when it came to percieving others.

I sympathize with political anger. I really do. All too often, though, we forget that the vast majority of the things that we do, we do right. We are not living in an unfixable, unchangable world, nor are we in the First World under the heel of something implacable. Rage has it’s place, but if it defines us, we lose. We get sour and feel impotent, and rather than a wonderfully complex world pointing in all directions, we see slings and arrows coming directly for us.

I got out, after ten hours, and made my way quickly into the BART station. I cracked open the Neal Stephenson book I’m reading, and sunk into the intellectual joy of the fiction. I rode the train for the better part of an hour, and relaxed.