Finally, the Perfect Workspace

October 31st, 2008

It’s hard to be a stay-at-home writer.   I mean, it’s great . . . but it’s hard.   You just don’t have that home/office distinction most people have, which means it’s easy to get to a place where you’re still in your pajamas at ten in the morning and dealing with plumbers and home repair guys, then throwing on sweats to run lunch to your kid who left his backpack at home, and then, once you’re out, realizing you need to stop by the supermarket (and the bank, and the drugstore, and the cleaners) on your way home.  By the time you finally walk in the door, there are phone messages to return, a lunch to make for yourself, e-mails that need to be dealt with–oh, and now the refrigerator isn’t working and you have to deal with that.

Times like these, you envy your spouse who gets to leave all the house and kid stuff behind when he heads to the office.  Not that you’d (I’d) trade places in a second–offices bring their own share of craziness and you definitely don’t get to wear your pajamas for hours when you have to go into a meeting with your boss–but when you work at home you just can’t leave anything behind you.

Ah, but that’s where Starbucks comes in.  Or Coffee Bean or Peets or Panera or any mellow coffee shop/luncheonette type place where the noise level is a steady hum and no one minds if you plug your laptop into the closest available outlet and stay for a couple of hours without buying more than a cup of coffee.

I’m always in search of the perfect office away from home.  Mostly, I go to a Starbucks that’s not too far from me, where most of the tables line the walls (outlets, outlets!–my laptop’s battery sucks) and everyone else is peering at a computer screen, so I don’t feel like a nerd or some kind of parasite for pulling mine out.  For the price of a coffee ($1.85, I think, but it rounds up to $2 with tip.  Lately I’ve been trying to save cups, so I bring my own, which saves me ten cents but that goes into the tip jar too unless I’m paying with a Starbucks gift card . . . I’m boring you, aren’t I?), I get a pleasant work environment–if I’m lucky, they’re playing Elvis Costello or something equally groovy on the sound system–hot coffee, an outlet and a table and chair.

Of course, that’s only when all the gods are smiling down at me.  Some days, there’ll be a meeting of the Loud People Who Talk on Cell Phones (Santa Monica Division) at the table next to mine and I just won’t be able to focus.  And sometimes it feels like every writer in southern California decided to work at the same Starbucks that day, and there won’t be a free chair–let alone a table–in the whole place.

That happened to me yesterday.  I went to my favorite Starbucks, walked in already slinging my messenger bag off my shoulder–and realized every seat was occupied.  I slunk around for a while, hoping SOMEONE would finish up his coffee and leave but almost everyone seemed there for the long haul.  (Stoopid people on their laptops–what do they think this is, their office? )

I ended up at the Coffee Bean two doors down which was woefully short on outlets and then spent way too much time trying to figure out their free WiFi.   By the time I was really getting down to work, my laptop battery started to run out.  I gave up and left, wishing I’d never left home.  It didn’t help that when I made it to my car, its battery was also dead. 

It was a gloomy, unproductive morning and made me wonder if I should be rethinking this whole working out of the house thing.  If I’d just stayed home, I’d have had space and outlets galore.  Sure, the dogs and cat would have bugged me and I’d have overeaten (bad habit of letting boredom drive me to the fridge) and the phone would have rung and I’d have felt the need to start a load of laundry . . . but I couldn’t have gotten much less work done than on my misbegotten morning.

The annoying morning turned into an annoying afternoon when the battery died a second time (AAA jumped it for me that morning and I swear I let it run a good, long time–but it died again just when I had to go to my daughter’s basketball game).  I borrowed my son’s car (things have come to a sorry pass when mothers have to beg their kids for the loan of their cars), made the game–they won–and wheedled Rob into helping me get the car to the service station the next morning.  He had to take off for work so we said goodbye and the Honda guy gestured toward the Customer Lounge and told me to wait there until he came to get me.

I walked through a double set of doors and found . . . paradise.  Coffee, of course–but not bad coffee, good coffee, made with Starbucks beans in a Starbucks machine, one fresh cup at a time.  Donuts and bagels too (tempting, but . . . no).  OUTLETS!  Lots of outlets.  Several tables and chairs, but–even better–a couple of private little cubicles against the wall, just right for setting up your laptap (and plugging it in).  Best of all–free Wifi. 

I had to pinch myself.  I had come to Honda Service with no expectations of anything other than a long wait in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by strangers.  And now, this.  I made a cup of coffee, snagged a cubicle, plugged my laptop in, connected to the Internet–and got so wrapped up in work and e-mails that when the service guy came and told me my car was ready, I stared at him in disbelief.  Disbelief tinged with disappointment.  I didn’t want to leave.  I wanted to keep working there.  Didn’t he understand I was actually getting stuff done?

On the other hand, my car was ready.  I got it and left.

I’d go back to work there in a second, except there was a sign saying “For customers only.”  It might only have applied to the donuts–but I kind of got the feeling it was for the whole wonderful thing.  After all, if all those writers crowding Starbucks knew they could come there for free coffee and wifi, there’d be a huge stampede and no room left for Honda customers.  On the other hand–if one small woman were to sneak in now and then, would anyone notice or care?  Especially if she kept her hands off the donuts?

I’m tempted.  I’m very very tempted.