Don't tell my boss, but… I spend a big portion of each workweek in coffee shops. In fact, I sneak out of the A.V. Club gulag as often as possible, laptop in armpit, so that I may settle my ass into a cozy chair in some random Denver café and type the day away, free of sterile air conditioning and salespeople making cold calls, Boiler Room-style, the next cubicle over. (Thanks for keeping my paycheck from bouncing, love you guys!)
Besides the simple yet sublime joy of not sitting in a cubicle, the greatest thing about working from a coffee shop is the change of pace: There's a constant flow of fresh audio and visual stimulus streaming in front of me, and that unwashed human tide helps break up the hermetic monotony of white-collar life. (Although in my case, "white-collar" means cutoff shorts, a grubby Battalion Of Saints shirt, and the same pair of low-top Chucks I've been wearing every day for the past 18 months.)
It's a hard-knock life, you know?
Seriously, though, that parade of coffee-shop stimulus–the one that helps keep my creative juices spurting like a squirt-gun inside my skull all day (surely the horse-doses of caffeine have nothing at all to do with it)–can also be torture. See, I have this funny hang-up: Unless I'm out pounding the pavement, I hate wearing my earbuds in public. Call me old-fashioned, but I still feel rude shutting myself off from my fellow humans while sitting twelve inches away from them in a semi-social setting like a coffee shop. And like I said, overhearing all the conversation and laughter and clumsy pickup lines and slurped cappuccino is a great way to grease the ol' brainpan.
So when, you may ask, does working from a coffee shop–a luxury most people would kill to have–go horribly wrong?
When the baristas play shitty music.
Yeah, I know: One man's J.S. Bach is another man's Sebastian Bach. Still, is there anyone frequenting coffee shops who really deserves to be subjected to the Rage-date-rapes-Björk abomination that is Whale's "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe"? Or–as one café employee gleefully played twice in a row recently–John Denver's Greatest Hits? How about two straight hours of what's obviously the barista's own bedroom hip-hop project? As just one of the thousands of office drones who have begun using coffee shops as their cubicle-away-from-cubicle, I feel I should have some say in the sonic wallpaper.
Of course it ain't all bad: Just this morning, I was typing away at a coffee shop when Weird Al's "The Brady Bunch" came on–yup, the masterful, Pulitzer-worthy parody of "Safety Dance," a song I hadn't heard since I was a kid. Of course, as I looked around at my fellow cup-sippers and laptoppers, I could tell from the gnashed teeth and steaming ears that the barista and I were the only two people in the room really enjoying it. Likewise, I was thrilled a couple months ago when a friend of mine, a veteran of Denver's java institution St. Mark's, joyfully told me she was going to play soundtracks from musicals all day: The Sound Of Music, West Side Story, and so on. (My suggestion: Camelot.) I wasn't present for her little experiment, but I can only assume the tonsil-rupturing croon of Robert Goulet felt about as good as waterboarding to a room full of upwardly mobile puds and high-school kids trying to look cool. Their loss, am I right?
Last week I was talking about Denver coffee shops with a friend, and the conversation veered toward one of our city's greatest offenders: an otherwise wonderful little hole with great coffee, great sandwiches, a friendly vibe, and plenty of power outlets for us chair-hoarding parasites with laptops. The drawback? For some utterly unfathomable fucking reason, the baristas are always playing lousy '90s jock-rock. The Offspring, 311, Creed… the mind reels, the stomach turns, the bowels loosen just thinking about it. (And me, being the earbud-eschewing weirdo I am, put up with it.) "You'd think," said my friend, "that it'd kill them to play some Nick Drake or Tom Waits in that place."
I was about to agree with him wholeheartedly, then I suddenly remembered: When I was younger, I used to actually bitch about coffee shops that played Drake and Waits (and Morrissey and Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley) all the goddamn time. Those artists–as much as I love them in any other context–struck me as the epitome of clichéd, pretentious, standard-issue café music. Frankly, they annoyed the fuck out of me, an abhorrence that probably stemmed from of the same instinct that makes me want to smack Bukowski books out of the hands of clove-smoking dipshits in coffee shops. (Seriously: If you're not reading Bukowski either at home by yourself or sitting at a dive bar in a deep puddle of cheap whiskey, you're just asking for it.)
But that was then. Now, with some goateed counter-ape drilling holes into what's left of my IQ with the blunt implement known as Bush's "Comedown," I'd trade my left nut and the last shot of espresso on earth for Heartattack And Vine.