As someone who is only tangentially in the real world, a journalist, I am unshackled to a cubicle and granted the freedom to work from multiple locations that change on a daily basis. They are governed by the job: sporting events, places for in-person interviews, etc. And they are governed by choice: my home, libraries, coffee shops, and the side of a dark, country road inhabited by people who wear straw hats when I get lost trying to find locations governed by the job.
I especially like coffee shops. I love the music by artists I never hear anywhere else nor remember to download in my free time. I love the random conversations you strike up based on a book someone is reading (hello,The Picture of Dorian Gray in (500) Days of Summer?) or a shirt they are wearing. A few weeks ago, I was wearing my Royals shirt, and someone called me out on it. He was Mitch Maier’s brother-in-law!*
*For normal people unaware of Mitch Maier’s relevance, let alone existence, here is why a sentence involving his name deserves to be punctuated with an exclamation point…
Coffee shop etiquette ideally calls for one unwritten rule. You buy something and you can stay in there as long as you want, soaking up the excellent free WiFi. Some coffee shops print their WiFi password on their receipts to ensure you buy something. That is fine with me. The concept is clear. You have to buy something and you get something in return.
Starbucks, though, is the lone exception. I have a strange affinity for Starbucks. I like going there, they have great customer service, and their drinks freaking rule, especially peppermint mochas and pumpkin spiced lattes*. But Starbucks is not the cuddly coffee shop run by the college graduates who were sick of their normal jobs and stays in business because of love and people’s unconscious need to hear this wonderful song by The Knife. It is an international corporation with a location across the street from the Louvre (I’ve been there!) and probably inside the Taj Mahal.
*To which I respond with this
How powerful is Starbucks? It just made a $73,000 and killed an orangutan while you read that last sentence. They say if you don’t like the neighborhood in which you live, wait thirty minutes, and a Starbucks will request eminent domain and obliterate four houses just so it can fit a really large machine that can spout Americano coffees at record speed into a new store that will inevitably open, and then you can really hate your neighborhood.
So with Starbucks there are no rules. Until last summer, it didn’t even offer free WiFi. Homegrown coffee shops could spring for it, but not a chain whose CEO drinks his lattes from a cup made of molten gold. So July of 2010 was a time to celebrate. We got free WiFi from Starbucks. But really, we got free WiFi from Starbucks with fine print.
As someone who has spent eight-plus hours straight in a coffee shop, I find this decision unfair and ridiculous. It’s not like WiFi must be conserved. It’s not water. There won’t be wars over WiFi in the year 2050. And if a Starbucks kicks someone out to make room, it will just be making room for another person who plans to camp out for several hours.
Bloggers, writers, startup employees, and lawyers and business types who just feel like wearing a Hawaiian shirt and having a “Me-Day,” we must stand up for ourselves. I have a solution, one I’ve been practicing for a while.
DON’T BUY ANYTHING AT STARBUCKS.
Go in there, sit down, plug in your computer and absorb the free WiFI. Because Starbucks stores are roughly the size of frigates, you can probably blend in. Just be sure you don’t make any eye contact with an employee. If one of them looks in your direction, quickly place two black eye-patches over your eyes. Hell, bring along a mug with you and just don’t get it filled. Then it will look like you are not incredibly cheap, like you are drinking their coffee and keeping one less paper cup out of the landfills.
It’s simple, folks. I even did one better last weekend. Covering a sporting event in Austin, I had to stop at a random location to write and file my story. I chose a sandwich restaurant right next to a Starbucks. Through the walls, the free Starbucks WiFi filtered toward my computer, and I used it without even having to set foot in the coffee shop.