Several days a week, I drop the kids at school, and head downtown to one of my secret haunts. No, it’s not a bingo hall or a betting room, and I haven’t drained our meager savings into a slot machine. It’s not a watering hole, and I don’t sit at a bar with a Jack-n-Coke and a pack of smokes. It’s not a local flea market, and I don’t have a penchant for collecting wagon-wheel lamps.
Truth be told, I go to coffee shops.
I’m a big fan of coffee, but I’m not there for the brew. Simply put, it’s the only place I seem to get any work done.
I became a freelance writer in 2010, while our Navy family was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. After 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom to our three kids, I was looking for work that was more stimulating than clearing the lint trap in the dryer. Freelance writing seemed the perfect solution, and I quickly committed to churning out weekly columns for a stateside newspaper.
Each morning, I’d walk the kids to school, then sit at our home computer for a few hours of writing. Sometimes, I’d tap away all day and forget to eat lunch, and if you could only see my paunch, you’d know how rarely this happens. But most days, I found it hard to focus.
Multitasking seemed mandatory, so I’d put a load of laundry in before sitting down to write. And while I was at it, I’d fill the dishwasher, defrost a roast, and vacuum, because I wouldn’t want those tasks nagging at me when I’m trying to concentrate. Inevitably, the dryer would buzz, and folding would occur in front of the television. I’d tell myself it’s time to get serious, but the closer my deadline loomed, the greater the chance that I’d spend the afternoon cleaning out the junk drawer.
I knew I needed an outside office, where I couldn’t convince myself that dusting the ceiling fan was more important than writing my column.
At our next duty station in Florida, I tried Starbucks in downtown San Marco. Other than the bone-chilling air conditioners and questionable bathrooms, I loved my new workspace. By the end of our two-year tour, I was spending entire days in my coffee shop office, taking a break mid-day to power-walk along the water or eat my packed lunch on a sunny park bench.
The only distraction was people watching, which ironically provided endless fodder for my writing. The Starbucks employees, riddled with piercings and tattoos, made me think deep thoughts about youth, and what I would do to my daughter if she ever came home with a bolt through her tongue. And the eclectic patrons, whose willingness to stand in long lines for overpriced coffee never ceased to fascinate me. There were caddy stroller moms, gruff construction workers, corporate types talking to hidden devices in their ears, and loners like me.
After PCSing to Rhode Island, I scoped out the Starbucks on Thames Street in Newport. Considering that there is a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru every half mile in New England, I knew the Starbucks would have an more eccentric crowd. Preppy yachtsmen whose boats are docked at the nearby wharf, throngs of cruise ship tourists wearing fanny packs, busy working stiffs ordering lattes to go, couples who argue in hushed tones, and others like me who eavesdrop.
In this little microcosm of society, I’ve formed relationships. There’s Kip the friendly retiree, who tries to convince me to do transcendental meditation. There’s Lori the working mom, who stops to chat before running to the office. There’s Tom the construction worker, who thinks I know more about football than I really do.
We are a family of sorts, and without knowing it, they support me in my endeavor to write, and I appreciate them for inspiring me with wacky ideas. For moms who work from home, procrastination can be a constant battle. I’ve found that coffee shops keep me on track. After all, a day at the office should always involve a good cup of coffee.