Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wide Open Spaces

I had the weirdest thing happen today, and I figured I could turn it into some deep message to anyone that gives a damn, so read on, if you care.

The seating at my favorite on-campus coffee spot, which  is also attached to a cafeteria, was uber full this morning. I'm guessing it was the rain- I imagine I wasn't the only person with the idea of just camping out and working until my meeting, rather than having to go in and out of the rain a bunch of times. No big deal- it happens, right? So I stood around for nigh thirty minutes waiting for a table to clear up in order to meet a former student about grad school rec letters. As soon as one cleared, I put my stuff down, then hopped over and ordered a yummy hazelnut  latte.  

I had been typing, my coffee cooling beside me, as I waited for less than five minutes when this old dude started putting his stuff on my table in vacant seat (for the student). And  I watched, flabbergasted, as his companion started doing the same thing to the young lady, also typing and with the remnants of a coffee and muffin, at the table beside mine. Neither even asked if it was okay, they just did it. 

I said I was waiting for someone to come, could they please find an empty chair, and the guy at my table said this "isn't a place for students to wait around."

Students, huh?

I corrected him and said that I'm an independent instructor, waiting for a student to show up so we could discuss recommendation letters, and he sat down and said, "This is a place for eating, not meeting," as he pulled his bread (I think pumpkin...? some sort of sweet loaf he got from the coffee shop, at least) out of its little wax baggie. 

I held up my own coffee and said, "I paid for this coffee, so I have every right to be here, and you're also obviously meeting with someone, too, so I see no difference between the two of us." 

He pointed at my laptop and said, "You paid for your coffee, but this isn't a place to work, it's a place to eat." 

"Oh really?" I asked. "So are you going to go around to every single other person on a laptop or whose food or drink is empty and tell them to leave? I'm not moving, sir, I paid for my coffee, just like you paid for yours, and this is a public space, so you can't tell me I have no right to be here." 

He grumbled something incoherent, then turned toward his companion and the two started speaking in another language to each other while glaring at me and the other woman whose table had been invaded (obviously they thought she shouldn't have been using her laptop, either). The other guy got up for something just as my student showed up, at which point  the other young lady offered her table to me. I said, very loudly, "Well, there's someone at your table, too, so that's not really going to work." I looked poignantly at the guy across from me. He glared, then moved to her seat, and when his companion returned, they continued to mutter and glare at me as I started talking to my student about her applications. After a few minutes, they seemed to get over it and I'm assuming started talking about other stuff, although I still couldn't understand  them.

Now these two old men... I don't know if they were professors or what, but  they were entirely inappropriate and rude and hypocritical- I had paid for the space I was occupying by buying that coffee that was still too hot to sip. Further, they seemed to have no concept of how public spaces work, let alone ones on or near a university campus- wherever there's a chair, bench, or some other thing you can sit on, there are going to be people camped out, working. Do they go up to complete strangers at the Starbucks off the highway and tell them to leave because they have a book or a laptop? And there's the fact that they didn't ask. And then being so overt about talking trash about me in another language? 

I mean, I seriously have trouble understanding/comprehending how anyone  would think any one  aspect of their behavior was okay, let alone all of it combined!

Of course, I could offer the entirely opposite story from when I was at an airport Burger King once and this adorable old man  in a suit asked to share my table, and I ended up seeing pictures of his grandchildren, including the newborn  he was about to visit. Same situation, different approach, different results. 

This  makes  me  think,  though.

Because while studying (or at least looking like you are) or meeting  people for official stuff (or at least looking like you are) is totally expected in open spaces on campus, even doing so, gasp, socially (!). I do think I'm kind of judgy about other stuff. Like I find it kind of more than a little inappropriate when I see people asleep on benches or soft chairs around  campus. Our  Union has a whole bunch of couches and cushioned chairs on one of its floors, and I swear, I don't think I've ever been  there without seeing at least one person napping. And that just... I dunno, it irks me and weirds me out. And I feel kind of bad about being  judgy, and I usually end up thinking something closer to, "Oh God, that poor person must be so drained and overworked!" but not  until after, "What a slob!" sits there for a few seconds. But I do know I'd never let myself fall asleep in public like that.

And  here's  another thing that irks me: When say you're at a coffee shop, and there's a table big enough for six, and one person is at it, alone, with all of their crap spread all over the table  so a person would either have to move it for them, or they'd have to do it themselves in order for the space to be shared. Now I understand  that sometimes you're alone  and the only table left is the big one, but why spread your stuff, except to passively say, "Fuck off," to anyone considering  asking to share? Again, the idea of acting that way just isn't brain-wrappable  for  me. 

Where does a body draw the line? When does  a body know  when it's okay to ask and when  it's not?

And I feel bad and a little useless for not really even knowing how to begin to answer that. Except maybe to say, "Follow your gut," and hope it's enough? I mean, I know I usually try to take up as little space as possible, and if I'm alone and it looks like someone else needs to sit, I'll sometimes call out to them and offer my spare seat. And I always, always  ask permission to sit with a stranger.

So I guess for once I don't really have much of a deep point to make. I just know that while I may  be kind of rude in my head, I'm not remotely as huge of an asshole as either of those dudes this morning. And no, that's not a very high standard to use, it's better than throwing my stuff down in front of people and trying to make  them feel like crap.

And I'll also say, albeit slightly bashfully, that I'm kind of proud of myself for not just sitting there silent or, worse, getting up. I stood my ground- by sitting on my fat, Native American  ass, to be fair- even was a little snarky, which isn't something I'd usually expect of myself. So, uh, go team?

1 comment:

  1. "And here's another thing that irks me: When say you're at a coffee shop, and there's a table big enough for six, and one person is at it, alone"

    I was going to bring this up, but then you did. God, I HATE this.

    Also, I really just can't believe it when people fall asleep in public spaces. There's never anyone around them. How can you be so sure of the human race that you wouldn't think someone is going to fuck with you or your stuff?