I’m very fond of coffee. In particular I am very fond of strong coffee from a well-known chain of coffee shops that sprinkle a chocolate bean logo on the foam. When we go into town with my stepchildren, I consider it to be my reward to pick up a large cappuccino, either to drink in or to take home.
The particular branch we go to has a very kind and active manager who does his best to keep the traffic flowing through a narrow doorway in a busy town centre. When I was pregnant, he used to pull me out of the queue, sit me down at a table and bring my coffee to me. It was very kind and very much appreciated.
Now that I have a pram, he still pulls me out of the queue and helps me find a table. In such an overwhelming environment, this is can be a lifeline, because the most anxious thought in my head when I’m heading towards a café or coffee shop, and standing in the queue, is, “Where the hell am I going to sit?” This has become more pressing now with the pram because it will only fit in certain places without blocking a whole walkway, and quite often other groups of people send a scout ahead of the main party to find and reserve the best tables. I suspect that the careful squirreling away of prams is more the manager’s motivation than my anxiety, but nonetheless it is still really helpful.
Today, however, it all went wrong. I had gone ahead with two clear jobs – to pre-order the coffees and find a table, whilst my partner and children went to buy some shoes. The moment I stepped inside the door, the manager rushed up and queue-jumped me, in front of about a dozen people who had been patiently waiting their turn. Awkward. Then, because I had requested a table for four, even though I was by myself at that point, he ASKED ANOTHER COUPLE TO MOVE TABLES. He actually asked them to move, so that I, together with my giant pram, could have two tables pushed together and be waited on.
As someone who likes to blend permanently into the background, being made to feel so conspicuous and inconvenient meant I was totally mortified. I was ready to mouth, “I’m so sorry!” to the poor couple, but they steadfastly avoided eye-contact with me, as they picked up their coats and bags, and drinks and food, and cutlery and napkins, and moved tables. Just for me. Me and my giant pram. So I just sank apologetically into one of the three chairs at the tables (three, because I had not communicated that the four people didn’t include the baby).
The manager had gone off at this point, carrying the extra chair, and without explaining how I should go about ordering the coffees. I can cope with chaotic environments like that, provided there is a single, well-marked line in which to queue, and a clear protocol to follow to get in and get out. I queue up, I ask for my coffee, if I can’t see a table, I ask for it ‘to go’. If a place has ambiguous or non-linear queuing, I simply leave and don’t go back. This deviation from any kind of known system left my brain completely frozen, it wasn’t a table-service type of establishment and I wasn’t in the queue.
The baby was over-heating, so I took her out of the pram and out of her coat. She needed changing. Should I leave the pram at the table to show it was being used, and get into the queue holding the baby and all my stuff? Should I carry on sitting at a table for four by myself with no drinks, and wait for my partner to arrive, even though he hates queueing in coffee shops, and was expecting to arrive with coffee ready waiting? Should I go and change my daughter’s nappy? She was hot and bored and fighting me to pull the pram over. Should I ring my partner and say it’s all gone horribly wrong and I need his help? Oh wait, he’d not got his phone with him. How was I going to order the coffees from sat at a table? If I’d stayed in the queue I would have been served by now. I had two jobs – coffee and sufficient seats – and I’d failed at both. My brain started to shut down.
The man at the next table picked this moment to start talking to me (the man on the other side, not the poor couple who were forced to move). He was rambling on about how he’d bought his friend, who was a monk, a box of After Eights and told him to eat them or throw them away, because it was his money and they weren’t for sharing. I tried to force a smile, between anxiously scanning the room and picking up toys and socks, but I must have looked very unfriendly. Another man came out of the toilet and touched my baby’s hand to say hello. Had he washed his hands? Why did people keep talking to me? Where were the others? I was trying so hard not to cry. Three attempts at waving down a member of staff and saying, “Excuse me…” in a quiet mouse voice, got me nowhere.
When my partner finally arrived, I thought I’d been rescued and signalled to him that I was about to have meltdown, but he just said crossly, “Well you wanted to come here, where am I supposed to sit and where’s the coffee?”
Time to find a new coffee shop then I suppose… this one’s too friendly.
© Catastraspie, 2015.