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The Column

A Tall Order
4/18/04

I don't dislike Starbucks – they're actually pretty smart. I just think that people who drink there are silly. Ordering a Vente Colombia Narino Supremo? I am not a coffee guy so maybe I just don't understand, but I don't think the caffeine could possibly be worth that much dignity.

I have, however, been going into Starbucks lately. If I buy anything, it is a black and white cookie rather than a $4 small coffee.

There were three things wrong with that last sentence: Starbucks' small is called "tall," they don't sell just "coffee," and if they did have a small coffee it would cost more than $4. But there internet is free.

Starbucks' internet costs money. But Starbucks locations in major cities are usually close enough to other stores with free internet that you can pick up while in Starbucks. So you can sit in their store all day while they think you're paying for their service, order nothing, and use any computer with a wireless connection to check your e-mail and write columns about why you don't order anything from Starbucks.

I was recently sitting quietly in a corner of the Starbucks in Union Square, an area of Manhattan consisting mainly of NYU students and people who protest wars in countries they can't locate on a map. I was there killing time between dinner and a show, and it was Passover, so I couldn't even order a black and white cookie.

I sat behind a pole so my phone calls wouldn't disturb anyone. I may enjoy stealing internet, but I am not rude. After a half hour, I was approached by a woman. Rather, my table was approached – she pretty much ignored me.

She put her stuff down on my small table. A table so small it wouldn't have comfortably fit two people who showed up together, let alone the rudest woman in the world and a humor columnist. After a solid 30 seconds of her spreading her stuff out and taking off her jacket, she noticed the quizzical look on my face, and said, "Is someone sitting here?"

I really wanted to say, "Yes. Someone horribly rude who didn't ask me if it was alright to sit at my table." Or, "no, and I prefer to keep it that way." Instead, I said, "…" Though it may have sounded more guttural.

I warned her I'd be on my phone a lot, hoping it would cause her to move. And she did. But as I started to smile, she looked at my frappachiamoccha-less table and said, "you can't sit here! You're not even a customer!"

I can understand that it was a busy day, and she probably had a large number of wars to protest. But the vast majority of people who sit in Starbucks are not customers. That's why the store can sell coffee for so much – because the people who buy it are convinced that the store is twice as popular as it really is. (If you don't believe me, check out how many people are sitting down and how few people are on line).

I told her that Starbucks also sells internet, and I was surfing the web on my computer. I was careful not to say I was paying them for it – I may enjoy stealing internet, but I am not a liar. She then asked a few questions about my use of the computer. Some were normal, like "how much does it cost?" and some were ridiculous like, "Do they keep the computers behind the counter?" She finally walked away, but not before forcefully slamming her oversized purse into the head of the girl at the next table.

"Oh," she said, as she glanced at the girl and turned her back. She then proceeded up and down the aisle, getting ushered away from each table she put her stuff on before asking if it was okay. One guy, after watching this debacle, threw his arms over the rest of his table and said, "Noooo!"

Maybe she thought we'd all leave if the music got worse, because the woman then approached the counter and asked if she could see their CDs so she could pick something else. And the oddest part happened next. She left the store, only to come back with a folding table. I don't know where she got it from or if she thought she'd be able to use it, but she put it next to me, still folded, and said, "watch this for me" and left the store again.

When she got back, she grabbed her table without saying a word, and tried to put her stuff down on the table of the new people next to me. They refused, and I suggested she just set up her own table in the back.

"Perhaps," I said, "they keep some extra chairs behind the counter."

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