When I first found it, it was like a breeze of fresh air: the merest whisper of hipster energy, a wooden interior that evoked Brooklyn and San Francisco and Tel Aviv and all the coffeeshops I'd loved before, as venues for procuring caffeine as well as for the bustling creativity that seemed to live there. This was a place that made me want to dissolve the ties I had to brand franchises whose emblems of tea leaves and mermaids promised an exotic beverage experience, but delivered a product that was ultimately manufactured to be reliable and predictable.
But that was not the case here. Not at a place with cushions on benches, with four levels of seating - couch, table, bar and above - or where teas were served in pots and lattes took up every inch of glorious space in their wide-mouthed mugs. This place had free wifi, was a great place for meetings, and was a safe space for laptop nation. It even made me want to forgive the intentionally misspelled word in their name.
I spent Sundays there, writing; aside from the occasional rabbinical student (not surprising, given the neighborhood), I was surrounded by people very different than those I worked with in the Jewish communal world. Guys in their 50s with longish hair and goatees, gesturing and posturing as they name drop minor celebrities; a series of women with increasingly larger and darker frames on their glasses; scarves, skinny jeans and flip-flops on men, women and children of all ages; the actor who plays Haley's boyfriend on "Modern Family"; women in leotards and men in cutoff sweatpants straight from the dance studio in the back, ordering tea as the sweat shows through their spandex; and the writers, like me who sat there, tapping away at keyboards, perhaps creatively inspired by those conversations and perhaps straight-up transcribing them.
These conversations were about nothing and everything, mostly things I don't get to talk about at work, things like "spec scripts," "web series," "new music dropping" and "independent film treatments." I could tune into these conversations, like the real-life radio station Pandora and Spotify never dreamed of, or I could pop in my earbuds and focus on my own words that seemed to flow so much easier in this environment than in any other one I'd found so far in Los Angeles.
I didn't remember signing up for their email newsletter, but why wouldn't I want to know what was going on at my favorite neighborhood haunt? Throughout, I bought coffee and tea, renting my space among the others of my tribe. It was wonderful.
Then, I left. For three weeks. Not as any political statement (#freelaptopnation! #occupyhipstercoffeeshops!) but because it was Passover. I try not to blame myself; due to dietary restrictions, I wouldn't have been there anyway. But absence didn't serve this particular relationship well. While I was away, my beloved had a change of heart.
It was 9 am on a Sunday and I was an hour early for my meeting - I had hoped to caffeinate and create until my date arrived. But I came back to a sign: "Welcome to Laptop-Free Weekends." A rejection of me, my lifestyle and livelihood, masquerading as a welcome mat for everyone else. I turned on my heel and left, rescheduling my appointment with Microsoft Word as well as with my date. I couldn't believe it. Betrayed.
Soon after, the newsletters started coming more frequently, sharing news of expansion - the cafe was changing into a full-on restaurant, and - although the email didn't state it directly, I knew that part of that was the crackdown on those of us who were perceived as squatting freeloaders. I had never felt more like a character from "Rent." (Which is only appropriate, because so many cafe patrons look like they were understudying roles from "Rent," and we could all learn the Mimi "Take Me Ouoooot Tonight" choreography in the dance studio in the back.)
The newsletters kept coming, in greater frequency: it felt like they were laughing at me. Finally, I unsubscribed, and the unsubscribe page had allotted space for customers to explain their departure from this news cycle. So I told them why. Because the cafe had been a home for me, helping me to tap into my creativity, and now it was closed to me. Because I felt marginalized. Because it seemed to indicate an assumption about me and the rest of laptop nation, that we don't feel obligated to pay for the space we take up in their establishment. Because it felt like they were maligning us as a population that doesn't contribute to their reputation or income, despite the fact that we have meetings there, lunches there, buy cups of coffee to fuel our creative spirits and provide little breaks from staring at the screen. As if we hadn't aided them in their success at all. If not for laptop nation, would they have any Yelp rating at all?
The frequency of the missives, shouting about how well they were doing - adding a dinner menu, a comedy night, a concert - all at the expense of having kicked laptop nation to the curb, getting that in my inbox on the regular was like constantly answering the phone when an ex calls to crow about how much fun he's having without you.
And so I left. I can't say for certain that I'll never take a coffee meeting there again, but I am on the lookout, for something that provides me with what this other place took away. Because sometimes, a lady and her laptop just need a latte. And as for my ex-cafe? I have no acts of revenge planned. I even left their name out of this post. But I can't speak for the rest of laptop nation. They might not be so forgiving. I guess time, Yelp, and the rest of the social web will be the judge of that.