a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

The fine art of chair jockeying

Coffeehouse chairI wrote a lot of Entertaining Welsey Shaw in coffee shops. Well, in one coffee shop mostly. It’s very large, as coffee shops go. It’s their flagship store.

Despite that, there are only two “good” seats in the place. The good seats are the big cushy chairs, which replaced even more cushy chairs that unfortunately got too “cushed” about a year ago. People were falling into them and not coming back.

So many people want these chairs, since the rest of the seating surfaces are those stiff hard-backed chairs surrounding small round tables and a long bench seat that extends across one wall. And some of us have become very good at nabbing them.

I have a scene like this in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. The Starbucks* is crowded and they have to time their pounce so that they nab a table just as someone else vacates, before anyone else can swoop down. Problem is, that’s always, always when someone who’s pushing a double-wide stroller gets in the way.

However, in real life I have gotten quite good at the chair pounce, so much so that some staff wonder how I “alway get my seat.” Upon entering, if there are other people in the two Desirable Chairs, as there are about 90 percent of the time, I study them—the people, that is: Do they look like they’re there for the long haul? Do they have baggage, computers, papers, tablets? (Some people set up like this is their branch office, charging two or three phones, a tablet or two and a laptop, taking up several tables to do so.)

But even more telling is the body language. If the person is pressed into the seat, and it’s obvious he or she hasn’t drunk any coffee for hours, they’re probably going to stay there till closing.

There’s an Amtrak station nearby, and some people come into the coffee shop to wait for their train to arrive. I look for luggage on rollers, and if they have any, when a train comes into the station I watch that person like a hawk.

If they’re asleep in the chair I get close to them and try to make a loud noise to wake them up. A cough will do, or I’ll drop a bag of coffee on the floor. “Oooopsie!

I’ll settle into a less-desirable seat, but when I see movement out of the corner of my eye, I look up. If they’re reaching into their bag, is it to put their computer away or take out the power cord, which means they’ll be there for a while?  If they appear to be leaving I look around to see if others are converging on the same seat. Often something as simple as someone shifting or leaning over to get their bag can make the whole room look up suddenly.

If others are converging on the same seat I’ll try a distractionary tactic: “Hey, look, someone’s in the parking lot throwing hundred dollar bills out of a shopping cart!” “That blimp’s about to hit a building!” “Isn’t that Paul McCartney signing autographs over there?”

But most people who get the comfy seats usually set up there for the long haul, myself included. We lay sweaters and books on it when we go off to the bathroom. We guard it when we get up for refills. I’d carve my name in the cushion if I could get away with it.

I don’t know why this particular coffee shop doesn’t simply put in more of the comfy chairs. Learning how to pounce on them becomes a real art form, and you can easily tell the veterans like myself from the newbies who don’t yet have the timing, the rhythm, or the agility to sprint across a thirty-foot room while balancing a latte, a laptop and a totebag. to them I can only say: Watch and learn, Grasshopper, watch and learn.

* My coffee shop is not a Starbucks, though Daniel’s and Welsey’s is.

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