I’ve begun taking refuge in cool, aromatic cafes to do my writing. Each cafe is a miniature society, a place revealing some funny and disturbingly familiar tendencies in people. I’m quick to snicker at others, but lately I’ve been thinking that all of us—myself included—make case studies on human folly.
The average person enters a cafe, quickly drinks up the surroundings to get a feel for the place and crowd, then decides to hang out or jump ship. Many factors, both obvious and latent, affect this decision. Something as minor as a bit of eye-candy could draw a person in, while a long line or odd smell could make them beat feet.
Many patrons just blend into the milieu: the animated kid ordering a brownie and gleefully bouncing back to the street, the veteran regular who comes for the liquid narcotic not the atmosphere, the indecisive ones who probably spend most of their day stumped over some decision or other.
A couple tourists caught scent of the Internet and charged into the cafe I sat in the other day.
“Three dollars for 10 minutes? That’s highway robbery!” the guy exclaimed with an expression of horror. He fell into hushed debate with his girlfriend, weighing their hunger for email against their revulsion at being ripped off. Appalled, the guy handed over the fee and seized a computer.
Once I watched the All-American family on vacation drift in. This particular family wouldn’t reach similar conclusions about the existence of gravity much less agree on a place to get a refreshment.
One sister fervently desired a smoothie, while her dad looked in dire need of some coffee. The younger brother wasn’t about to settle for a fruit drink when he knew there was a Dairy Queen in town, and the other brother was hell-bent on Cold Stone Creamery. All the while Mom was holding a fussy baby and probably wondering what possessed her to have so many offspring.
Now there are a number of visitors on the island who don’t speak English. I’m torn between chuckling and feeling sorry for them as they attempt to navigate through the thicket of interactive experiences they face on Maui.
Once I watched a couple from Eastern Europe who clearly wanted to order something, but their method of communicating that something was well beyond the cashier’s comprehension. I watched the plethora of options and choices—normally a plus—turn into a trap.
Using a combination of broken English and charade-style hand gestures, peppered with a little of their native language, the couple placed a truly theatrical order. They received what I believed to be blended caramel-coffee drinks. I’m not sure if that was their plan, but they looked relieved at having once again successfully finished the song and dance of ordering in a foreign country.
After all, we all need to feel loved. Cafes capitalize on this by marketing to each individual’s preferences. Your life may be full of frustrations and shortcomings, but we’ll tailor for you the beverage of your dreams! You want extra foam? No problem. Additional shot of espresso? Right on. You say jump and the barista asks how high, hot or on ice?
It’s all about gratification. And right now, I find watching all of you trying to place orders at cafes to be very gratifying indeed. MTW