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The Cafe Writer's Dilemma: How to Choose a Lavatory Lookout

Working from home is overrated. The first few mornings of lounging in bed, propped up against the pillows and typing away gleefully while your dog gives you looks of pure desperation are nice, admittedly. But after awhile, the old 9-5 urge kicks in and you feel the need to "go somewhere" to write. Sit in a real chair. Maybe put on pants.

Oh, the cafe. My dream office. I try to get out and find a new one every once in awhile, but I do have my few regulars for sure. But writing in cafes comes with one inherent problem; coffee, and its effect on the bladder.

Sometimes you have to fight for a table, or glare at the bitch without a laptop sitting in the only chair next to an outlet. Then when you get one, it's not long before you've got two options.

1. Pack it all up, run for the restroom and lose your zone, or

2. Cross your legs and finish writing, feeling new empathy for what your dog puts up with on your lazy ass mornings

But there's another option, of course; one vital to the code of the Cafe Writer's Association. You can ask someone to watch your stuff while you make a frantic dash for the restroom key at the register. The problem - not everyone is in on the CWA. So take a look around. Who to pick?

The Texter
Oddly enough, texters seem to travel in packs, where they sit together in the most comfortable chairs in the cafe, leaned back, legs crossed, texting everyone they know and ignoring the ones they're with. Avoid them at all costs. Not only are they too buried in their phones to watch your stuff, but they aren't part of the CWA – not unless "wut r u doin?" counts as writing.

The Important Suit
Hey, he's got a laptop! He must be in, right? But wait – that's a suit he's wearing. We wear jeans on our dressiest work day. And he's on the phone, talking about Very Important Things in a loud voice. Don't trust this guy to keep an eye on your stuff – one urgent phone call or breaking-news email and he's out the door.

The Reader
Oh, how we all want to be the reader. She has time to read. Look at her, all smug in that big armchair, reveling in the fact that she has the luxury and time to lounge around a cafe with her venti caramel macchiato and a shiny new copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Yeah, she'd probably watch your stuff, but don't ask. We hate her.

The Overworked Student
Often in groups, these poor saps have the sloppy CWA look for sure, along with stacks of textbooks, dictionaries, papers and strange devices known as "calculators" on either side of their cute little netbooks. In a pinch, these guys and gals will do, but be quick – they're too busy stressing about their term paper to really give a crap about someone snagging your laptop.

The Legit CWAer
Laptop, check. Rumpled, just-out-of-bed clothes, check. Bloodshot eyes, permanent screen-glow skin, fingers flying fast and furious, second free refill of the $1.50 drip? Hell yes, there's your CWA member. A quick question and secret fist bump later, and you're headed for sweet relief knowing your stuff is safe.

Stolen from MusicTravelWrite, because...well, it's my blog, and I don't think you can steal from yourself.

Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. This is hilarious. I'm not a full time writer but when I go to cafes on the weekends I always get in this dilemma. I never trust anyone enough to watch my stuff so I end up either packing up and losing my zone or holding it. Next time I might keep my eye out for a legit CWAer ;)

  2. That is funny stuff. I think I know all those people!

    I once saw a dad leave his baby daughter sitting on the table while he went to the bathroom. He didn't ask anyone to watch her... just left her there gurgling away in her carseat.

    After that, I banned my husband from coffee shops, just in case he lost the kids.

  3. Ha! As a CW myself, I loved this.

    You forgot another potential 'stuff watcher': The first timers. You know, the old couple who've come to the cafe to try one of those "new latte things."

    They're old, so they have scruples. They fear technology, so they won't jack your computer, because they wouldn't know how to use it. Most importantly, they're slow so even if they decide to bolt you'll catch them.

  4. Too funny! Maybe we all need to wear buttons that say CWA - I'll watch your stuff if you watch mine!

  5. I love the starbucks crew! Last time I started writing at a starbucks, I looked up and saw an overly styled man and his preggers girlfriend. He chatted away on his phone and she looked very bored.
    I snickered and went on writing. When they left I looked up, he had a MAN PURSE!
    My jaw fell. When they left, I turned to the Grad student next to me, "Did you see that? He had man purse!"
    She shook her head, "that table just attracts the freaks."

  6. I generally split my time working between my home office and my favorite local coffee joint where I run into the bathroom dilema all the time. I'm lucky that I've gotten to know the baristas and other regulars really well so we don't even have to ask each other to watch our stuff anymore, but I remember my first months there (or anytime we get a new barista) that fight - dash to the bathroom and hope it's all still there or hold it. Great post. Made me laugh.

  7. I love all these stories! (Except baby girl left alone - WTF?!)

    E.J., good call! The (admittedly) older folk who see coffee as a novelty. COFFEE IS LIFE PEOPLE. (but yeah, they'll watch your stuff.)

  8. Haha, great post! I never even thought about this problem!

  9. My favorite CWers are the Gamers. They play World of Warcraft for hours on end with their headphones on. If you are nonjudgmental about their nerdy behavior, you can develop a nice reciprocal relationship where you "relieve" each other.

  10. I love this post! Oh, how many times have I been in this situation. It's definitely a work hazard for CWAers.

  11. Ok I've seriously thought about this when wanting to write at Starbucks!!!!! What do you do??? and I'm not good at all with holding it :(

  12. Jill, just ask! Most people really are cool with it. :)

    And damn, Cory - how could I have lived in Korea for a year and forgotten the GAMERS!?!? So, so very true.

  13. Oh my gosh this is so danged funny.
    Don't judge the reader though - she may be you in disguise....or me.
    I never ever work in the coffee shop book store...because I don't like to be talked to while I am in my zone - and I am not fighting you romantic saps for plug ins.
    I am taking a day off - I am sitting there with my smug look and clean cloths because this is my mini vacation and I am playing reading tourist. Hey, I took a shower today - why waste it.
    My disguise is complete with my purchased drops of clear unbloodshot eyes and my placid languid smile. I am a heavenly creature today, my horns are tucked out of sight, and I will watch you suffer, wondering if I can figure out who you are.
    I would not think of disturbing you, but if you spoke first, I would be happy to admit our similar addiction. Or, you can sit there and hate me and I will watch you of us has all the time of the ages for this game.....evil grin.


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Item Reviewed: The Cafe Writer's Dilemma: How to Choose a Lavatory Lookout Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman