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The ME! ME! ME! Generation Comes To Starbucks
A man walked into Starbucks on Main carrying a silver Mac laptop. He was a heavy-set businessman, probably about 5’8”, a split between his front teeth, yellow business shirt, cuffed brownish wool pants, nice black square-toed loafers with rubber soles, holding a Blackberry.

He looked friendly, and I liked that he was wearing real clothes, not dirty sweats, which are pretty much the uniform around these parts.

I smiled at him. I pretty much smile at everyone if I’m looking up and paying attention, because I like to live in a world that’s friendly, not cold and alienating.

When the guy came closer, I realized with chagrin he was bellowing into his Blackberry –- or rather, one of those earbud speakers that allow you to speak as if the person’s in front of you –- or louder. I politely asked him to pipe down.

Not exactly a big thinker, he responded: “It’s a public place," and went back to yammering.

“Yes it is a public place," I said, "Which means you share it with other people.”

His defense -- pointing out that people were conversing at the table next to me.

I explained that when you’re on a cell phone, you have a one-sided conversation, and the human brain is bent upon filling in the missing side of the dialogue, so you hear it more than you do a conversation between people. In fact, your brain pretty much forces you to listen in.

He ignored me and yammered into his phone. He clearly wasn’t interested anything but having his conversation when he wanted, as loudly as he wanted, whether it was bothering anyone else or not.

He repeatedly told the person on the other end, “She’s crazy.”

To me: “Shut the fuck up.”

And again into the phone: “She’s crazy.”

I said, in the direction of his ear bud, “Yes, it does seem insane to expect people to behave as if they have manners, to act with some consideration of other people.”

I’ll try to take his picture on the way out. What I really want is his mother’s phone number. I want to ask her if that was how he was raised, with that “fuck you, shut the fuck up” attitude toward anybody’s needs but his own.

Oh, and one more wish, now that he’s bellowing again, is his phone number. Please, please! Instead, there’s only this dull stuff.

Yeah, I got it, ya need it? You’ll have it in a second. Just going through that. Hey man, how are ya. Hmmm? Mmmm. You know. You know what, it’s funny you bring that up, because I have another customer with that problem. And it was with …you’ve been having a problem with that. Is that why you…because you wanted a…Hmmm. You know what, I’m gonna check the XN 1.3 bug reports and see if there are any issues with that. I had another customer call me about that. That may be an issue, that may be an issue. So if it is, I go ahead. Okay. Bye!

I’m reminded of the difference in spirit and demeanor between this guy and a man and woman I saw on a date last week at this very same Starbucks. I posted this in comments to an earlier entry, but I’ll copy it in here as well:

They were both tiny and quite old. He was a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor, and pretty much blind, I later found out, which is probably why he knocked over his coffee onto the floor. Well, the woman reacted, not by going to summon a Starbucks employee with a mop, but by getting newspapers, putting them down on the floor, and then...doing a little dance on them to mop up the liquid...à la Snoopy in the old Peanuts cartoons.

Beyond the fact that (I think) she did her dance so the man wouldn’t feel bad about knocking over his coffee -- she just “gets it” about life, and in a way so few people do. I told her so, which is why I got to know the two of them a little.

All in all, it turned out to be a great day, and just because some little old man spilled a cup of coffee.

Yesterday, unfortunately, was a different story, thanks to my pal here, seen from the rather ample rear. Do you know this man?


If so, do tell him to pop by and post his justification here for what I call “lunar landing behavior” –- acting as if you just landed on the moon and you have the entire planet all to yourself.

Posted by aalkon at March 18, 2006 11:38 AM

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"I explained that when you’re on a cell phone, you have a one-sided conversation, and the human brain is bent upon filling in the missing side of the dialogue, so you hear it more than you do a conversation between people. In fact, your brain pretty much forces you to listen in."

That's a really interesting idea. Where can I read more?

I am so tired of cell phones at work. You're in conversations with people, and everything comes to a halt when their phone rings. I've learned to just walk away when that happens. Now everyone is bringing them to meetings, just in case someone at home needs to call to chat about the stray hairs they just plucked out of their buttholes.

I absolutely loathe cell phones. I keep mine in the glove compartment of my car, in case of emergencies. That's it.

Posted by: Lena at March 18, 2006 12:19 AM

The study is by Andrew Monk at University of York, but I wasn't able to pull it.

My phone, in public places, is always on vibrate. Why? Because I worry that I might disturb somebody. The ring is set to a chirp, not The Battle Hymn Of The Republic or Snoop -- just in case an innocent bystander is accidentally greeted with the ring. If I must answer a call on it -- say from Gregg, about my site, or what time we're going to the movies, I whisper, "Can't talk, in a café or a store" and I walk outside. The idea that I'd verbally force my life on another person -- it's just outrageous and beyond the pale of rudeness. People want to read the paper or think their own thoughts. They don't want to hear the mundane details of others', and invariably, they're screechingly mundane.

Behavior of the guy I encountered, in my opinion, can point to an aggressive lack of self-worth; ie, "I'm soooo important you all must listen to my every word."

ME: If you were important you'd have an office with a secretary in it, fielding your calls.

I'm with you about cell phones in life and work. I have a message on my phone, designed to stop people from calling me on it, because I don't answer it at home, only when I'm out, and I want to live life while I'm out, not be removed from it, yammering on the phone and bugging the crap out of people. My message basically says: "This phone is rarely answered," and "messages on it may not be picked up for days."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 18, 2006 6:17 AM

You need to read Cell. Even if you don't like Stephen King, it's a nice little revenge fantasy about cellphone abusers.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at March 18, 2006 7:38 AM

I love stories like this. You have a great ability to capture these snapshots of people and everyday events.

Posted by: Randy at March 18, 2006 8:28 AM

In addition to civility and good manners around strangers, there also seems to be a quality of life issue with the people one already knows. Conversations are continuously being interrupted at important points by little gadgets that whistle and toot, and it seems to me that people who answer their cells in those moments are sending a very clear message: "This phonecall is more important than my conversation with you right now."

I guess everyone is so important (which is why we need to carry phones), and at the same time so expendable (which is why we continue to choose phone conversations over the human beings in our present company -- millions of times every day).

[end of rant]

Posted by: Lena at March 18, 2006 8:52 AM

"You have a great ability to capture these snapshots of people and everyday events."

She certainly does! That's why Amy is writing a book!

Posted by: Lena at March 18, 2006 8:54 AM

Amy's writing a book? YES!!

Posted by: Doug Mason at March 18, 2006 11:06 AM

What annoys me most of all about these phone-louts is that the assholes who are "so important" that they must be able to answer their cellphones in the local café are the very same assholes who never pick up their office phone because they're "so fucking important" that they get to choose when to talk to you.

My question: if two of these louts are trying to reach each other, how do they ever get to talk?

sub-rant: I have a personal campaign against assistants who say "And what is this in regards to?" My answer is along the lines of "Does Mr. Shitface only accept calls on certain topics, or what?

Posted by: Stu "El inglés" Harris at March 18, 2006 5:30 PM

I don't have a cellphone (we call them mobiles over here). I did have one a few years ago when I was running a business that had people several miles apart needing to coordinate things. I don't even wear a watch unless I'm travelling. This isn't a kind of anti-snobbery, it's just that I don't feel the need. I'm not anti-technology - I got into computers before 1968, and I predate a lot of stuff that's around today!

If I'm out and about, I'm incommunicado, and I don't feel any poorer for it. In fact, it's relaxing. If an emergency arises, I deal with it. I ask for help - knock on someone's door or whatever - and I'm resourceful. What happens if my wife needs to contact me? She can't: and she'll cope just like I would.

My kids, on the other hand, are permanently connected to their pals, and pay quite a lot of moolah each month for the priviledge. I think there's a generational difference. I'm a 20th century man, a type soon to be extinct.

This is not quite a rant. Perhaps it should be.

Posted by: Norman at March 19, 2006 3:48 AM

My local coffee haunt posted a sign at the register telling people that if they want service they have to hang up their cell phones - bravo! We're all exposed to this, but imagine the poor workers who have one after another of these pricks all day.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at March 19, 2006 8:27 AM

I hate that there have to be signs. I went to a coffee place yesterday specifically because they don't allow cell phones. (Sometimes the stress of having to ask people to be decent is just too much.) All you hear at this cafe is the music and people having civilized conversation -- with each other -- not ignoring each other and yammering away about nothing out of some power trip to some unseen person.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 19, 2006 9:05 AM

I couldn't possibly be anti-technology, because I love my Cuisinart. I also love my Palm Pilot, but I don't walk around looking at it all the time.

I guess I'm just a little old-fashioned. I think that time alone, even if it's just driving across town, is a great opportunity to think about things (e.g., ideas). When I see folks driving with their cell phones pressed to their ears, I find myself wondering what the hell they're talking about.

A character from a story by Lorrie Moore, one of my favorite fiction writers, summed it up nicely:

"People talking were meant to look at a face, the disastrous cupcake of it, the hide-and-seek of the heart dashing across. With a phone, you said words, but you never watched them go in. You saw them off at the airport but never knew whether there was anyone there to greet them when they got off the plane."

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Disastrous Cupcake at March 19, 2006 10:35 AM

Amy, I can't help asking: Since you described most everything about what this man looked like (his build, space between teeth, color of his pants, approximate height, the soles of his shoes, kind of laptop, etc.)...why did you leave out that he was black?

Just curious...

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at March 19, 2006 3:56 PM

Ha! You are observant! Last time, I took a photo of a girl who was Asian and covered her face, and Lena criticized me for saying she was Asian -- and I felt it added to the description; ie, Asians generally look a certain way - black hair, usually straight, and a certain color of skin tone. See that entry here:

For this one, I ommitted "black" as a sort of experiment. I do think it's important to the description.

Essentially, because I'm not racist, simply anti-idiot, I don't feel it's a problem for me to describe people using their race, and will most likely continue to do so in the future.

But, you sure don't miss anything!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 19, 2006 5:36 PM

Would you have said 'white'? I'm on jury duty, and have been freshly reminded that LA is a quilt of many, many colors. If we have to specify each and every time an anecdotes starts, it's gonna be a long and dull life....

Posted by: Crid at March 19, 2006 8:31 PM

Actually, I probably wouldn't have specified white, because the majority of people in this country are white. If, however, I were writing from China, I would have specified "white," because most people there are Asian.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 19, 2006 10:50 PM

Right, I figured someone gave you a hard time about it in the past, and you didn't want them to do so again. But remember, people like that are wrong, and I am right. You may indeed have said the guy was white, if he was white; and if you hadn't, it would have been because you yourself are white, and so the default option in your mind is white. (The way I often hear black people say, in conversation, "So then this white guy," where they wouldn't have said "This black guy.") Nothing racist about any of that.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at March 20, 2006 2:58 PM

I agree with you. I just sometimes use my blog as a test pad for things - and I thought I'd omit "black" and see how I felt about it. To me, too, something was missing. "Black" is a way of describing people just like "freckled" or "redhead." I don't have a problem with him because he had darker skin than mine, I had a problem with him because he behaved rudely and uncouthly, and I think that's completely apparent.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2006 4:58 PM

It's probably as rude of me to link to one of my own posts (partially inspired by your post) as the events you describe, but I can't help myself.

It's a bugaboo of mine, too.

But I offer a modest proposal for a partial solution to this problem.

As far as the ethnicity/race of the person in question, I suspect (though have no evidence) that your appearance might have played some part in his reaction towards your constructive criticism.

Had a black woman firmly, but politely chided him, he might have been more likely to accept that criticism and modify his behavior, but because in appearance you are just about the polar opposite, his response might have been to be increasingly rude just to be ornery.

Posted by: XWL at March 24, 2006 4:19 PM

XWL, I LOVE your "modest proposal." You're just hilarious.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 25, 2006 7:42 AM

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