I’m about to share something I’ve never told anyone before: the real reason we moved from Tulsa to Austin just over three years ago. But first, I have to give you some context by explaining why I ended up working from a particular Starbucks in Tulsa almost everyday.
It wasn’t until I moved to Tulsa in 2003 that Starbucks became my coffee shop of choice. Mainly because I didn’t have one, a choice that is. The coffee shop/house landscape in Oklahoma was much different than in Bellingham, Washington. There were a few wannabe trendy coffee houses in Tulsa, but they were inconveniently located, missing the necessary ambiance, or restaurants in disguise.
Had I not just moved from the Pacific Northwest, I probably wouldn’t have been so picky. Translation: I was a coffee house snob.
Because I was a coffee house snob, I didn’t consider Starbucks a viable option while in Bellingham. After a couple months in Tulsa, it was obvious that the Starbucks just down the street from my office was my
best only option.
This Starbucks had a couple of big comfy chairs in one corner. They were perfect for serious writing. I quickly became a regular (almost daily) customer. So much so that one Christmas the baristas made me a special card and gave me a coupon for a free beverage of my choice. They knew my name! So much for the impersonal corporate culture I had resisted for so long.
Once I settled in at Starbucks, I came to appreciate certain features. First, the Starbucks experience is portable. No matter where I go, I can usually find a Starbucks with decent ambiance. When we moved from Tulsa to Austin, there was a Starbucks a couple of blocks from my house that had the same kind of big, comfy chairs that I was accustomed to in Tulsa. (In a few paragraphs, you’ll see why this was such a pleasant discovery.) When you’re pressed for time and don’t have all day to scout out a good coffee shop, it is nice to know you can walk into a Starbucks and usually get right to work.
This is not to say that all Starbucks are created equal. Every Starbucks has its own look and feel that impact my creativity. Some are small and have limited seating, while others sprawl across a city block and have almost no sense of intimacy. Some are so busy that you have to stand and wait for a seat to open up, while others can be so dead in the middle of the day they’re devoid of creative energy. Every Starbucks has its own color too. Some are bright with lots of windows and light yellow or green walls. Others have darker colors, fewer windows and rely more on lamps and drop lights. I prefer darker spaces when I write, so these are my favorite stores, but they are few and far between.
There is always a trade-off when working at Starbucks. You can’t have it all: seating, lights, music, clientele, location, temperature. What really matters is whether after 3 hours of sitting there you walk out satisfied with the amount of work you just did.
MY Starbucks in Tulsa became the place in which I got the majority of my work done. It was truly my second office. I had no complaints, until my coffee shop nemesis started showing up. What makes this story even more painful to tell is that my nemesis was also my friend. Still is, barely.
My friend Mark is a consultant, writer, and dedicated father. When he wasn’t traveling across the country to work with churches or shuttling his kids to and from their activities, Mark liked to show up and write at MY Starbucks while sitting in MY big, blue, comfy chair. Yes, there were actually two identical chairs positioned in the same corner, but when we sat side by side, we accomplished next to nothing. The temptation to share the last brilliant thought we just typed out was too strong.
We were both mature enough to recognize that, just like chatty third graders, we needed to be separated for either one of us to do work. But neither one of us wanted to give up the big blue chair. So it became a race to see who could get to MY Starbucks first each day and set up camp in the cushy throne of eloquence.
Mark’s schedule was more flexible than mine. I couldn’t break away from my first office until after 2 pm on a good day. This gave him an unfair advantage, which he made good use of with alarming regularity. I would pull up into the parking lot and see him through the window, pecking away at his Mac laptop, laughing at his own jokes, while listening to 80’s big hair metal music on his headphones.
I would beat my fist against the steering wheel while I decided whether I to go somewhere else or walk in, give him a nod of submission as I passed by, and take a less creative seat at a table across the store.
After months of frustration, I came to the sober realization that I had met my match. I could not solve the problem of my friend Mark, my coffee shop nemesis. I had friends call him with fake emergencies, telling him he needed to come pick up one of his kids from school. But he wouldn’t budge. I even offered him a job in Tulsa so that he would have an office to go to, but we couldn’t close the deal.
You want to know why we moved from Tulsa to Austin? Because I came up against an unbeatable coffee shop nemesis. He moved me off my corner, stole my territory, and soaked up the creative juice reserved for me. It was easier to move to a new city than it was to figure out a way to get my friend Mark’s butt out of MY favorite chair in MY Starbucks.
If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating, consider this: A year after I moved, when Starbucks bought new furniture for the store, the baristas gave the big blue chair to Mark. Actually, they just let him take it home.
It was already his.
The moral of this story? When you find the perfect place from which to work, watch out. Someone else has probably just made the same discovery too. I’m sure cavemen used to steal each others caves. Now we move in on each others favorite chair at Starbucks. Despite all our progress as species, the law of the jungle is still in play. If you don’t take care of what you prize, someone else, maybe a friend, will come along and take it from you. That’s what happened to me.
Three years later, I’m the new guy in town. Which means I’m on the prowl. Somewhere in my neighborhood is a chair with just the right lighting in just the right coffee shop. It’s occupied by a naive soul who thinks he’s found his ideal writing spot. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to have a coffee house nemesis. When I decide to make my move and claim his spot as my own, I will remember the sour lesson my friend Mark taught me and I will supplant my new adversary. I will take his spot, I will steal his creative juice, I will drink his coffee. I will drink it up!
And then I will write about it.