Coffee Shop Chronicles: Thoughts from overheard conversations

Boonton Coffee

Boonton, NJ

September 2017

People speak loudly in coffee shops, so it’s their fault I think what I’m thinking.

“She’s tall.  Very nice.  Comfortable.”

— Guy on high school desk chair.

I sip my coffee and wonder if he’s referring to an actual woman or if he’s assigning a gender on an inanimate object.  Maybe it’s because of the eclectic seating in here, but his emphasis on “comfortable” makes me think of furniture, a refrigerator or a sturdy wooden armoire.  The espresso steamer drowns out whatever he says next.

“A Murkrow.”

— Guy standing in line to order coffee.

The Pokémon GO twinkling percussion theme song follows that comment.  I’d recognize that anywhere because my husband doesn’t turn off the music when he plays that game.  I love that game, too, but there is a level in hell where that theme song plays nonstop.  I hear the swoosh toss sound effect of the Pokeball, the boink bounce on the Pokemon’s head and the catch snap, capture click.  He won this round and I hear that trumpet blast of triumph.  Really loud.  His phone volume must be maxed out.

I pause and look down at my phone.  I have the app open as I often do and think, Did I miss something?  A Murkrow doesn’t interest me, but is it time for me to spin?  This is the reason I’m sitting on this mildly uncomfortable bench with my phone tethered to the outlet at my feet. Pokemon GO sucks the battery life from my phone like a kid slurps spaghetti.  I see the Murkrow on the screen.  It still doesn’t interest me, but the conversation does.

The guy at the counter is part of a group of four young adults who look like, well, I imagine they play Dungeons & Dragons.  One of them appears extra-nerdy and could be the reason I hear the theme song over the steaming espresso machine.

Should I get up with the excuse to refill my coffee and casually comment on the game when I’m up at the counter?  I want to go up there and ask them if there’s a Legendary raid nearby.  I know there isn’t, but I want to be a part of their world their all.

I squirm on my bench and watch them shuffle and waddle out the door.  Did I miss an opportunity?

“We need something unique.  Like Starbucks.  Put a slice through our logo….”

— A male Boonton Coffee barista.

Unique?  Is he talking about this coffee shop not being unique?  This long wood table, worn but slightly shimmery as if recently varnished, has a picnic table vibe from it.  But it’s much more commanding than that.

There’s a fluffy leather or vinyl couch on my left with black and white striped throw pillows.

There are two white wood barstools at a white drafting table in the back.  Someone sits there, typing on a laptop.  There’s another table with a world globe as table decor.

Four wall-size chalkboards list the drinks.  Above them, “Boonton Coffee” is spelled out from sliced up old New Jersey license plates.  Next, to that metal montage, a framed The Toxic Avengers movie marquee poster hangs on the wall.  They have a drink named that.  Which came first?

The hip and the groovy vibe is further conveyed with the rough burlap coffee bags everywhere.  Serious coffee establishments display them as art deco, and I’ve not seen them used as full-size wall hangings, here looking shabby chic, bohemian, chill against raw red brick walls.  There’s a stump across the room that looks like a wrapped wood barrel that I can’t tell is a practical seating element or museum-esque décor.  Pleasantly, there’s not a single pillow crafted from that material; that’s so overdone.  The crafted burlap cup coasters are unique.

Like the Starbucks chain could charm this haunt.

“We lost our dog.  Then my dad got news that my grandmother was going downhill…. My mom has two cats she’s really attached to and one ran away…. But other than that, nothing’s new.”

— Guy on the couch to my left.

He ends that with a lighthearted laugh, not a serious laugh but the shrug-your-shoulder kind of laugh.  I glance to my left, expecting to see a pimply skinny teenager.  Instead, here’s a blonde hair, scruffy-stubble-bearded Andrew McCarthy from the Pretty in Pink era.  He’s across from two girls with everyone using the steam trunk treasure chest as their table.  By their body language, they’re all friends, just friends, and he’s the ringleader.  He’s the only one on the couch, leaning forward on the throne and the only one of three with a to-go cup.  The two girls sitting on green-handled chairs have for-here mugs.  Either this guy is super-casual, you know, nothing bothers him, or he has no sense of loss in real life tragedy.  He comments that he’s dated his girlfriend since high school.  I’m glad I’m not her and take another sip of my room temperature coffee.

“Crap!  It’s Jordan’s birthday.  I forgot to call her.  (Girl laughs) She’s my best friend. (Giggles) (Picks up phone, beep boop dial) I can’t get through.  What’s her number?”

— Girl #1 sitting on one green-handled chair.

She talks about “on my 18th birthday” like it was forever ago, so I figure she is the ripe old age of a college sophomore or junior.  I go with sophomore because that makes me feel younger and them more insensitive.

Sad thing is, I see myself thinking her initial comment.  With my move to New Jersey, I’m now physically closer to my college friends.  This is a great opportunity to reconnect.  I called those friends exactly zero times.  Two of them called and visited me, but I haven’t done the same.  I suddenly want to call everyone, but I’m in a coffee shop.  I’m not one of “those people” who hold a conversation so loud you can hear it over the espresso machine.  That’s my excuse, and I sip my coffee to feel trendy and distracted.

“I’ve tried to find every reason not to like her, but I can’t.”

— Girl #2 sitting on the other green-handled chair.

The 80s phrase “Oh my gawd!” comes to mind.  The tone of the girl’s voice is light-hearted but what a mean person, someone who envied the popular crowd in high school.  Or was she the popular crowd?  She wears jeans with rips down both legs, new ones that are sold pre-destroyed.  Like, she’s so hip.

“Thanks.  It’s been nice sitting next to you.  My name’s Greg.” 

— Big guy next to me at the table.

He reaches out to shake my hand.  Is this awkward or creepy?  Regardless, I’m polite in coffee shops.

“Hello, Greg,” I say as we shake hands.  “I’m Diana.”

He speaks quietly, the way an awkward teenage high school boy does.  His handshake is mildly firm and a bit clammy but without the sweat.  We’re at an awkward angle, so it’s more like a half-handshake.

“Have a blessed day,” Greg says.  He walks away.

There was nothing special about our interaction.  I never saw him before and we mostly ignored each other.  I asked him if I could put my phone on the chair between us because my charging cable is too short to reach the table.  He asked me to plug in his laptop cord because the outlet is beside me, too far from him to reach.  There was no missed opportunity.  It was common stuff.  Or not.

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