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I Pissed Someone Off

angry-woman.gifA complete stranger read me the riot act the other day. I blame the system. Here's how it went down...

I got to my favorite java haunt about 10:30 on a Saturday morning and the place was packed. There were two lines forming, one for seating for table service and one for the counter. I waited for the counter and ordered my typical coffee and muffin "for here," as I usually do, and waited for a seat. When one opened up, I sat down with my morning delicacies and proceeded to munch.

About 3 minutes later a woman, a complete stranger, came up to my table. "I saw what you did and you should be ashamed."

"Of what?"

"I've been waiting in line for 20 minutes and you just sat down."

"Ma'am, I waited in line too. There are two lines you know."

"And you decided you could jump in front of us."

"Look, I bought my coffee and muffin and I deserve a seat just like any other customer here. What do you propose? That I buy my stuff and wait in line again for a seat?"

"Well, I think what you did was extremely rude."

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"I do." And then she left.

My face burned with embarrassment and anger and I sat and thought about it, turning her words over in my head. Was I wrong? Did I screw up? I didn't think so, but I had clearly upset her and I tried to put myself in her place.

Then I realized that, really, the fault lay with a system that made us competitors for resources in such a way that neither of us would be winners. The coffee house, accustomed to an easy-going atmosphere with plenty of space for everyone wasn't prepared for seating to be an issue. This was aggravated by the fact that it was raining which effectively eliminated all of their outdoor seating. Typically there is room for everyone and it probably never occurred to them that they might have to regulate access to space.

After realizing this I talked with the management and suggested that, in the future, they may want to make the counter carry-out only at peak hours to avoid these sort of things. It would put a crimp in my style, but it would be clear and fair.

Then I started thinking about all of the systems that we are in that set us up to be competitors and adversaries in senseless ways...


That angry woman was venting for all the other places in her life where she has to wait and be annoyed and feel unnecessarily in competition for space and service. Her need and ability to assert as she did with YOU was her opportunity and she chose YOU to express all of those times in the past. Of course you weren't being rude, but as all of us, we try to figure out what we are suppose to do in those situations. That place, I know, also sets us up for those types of confusing situations where we aren't sure what to do next and so we decide the best we can. You raise the larger issues. Those are the ones I will ponder as I sign off. Thanks....

Well, Lawrence, you deserve all credit for trying to help solve future cafe crowding problems. But even if the counter became "take out only" at certain hours, that would not stop people from either taking advantage of the shorter line and sitting down anyway, or from legitimately changing their minds and deciding to stay. The staff just do not have that much control. I would have felt as badly as you did about the incident, and I would have just assumed that she had had a bad day (or week, or month), but part of me would also have thought--"hey, lady, that's life." Last fall, we were in Chicago for the ACS conference, and I took the kids to a Mc Donald's downtown while Brett was in his various meetings. It was huge, had two floors, and wasn't all that busy when we got there. The kids thought it was so exciting...and the toys were great! They are very well-behaved in restaurants--they stay in their seats, don't throw things, and tend to be very friendly to everyone they see. Well, shortly before they finished eating, a woman sat down at the table right next to us. Katie had been spinning in her little seat, and it would hit some metal post, making a rhythmic thunking sound. She had been doing it the whole time we were there. She is 4 years old. The woman proceeded to get all huffy and tell her (not me) how much this was annoying her. Because I am a person who tries to live a godly life, I simply packed up my family and left. But I thought, "hey. lady--you had the whole restaurant...you picked the seat next to 2 preschoolers and an infant. What on earth did you expect?" As for your coffee shop chick--hey, it was Saturday...it was busy...many people wanted coffee, and were living their lives, none of which revolved around you. If you wanted to sit right down, you should have made your own coffee at home. Let all the innocent coffee shop patrons, who did not arrive there just to mess with you, sit down when and where they can. Be happy for them. I hope that later on, she was embarrassed at her behavior. And, btw, my old roommate, Ellery, used to have fights with his girlfriend, in which I would hear him (on his side of the phone), passive-aggressively tell her "I'm sorry you feel this way.." which I learned was his own way of saying "*^&*% you." --so I got a kick out of that part of yr story!

Yeah, well, I couldn't really tell her I was sorry for what I did, because I wasn't. I was genuinely sorry she took my actions in the way she did.

You're right, though. It is the most weasly non-apology out there.

Next time something like this happens grab this persons coffee, pop open the lid, jump on top of a table, drop your pants, squat over the coffee cup, piss in it, pull your pants up, put the lid back on the coffee, give it back to the person and then walk out of the coffee shop calm and cool like nothing ever happened.

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