Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Confronted a Rude Stranger in a Starbucks, & (Surprise!) It Did Not Go Well

I'm of the belief that there's a special place in hell (you know, if I believed in hell) for people who listen to electronic devices aloud in communal spaces. If you're watching a YouTube video or playing Candy Crush or calling your mom or listening to Iggy Azalea in a place where there are other people - especially people who are working quietly, as in a coffee shop - then you should be wearing headphones. Period.

Of course, not everyone is on board with this concept; if they were, I wouldn't be complaining about it. Because I spend a great deal of time working in otherwise-quiet public spaces, I've encountered many a situation in which someone who is not on board with this concept aurally offends me on a deeply annoying level.

Today, I encountered the worst offender yet.

The Starbucks on P Street in Dupont Circle is hidden & quiet, one of my favorite work spaces in D.C. Its upstairs level has lots of one- & two-person seating arrangements, making it perfect for workday camp-outs with no "I've been here too long!" guilt. My friend Emily & I had been there for a few hours when the whole upstairs level flooded with a robotic voice & a barrage of bad elevator music; someone, somewhere was taking a phone call on speaker, & he'd been put on a loooooong hold.

Everyone around us looked appalled. The architecture of the building meant that the noise, which originated from a corner of the first floor, echoed up over a balcony & throughout the second floor, clearly disrupting every single one of the dozen of us up there. It was one of those moments when strangers came together in sympathetic annoyance, muttering, "Can you believe this?!" as "Your call is important to us" repeated at 30-second intervals.

Finally, I'd had enough. I walked downstairs to ask the offending call-maker to kindly cease public use of the speaker function.

What I found was a guy who didn't look crazy or rude or otherwise threatening. He was wearing a nice suit, & a freshly pressed purple dress shirt. He was bespectacled & balding, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, & he had the sort of accent I associate with Manhattan Jews. In other words, he both looked & sounded like he could be the father of any one of my friends. His speakerphone didn't seem loud from that corner, yet it was booming throughout the second floor. I figured he had no idea, & that if asked, he'd be happy to be a decent citizen of the world.

"Excuse me," I began. "Would you mind taking your phone off of speaker? I know it seems quiet from down here, but it's echoing up over the balcony, & it's actually really loud from the second floor."

He stared at me. I wondered if maybe he didn't speak English. I continued anyway: "There are a lot of us working quietly up there, & it's just... it's actually really loud." I thought I was being polite, but as his face contorted in anger, I began to second-guess my tone.

"Are you kidding me?" he boomed, morphing into a wild-eyed, Patrick-Bateman-with-an-axe type. "Are you serious right now? You know this is a public place, right? You know that?" I nodded, bristling with nerves & indignation, & reiterated that the second floor was full of people on laptops & that the noise was much louder from where we sat. "This is so rude," he insisted. "I can't believe this." It occurred to me that everyone upstairs could hear the conversation.

When I countered that it was actually sort of rude to blast hold music throughout an otherwise quiet public space where people were working in silence, he spluttered & stuttered. "You know, that's pretty rude!" he erupted. "This is a public place! You can't make other people be quiet! You can't dictate what I do!"

I was visibly flustered but tried to stand my ground. "Well, it's a coffee shop, so a lot of people are working here," I told him. "But look, I didn't come down here to be rude. I just thought you probably didn't realize how loud it was up there & that you might turn it off if you did."

"I'll turn it off," he snapped, as though he was doing me a huge favor by not being an asshole, "but this is really unbelievable. I mean, I've never gotten a request like this in my life."

"I wasn't trying to be rude," I repeated as I walked away. "Do whatever you want." My hands were shaking, & I could hear my heartbeat in my skull. The baristas I passed on my way back upstairs looked concerned, mouths agape, & when as I crossed the room to reach my table, a few strangers gave me smiles of... approval? Shock? Disdain? Impression? I was shaking too hard to be sure.

Shortly after the confrontation, my new friend stormed out of the Starbucks, hopefully never to be seen again. All was quiet on the home front for a good... 20 minutes. Then, as I wrote this post, someone else turned their phone on speaker - hip-hop music, this time, assaulting our ears on floor two yet again.

The struggle is so goddamn real, you guys. If I can't trust the rest of the world to wear headphones, I'm going to need to invest in a better pair of my own. Or just some straight-up earplugs.
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