Three years ago, I cut ties with my favorite coffee shop.
I am not one to spend tons of money on coffee, but this particular place has plenty of seating, making it the perfect location to meet with donors for private conversations.
The owner knew me, saw me there often, greeted me often, waited on me often. But in spite of the fact that I was in the shop almost weekly with donors, purchasing coffee every single time, the owner stopped at my table on two different occasions to remind me I needed to purchase something.
Like the men in Philadelphia, I was waiting to make my purchase until my guests arrived so I could pay for their coffee too. Each time, I may have been sitting all of five minutes, ten at most, before I was approached.
Bear in mind, each table at the restaurant had a little placard stating that we needed to make a purchase in order to use the space. There were signs stating this on the front door too. It was abundantly clear to anyone that buying and sitting went together.
But the second time the owner approached to scold me, I all but erupted: “This is the second time you’ve told me that. How can you say that to me when I bring people in here all the time and give you business?”
Heck, he should have been offering to by me coffee. That’s seriously how often I frequented his shop.
He walked away.
And that was the last time I chose that coffee shop. I only go there now if a donor chooses it. And I don’t buy anything until the donor arrives.
Baristas may not understand what it’s like to meet friends and associates for coffee. They may not understand that sometimes people are late – really late – for meetings. They may not understand that while waiting, nature calls, and using the restroom is a basic human need.
Baristas may also be under strict orders to ensure people who don’t make purchases are asked to leave. My experience bears that out.
The question is, how long is too long to wait for a friend in a coffee shop?
Or maybe the question is, how should we be dressed if we want to wait for a friend in a coffee shop? Would police have been called if the men had been wearing business suits?
Or maybe the question is what do we have to say in order to be believed that we are waiting for a friend in a coffee shop? Are there papers we all need to carry now?
Or if police tell us to leave, is staying a form of civil disobedience worth getting arrested for?
I mean really. This is a huge deal.
If a barista called police on me, I probably would have left the store and made a stink later. I just don’t have time to sit in jail for nine hours.
But I don’t blame the men who chose to be arrested instead. To be arrested for sitting in a coffee shop when they had a legitimate reason to be there; to be arrested even after their friend arrived to vouch for them; even after all the customers nearby said they were not causing trouble, is an arrest that would have made Martin Luther King, Jr. proud.
I understand that police have a job to do, and that their commands should be obeyed.
I understand that coffee shops are in business to make money, and that loitering is a problem for owners and baristas.
But common sense is clearly a problem for them too. Had they possessed even a sliver of the patience we need as we wait for them to whiz up brown water, this incident would not have hit the news.