Small Wonders: Prime spots for people watching

We've all seen them. They take up space on the sidewalk outside reputable businesses. We try not to look at them, but wonder how they got themselves to this.

We secretly loathe them. They sit there, unkempt, sucking oxygen, unaware that there are hard-working people in this world. Their laziness silently mocks the rest of society for actually being busy, actually working.

And I am now one of them.

I have become a coffeehouse squatter.

I am one of those people you see lounging at the coffeehouse as you rush in getting your java to go; the one that's still there when you return for your mid-morning and afternoon pick-me-ups; the one that appears to be either a trust fund baby or the lucky beneficiary of a sugar daddy. Or momma.

But I usually don't sit outside — nowhere to plug my laptop.

When you pretend to be a writer seriously like I do, when you put that costume on like others do a firefighter's uniform, nurse's scrubs or reality celeb's double-D breasts and six-pack abs, you're devoting yourself to a solitary life. You are solely responsible for your daily output of work; no one assigns it or keeps tabs; nobody in the next cubicle to cover for you; no one to chat with at the water cooler or washing machine or any other place you go to avoid actually working.

Facebook provides some social interaction, which is helpful. But that's kind of like going to McDonald's for a good burger. Sure it has buns and some form of meat, but it's not a real burger. Or very satisfying.

So I get out of the house a couple times each week to be around humans, to engage in conversations that aren't going on inside my head. Like the one I'm having right now.

Any coffeehouse with chairs, people and decent coffee will do. Though that leaves out Starbucks. I'm not a big fan of the mega-chains. I prefer the small, independently-owned shops. My favorite is Simply Coffee in Burbank. Priscilla's in Toluca Lake is good, as is the Black Cow in Montrose.

And in Glendale…well...if you know of one, I'm all ears. In the end, they all have something in common: the tide of people flowing in and out all day.

Gregory, the very French owner at Simply Coffee, brings me my cafe latte in a mug, not a paper cup, without my asking. He knows I'll be joining him for a while and that it makes his customers feel special when he knows their "usual."

And I'm going to repay his kindness by occupying his prime seat, the one next to the electrical outlet, for the next five hours. That's roughly $1 per hour. A good deal for me, not so much for him.

First thing in the morning you see the retired folks that can't help but get up early. They're reading the newspaper, taking their cherished, much-deserved time. They watch gleefully as the next wave rolls in: the worker bees.

This largest segment of coffeehouse patrons get theirs to go so they can get to the office before that meeting or at least before their boss. They're rushed, staring at Blackberries and iPhones, or barking orders to their invisible assistant via Bluetooth. They have the most elaborate orders. If you ever see me ordering a "blended half-caf chai latte with soymilk, a whisper of whipped cream and the subtlest kiss of caramel," kick me in the shin.

The next wave is parents with crying babies. This is when the retired folks take their leave with a satisfied chuckle, so pleased those days are behind them. Coffeehouses provide a nice respite for parents caught between the salvation of weekly Mommy & Me classes. The trials of being home alone with fabulously frustrating little humanoids drives them out to be with others in like circumstances.

Strollers congest the walkway now littered with spilt Lucky Charms; pacifiers drop on the floor and get shoved back in place with only a wipe on the pants. Little ones eye each other curiously, waving shyly. The nightclub of the innocents.

Then come the unemployed. They slept in hoping to avoid running into any still-employed coworkers. They need to get out of the house and have a routine in order to stay sane. Usually walking dogs, they take their time too. But unlike their retired counterparts, they fill time lest the enemy anxiety return.

Throughout the day, bank tellers, plumbers and contractors dart in for their fix and back out, rarely getting off the phone. There's that group of ladies just coming from, or going to, the gym; children at school, husbands at work. The elementary school teacher sucking the marrow from his last few days of summer, writing poetry for no other reason than to write it.

And always the obligatory screenwriter in the corner thinking the coffeehouse is this generation's Schwab's Drug Store. He looks up from his laptop at everyone who walks by, praying for that famous producer who will be gravitationally pulled to the masterpiece on his MacBook Pro screen.

Strangers converse in brief interludes, sometimes over multiple days, but never learn each other's names. Topics range from serial killers to child education to surf conditions to that cranky guy who just drove away hotter than his chai soy latte because someone got water drops on his freshly washed Benz.

Gregory offers his impromptu French lessons to all who ask. Ça va? Oui. Ça va.

And who's there from start to finish? Some idiot pretending he's a writer tap-tap-tapping away on his laptop. Ever wonder if he's taking notes about you?

Well, he is.

PATRICK CANEDAY proudly wears white after Labor Day. He can be reached on Facebook, at and

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