There was a time I headed out each day with only what would fit in the pockets of my coat (in winter) or a small bag (in summer). That amounted to not much more than wallet, keys, cellphone, lip balm and a piece of facial tissue. If I went to a coffee shop, I had no book to read or notebook to write in. This was when laptops weighed as much as eight pounds and before coffee shops had WiFi — and before cellphones were smart. So I would sit and drink coffee and do nothing for the most part. If someone had discarded a newspaper I might pick it up and read.
If I was at a seat in the window, I watched the world outside. If I was near the counter, I watched the staff work and enjoyed the sounds of grinding beans and steaming milk. I eavesdropped on conversations and occasionally took part in one myself. And I did the same thing in pubs when I went for a pint if there was not the distraction of sports on TV. And not once did I ever feel I was wasting time.
Sometime in the last fifteen years I got the idea that time in coffee shops and pubs should be put to some productive use: read a novel; write a short story; write a blog; do some artwork; learn a new skill; write some code; build an application; or at least scroll through Twitter or explore some place with Google Earth. So I started carrying more items with me: books, notebooks, art supplies, e-reader, laptop, iPad — and I had a smartphone to fall back on. So, I always had something to do in a coffee shop or pub — something to make it appear less obvious that I was really just there for a social experience, even it amounted to nothing more than people-watching and eavesdropping. And I also needed to carry a larger bag.
But the Covid-19 restrictions ended my coffee shop/pub habit. I still go out for coffee, but seating is limited inside and weather is not always cooperative for doing anything outside other than simply drinking the coffee. Only recently have my favorite pubs resumed serving customers on premises and most of the seating is on wobbly folding chairs and tables outside.
When the first lockdown started a year ago, I quickly realized I could downsize to a smaller bag. Coffee shops were not filling reusable cups, so that was one less thing to carry with me. Supermarkets were not bagging groceries in reusable bags. Ditto. I was doing all my work at home so there was no need to carry a laptop. It was really nice to carry a smaller bag again.
Now that things are starting to open up, I have decided to revisit my old habit of doing nothing over coffee or a pint. This week I found one of my favorite pubs quiet as I was walking by — so I took the opportunity to enjoy a pint at a table in the window that was fully wide open. I had my phone with me, so I could have amused myself with it, but I let it stay in my bag. I was obviously alone and at a loose end. But I decided not to care about being judged in any way. I was enjoying a rather delicious cider while watching the world outside and inside. I did not produce anything. I did not learn anything. I did not improve myself in any way. I just enjoyed some time out out in the world amongst people.
Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission.