Can you watch my stuff for a second? Or should I bring it with me?
January 7, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

What do you do with your stuff when you're working in a coffee shop all day and you have to pee?

Okay, so due to a variety of situations beyond my control, I am often trying to put in a full day's work (writing) in a place where I have no place to go -- so I tend to end up in coffee shops a lot. The problem is, I'm also toting a lot of stuff -- up to two days' worth of "life" stuff, plus my laptop, phone, camera, kindle, wallet, and goodness knows what else.

And I don't usually drink coffee, or tea, or anything except water -- but in my effort to "pay rent," I usually buy a cup of tea or coffee every couple of hours or so. So I end up having to pee fairly frequently, and frankly it is a giant PITA to pack up all my stuff and haul it into sometimes-tiny, sometimes-dirty coffee shops. Plus, if it's crowded, I run the risk of losing my seat.

Once, in Oklahoma (where I mostly live), I asked the woman sitting next to me to watch my stuff. I felt (mostly) okay about this (well, actually I was freaking out a little the whole time I was away from my computer) because Oklahomans are lovely and generally honest, and besides she already had a laptop of her own. But I'm not always someplace where I trust strangers (am I paranoid?), and I'm also sometimes the only person in a place apart from the staff and maybe one other person across the room.

So my question is: for those of you who work in coffee shops for long stretches of time, what do you do with your stuff when you have to leave for a couple of minutes?
posted by obliquicity to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about offering to share your table with another person and asking him/her politely to keep an eye on your things? I've found that this usually creates enough of a social contract with my table mate (assuming that you are willing to do the same) to keep my stuff secure. Take your wallet with you.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've left my laptop and ipod etc, just ask your neighbor to watch your stuff. I see you're in Stillwater, OK, I'm guessing it's probably not the worst area for theft. I've done this in both a mid-sized city in Central, IL (Bloomington-Normal, pop 125,000) and in Columbus, OH, with no problems.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:07 PM on January 7, 2011

In the SF Bay Area - most people just ask someone who looks semi-responsible and is camped out next to them to watch their stuff. I do the same, but take my computer and phone with me.
posted by zippy at 6:09 PM on January 7, 2011

What about putting your non-work items in a locker somewhere before you go to do your writing at a coffee shop? Then at least you have less stuff to pack up when you do go to the bathroom. Personally I always take my stuff with me but I usually only have a laptop.
posted by thorny at 6:09 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My coffee shop of choice is in small-town/college-town Ohio, where I just leave my stuff (laptop, phone, bag, books, nook, mp3 player) at the table without a second thought. There's enough of a sense of community to the shop that I think folks would at least raise an eyebrow if somebody else started grabbing stuff from "my" table.

In the kind of place like my home coffee shop, where I know the baristas and some of the folks who are often there at the same time with me at least well enough to say hello, I don't worry at all about my stuff. If I were working at a super high-traffic, anonymous place like Starbucks...I don't really know what I'd do in that case. That's a significant reason that I don't go work at places like that.

Of course, if my stuff ever gets nabbed, I'll have some serious foot-mouth insertion to do.
posted by Rallon at 6:10 PM on January 7, 2011

Yes, basically you ask a neighbour to watch your stuff. I've been on both ends of this arrangement. It's part of the coffee shop social contract.

Once I saw someone with an actual lock for their laptop. I thought that was clever.

Also I like to switch coffee shops every few hours so that I get a chance to walk around. Sometimes I defer my restroom breaks to then.
posted by sesquipedalian at 6:13 PM on January 7, 2011

I do this in NYC coffee shops all the time. Just ask someone next to you who has a bunch of shit too. Chances are they aren't going to take the time to pack up their shit and yours. I mean, yeah, you run a risk, but you could hit by a car when you walk out the door, too. Doesn't mean you won't.
posted by greta simone at 6:15 PM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Don't set up at a table near the exit. Take your wallet. If you go to one place regularly, make a point to be friendly, clean, and a good tipper--the staff will watch out for your stuff if they know you and like you.
posted by lovecrafty at 6:15 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crowded or not crowded hippie-esque coffee joint - ask someone to watch my stuff. If no one's really there, don't worry about it, go pee.

Starbucks: Take it with me.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2011

Kensington makes a range of security cables/lock combinations for most mobile devices, and many notebook and portable electronic manufacturers incorporate the reinforced slot plate for the Kensington system. Take your wallet and cell phone to the can, when you go. Make sure your laptop is hibernated, and password protected for wakeup.

And ask nearby folks to watch your goods.
posted by paulsc at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do this all the time. I find someone near me who looks camped out and not like they could just bolt with my stuff easily. I figure the chances of me asking someone who would be of a thieving mind are bogglingly small with all of the other people there who presumably have at least had the potential of overhearing.
posted by amicamentis at 6:23 PM on January 7, 2011

Here are the strategies I use when I am leaving my stuff unattended - I generally take the small, easily stolen things with me (phone, wallet). I am sometimes willing to leave my laptop if I feel like I've developed a "nodding" relationship with the people sitting around me. I'd notice someone lifting their stuff and I just hope they'd notice someone lifting mine and would say something. Also, I try to make my laptop somewhat more difficult to snatch. It's plugged into the outlet with maybe the cord wrapped around a table leg. I surround the laptop with my crap: notepad, newspaper, books, coffee cup, water glass, silverware etc. Anything to make it look more like a pain in the ass to grab. If I'm feeling a little skittish I might move the laptop to my chair and cover it with my coat but I sometimes wonder if this really is a better solution.

Of course, all my stuff might be gone when I come back. If that would be a major problem for you then I'd consider trying to pack lighter and just taking your stuff to the bathroom with you.
posted by victoriab at 6:24 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I'm in Stillwater I just work in my house or at my office -- but about 5 months of the year (non-continuously) I am in the UK, CA, NY, and many exciting places throughout the midwest. I'm not in the same place often enough to make friends with the staff (if I'm someplace for a long time, it means I have a "home," and I'll work there). Also, although I have stuff, it's never more than a backpack -- which is why it's taken me a decade to ask this question :) It's not *that* hard to take it with me; most of the difficulty is that I feel kind of self-conscious sitting back down and unpacking again after 3 minutes away.

To be honest, I'd rather work in my car than share a table with someone -- let alone ask their permission to share theirs! (Why yes, I do score very highly on "are you an introvert?" tests, thank you.) But I need an outlet, so maybe I also need the practice being nice.

I really have a blind spot in this particular respect, having never thought to watch what other people do, so I appreciate all of your anecdotes, especially the ones from places where I frequently am -- it helps to know that the people around me wouldn't think it was totally out of line for me to ask, apart from anything else.

Also, it has never occurred to me to put my computer to sleep (although, duh) -- thanks for that thought!
posted by obliquicity at 6:27 PM on January 7, 2011

I generally take my computer, phone, purse, etc with me to the bathroom, but leave my jacket and a book at the table to mark my spot. I figure people are less likely to walk off with that, and it's not a huge deal if they do.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:32 PM on January 7, 2011

I do a lot of tutoring/translation work in coffee shops around Cleveland and I never leave anything sitting out. Maybe in Westlake/Lakewood/Rocky River you could get away with leaving your computer out, but anywhere else in Cleveland is a gamble.
posted by vkxmai at 6:49 PM on January 7, 2011

Keep the most valuable belongings with me, and leave the rest that no one would walk off with.

If the neighbour looks REALLY REALLY trust-worthy enough, I'll nicely ask if they could watch my stuff for me. (Still, I'd keep my purse, keys, cell on me, maybe leave the laptop with them.)

Alternatively, ask an employee (manager would be even better) of the coffee shop to keep an eye on your things.
posted by easilyconfused at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2011

I vaguely recall reading about a study once where they got a bunch of people to leave their stuff somewhere either with asking a neighbor to watch it or without doing so and then had people come along and steal it and the ones with people watching it tended to get called out more than the other ones. (This was probably in Freakonomiccs or some Malcolm Gladwell book but my memory is hazy-- someone else might remember the source. I think it was done on a beach.) Ever since I read that I do the ask somebody to watch it thing.
posted by NoraReed at 7:50 PM on January 7, 2011

I will leave the not-valuable stuff behind (pens, notebooks, paper, books) and take my wallet, phone, and laptop into the toilet with me.

9 times out of 10 it would probably be safe to ask someone to watch it... but I can't afford to replace it if it gets stolen, so for me, it's not worth the risk.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 8:18 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing paulsc's suggestion, laptop locks are great and I'm shocked people don't use them more. You'd lock up your bike if you left in unattended, why not your laptop? If used right, the thief would either have to destroy your computer or take it with the table, which would obviously attract attention in the coffeeshop.
posted by deinemutti at 9:24 PM on January 7, 2011

LAPTOPISTAN: Mind Your Neighborhood. "... When you get up to take a call, get coffee or use the washroom, you need only to look at a neighbor, make eye contact, look back at your computer and nod. The deal is sealed without a word: You watch my MacBook and I'll watch yours. ..."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:23 AM on January 8, 2011

I'm not sure this counts as an answer, but maybe you could work at public libraries instead, so you won't have to drink coffee/pee so much. Or you could invest in an extra battery (or two) for your computer and break your day up into outside in the car, long lunch (charging), and outside in the car.

(I personally feel like leaving my stuff in a coffee shop is like driving, it's obviously unsafe but if you care then you might as well just start digging a cave now, and frankly that's looking more attractive every day.)
posted by anaelith at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as the laptop lock cables go, I've got three of these, and they're sturdier and more reliable than the Kensington-brand locks I've owned, albeit a bit larger. Use one with a key, not the spin-dial combo locks that can be defeated pretty quickly if you know how.
posted by Orb2069 at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

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