I want to say I was kicked out, but that would make the event a little more dramatic than it actually was.
I was in Truth or Consequences, at Passion Pie Cafe, as I’d been so many times before. I was there primarily to drop off my submission for the Valentine’s Day Sacred Heart art contest, but I figured I’d also get some breakfast and use their free WiFi for a few hours while I got some writing done.
During past visits to T or C, I’ve spent hours at a time at Passion Pie. I’ve sat there from nearly open (7am) to nearly close (3pm). The workers have always been…if not friendly…gracious to me. Actually, the more often I came in, the friendlier the workers became, maybe because I started to seem like a regular, or maybe because I usually put a dollar in the tip jar. In any case, I’d been there before, hunkered down and using the WiFi for hours.
The coffee shop seemed different on this visit to town. Some of the furniture was different, bigger, maybe more comfortable, but with the effect of reducing the seating in a small room that already couldn’t accommodate everyone at the busiest times of the day. I’m not sure why the owners of a coffee shop would want to reduce seating, but that’s what seems to have happened.
The workers were different too. On the couple of times I’d already gone in since I’d returned to T or C, I hadn’t seen the woman who’d worked there five days a week during my past visits. She was the woman who was not exactly friendly (at least by my Southern standards), but was always gracious and kind to me. She always offered me a refill on my iced tea and never acted as if I were sitting at a table longer than my allotted time. Where had she gone? I don’t know, but the woman working the counter on the day in question was not her.
I dropped off my collage and filled out a form with my contact info. Then I ordered a breakfast croissant (no meat, and yes, please, do add tomatoes) and grabbed a scone from the day-old basket. My total came to almost $9. I pulled out my debit card, signed the screen with my fingertip. This, I think, is where I made my fatal mistake. I forgot to leave a tip.
I usually leave a tip. I’m superstitious about leaving tips, a holdover from my days as a guest house concierge when I was paid cash commissions on tours I sold. I have to keep that cash flowing, I came to believe. If I don’t share the cash I get, I won’t get any more cash, I came to believe. Maybe because I’d been out of the cash economy for a couple of years, I’d forgotten my own superstition. Maybe because I paid with a debit card, I’d simply spaced on the tip. Maybe it was the signing my name with my forefinger that threw me off. The bottom line, I realized later, is that I failed to leave a tip.
In my own defense, the service offered at Passion Pie is minimal. I ordered my food from the woman working the counter. She rang up my total and collected my payment. Then she took one step to the window into the kitchen and called out my order to the cook. When my food was done, the cook placed it on the counter and called out my name, at which time I walked over and picked it up. The woman at the counter didn’t offer me any extra or special service. She didn’t even carry a single item out to my table. Still, I probably should have left a dollar in the jar.
I picked a very small table with two chairs. My laptop barely fit on the table, but I didn’t want to take up room I wasn’t entitled to. Also, the battery on my laptop no longer holds a charge, so I must always be tethered to an electrical outlet. The table was near an outlet. I pulled out what I needed for my writing, plugged in my laptop, signed on to the internet. I balanced my breakfast on the edge of the table as I scarfed it down. Then I got to work.
The cafe was fairly busy as people came in for coffee and breakfast. Other tables filled up, and I decided if I saw another single person unable to find a place to sit, I would offer him or her my unoccupied chair. I glanced around and noticed the few outside tables were empty (to be fair, it was a chilly morning), and no one in the cafe was obviously without a seat. A couple of people were in line at the counter, but I had no idea if they wanted to linger in the shop or get their food and beverages to go.
That’s when the woman who’d taken my order left the counter and walked toward my table. I thought she was going to clean up the condiment area immediately to my left, but I realized she was there for me when she said, Excuse me…
I didn’t expect what came next. We have people waiting for tables…
She didn’t say, You have to leave! but her message was clear. She wanted me gone. She thought I had stayed too long.
I noticed there were no signs proclaiming a time limit on tables or a minimum purchase amount for people who wanted to linger. If there is any sort of official time limit or spending minimum, the information is kept super secret until the worker tells the offender that it’s time to go. At least if there were a sign, I could have made an informed decision about what I wanted to do. I’m confident I would not have bought an overpriced restaurant breakfast and chosen to sit at a tiny table if I had known I would be walking out of the place less than two hours later.
I didn’t know what to do other than to gather up my things and go. I suppose I could have argued with the worker, but that’s not my style. Maybe I should have offered her a bribe. In any case, I left. And I haven’t been back. And I don’t think I will go back.
But I did get a bit of a consolation prize. My collage won third place in the Passion Pie contest, and the owner of the place wrote me a check for $50.