Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tales from the Road

What a difference a few hours in a plane makes.

I'm in Concord, Massachusetts. I spend the morning on my first full day here writing in my room at the Hawthorne Inn, and I head out to get some lunch at the Main Streets Market & Cafe in Concord Center. I've brought my laptop because I have visions of sitting in the noise and bustle of life while I eat and get some more writing done. It's nearing the end of the lunch hour: 12:50. I park my car and stroll down Main Street marveling at how damn quaint it is up here in New England. I mean, I used to live here -- one town over in Acton -- so I know this, but still, I love it anew every time.

At the door to the little cafe I stop because on the door there's a sign (similar to the No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service type of sign) that says: Restaurant in Use, No Cell Phones, No Laptops.

I'm bummed. Not about the cell phone ban; if you read this blog with any regularity, you know how perturbed I get with obnoxious cell phone use in public places. But no laptops? Oh, that hits me where it hurts. I'm up here in Massachusetts for two reasons. The first is to visit my girlfriend Karen (yes, the same Karen who gets a grateful nod in the Acknowledgements section of my novel, Tell No Lies), and the second is to write. Karen and I can't get together until Saturday because of her school schedule, so I've come up a few days early to write. A section of the novel I'm currently working on takes place in New England, and I figure it can't hurt to immerse myself in the place since it's been ten years now since we moved away.

Anyway, at first I can't really understand the ban on laptops. After all, I'm eating alone, and the laptop's quiet, so I wouldn't be disturbing anyone. And in my experience, I've noticed that venues that allow - indeed encourage - laptop use tend to be hopping places. They become local hangouts, and that has to be good for business.

But once I'm in the cafe, I start to understand. This place is still hopping at 1:00 p.m. So perhaps they fear that diners using laptops will loiter for hours at a table, which could see several turnovers of customers otherwise.

So in the end, I accept the ban without feeling put out. I enjoy my lunch and just take in the surroundings, which helps the writing just as much if not more than the laptop. And I'm rewarded for my acceptance when I hear a waitress say warily to another worker, "Why's that person taking pictures at the front of the restaurant?" I turn to see what she's talking about, and sure enough, there's a woman just near the front door snapping photos of the restaurant interior. And I realize that's why I love it up here in Massachusetts. All over the rest of America, it seems, people would be mugging for the camera, either overtly or covertly, hoping for their chance to "be seen." Here, though, they still seem to value the concept of privacy, and guard it jealously. That waitress didn't view the camera as an opportunity, but as an intrusion, and there's something sort of refreshing about that in this age of everyone groping desperately for their fifteen minutes of fame.