I sat down an hour ago at a Starbucks. The fourth one I tried. I have a few free hours here in San Francisco, the Sunday before GDC (the Game Developer's Conference). It's been rainy, heavy precipitation hitting California for the first time in a while, and that dropping rain slowly made its way through my clothes.
I was planning on working out of the Westfield Mall. I liked the idea of disappearing in the crowd of the huge food court with a coffee and my laptop. But the mall opens at 11 on Sundays, and I had a good 70 minutes before that. I decided to walk and seek out a coffee shop elsewhere, but walking south in downtown SF just gets you weird closed shops covered in various graffiti, or little rundown stores in this most expensive of cities.
Then I started walking north into the union square area, where I knew there were plenty of 'Bucks. Literally every block for many in a row. But they're all pretty small, and I was unable to find a seat.
Here I am back on Market Street, in a much larger Starbucks, a few minutes into cleaning up code on my latest game, Fire Child. There's a very attractive young woman sitting next to me. We're on one of those narrow counters with stools that looks out the window. She's not doing anything except having her coffee and occasionally glancing at her phone. I think she is there hoping to be chatted with. It's an assumption, I don't actually know. And I have work to do, so I'd rather do that.
After a few minutes a man taps me on the shoulder. Because it's a downtown in a big city, I assume a person asking for money, and the man even has a little bit of that look. Kinda rough but detailed tattoos mark his knuckles and peer out from under the sleeves of his baggy black hoodie.
He wants to know about my code.
And then it quickly becomes apparent that he is indeed a coder. He talks about PHP, we talk a little about Unity, using C# versus Java. The entire time the girl next to me has a look, that not-unexpected look of watching me "deal with a guy from the street". I chat with him for two or three minutes, and then he says he'll let me get back to it and sorry for intruding. He starts to walk away and she says to me, "Hello world." I don't think it was a coding joke.
She starts to say a little more, but he returns, and she goes silent and turns away.
He talks about the place he usually works out of, suggesting it as an alternative to Starbucks. But I don't live around here, so it wasn't going to be much help. He said he had been writing tons of articles on quickly made blogs and, using SEO, making a lot of money with these sites. He then sold all these sites to make his big web idea, and then real-life took a hit (drugs might have been the cause, they might have been a side effect), and he was basically back at zero. He said thanks and sorry again, and now he's on the other side of this Starbucks tapping away on a laptop with tattooed fingers.
The glam young gal is still sitting there, and does a look with me. You know, where two people look at each other knowingly after dealing with someone troubled off the street. I've done that before, but I had no such feelings about this guy. She says a couple things, and it's apparent we have much less to talk about than I did with him. After a brief moment where I suss out she has a foreign accent, lives in town, and is "in fashion", we have no more to say. A minute later, she gets up from her seat next to me, and walks out.
My socks are still damp from all that walking, those minutes where I was looking for a dry place to take shelter. With my giant backpack loaded with clothes and my laptop and possessions I care about. I cannot begin to know what it's like to look for shelter for days and months and years, but I know that I count on others, and I can do no less than meet someone where they are. And if they're excited to talk code and apps and such, I don't really care what they look like.