I’ve been to a slew of cafes around the world, mostly in California and Europe. You might say I have a penchant for them. My days in San Luis Obispo (SLO) are no different. There’s so much you can find out about a town, culture and politics in a cafe. Its Tuesday morning and I parked my car a bit outside of downtown SLO where it’s still free of charge. Walking downtown, cuddling my sister’s poodle, I began my search for the best place to set myself down in and feed my caffeine addiction. The one on the corner of Osos St. and Monterey wasn’t open yet and after a few minutes I gave up and ended at Starbucks. I try to avoid the chains, but sitting on the bench out front I also learn a lot about the town. Around the corner is one of the hangouts of the homeless residents and right next to me a guy is resting on one of Starbucks outside, plastic chairs. The guy looks pretty destitute and I would guess with major mental health issues. He can hardly keep his head up and his hands nervously fumble with an empty paper cup. Inside there’s a couple guys chatting in the corner next to the window. Their large, ruffled backpacks and long, unkempt hair make me assume they belong to the homeless crowd. The guy has an oversized Starbucks paper cup, so it looks like he purchased something. One redeeming factor for Starbucks is their tolerance for the homeless.
Cafes around here have a high tolerance for people just buying one coffee and hanging around for hours. Oops, like me ;-). Often you will see young and old with laptops hanging out for hours. I think for many it’s their office. This also tells a lot about the socio-economic situation. So many people in California are self-employed. Many may say, great, all that freedom. You are your own boss. You can determine your own working hours. The problem is, is that they are not doing it of their own free will. They can’t find steady, salaried employment so they work from contract to contract. Apparently, the employer and contractor save a bunch on taxes. Don’t know exactly how it works, but one way is by writing off travel expenses. The self-employed person says they drove 20 miles to visit a customer or even his own boss. Of course, the employer saves money on office space (thank you Starbucks), can pay the person only when the work is needed (sorry pal, don’t have any work for you this week). The workers have little recourse. They don’t have a union representing them and fighting for their interest. They have a ton of competition, so if they don’t play the game, the employer will just take the next guy. So, take your laptop, get a nice table at Starbucks, order your Soy Latte and you’re set for the day. How in the world somebody can earn enough money doing this and pay upwards of $1500 (1250€) a month rent is beyond me.
Some more impressions of SLO Life