ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Once upon a time, in romantic Paris cafes, people could be seen scribbling in notebooks.
They would be jotting down sparkling prose, and sketching out brilliant ideas. Their inspired efforts became Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned.”
At least, that’s the image English majors are taught to carry around for the rest of their unfulfilled lives, as reality keeps getting in the way of writing that great novel.
Now, a couple of generations after Hemingway and Fitzgerald, notebooks again are everywhere, but this time they are of the electronic variety.
What on earth are people doing with all those laptops in Annapolis coffee shops?
“I own a small staffing company and I work out of my home, and I have a small baby,” said J.D. Macey, who on a recent afternoon was working at a window table in Hard Bean Coffee & Book Sellers in downtown Annapolis.
Macey said there are too many distractions at home, which is around the corner on Conduit Street – dishes that need washing, a television that begs for attention, and a bed that is too inviting for a parent who isn’t getting much sleep.
“If I want to get anything done, I have to get out of the house,” Macey said.
Sitting at the next table was Abdi Russi, a banker from Rockville who was in town for a General Assembly reception. He, too, had a laptop up and running, and was using the store’s Wi-Fi connection.
“I can sit here and get onto e-mail,” Russi said. “Otherwise, it would be unproductive time.”
About five doors away, at City Dock Coffee, Doug Masiuk, an information technology consultant, was running his business from a table in the back.
“Don’t need an office to have one,” Masiuk said.
Masiuk said he works out of City Dock Coffee almost every day.
Open Internet access, such as that found in coffee shops, can present security issues, Masiuk said, but the solution is simple.
If confidential information such as financial records and account numbers is that sensitive, he said, “leave it at home,
have another computer.”
A few feet away, Giovanna Kostrubala, from Dulles, Va., had her notebook out. She works for IBM, and was in town for a meeting. At that moment, she was in a teleconference.
“I have to travel a lot in my car, and coffee shops let me drop in and work,” she said. “I love coffee shops, and I don’t even like coffee.”
For the coffee shop owners, laptop users can be a blessing and a bane, as these customers buy beverages and pastries, but take up tables.
Grover Gedney, owner of City Dock Coffee, said he’s glad to have what he calls “the laptoppers,” so long as they remember he’s trying to run a business.
Gedney said he needs table space “Saturday and Sunday mornings when families come in for breakfast. From 8 (a.m.) to 12 (noon) on weekends, we’d appreciate it if you could come in after that.”
One laptopper who enjoys Gedney’s shop, Brianne Leith, was busy, writing for the website “The Annapolis Sound.” She said she hopes to accumulate enough clips to land a paying gig.
Leith ranks City Dock Coffee superior to the competition, and quipped, “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.”
But some folks do, indeed, like the coffee chain, and at Starbucks on West Street the next day, Tom Bertram was drinking a cup of coffee and looking deep into his laptop screen.
He is working on an associate’s degree in information technology, through University of Phoenix.
“Hopefully the economy will be a whole hell of a lot better than it is right now, and maybe I’ll open up my own computer business,” Bertram said.
Bertram isn’t alone in looking for a brighter future inside a computer screen.
At 49 West that same afternoon, three men sat at adjoining tables, all with their laptops running: one was searching job sites, another was studying for his master electrician’s exam, and a third was running his website.
Across the room, a woman sat studying her laptop. Jessica Maliszewski has just moved back from England, and is looking for work in arts administration. She hopes to land a job with a museum or nonprofit organization in New York City.
“My laptop? I live off of it,” said Maliszewski. “I did the same thing in London I feel like coffee shops are my office.”
Leith, the blogger working at City Dock Coffee, is a product of St. John’s College’s graduate school and said she’s doing some creative writing. She has written short stories, she said, and recently wrote a play for a competition.
She wants to write a novel in the tradition of her hero, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of “The Brothers Karamazov.” But Leith has found out that writing long fiction can be mighty hard work.
“I have a novel in the process, but I keep putting it off, I get bored with it,” she said.
Evidently, Annapolis coffee shops have a ways to go to catch up with Paris cafes.
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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)