Shots of Expresso: A Day In A Life Without Technology

By Lauryn Ash

Capture - Quote - Column 10


​As soon as my plane touched down in Edinburgh, Scotland, my 13.3in Macbook Pro decided it needed an indefinite break. The laptop refused to turn on, charge, and the adaptor I had bought wasn’t the problem. It worked with all my other electronics.  It seemed it had enough of travel. On September 15th, 2012, my laptop declared itself dead.  I hadn’t even bought any coffee grounds yet. I searched for the nearest coffee shop on my iPhone. Black Medicine was two blocks away from my flat; and the website said it had free wifi. The bright green exterior was imposing enough without the numerous “No Cyber Squatting” signs littering its windows and table napkin stands. All I wanted was to run in, grab a take away coffee, and find the closest Apple store. I wasn’t intended on “stealing” their wifi for hours at a time. My large Café Americano came with a free banana. I didn’t want to eat and run, so I perched on a bar stool. Edinburgh was big to my eyes, but it still wasn’t big enough to have an Apple Store. I sighed. My best hope was a local engineering outlet. Dejected, I turned to admire the décor. The rustic, log cabin interior was misplaced and strange. The green walls and misplaced fake foliage was overbearing. Even my surroundings disappointed me. Most tables looked for crowds of five or seven, not four. The table to my left was too small for the father and son’s drinks, plates, and books. 

His father tried to coax him into conversation. The six year old’s eyes remained firmly on the pages. His hand groped air for his juice box or his bagel. If I was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I, too, would be less likely to engage in any conversation. The child’s eyes suddenly turned on me. 

“Are you judging me?” he exclaimed.

I blinked. 

No. I was just admiring his dedication to Harry Potter. 

“Do you know it?” his eyes twinkled at the thought. 

Of course, I responded, I love Harry Potter.

Famous Last Words.

He proceeded to quiz me and trick me and con me into fumbling over Harry Potter knowledge I hadn’t realized I remembered. He in Gryffindor; I was in Syltherin. His wand core was dragon heartstring; mine was unicorn hair. Every nuance was articulated with more verbose than I think his father even knew his son was capable of. Impressive. I looked down at my metaphorical watch. As amusing as this was, I really needed to get my laptop fixed. Apologizing, I said I had to go. 

The next morning I was 5lbs lighter and still had yet to buy coffee grounds. I headed to the Brew Lab. I was intrigued by their alleyway New York City supposed vibe. The only view from their classy wall of windows would have been a row of dumpsters. I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Unlike the other coffee shops in the Edinburgh Old Town area, this one actually served coffee. Most places just serve espresso drink. While fresh, nothing gives you the caffeinated kick like a freshly brewed cup of coffee. As adorable as the brew masters behind the counter were, we just didn’t share the same tastes. 

I arrived before the 9 o’clock rush. We had plenty of time to debate an appropriate roast for my horrid situation. I prefer darker, rich roasts. This morning I wanted a staunch, bitter roast, with each sip I would be reminded of how I must have broken my laptop. I wanted to be jolted awake and punished. The brewers only had mild-mannered and subservient roasts. They would gently coax me out of my sleep-deprived state, each sip soothing me into an enjoyable outlook on my present life. I just couldn’t be hard on myself, could I? Seeing my passion for coffee mixed with a slightly masochistic technological deprivation, the ginger haired brewer reached to a back cupboard and pulled out his favorite, unadvertised roast. His eyes lit up as he described it as delicate, spicy, and better than fair trade, because it was important all the way from San Francisco, America! The coffee beans were unground, and had to be freshly pressed for their filters. If I was willing to wait the extra preparation time, his delightful, super-secret roast could be mine. How could I say no?

I sat down in the black enclave of chrome lightening, rich wood tables, and red velvet curtains. I picked a Guardian magazine off of a deserted table. It featured a picture of J.K. Rowling slyly staring at the camera lens from a white Victorian armchair. Her legs were crossed, one arm folded over the other, the title simply read, What was life after Harry Potter?”

The special roast arrived on a wooden block in a tin kettle next to a tea cup and saucer. I smirked. The ambiance may scream neo-hipster American, but this enclave was still proper indie British. I poured it slowly into my cup. It was delicate, almost like highly caffeinated, doubly-steeped tea. I could barely taste any spice in the brew itself, but that was my fault. I had paired it with an over-powering chili cheese cornbread muffin. It rendered my taste buds useless for drinking coffee. I flipped open the magazine to the article on Rowling. 

It was an interview on Casual Vacancy, her new novel set to be released the following week. The interviewer got to read it early and absolutely loved it. Upon its release, I had read it and found it well-written and captivating. It was not as entertaining as I had hoped. The characters were too well placed, their voices distinct and humorous. They were uplifting when they needed to be; they were depressing where you would expect. They could surprise me, because they had lives outside of this book. I could see into their motivations, while maintaining a comfortable distance away from their immoral decisions. Small town politics and teenage molestation are not my chosen topics when I want to read general fiction. J.K. Rowling wrote well. The plot was just better than the story. The article was also less than inspiring. The journalist never asked the right questions. 

How does she feel to be free from Harry Potter? Had her accountant ever suggested any sorts of tax avoidance schemes? I didn’t want to know about Rowling’s finances. I wanted to know about her. What type of coffee or tea does she drink? Is her writing process as ritualized as the Elephant Café proclaims, because she first penned Harry Potter there? Do budding authors and writers need such a specific location or certain type of stationary to write well? Checking my email only to hear that my laptop was irreparable didn’t help answer these questions once I finished the article. I was lost and disjointed from my traditional writing method. My laptop was gone. There were more strikethroughs than legible words on the page. My handwriting was unintelligible gibberish. How could I type my writing if I could barely read it? My first response to this predicament was to merge with my iPhone. We would become one and my thoughts would turn into digital typeface. Perhaps I could download an app to speak my words into digital writing instead. I went out and bought a wireless keyboard. There was a writing app; typing would be the same. Better, I would buy an inexpensive monitor for my phone. It would be the same as a desktop computer. Anything but having to write two-thousand, three-thousand word essays long-hand. 

Alas, my neck finds the pen more comforting than craning to distinguish the letters on a 3in screen. My coffee hand finds it difficult to drink from a tall sit-in mug of Americano when said mug has to precariously hold up an iPhone. Writing, once a habit, has now become a chore. Lack of a laptop has completely altered my process. I have to set aside specific time and space to complete any written material. My writing process has now become too focused. I am not allowed to shift to and from inspiration and creation. I have to give it my full attention. Otherwise, I wander into smudged handwriting that renders even the best translators’ attempts at transcription fruitless. But I will do. I must do. If the pen was good enough for Poe and for Doyle and for Rowling, then it will good enough for me too. 

I shut the magazine, placed the wooden tray gently back on the counter. I enjoyed the roast, despite its much-too-sweet notes of spice. I thanked the staff, and told them it was perfect. When I say perfect, I usually mean practical. The roast was far from ideal; but the experience made me aspire greater. I had not needed to be bitterly reminded of a lost laptop. I had needed to be subtly reminded that writing could go on without it.

About the Author

Lauryn Ash earned a B.A. in English and Creative Writing at The University of Iowa. 

This column was originally published on Niche’s website on November 7th, 2012.

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