Sad Thoughts: Goodbye Romancing the Bean, Magnolia Park, Burbank, California

Well, Romancing The Bean, it’s time for me to move on.

Romancing the Bean is a lovely little cafe in the heart of the Magnolia Park shopping district, flanked by numerous vintage clothing and curios shops as well as the delicious and highly addictive Porto’s Bakery. It has been so successful in fact, that other businesses rallied to get 1-hour parking restrictions installed on the street in front of it so as to keep would-be diners from hogging parking away from shoppers who might want to visit one of the other small businesses along the blvd.

Romancing the Bean served a great independent coffee roaster, Groundwork, always had nice Pandora stations playing, and the staff was kind and amenable. But the clientele wrecked it all.

The issue was that all these nice things about Romancing the Bean that set it apart from Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, also made it attractive to narcissistic, cliquy and pretentious millennials and gen x’ers. I live a solitary life and pretty much always have, going out by myself and experiencing the world alone, rather than not at all. Sometimes this by choice, sometimes not by choice. But to stay holed up in my home working on personal projects or watching movies or dining in is anathema to who I am.

When I’m out in public by myself, I do at times, grapple with whether or not I’m being perceived as a pariah by those around me, or if it’s all in my head.

Despite my best efforts to convince myself that this was all in my head, I have come to the conclusion that I was right all along: I didn’t fit in, and I wasn’t welcome at this place.

I began visiting Romancing the Bean in 2014 as I was (and still am) intensely supportive of small businesses in all aspects of life. Right away, however, I would notice people proactively avoiding coming near me at all costs. It was borderline comical. Given the popularity of the cafe, it was often the case that most or all of the available tables would be in use, but in a scenario where I would find myself seated at a table with the only other unoccupied table next to me, it was sadly funny to watch the way people struggled with the prospect of having to take the lone table left, and sit next to me of all people.

This happened, A LOT, and didn’t seem to affect other people

I checked my face in the mirror. Nope, no swastika tattoos on my face. I checked below my waist. Nope, pants are still on securely. I examined my wardrobe. Nope, no offensive branding or logos (I go logo-less in general). I checked my shower head. Yep, water’s coming out and I’m clean. I examined my behavior. Just sitting, sipping coffee, buried in my laptop on a pet project (like this site) or reading my kindle. But you would be surprised the lengths strangers would go to, to find other people to sit next to, regardless of whether or not the open table had a buffer table next to it.

In some cases, couples and friend groups would sit down next to me only as long as they had to until another table opened up and then they would go straight for it. But I was determined to believe that this wasn’t about me, until today.

Today I made my daily stop at Romancing the Bean with the intent of completing a pet-project test:

The goal:
To test my newly cobbled together Vlogging/Live-Stream setup which I hope to use on future adventures. This setup consisted of:

  • A Sony RX0 Compact Camera
  • A B+W Neutral Density Filter to allow for cinematic shutter speeds in daylight conditions
  • An Atomos Ninja Flame 4K external recorder capturing the RX0’s 4K output
  • A Teradek VidiU live streaming box
  • A PowerAdd Pro2 23000mAh external battery pack
  • My iPhone’s personal wifi hotspot as provided by AT&T wireless

The purpose:
To figure out the best settings at which to broadcast live footage and experience the playback on a network not my own (Side Note: my home wifi is pretty darn good and not reflective of what most public spaces offer, hence testing in restaurants and cafes is an excellent way to fine-tune bandwidth settings as restaurants and cafes typically pay for cheap low speeds), and determine the usable life expectancy of the battery pack.

I’ll have to do this somewhere else I guess…

I ordered my coffee and sat down at the long bar facing outward toward the street and set up and turned on my system. I placed my camera sideways facing the sidewalk and began testing a variety of resolutions and bitrates, hoping to find something high enough quality to be sharp, smooth, and fluid without constant buffering. But before I knew it, one of the cafe staff was upon me, saying they had received several complaints from other customers about my behavior, and that they (the cafe staff) wanted their customers to feel comfortable.

Now let’s be crystal clear about things for a moment: My camera was pointed at the sidewalk and street. It wasn’t facing into the cafe. It wasn’t pointing up women’s skirts or down their necklines. It wasn’t recording conversations. It was in an utterly innocuous position. Sure, it might capture a pedestrian walking down the street, but sorry “friend,” you take your life in your hands when you walk outside so you should probably smile for every other camera or security camera pointed at you in a shopping district anywhere. You’re showing up in Facebook live videos and Instastories and Snapchats constantly. There was nothing inappropriate about what I was doing. But hey, if I was making multiple customers uncomfortable, then that was happening long before today and this merely gave them the kind of ironclad reason they needed to find a way to complain about me.

Just to be clear, again, this is the angle we’re talking about:

And so I’m not going back, Romancing the Bean and I are through. I was right about the way I’m perceived there, and I don’t need to be around those kinds of people. Two other small coffee spots have since opened on Magnolia Blvd, so I’ll go check them out. Sadly they don’t have much in the way of seating, so I’ll need to get coffee and go, but  Groundwork also has their own locations so I can always hit those up.

That’s alright though, because this isn’t going to hurt their business at all.