The Coffice

The last couple months have left me wondering how coffee shops — Starbucks, Caribou — make money. From my daily visits, they appear to be filled with people such as myself, people who pay a buck eighty for a cup of coffee, then use the coffee shop as an office for the day. Office space — with unlimited refills in the case of Caribou — with Wifi for less than $2 a day? That’s hard to beat even in this commercial real estate market.

Of course ...

There is one drawback to the coffice: Your fellow squatters. They aren’t loud, and that’s the problem. They tend to talk softly, which tends to make you all the more interested in what they’re saying.

Last Thursday my laptop and I camped in an easy chair at Caribou. Next to me was a younger guy, early 30s, computer in lap, Blackberry at the ready, on the arm of his chair. The phone rang: “Hey!” he bellowed. Then, in a barely audible tone, “Oh! Oh really?” I could have left it at that, except that I picked up on a few key phrases: “September launch,” “content managers,” “content editors.”

Did I mention that editing content is among my job skills?

I listened harder, listing in this fellow’s direction. The more excited his tone, the softer he spoke. My ear was practically in his lap before he returned to full bellow and announced, “I’ll be in the office in five minutes,” packed up and was gone. No chance for a casual, “So ... what was that all about?”

The next day a man and woman were sitting two tables away. They were engaged in a civil dispute, the dispassionate tone of which suggested a supervisor and subordinate who’d left the office to work out a personality dispute.

“You’re constantly talking over me,” she said.

“I don’t intend to,” he countered, trying a humorous spin. “I just have things to say.”

“Well, it’s very demeaning.” She didn’t think he was funny.

Then: “If you thought you could change.” That’s an odd thing to say to your boss, I thought. Shortly, they left the coffee shop, walked to her car, got a bunch of his clothes, put them in his car, gave each other a “See ya,” good bye. Turns out it was a couple breaking up.

A little while ago today, at the next table, a business deal was going down. I wasn’t paying much attention until I noticed that they seemed to think I was eavesdropping, which did make me eavesdrop, which made them speak in hushed tones. Again, no idea what was going on, didn’t really care, yet I wasted half an hour trying to figure out their deal.

Now, coffice permitting, I need to spend a little time trying to figure out my deal.


We want you. Of course ...

Of course ...

There’s a “Seinfeld” episode that I’ve only recently come to fully appreciate. The perpetually unemployed George Costanza goes on a job interview with a company that provides supplies to roadside rest stops. As he’s oddly wont to do, he impresses his prospective boss.

“I want you to have this job,” Mr. Tuttle tells George. “Of course” — And just then the phone rings with a call he has to take, leaving George to wonder whether he has the job. (Compounding the matter: Tuttle praised George because “I feel like I, like I don't have to explain every little thing to you. You understand everything immediately.” Like whether George actually has the job. Plus, Tuttle was leaving for a week’s vacation and George couldn’t wait that long for an answer.)

Two days after leaving The News & Observer, I was contacted by a company very much interested in sponsoring a health and fitness blog, much like the one I wrote at the paper. We had an initial discussion, which confirmed we were on the same page. We had a follow-up with the person in charge of their “social media.” That went well, too. We agreed to shoot for a June 1 launch. A contract was practically in the mail.

Of course...

The company had a significant public relations issue pop up that demanded the full attention of the people I was dealing with. It was a bonafide problem; They aren’t using it as a smokescreen to cover second thoughts and put me off. I got a “touching base” email this past week saying a contract was in the works.

I’m 95 percent sure this will happen. When it does, the delay will immediately be vanquished from memory. Until then, until there’s a contract and the contract is signed, this limbo consumes my thoughts. It’s not the only thing I think about, but it’s constantly there, somewhere, lurking beneath the surface. (Hey! You kids! Stop making so much noise!)

George, by the way, solved his problem in a truly Seinfeldian manner. He simply showed up for work the following Monday, claimed an office, closed the door and napped until the 5 o’clock whistle.


Living longer and better: Two approaches

I’m not a big fan of parallel reading; That is, reading two books at one time. (It’s especially problematic with fiction: How come Babs, a happily married mother of three, is suddenly living with a family of anteaters in a South American rainforest?) But I’m finding it insightful in the case of “Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond” and “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.”

Both books look at living long, active lives, and both books come at it from a cultural perspective, albeit considerably different cultural perspectives. “Younger Next Year” says anyone — from bored retiree to stressed-out exec — can live a long, active life provided they do an hour of vigorous exercise a day. “The Blue Zones” visits four cultures around the world that have a disproportionate population of centenarians and where people generally live longer and live more actively late into their long lives. “The Blue Zones” concurs with “Younger Next Year” — stay active, you’ll live longer. Though in the case of the latter, that active living isn’t in the form of contrived exercise, it’s in the form of rigorous vocations — from farming to sheep herding — that force a body to stay active to survive.

“The Blue Zones,” as I’m discovering — I’m only 59 pages into it — looks more into the total lifestyle package. The book is the work of Dan Buettner, who became intrigued by why people in certain geographic regions live longer. With the backing of National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, he assembled a team that visited four areas where people tend to live long, active lives: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, Calif.; and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. His team descended on these communities and conducted extensive interviews with centenarians, their families and their friends to determine why these people outlive the average Earthling.

So far, active living has emerged as a key factor. A couple other commonalities among the four cultures have emerged so far as well, ones that people in my position — between permanent employment gigs — can incorporate into their lifestyles fairly easily.

One is that people who live long and prosper share a “sense of social connectedness.” Writes Buettner: “Most people enjoy the company of other people, particularly other people who feel they care about them. That seems to give you a sense of well being, whether that raises your endorphin level or lowers your cortisol level. We don’t know why. People have looked for biological markers, and they haven’t been successful at finding them. But something happens that makes life more worthwhile. The days take on more meaning.”

Think about how even a simple exchange with a cashier that goes beyond your transaction can give a boost to your day, let alone having coffee once a week with your best friend, or lunch every month with favorite former co-worker.

Something else that makes us live longer: Doing something we feel is either interesting or worthwhile. It’s a very individual thing, writes Buettner. Some people are passionate about collecting comic books and feel that preserving the entire collection of “Too Much Coffee Man” comics is a worthy life mission. Others truly are committed to their work, and devoting 12 hours a day to it may not necessarily be a bad thing. For some, suggests “The Blue Zones,” it can add years to their lives.

Something more to think about as you contemplate the future.


'The Blue Zones'

One thing I like about not being formally wed to a workplace: When someone says, “Hey, you should read this book,” more often than not, I end up reading it. Not working 10-hour days lets a soul indulge in such things.

Next on my to-read list (thanks to a recommendation from Jeff P.): “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” (National Geographic). Working with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, author Dan Buettner spent five years traveling the world searching for places where people tend to live longer, happier lives. When he found them, he would search for clues about what led to their longevity. A story on NPR provides a tease that makes me want to learn more.

And look at the time, if it isn’t noon already! Off to Quail Ridge.


Kid cycling 101

Bike clubs such as Triangle-based TORC encourage kids to ride with free mountain bike races.

A key victim of these fearful times: Fewer kids riding bikes. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, there was a dramatic decline in the number of kids riding bikes from 1998 to 2007: the number of 12-17 year-olds riding dropped 16.9 percent and the number of 7-11 year-olds dropped an incredible 29.9 percent. Two primary factors are driving those numbers: One, kids who are allowed to stay in their rooms plugged into an electronic device and two, parents fearful of letting their kids out of their sight. Both reasons are contributing to a growing number of our children growing too much.

My premise is that if kids are ... encouraged to ride, they will love it. And that encouragement must come from one source: their parents, who must overcome their fear factor. Alllll that said, here’s an introduction to the Thursday evening Family Fun Ride Clinics being offered at Performance Bicycle stores nationwide. The clinics begin at 6 p.m., last about an hour and go over things such as safety, bike maintenance, good places to ride in your area, help — of course — on finding the right gear. (Unfortunately, as Clay at the local Performance here in Cary tells us, there is no actual ride. A liability thing, we presume.)

Even if you don’t own bikes, stop by, ask questions. A little knowledge could set you and your family off on a summer of healthy two-wheel togetherness. If you live in the Triangle, you’ll find Performance stores in Cary and Chapel Hill. For other locations, click here

Recommended reading: Billing the right person for health care costs

Looking for a sponsor for, say, your mountain bike team? Go to your boss and tell her it will lower the company's health care costs.

Jeff P. passes along an emerging trend piece from The New York Times: “Getting Healthy, With a Little Help From The Boss.”

As the headline may suggest, employers are getting more aggressive about encouraging workers to live healthier. Lots of reasons this makes sense — healthier employees miss less work, for one. But the main reason is to control rising health insurance costs. Quoting the article: “According to a January survey by the benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates, nearly two-thirds of large employers planned to transfer more costs to employees. At the same time, one-third planned to put greater emphasis on wellness plans — programs that encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles.”

There’s some concern that some employers are using questionnaires about employees’ health habits to gain information that could be used against them on the job. (The questionnaires go directly to a third party, which can initiate an intervention on the unknowing employer’s behalf.) Mostly, the article addresses the growing number of wellness programs being launched by employers.

A good solution, the latter. Ultimately, though, the only thing that will force people to amend their unhealthy ways is direct accountability. In the case of lifestyle and health issues, that would involve people having to pay for illnesses and diseases directly attributable to their behavior. In some instances, because of genetics, that could be a challenge. But if you’re 75 pounds overweight and develop type 2 diabetes, there’s a pretty fair chance that that your lifestyle choices are to blame. And if that is the case, shouldn’t you be the one to pay for your behavior?


An hour a day, an epic a month

Chris Underhill with Friends of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail went with me on the first half of last week's epic.

I’m going to add to Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge’s premise in “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond” that an hour of good exercise a day is key to living a long, healthy life. Just as vital: Getting in one epic workout a month.


It’s a term mountain bikers know well: A ride that goes on forever, that you don’t want to end, and that you don’t realize how taxing it is until you’re at trail’s end and hoisting — or trying to hoist — your bike onto your car roof rack. But epic is a term that can apply to just about any pursuit, from walking and hiking to paddling to road biking to skateboarding to ... whatever elevates your heart rate for an extended period. Exercise for an extended period and your elevated metabolism will help you burn calories not just during exercise, but well beyond.

I first tapped into this epic phenomenon during the inaugural Cycle North Carolina. For two weeks, a couple hundred of us rode 55 to 70 miles a day. I wasn’t surprised that I could eat everything in sight during the ride; I was surprised, though, that my appetite continued without repercussions on the scale for another couple of weeks. It was like a car’s engine stuck on high idle at a stoplight, continuing to burn fuel without going anywhere. Into the third week, though, my “idle” dropped back to normal and the extra fuel I was still taking on began accumulating as fat. That’s why I try to do an epic a month.

Last year, for instance, I did a 56-mile mountain bike ride (on fire road) in May, a 37-mile, two-day backpack trip in June, a 23-mile mountain bike race (singletrack) in August, and a six-hour endurance mountain bike race in early October. I kept my metabolism revved for most of the summer, averaged a good hour a day of exercise between epics, didn’t pay much attention to my diet and stayed at 165 pounds (I’m 5’ 9”) into Thanksgiving. I’ve been exercising steadily since, but between winter’s lethargic pull, the demands of the job I used to have and, most importantly I believe, the absence of epics, my weight has crept up to 173. And so, I’m reviving my epic-a-month plan. Last week: I hiked 43 miles in two days on the Falls Lake section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail http://www.ncmst.org/hikingtrips.html , nearly 14 hours of hiking total.

One caveat to the epic: While your body may continue to demand and burn fuel at accelerated levels for several days, it may take a while to return to form. This morning, Alan, also coming off an epic in last week’s Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and I did what usually is a spirited and peppy hour-and-a-half to two-hour mountain bike ride at Umstead. It was neither — but it was still good.

Getting back on the horse always is. Even if you have a hard time getting the horse to move.