Thursday, January 06, 2005

I'm Becoming a Starbucks Slut & AlphaSmart Groupie

Your local roving reporter is sitting once again in the Starbucks in Monaca, Pennsylvania, this time sipping a delicious venti mocha Frappuccino. The manager of this little hideaway (for it is new and few people have found it yet) now recognizes me as the woman who “works” in here. I hadn’t even ordered my Frapp yet, and my AlphaSmart wasn’t even yet on the table (a dead giveaway for the “recall” factor of remembering who I am). And yet this woman smiled, said a loud hello, and asked, “Are you here to work again today?” Yes, I tell her, for a little while. Mind you, I have only sat in this particular Starbucks about three times before, and the last time was probably nearly a month ago. So, I consider this amazing customer service for her to remember me so easily, even without seeing me at my usual table here behind the display of mugs and pre-ground coffees, before my AlphaSmart is even out of my briefcase.

The drive-thru does a very brisk business--a steady stream of cars rolling through as I sit here at any time of day--but the number of people who stay and sit in the store to drink their coffees has never been as brisk as I would like. Unless I am in a library, I tend to work well with a bustle of people and “people noise” around me. The piped-in music here is stellar and just the right volume to work, even without very many people around me. Right now, in fact, around 1 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, I am the only customer sitting in the store, although the workers talk animatedly among themselves and cheerfully serve the drive-thru customers. I do hope that this place continues to thrive because I enjoy coming here and making it part of errands I have in this part of town. I’m doing my small part to make that happen. If I have to sacrifice myself and drink more Frappucinos, then so be it. It’s the least I can do. And never let it be said that I didn’t do the least I could do.

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

Well, yes it did.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m trying to type with my left pinky finger covered in Band-Aids, which means it’s clunking down and hitting some extra keys when I don’t want it to. And, I tend to hit the “shift” key with my left hand, so that’s been interesting to work around. It’s hard to get a feel for how the new keyboard is doing if you’re constantly hitting the CAPS LOCK key with your pinky.

For those of you following the dull, plodding saga that is my life, I bought myself a Christmas present this week: an AlphaSmart Neo. I had been using an old AlphaSmart 2000 model I bought on eBay back in October, but I had been drooling over the Neo model (which came out in 2004) ever since seeing it on their web site a few months ago while researching their products for the eBay purchase. At the time I couldn’t justify pulling regular income to buy myself one, so I’d been hoping to save up some of my own stray cash and use any money given to me at Christmas to start saving for the Neo. Well, lo and behold, my rolled coins added up to over $50 in a hurry, and my parents and my mother-in-law came through for me with the rest of the money I needed to order my very own Neo last week. The little baby arrived on Tuesday and I’ve been in writer-geek heaven ever since. Don’t get me wrong: The 2000 model would have suited me just fine for years on end (the thing is indestructible and marvelous and I’d already gotten my money’s worth out of it). But, the Neo has some nice added features and upgrades to it that I really wanted, including USB and infrared data transfer, passwords, two-button turn-on, word count, etc.

I’d listed the pros and cons of getting the Neo over waiting a little while longer and getting a low-end, small laptop instead. But, the pros of the Neo won out, not the least of which was its price (less than half of a low-end laptop). Mostly, I had to be realistic about how I work and write, about how easily distracted I am (Spider Solitaire, anyone?), about battery life and convenience. The Neo won, hands down. No distractions. No games. And over 700 hours on just three AA batteries. The feel and size of carting around a spiralbound notebook of paper--just under two pounds, but feels lighter. The lack of data loss (instantly saves after every keystroke) added to its appeal. When I go somewhere with this thing, I know I will be writing and doing nothing else.

The funny thing is that I don’t get a commission from AlphaSmart. I don’t work for them. I don’t know anyone who works there. I just started reading about the things, thought I’d try one out the cheap way by buying a used one first, and fell in love the instant it got here. From here on out, I don’t see myself without an AlphaSmart. I don’t see how any serious writer could be without one. It’s like carrying around a pad of paper to jot down notes, thoughts, other writings--something most writers I know do anyway. Only this is better because it’s a keyboard and you don’t have to retype anything once you get home to your computer. It’s quick (instant on/off button, no booting up or waiting). It’s easy. You don’t even think about the batteries because they last forever. If you’re going to bother to carry around a notebook to write in, why not carry around one of these instead? It’s like an electronic notebook, only better.

And yes, cooler. I’ve had more than one comment from people nearby who sit and watch me type on the thing (either model), as if they had never seen such a thing before. If I were sitting here with a Sony Vaio wired to the max with every latest feature, no one would even look twice. Everyone does that at a coffee shop. But, sitting here with little more than a hunter green keyboard on the table, with a display sitting above the keys, just looks weird, I guess.

I don’t know how I would react to seeing someone with one of these at the table next to me if I hadn’t seen one before. Perhaps I too would interrupt them and ask all sorts of innocently naive questions. I know that if I saw someone with one now that I own one myself, I would certainly say hello and tell them I too owned one. AlphaSmart owners are an outrageously loyal bunch of people. It’s almost like a little technological cult. You can probably tell by just reading this blog how dedicated (read: insane) we AlphaSmart people are. I am not the only one who sounds like this. We all sound like this. Seeing your AlphaSmart and using it for the first time is a lot like a conversion. Your eyes feel suddenly opened and focused. Your head seems clearer. Suddenly you think, “Aha, I get it now!” And, life seems to make sense in a brand-new way.

And, worst of all, you feel you must proselytize others. You find yourself launching into tirades and rants about the pros of owning one of these machines. You begin to bore even yourself after a while because you begin to sound like the product spec sheet you inadvertently memorized when visiting the web site over and over again while awaiting the arrival of your very own model. But, you don’t care what other people think because you know your life has been deepened and enriched by the presence of your AlphaSmart. You know your writing is more prolific and more fun.

Even if no one is reading it.

The one thing AlphaSmart can’t do is make you a better writer--just a less procrastinating one.

And now it’s time to finish up my Frappuccino and head out of the Starbucks for today. There are more people here than when I first came in, the drive-thru is still quite busy, and it looks good that business may just boom enough for this little corner of the world to support the coffee and writing habits of one lone writer. Otherwise, it’s back to the library for me--and they don’t serve Frappuccino there or play The Smiths over a loudspeaker.

Perish the thought.

2 Comments:

Blogger Chet said...

Oh my, your output has definitely doubled since your Neo arrived.

Congratulations!

9:21 PM  
Blogger Me said...

I know, Chet! In fact, look! Another new entry already and it's still January!

I literally have to STOP myself from typing on this little baby. I love the keyboard THAT much. I could meander on aimlessly for days on this thing. (If I start doing that, smack me, okay?)

:)

10:18 PM  

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