As part of the NaNo experience, Alfonso and I have had a few meet-ups at local coffee shops. Alfonso is bad at picking shops as he typically picks ones that have 5 minutes remaining before they close, and they won’t even sell you any coffee or old bread.

Anyway, I’d been wanting to check out a local coffee shop opened by a fellow Googler (though I can’t say I know him, I think he works in another building). You can check out the astoundingly and surprisingly bad website here. Don’t expect hours of operation or even an exact address.

So, the gist of this cafe is that payment is on a voluntary basis. You go in, order whatever drinks or snacks (small sandwiches, FroYo, bagels, CostCo muffins, etc) and you receive them. There is no cash register. There is — off to the side — a small slot where you can put money, if you so choose. You can also give the barrista your card and just tell her whatever you want charged. Or pay online at the previously mentioned website via PayPal. (Wait: why doesn’t this dude accept Google Checkout?)

My supposition is that, because payment is voluntary, the median visitor ends up paying more than they would at a Starbucks, or what have you. This is, however, quite necessary to make up for the people that pay nothing. And by “people” I kind of mean “teenagers.”

They also have an Xbox 360 hooked up that you can go to town on, complete with several games. How do the games not get stolen? Nuclear technology.

You know that part of the Simpsons opening where Homer handles a nuclear rod inside a lucite case with some gloves? Well, Terra Bite has a 360 and a bunch of discs inside a similar case. You stick your hands through some holes in the case – too small to fit a CD through – and you can change out the games. I don’t know what keeps people from stealing the controllers, though. Hmmm.

Anyway, the cafe itself is pretty nice. It’s also convenient when you know you’ll be sitting there for two hours – you don’t have to go up and pay $2 each time you need a coffee refill, or feel like an incredibly delicious bagel. You can just settle up for whatever you feel like you owe at the end of the day. Or end of the week. Or just not pay.

Some strange events and such:

– At one point on our second day visiting Terra Bite, the owner came in. His demeanor kind of made me feel unwelcome there — Alfonso asked a good question (how do they handle sales tax) and through the entire 30 second conversation, the owner seemed to be bothered that he was forced to have it. And the entire time he was there — sitting out of sight on the other side of the cafe — I felt vaguely like I shouldn’t be there. Like I have broken into this dude’s house and was using his coffee maker, but he was too polite to ask me to leave, but not too polite to offer me biscuits. I’m not certain the entirety of this feeling is his fault though; I think it’s from the concept of the place. I hadn’t paid for anything I had taken (yet), so I felt like a freeloader, even though I fully intended to pay when I was done consuming his goods.

– Tatiana didn’t have any cash, so she felt like she could not get anything. This confused me. So I offered to pay, which she accepted. Me paying for her consisted of going with her to the counter, standing next to her while she ordered and got her drink, and then sitting back down. A couple hours later I put money into the little hopper. With new payment guidelines comes new and odd social situations that I don’t have the ability to understand.

– We went to eat afterwards, and felt slightly put out that restaurants were now telling us exactly what we had to pay. It seemed very presumptuous of them to do.

In all, I kind of like the concept. In some respects it heralds to the mom-and-pop kind of store; I could imagine in such a place, if you visited daily, they wouldn’t make you fork over $1.72 for coffee. You could probably just throw them a twenty every week and call it even. It’s a certain kind of convenience you rarely get.

PS I feel it is BS that this near-800 word essay does not count towards my horribly-low word count.