For over two years I went to the same Dunkin’ Donuts every morning outside of the subway station across the street from my office building in Midtown Manhattan. I was always there during the same hour of the day as the flood of commuters from the E and M trains stopped to get their coffee, breakfast sandwich, or donut, before heading into work, and I typically saw familiar faces in line with me each morning. Even in a city populated by millions of people, patterns of overall behavior, like those in the line at my Dunkin’, aren’t hard to find.
Patterns of more specific behavior can also be recognized when you pay close enough attention. I always thought it was amazing that the two women who were usually working at this particular Dunkin’ Donuts could recognize each of us “regulars” in line and, if we frequented there often enough, knew our orders by heart. From their perspective behind the counter, they likely observed hundreds of people every morning, but they could pick out those that they had seen before and those whose orders they had committed to memory.
I imagine that they could also tell more specific things about each of us, such as when one of us was running late to work on a particular morning. We were likely shifting and fidgeting, checking our watches, and looking up and down the line, mentally gauging how long it would take to pay for our coffee and get out the door. They could also probably tell when we were right on time or having a completely typical day, comfortably standing in line, perhaps checking our emails on our phones and absent-mindedly going through the motions of our morning routine. Thirdly, they could probably pick out if it was a day when we had to be at work early. Not only would we literally be there at Dunkin’ earlier than usual, but we were likely in a state of complete Condition White, perhaps even on the edge of sleep, with the drowsiness of the train ride not yet leaving our eyes. We were likely in a state of relaxation fueled by the normality of our routine and by simple bodily tiredness. In all three of these scenarios, though, the pervading cluster that I observed all of us everyday Dunkin’ patrons to be in was submissiveness. We all needed our coffee and understood that we had no control over the speed at which we were served. We all knew that, thanks to the attentiveness of the women behind the counter and our familiarity with them, it likely wouldn’t take long for us to have our coffee in hand and to be out the door.
It was very easy to tell when there was a newcomer in line at our Dunkin’. Whether this person was a tourist, someone new to the area, or the guest of a businessman, there were two giveaways that typically alerted me to the stranger. Firstly, if the person or group of people were tourists, they often fell into the uncomfortable cluster, as they were unfamiliar with the overall quick pace of the line and were often apologetic if they felt that they were holding up the process. The second and more common indicator of a newcomer was that they typically displayed dominant behavior both in line and while ordering. This particular Dunkin’ was quite small with no tables or seating, but a person who was not a regular might take up a lot of space in line, taking a wide stance or not budging to allow an extra person inside on a particularly cold morning. The person might already be on a business call, speaking loudly and only pausing the conversation to bark their order at the women behind the counter. This might also be displayed when someone did not know their order yet by the time they got to the register. They might lean over the counter, pointing aggressively at what they wanted. The most extreme cases, of course, came when arguments would ensue. I witnessed people haggling over the price of extra butter, getting upset and deriding the employees when the Arnold Palmer Coolatta was no longer available (an occasion when we all raised our eyebrows wondering who was ordering an Arnold Palmer Coolatta at 7:30 A.M.,) and making a scene when a particular flavor of munchkin was out of stock. Most of us, the regulars, typically just wanted to get our coffee and go, submissive to those in control of the pouring of that coffee. Those who began displaying dominant behaviors, whether that meant either a slight or a more pronounced disruption to the routine, were typically the faces in line that I, and I imagine the employees behind the counter, did not recognize.
While this is an isolated example of a morning routine, I imagine that a similar scene plays out in most coffee shops in most cities before every workday begins. Both in large and small sample sizes, routines and patterns can be picked out even in the most popular of locations, as can those individuals who stand out from the regular crowd, as long as you are able to consistently recognize the indicators.