I miss books. Real, actual ink on paper. Granted the access to free, bite-sized digital reads from the various news and cultures sites has been a wonderful addition to modern life, but it lacks a bit of the ceremony of consuming a physical text. I had every intention of catching up on some reading during the quarantine, but what I also have is kids. And as any parent can attest, even with the longer pandemic days, I somehow have less free time? So no books for this guy.

But one coffee shop in Seattle has found a new way to connect people with the written word in a way that works with even the most hectic schedule. At Beacon Hill’s The Station, customers can print off short stories while waiting in line to order.

As reported by the Seattle Times, the “Short Story Dispenser” was created by French publishing house Short Édition and was placed in the cafe last December thanks to the Seattle Public Library, making it the first of such machines in the state of Washington. While waiting in line to order, folks can choose between a one-, three-, and five-minute story, which will then be printed out for the customers to take with them. Per the Seattle Times, stories include “works by local writers like Cathy Tenzo and David Drury to classics from African American writers like Alice Dunbar Nelson and Langston Hughes.”

The machine, which costs around $12,000 up-front as well as subscription and upkeep fees, was paid for by the Seattle Public Library Foundation and has dispensed 900 stories thus far.

The Station co-owner Luis Rodriguez states that the Short Story Dispenser does more than just reconnect folks with physical text. It has a positive effect on customer interaction:

“In the mornings, when we have a line out the door, people will press that button and the story will come,” Rodriguez said. “The time goes a lot easier for them, so we appreciate it ourselves, because we don’t feel rushed by people. They’re all entertained with these great stories.”

Now, the idea of standing in close proximity to strangers indoors for between one and five minutes during a pandemic gives me the howling fantods. Book or no book, I’m not doing it (unless of course the text can scroll No Surprises style in my Microclimate Air helmet). But when we finally arrive at our new normal and we can all safely return back to the wide wide world, then yeah, I’ll take in a story while I’m waiting for my pour-over to be made. Until then, though, you can head over to the Seattle Public Library's official website and have them select a short story for your temporary reading pleasure. Or check out the Short Édition website to find a Short Story Dispenser near you.

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.