Friday, September 22, 2006


“Grande iced coffee!”

The barrista sets a plastic glass, sweating beads of condensation, on the counter. Immediately, four people emerge to claim it, myself included. A mild scuffle ensues until a tall, thin, bespectacled man in a navy pinstripe suit emerges the victor.

Here I am again, in my version of hell, ironically what most urban yuppies and middle-aged businessmen consider the Holy Grail—Starbucks.

Starbucks spread like a virus, infecting every Manhattan street corner, train terminal and shopping plaza before anyone had the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they actually liked it. Manhattan blinked and suddenly that circular green logo was everywhere, quashing the glow of its reigning franchise predecessor – the golden arches. It waged guerilla warfare on every major city, serving countless cups of overpriced, mediocre coffee to millions and leaving the charred remains of corner coffee shops and street coffee kiosks in its wake.

But somehow, despite my abject hatred for its woodsy décor, hipsters clacking on laptops and lines of soulless eyes brightening at the sound of their drink being called, I have found myself here again.

Navy Pinstripes swoops upon the cream and sugar counter and begins pouring half and half into his coffee with the precision of a lab scientist while I dust myself off and act unfazed by my defeat. Seriously, how many people forsake their usual steaming cups of java in lieu of iced coffee once the temperature begins to teeter at a sweltering 85 degrees? Surely a multibillion dollar franchise would figure out a more efficient system than this—a generic iced coffee as bait for a crowd where rushed, irritable, caffeine-deprived people battle for it like wolves fighting for their claim on a piece of meat. I guess that’s what I get for refusing to jump on the bandwagon and making some poor college student’s life a living hell by ordering a grande-soy-nonfat-caramel-latte-shot-of-espresso-two-squirts-of-vanilla-and-whipped-cream or whatever bizarre concoction that will distinguish my order from the rest.

Unlike more seasoned Starbucks-goers, I have not mastered the “Art of the Order.” The people waiting for their drinks can spot me immediately—a newbie. My awkward stance and overtly-attentive eyes have marked me. I haven’t perfected the bored, borderline pissed off look characteristic of the people I see there, the ones who don’t need to listen because they’ve memorized the length of time it takes to prepare their drink and can sense when it’s ready. I feel like an outsider here, untrained to the system, awkwardly eyeing the drinks lining the countertop waiting to be claimed, interrupting the aggravated barrista’s work to ask which drink is mine. I have had one too many instances of picking up someone else’s order and having to deal with the uncomfortable confrontation, the stuttered apology, the tail hanging in between my legs while witnesses shoot me bemused stares.

As someone who witnessed to what extent a larger, richer company is capable of stubbing out the hard work of an underprivileged layman when my father’s fruit store was put out of business by the grand opening of a supermarket across the street, my disdain for franchises has deep roots. But my dislike for Starbucks has blossomed into full-blown resentment. Both as a coffee aficionado who sees the shortage of quality in a cup of Starbucks brew and as a champion of the lower-middle class who disagrees with what it stands for—a paradise for the privileged where the words “small, medium and large” aren’t chic enough to make the cut and inflated prices give false promise of quality.

Yet I find myself here, again, subjecting myself to the torturous process of securing a Starbucks java fix when I can find easier relief at a corner deli for fifty cents. Why on earth, after all this, do I continue to wander into a Starbucks when I break into caffeine-deprivation chills? For the same reason I often opt for a Coors Light at a bar—when you know and expect mediocrity, you’re never disappointed.

And, screw it, they're fucking everywhere.



Anonymous km said...

i really do wonder why the hell are they on every block. god forbid someone walk a whole two blocks to get to one.


5:40 PM  
Anonymous mo said...

They're in the process of setting up the first branch here in Egypt I believe. I doubt it'll have the kind of influence it exerts over the American public though. Who knows though, we'll have to wait and see..

7:59 AM  
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Starbucks is the Great Satan. Besides, they can't make hazelnut coffee.

5:02 AM  

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