July 21, 2008

More Defense of Starbucks.

Are you kidding me? Does no one remember what life was like before Starbucks popularized the idea of an American Coffee House (which, until then, had been a contradiction in terms?)

The problem went far beyond the crappiness of American coffee, though that wasn't insignificant. What changed was the idea that it was okay to hang out in an establishment for a little while. One could talk, read, study, write, without having the coffee-shop waitresses giving one dirty looks and rapidly calculating how much money one was losing them because they weren't "turning their tables over" quickly enough.

When I was a young teen I got 86'd from the Tiny Naylor's on Wilshire and Westwood for hanging out with a crowd of people who just went there too much, and stayed too long. That was in Westwood Village. We staggered it out after that, hanging out alternately at The Criterion Cafe (no longer there, and long-since replaced by a shopping center); Ship's (same); and Lum's restaurant, both in Westwood and Santa Monica (same; same). Sometimes we went to the Taco Bell in Westwood Village, because it was okay for us to stay there for a while.

Point is, before Starbucks brought that cool aspect of Euro-culture to the U.S., it just wasn't okay to hang out in restaurants, and therefore if you weren't old enough to go to bars (or not rich enough, or didn't care for the idea of being around drunks) there was noplace to go.

I mean, I survived by completely changing social crowds, and starting to socialize with teenagers whose family dysfunctionalities were further beneath the surface, so we could actually exist in their homes for long periods of time without being hassled by whatever parents lurked on the premises.

But not everyone's that lucky, and Starbuck wins big points in some quarters just for de-crapifying the coffee-drinking experience, which is achievement enough.

A common meme is this idea that Starbucks is a hotbed of elitism in the bosom of no-nonsense, egalitarian America, as opposed to good ol' Dunkin Donuts. This is a lie. Maybe people who live in La Jolla or Coral Gables get sick of elitism, but for the vast majority of us who live out in the great long tail of American mediocrity, a place that has pretensions to upper-middle-class culture, however transparently self-serving and delusional, is more than welcome.

The Starbucks I go to is next to a Burger King, a muffler shop, a Chaldean hooka joint, a dirt-cheap barber shop you could clear out instantly by shouting "La Migra!" and some sort of store front holy-rolling student ministry. On a typical 102-in-the-shade summer day, with the 18-wheelers rolling by on their way to El Cajon, I can do with the AC blasting and some gal crooning about whatever is troubling her sensitive soul at that moment.

It may not be America. I live in America and I want a place I can get away from it for 45 minutes and pretend I'm in Portland or wherever. Dunkin' Donuts is just more of the same. You go into Starbucks, buy The New York Times, listen to jazz, drink your latte, and for a little while, you experience a kind of relief. If you are worried that it's not authentic, then you really do have a problem.

So lay off Starbucks. America needs a big phony retreat from reality into a smug liberal fantasyland, where everything is hip and cool and the coffee is not OMG can-you-taste-the nuttiness-in-the-finish, but not half-bad, which is a lot better than most places can manage. A place where nobody knows your name.

A least, a "third place" wherein one isn't getting molested up in the bushes near UCLA by a 17-year-old of negligible intelligence.

Save Our Starbucks, indeed—though I think I might see a market opportunity for Seattle's Best, here.

Via Insty.

Posted by Attila Girl at July 21, 2008 10:13 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I don't drink coffee myself, but there is a death of places where you can get real (or at least reasonable) ice chocolate without it turning into just a coupla tablespoonsful of Milo. For that, Starbucks is alright by me.

Well, that, and the free wifi. That's pretty damned fine by me too.

Posted by: Gregory at July 22, 2008 04:30 AM


Funny how the biggest experts on every subject rarely use the product. I drink a couple of pots of coffee every day and always have since I was a kid. I smoke cigarettes too. When I would drink beer, it was 12-16 in an evening. Yet the people that never drank coffee would rave at something with chicory in it, or some bitter aftertaste. Or find a beer with sour notes or some bizarre flavor and proclaim it a 'real' beer. Or find a cigarette flavored with clove and claim it's a real smoke. The mass marketed coffees all suffered when Starbucks started bidding up the price of coffee beans that used to go in their mix.

Yeah and "The Wire" is the best TV show ever! "Buffy TVS"? "Star Trek TNG"? "House"? "The Fugitive"? Never heard of them! I never watch TV. How wonderful that everyone has an opinion! Perhaps the over-supply has something to do with their value.

Posted by: Darrell at July 22, 2008 10:46 AM




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