Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why I Love Starbucks

I love Starbucks.

I know this is no secret. I have written before in these pages how Starbucks was the proving ground of mine and Elise's love; in the very first days of our relationship Starbucks was the demilitarized zone where the generals of our two camps would negotiate the terms by which our hearts would surrender to one another. I tried winning her over early on with tall hazelnut lattes hand-delivered to her at Kee Grill during the pre-shift meeting.

I am happy to report we are successfully passing down this love to our children. Though it is less about the coffee to Sam, who craves an old fashioned doughnut, Top Pot-style, and Peter, whose vice are pink frosted cake pops with birthday sprinkles. In every airport, at every grocery-anchored strip center, on every intersection where there happens to be a Starbucks, hopefully they will be able to find a small piece of comfort, something that reminds them of their family and home wherever there future travels take them.

I know many people do not like Starbucks. At best, they find the coffee to bitter. At worst, they blame Starbucks for ushering in the apocalyptic end of the independently-owned coffee shop. I would venture to guess those same people who decry Starbucks for its mass commercialization of the coffee house experience never truly had a independent coffee house experience before Starbucks became omnipresent. I mean to say that, if anything, Starbucks saved the coffee house from extinction. Starbucks exposed to millions the value of sharing a cup of coffee in a warm, hip (if aesthetically sanitized to the point of having reduced 'hip' to its lowest, most palatable common denominator) environment. Starbucks taught people how to frequent coffee houses so that independent coffee houses could still occupy the cracks between Starbucks and carve out an existence for themselves. Otherwise, I wonder if coffee houses would have passed the way of the dinosaur, victim of our fast-paced, constantly-on-the-go lifestyle.

Elise and I drove everyone out to Ashburn, Virginia yesterday morning to interview a woman from Chennai for a babysitting position. Afterwards, on a cloudy Saturday morning beneath an icy mist, and trapped in the rolling monotony of one planned housing development after another with little better to do, we sought out Starbucks before driving home. As we sat drinking our coffee a woman and her daughter entered the shop. The girl was about nine or ten, maybe older. Her mom leaned down and said to her, "I think that is your dad in the corner," indicating a man sitting behind me, facing the wall, gazing intently at the face of his iPhone (I notice many people, for lack of anything else to do, gaze intently at the screens of their wireless devices. I still prefer to look out the window).

I immediately knew what was about to play out, having played the part of baton during countless transfers of my own. The dad turned and addressed his daughter, "Hey, baby doll," barely looking up from his iPhone. Her mother proceeded to explain to him that she had paid fifteen dollars earlier in the week so she could attend a school fair and that, last year, their daughter had won three cakes in the cake walk. The mother and daughter didn't embrace. She said goodbye and told her that she would see her on Monday, then left. My throat tightened with emotion.

See, when my dad picked up me and my brothers for his weekends, he would pull his Porsche up into the driveway of our house around 4:00 on a Friday afternoon and toot on the horn a few times. Truthfully, I could sense the purr of the Porsche's engine blocks away and would hurriedly throw some clothes, comics and Elric of Melnibone fantasy novels into a backpack.

I probably didn't need to bear witness to this. I haven't quite been myself recently. I admitted to Elise, on a much-needed run on a much-needed sunny 50 degree day, that I think I am dealing with a little bit of SADs, seasonal-affective disorder. Elise wasn't surprised. This is our first winter in over ten years, and unlike in Spokane, the only thing that is going to break the grip this cold has on us is the slow encroach of spring.

And maybe a cup of coffee.

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