Starbucks and the Emperors New Clothes

Starbucks and the Emperors New Clothes by Marv Kanarek

My inbox has burst with messages re my Starbucks reference. No, just kidding folks! Here’s my take on that “institution”. Parental guidance warning on the language. I’m sure I’ll piss some of you off. so be it! If Starbucks is your thing that’s cool! Really! One man’s treaure is another man’s…… You know…… Later

Anyone who has lived in Europe as I have, especially in any one of the three “Latin” countries, France, Italy, or Spain has definitely spent time in bistros, cafés and bars. Sometimes it’s just a neighbourhood joint that you frequent. Other times it may be a new place where you meet with some friends. Coffee and possibly a side of Calva is an integral part of life in Paris. I can’t begin to count the number of cafés, bars etc… That I frequented during my 9 years in Paris and in a few small towns in Burgundy.

The one thing that impressed me was the quality of the coffee, espressos, and the crème. You could order what is called a Café Américain which in essence was a watered down version of the “normal” caffeine. The hundreds of cups I swallowed where served in hundreds of unpretentious bars and bistros. No fancy names. No “Baristas”. No Ventis. No Grandes. No Soy Mocha Lattes. No NoCal, LoCal anything. Just plain normal great coffee, usually of the 100% Arabica variety.

Then I returned to California where something called Starbucks and their mysterious green circled logos began popping up all over the pastel coloured face of Los Angeles like some out of control case of acute acne. What was this place with some strange woman as it’s figurehead? My curiosity got the better of me. Like a cat ready to be killed, I ventured into this mysterious place in Beverly Hills. Two mistakes, right from the onset.

So I wander in sometime in the late morning in need of coffee. Just a coffee. I am immediately taken aback by the laptop versus human being ratio. Steve Jobs’ progeny was well represented in the trendoid décor. I also noticed people deeply ensconced in the few plushy club chairs in some corners. They looked like they had no intention of leaving for a long time. Were they homeless? Others sat staring longingly at their cell phones cradling them in their hands waiting for the personal validation that would come the instant that their fashion accessory would chime, bleep, blip or play snippets of some Auto-tuned piece of shit called music! Don’t these people have pockets, messenger bags, or purses for chrisse-sakes?? Does the phrase,”get a life” mean anything here? Two people, a man and woman, sat face to face at a small table. Both heads down. They where transfixed and hypnotized by their Blackberries. Not a word uttered, not a stare shared between the two of them. The beginnings of a wonderful well deserved and deep relationship I’m sure. Does the phrase “human connection” mean anything to the two of you?? Minutes passed and then I realized that I might be a tad impolite staring at these numb humanoids. Then I realized, everyone was too “busy” to even notice what I’m sure was my gaping mouthed stare.

My trance was broken by a woman who boldly approached a male and his MacBook Pro. He feigned surprise as she stood before his club chair. Surprised?? Bullshit!! I could almost hear him screaming “Somebody notice me, please. Someone, Anyone!!”. Well there she was! First words out of her mouth. “Is that the new MacBook Pro?”. Wow! A match made in heaven! A great and profound love story in the making! Lucky guy! Blessed woman! I silently wished both of them, their cell phones, their Blackberries, and especially their new Macs much happiness and enlightenment! I felt all warm and fuzzy bearing witness to this moving and momentous union. Imagine the memories they’ll share! Wow! E-Harmony, caffeine and technology all in one fell swoop. Doesn’t get any better than this! Shit! I forgot! I need a coffee! I approached one of those mysterious masters called “barista”, another customer was ahead of me. My eyes wandered during the interim. Huddled in the corner, I noticed a familiar face. His head was down…

He was in the company of a woman who looked like someone of the agent or manager ilk. What astonished me, was that nobody noticed him! Preoccupation with texting, celling and laptopping will do that. No wonder there’s so many god-dammed car accidents! Anyways, I certainly did notice him! Man! Does Tom Cruise have a huge head or what? I thought. Seriously it’s enormous in relation to his body mass. I could tell even though he was sitting.

“Can I help you sir?” I turned to make eye contact with the perky counter girl. Oh Yeah, coffee! “Yeah sure, I’d like a black, medium sized coffee please”. Blank momentary stare. “No latte sir?”. Umm, no thank you. “No flavoured syrup?” Not really, thanks. “Sir, did you say venti or grande?” Umm, I said neither of those two, I said a medium. Is that a problem? “Of course not sir. Would you like a breakfast blend, a Nigerian or a Seattle reserve cellars limited edition golden portfolio blend?” Ummmmmm, none of the above. Just give me the strongest, blackest coffee you have. From behind me I suddenly heard the entire room rise to an audible whisper… As I turned, Tom Cruise, his enormous head and his agent were leaving the building.

“Here you go sir. Would you like a scone or sandwich?” No thank you. I paid my two dollars. The glass tip jar like some giant Cyclops eye was staring at me. Okay, I get it. Your fabulous barista style of customer service warrants the additional dollar. I satiated the glass globe with a rumpled dollar snack. I saw an imaginary tongue slurp it’s clear glass lips. Cyber love surrounded me as I headed for the door. The cool late morning air of Beverly Hills sent a slight chill through me. I needed a hot caffeine hit to warm me up. WTF!! This tastes like shit!! Much ado about nothing! I returned to the counter with my cup full of the false promise of coffee. “There’s something wrong with your coffee”, I uttered to the perky counter gidget! “What seems to be the problem sir?” Well for starters it tastes a little weak and to be honest, it’s rather poor. Is it a new batch? “Yes sir, freshly brewed”. Yeah, if you like cat piss, I muttered under my breath. “Would you like another cup sir?” I think so I rattled back!.. “Here you go sir”, she chirped. Disappointment and frustration soaked my palate once again! “Is that better?”, she asked, bubbling with perkiness. Oh yeah, that’s just fabulous, I smiled back at her. I calmly walked past the surrounding cyber somnambulant towards the closest garbage receptacle.

I poured the cup of let down into the twisted mosaic of cups, uneaten leftovers, paper plates, napkins and condiments. I slid back out into the cool Gucci, Cartier tainted air. I reflected for a nanosecond on the truism that one man’s garbage is another man’s feast. Or something like that. I reflected on my years in Paris. My experiences with wine and coffee. I knew that I wasn’t one of those snobs who spoke of bouquets and finishes and all that other crap I never understood. I just knew that for me, if a wine or coffee was delicious, that’s all that mattered. This certainly wasn’t one of those occasions. Not much better than typical diner coffee. This crap would be put to shame by any of those hundreds of unassuming cafés or bistros that served coffee in Paris, Without all the fucking syrups, venti, grande, barista bullshit thank you! Then I thought about the arrogance of the owner of Starbucks, I think Shultz is his name, who has the audacity to spread his message of caffeine mediocrity to Paris and Rome! I don’t begrudge his success. It’s the epitome of American Entrepreneurial Spirit! It’s what the real America was once all about. So was the Pet Rock! Here’s a man who spent a fortune on his god-dammed walk in closet in his sprawling Seattle mansion, or wherever it is. Do I want to support that lifestyle? Not me! His outlets in those cities are mere novelties. If that’s what his goal is. Well. Mission accomplished! Being that the overall bar of society has been lowered, I guess there’s room for more mediocrity!

The entities, American Idol, Starbucks, The Arts, Government, Human interaction have all been compromised! We are willing to accept second best, or even worse! We live in a room full of shit and don’t even notice it anymore!

WTF?? I’ll tell you WTF!
 Wake up and smell the coffee!
 And BTW, The Emperor is NAKED!!… Peace? for 2010 and beyond.