Thursday, February 12, 2009

My first Starbucks

Confession. This week, for the first time in my life, I walked into a Starbucks, ordered coffee and sat down with a buddy to mess with my balky laptop. Oh sure, I have ordered java from the drive-through and even hoofed inside to fetch some to-go coffee for the Mystery Woman. But this marked the first time to go inside and soak up coffee and ambiance. I was struck by the buzz of friendly conversation that permeated the room. Every table was full. Ditto the comfy stuffed living room chairs. Vente!

Hold that image.

Step back with me through the decades when the coffee shop was nearly all melamine. The coffee shops were then called cafes. The village elders (all male) would gather at the appointed hour and talk about Roosevelt. Or the War. It was unofficial, but each man had an assigned seat. Woe to the stranger who accidentally busted the circle. It was assumed the women had their own clatch and were drinking coffee from their at-home Percolators. The twain did not meet at the morning review.

I remember when I was in the third grade. Hamlin, Texas. The old guys hired me to swat flies at the domino parlor that doubled as a coffee shop/cafe. Paid me a penny a fly. I was doing pretty good for a while until they caught me opening the back screen to let in more flies. Fired me on the spot. But I’m meandering off message.

Return with me to the Starbucks experience.

Starbucks was the first national coffee chain to capitalize on our tribal instincts. We like getting together with our friends. Good coffee, too. The tall cardboard cup was a badge we polished daily in our go-go, care-free days. The price was steep but within reach. But over-expansion and the economy are big hills -- even for a high-stepper. The chain is suffering big lay-offs in the U.S. Time to re-trench.

I half way expected a ghost store when I walked in yesterday. Imagine my surprise at the full house. Another confession: coffee as a salon is a concept feels different today than it did in the back of my early memories. Can’t quite explain it, though.

But I know what I like. And I still prefer the Hamlin experience where the smiling waitress would ask, “can I warm you up, hon?”


Ken Martin said...

Wonderfully written, George. Love the story about leaving the door open to get more flies in the place, shows you had the entrepreneurial spirit early on.

As for Starbucks, I'd rather go to a locally owned coffee shop. Austin's full of 'em, each with its own unique personality and regulars that would remind you more of Hamlin than any national chain could ever do. Buy local.

Max Fischer said...

many of the masses that gather at Starbucks all day are telecommuters that fight for electrical outlets and their "assigned" seats, while nursing a cup of coffee for 8 hours while working on email and talking on their cell phones. Starbucks puts up with it because they have a very profitable partnership with T-Mobile to offer WiFi, and the payoff is the place is always buzzing, no matter what time of day it is. Walking into an unfamiliar Starbucks at 2:00 in the afternoon feels like walking into a company office, complete with the petty, passive-aggresive behavioral posturing.

The South Plainsman said...

I didn't realize liberals were entrepreneurial.

I'm with you, though. I have a few cups in Hamlin myself, back when I was working in the oil patch. I would much rather have one of those.

My bride loves Starbucks, but I never understood why anyone would pay that much for a cup of coffee.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you! How could anyone pay that much for a cup of snobs coffee, when there are people who cannot even afford a decent breakfast for 1/2 the price?

Anonymous said...

I really don't care for the Starbucks coffee labs.I just want a good cup of dark brewed coffee that will serve as a tire patch if need be.I just want the coffee flavor and a dab of sugar.
I used to have coffee every morning with the same good ole boys. That lasted till one of the 'good ole boys' stopped showing up. turns out he was having an affair with one of the other 'good ole boys wife and used the coffee get together as his time with aforemmentioned wife.
Worked for a while but then suspicion paid off for the 'good ole boy' who's wife was involved.
guess everybody else started staying home to protect their own interest.-----Goose

JohnSBoles said...

That's a little harsh. Its the starving children in Africa argument that just doesn't hold water. Chances are the turkey you have at Thanksgiving, or its dollar value, would not show up in Darfur if you forego that meal. Enjoy your turkey, or coffee, and support those causes that do the good you wish to see done.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, George. Denise

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