Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh, Please

In the most pointless civic action I've seen in a while, ordinary citizens are petitioning a major corporation in an attempt to convince said corporation not to shut down manufacturing facilities in their local communities. The communities fear loss of this facility will cause other businesses to close or not to expand into their localities, thereby causing an economic hit to the towns. I'd root for the little guy, except in this case; the corporation in question is Starbucks.

I'm not going to claim to be one of those Luddites who like their boiled Maxwell House, thank you. Nor am I a coffee snob; I couldn't tell you if the beans were grown on the leeward side of the mountain or in a roadside ditch, and my idea of "Fair Trade" is my cash for your coffee. I just know what I like. I will say that not only do I prefer Peets to Starbucks, I prefer the house coffee at the Flying J truck stop in Grapevine, CA to Starbucks. It's not that it's swill, it's the whole Starbucks lifestyle, the prepackaged ersatz intellectual thing. Along with your coffee, you can purchase an appropriate book to be seen with and the right sort of jazz -- just edgy enough to seem hipster but without alienating anyone. This is profoundly irritating to me, even as it saves me time in my daily interactions with people. I know if you are carrying a Starbucks book or raving about the new CD they're flogging that there is exactly nothing interesting or original about you and I can ignore you with a clear conscience.

There are independent bookstores and record shops full of people who love music and books, with staff who have actually read or listened to most of the stock. They can speak engagingly and instructively about their fields of passion and a lot are genuinely interesting people to be around. (hi, Cute from Baltimore at Idle Time!) There are small diners, coffeeshops, and restaurants where the food's pretty good, the staff are happy to be there and the conversation flows between people who enter and leave as strangers but for the duration of their coffee or their meal are bonded by their mutual affection for a place where everything isn't always the same, where there are up days and down days. These businesses would be happy to step right in to the empty spot Starbucks will leave behind. Some might even make a go of it, if you'd stop whining about how it's not a guaranteed hit right out of the box like Starbucks. Hint: if that were so they wouldn't be closing 600 stores. McDonalds isn't popular because the food is good; it's popular because children like consistency. Starbucks is McDonalds for the natural fibers set. They can't leave soon enough for me.