Oh, I know I’m probably going to insult someone with this post, but please hear me out. It’s not about the coffee.
It’s not so much the mere existence of Starbucks that concerns me, it’s the embrace we Americans have made with this extravagance. I admit to having the odd cup of coffee there, and they also make an excellent hot chocolate. Occasionally I will bow to Unnamed Partner’s wishes and we’ll stop in for a cup. The coffee is pretty good.
Last Friday we stopped in at the Starbucks in Union Station in Washington DC, because we were early for our dinner plans. I remembered once again the two reasons why I hate Starbucks.
First, of course, is the price. Four dollars for a cup of coffee? How about you get rid of the leather chair, the annoying music CDs, and just charge a realistic price for the coffee?
But that’s a businessperson’s profit choice, and a consumer’s choice to pay it. As we approached the counter to order, I remembered the second — and more insidious — reason I hate Starbucks: I don’t speak the language. When I walk into a Starbucks, I feel like I’ve just stepped into a production of Seussical the Musical. The words are either made up (“Venti?” There is no such word, folks!) or they have different meanings than in the “real” world. A “Tall” cup is the smallest cup of coffee. Tall in relation to what? How can it be “”Tall” if there’s nothing smaller? If that’s not bad enough, there are secrets that we don’t know: they don’t advertise the “real” smallest cup of coffee, which is called a “Short,” but you can order it. And also there are terms like “Wet” which I won’t even pretend to explain.
So even on those rare occasions when I decide to splurge on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I have to turn to Unnamed Partner (who did 6 months as a “barista” there), hand her my money, and say “Will you order?”
The wonderful thing about America is that we are free to throw away our money any way we want, and we have lots and lots of choices as to where we throw that cash. But as the economy has continued to decline over the past year, Starbucks has seen only a slight decrease in their profits. It seems Americans cannot part with this fantasy land of some bizarre mix of Italian/French/Horton Hears a Who, even as the world comes crashing down around them.
Yesterday, December 7, I spoke with my father, a World War II veteran. I asked him to tell me again where he was when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor (he was a 17-year old freshman at Miami University in Ohio; he was in his dorm room reading Time magazine — yes, he has an excellent memory). He joined the Army Reserves (he was too young to enlist yet anyway), and in May 1942 he was called up. In June 1942, my uncle Bob was called up. In July 1942, my Uncle Walt was called up. The fourth son was still in high school, I am sure much to my grandmother’s joy.
All of my uncles and my Dad made it home in one piece, but they were in some scary places and saw some dreadful things. (I have my uncle Bob’s photographs from Normandy in the days after the invasion. It’s not pretty.)
And in those days of War and economic stress, were Americans spending inflated prices on coffee — or any other extravagance? No, they were using ration coupons, and they were watching every penny. And they were listening to the radio and reading the newspaper for any news they could get about the War.
As I said at the start here: Starbucks is a business and has every right to charge whatever the market will bear. But the fact that we as Americans stand in line to hand over our increasingly scarce cash and order silly named drinks while we’re in the middle of fighting a War — that’s what’s wrong with America.
SoapBox out ….