Our Heartrates and Minds

I’m going to go out on a limb hereâÂ?¦ have you ever noticed that there are a lot of Starbucks around these days? It’s weird; almost as if they’re taking over in some sort of a corporate hegemonistic manner. Not that I have anything against corporate hegemony (I take most cues for my personal opinions on global economic policy from You’ve Got Mail), in fact, I’m not entirely sure that global corporate hegemony is a bad thing. I may be a Democrat, but I think that maybe childhood hunger might not be such a bad thing with a little more corporate hegemony. How bad do you think being a starving kid in Africa would be if you could get a Happy Meal once in a while? Then maybe those kids on the Christian Children’s Fund commercials at Christmas wouldn’t seem quite so forlorn (the ancilliary benefits are certainly ample).

At least I didn’t have a problem with corporate hegemony. Then I started to notice things. As a college student, I was walking down a wealthy row of shops and such with a cup of near magic. The subject in question is oolong tea. This is the champagne of teas, and this particular indie shop (is that word acceptable outside of the music industry?) that has been a bastion of independent acoustic music for over twenty-five years, only rarely stocks it. So imagine my joy to find out that my craving for oolong would be satiated. I was stepping quite lightly to be sure; it was that perfect few weeks right between fall and winter where a cup of tea would be perfectly divine. Then, a thirty-something and noticeably wealthy sort of woman approached me and noticed the sheathed cup in my hand.

“Where’d you get that?” (I forgave the lack of polite interruption – “Excuse me” does take almost 0.3 seconds)

“Oh,” I congenially replied, “The Point. It’s about one hundred yards that way.”

“And do they have a good, strong cup of coffee, like Starbucks?”

It was about 4:00PM, a time that I generally need a caffeine fix myself, so I thought it was a point on which we could bond. Maybe she’d even enjoy the nice little spot to which I had introduced her. Perhaps, dare I say, this was the beginning of a bizarre, yet beautiful (in The Graduate sense), friendship. “Oh, sure,” was my reply.

“Well, what have you got?”

“This is actually a very delicious tea. It’s oolong tea, and they rarely have it, so you might want to tryâÂ?¦”

Tea?” This reply had all of the shock as if I had just told her that my cup contained the appendix of the Premier of whichever country still has a Premier (China? Germany? Latvia? Canada?). “What do you know.”

And then she walked away. That was it.

For some reason the affront of my tastes did not register, but that one little word�

Starbucks.

STARBUCKS.

STARBUCKS!!

It resonated for my entire walk back to school, and into the night it plagued my dreams. My formerly impeccable taste was beaten down. It was as if that which made me feel like the barometer of cool had been deemed square by the Fonz sometime in the 1950’s (and is there really anything worse than that?). Was I just as elitist for choosing an obscure tea and selling its virtues? No. I was embarrassingly more elitist in retrospect. The pleasure that I derived from trekking to an obscure location for a cup of tea that is there less than half the time is akin to (but not quite reaching) orgasm (I’m still a man through and through). Surely more joy than my adversary might have experienced with her cup of bastardized coffee. But that’s missing the point.

How could someone abandon the ridiculously good advice that I had offered (at no charge I might add)? Fortunately, my skin was thick. This is a face-saving way of saying that I wrote her off as a sellout after two days of feeling bitter. And I really didn’t give it much more thought after that. I moved on. Youth is great.

Days grew into weeks, and as winter passed from windshield to rearview I basically forgot about that altercation. But, on a rather innocent trip home some years later, that minor plague caught my eye again (they are generally made on a tri-monthly basis, and more often than not innocent – depending on how you assess the merits of coming home for Christmas). I was carving through my little suburb, half-observing my surroundings (the local Applebee’s is only scintillating the first six hundred and forty seven times you see it) when I noticed that the large “Capital One” sign on the front of a particular building had inherited a companion. It went fromâÂ?¦

CAPITAL ONE

to�

CAPITAL ONE
STARBUCKS

This led to one of those cartoon moments where you look at something, continue for several hundred meters without acknowledgment, and then exclaim, “Huh?” Could it really be? Had they finallyâÂ?¦ No, it couldn’t be. Perhaps I was intoxicated. Or hallucinating. Yeah, yeah. That would make more sense. I was in college. Most of the time we were either drunk or high. I’ve seen TV. Because there’s no wayâÂ?¦

On my trip home that night, I was careful to follow the same route in order to confirm or disconfirm my previous experience. Fully confident that I could have written off the earlier passing to a bad trip, I came around a wide bend in the road and into the clearing that would arbitrate my previous uncertainties. And alas, there it was – the unmistakable green and white that has come to be the torch-bearer of all things economically evil. So it was true. Starbucks had at last infiltrated our financial institutions.

The ramifications of this realization are manifold, and they expanded with each disturbing bit of information that emerged. “Banker’s Hours” are, in the face of this corporate behemoth, a thing of the past. This particular bank does not close at 3:00, or even the more contemporary 4:00 or 5:00, but 11:00PM. No wait, it’s actually 11:00-fucking-PM. This were as ifâÂ?¦ no, nevermind. There isn’t even really an analogy capable of embracing this change. I wasn’t there when Einstein dropped relativity on his boys, but I imagine they were all somewhat skeptical.

EINSTEIN: Hey, friends. It turns out everything’s relative.
AUSTRIAN GUY: Shut up Al. We’ve got another round. Pull up a chair.
EINSTEIN: Oh, that would be fine. But everything is relative. I’m quite sure of it.
OTHER AUSTRIAN GUY: I’ll bet it is. Shut up.

I’m pretty sure that relativity is important in the grand scheme of things, so that was probably a bit silly of those Austrian guys to be so dismissive. Just imagine what it was like when Johhny Starbucks walked into the Third Annual CEO’s Convention on How to Exploit Starving Kids in Africa Meet-and-Greet.

JOHNNY STARBUCKS: I got Capital One to stay open ’till 11:00.
GAP GUY: Not a chance.
STARBUCKS: No, I got ’em. They’re open till 11:00.
McDONALDS GUY: Shut the fuck up. He got Haight-Ashbury�

Gap Guy throws the old thumbs up to the posse.

McDONALDS GUY: âÂ?¦ but there’s no way you got a bank to stay open ’till 11:00.
GAP GUY: Hey, what’s Larry CapitalOne doing over there?

They all have a look to the corner, where Larry CapitalOne is hunched over in a chair, shaking his head and drinking a cheap glass of vodka (and yes, those guys can probably tell from such a distance. They’re rich).

Suddenly, with a superb bit of synchronized realization, all the other CEO’s look to Larry Starbucks, who now has a radiant smile on his face.
So, that’s pretty much where it starts. It’s just one little bank in a relatively inconsequential neighborhood. But what happens when this isolated incident in western New York sprawls eastward, and takes the Big City by storm? Pretty soon the Starbucks on Madison Avenue will have a stock exchange in it.

It’s an awfully slippery slope (and I went to college, where we were taught, above all else, to never use that saying. Ever). A quagmire of sorts. Not quite an ipso facto, quid pro quo, but close. I have no problem with Starbucks dealing in the subtler of the two remaining legal drugs (because Philip Morris is now running anti-tobacco ads, I disqualify tobacco from rational discussion of any kind, and we’re limited to booze and caffeine). I am presently dabbling in something of an addiction myself, and if you would rather spend $6.50 on a grande double non-fat existential macchiato chai swirl than $0.60 on a cup of black coffee, then that’s none of my business.

I am more distracted by the situation that arises with Starbucks in such a dominating position. Caffeine is a drug that’s legal at work, because, rather than facilitating inappropriate advances on several of your attractive superiors, it facilitates more work. This is presumably because work is so disengaging, and conducted at such absurd hours, that it cannot keep you awake by itself. So you drink your Starbucks Coffee (mostly because you feel better walking into work with that Starbucks cup and state-of-the-art lid than you would with that generic white cup with turquoise and purple designs and the lid that doesn’t actually keep any coffee off of your lap), which will keep you awake at work. Keeping you awake at work will keep you going to work. This inevitably leads to receipt of a paycheck. Now you can go to your bank/Starbucks and deposit the money you earned in a job you hate, so that you can afford to buy more Starbucks at your bank/Starbucks, so that you can continue to successfully execute your job, which will facilitate even more of the Starbucks. I was going to keep typing the back and forth to see how long you would continue reading, but I can’t be sure you have recently had a cup of strong coffee. I mean, just because you are near print media doesn’t mean that you have access to a Starbucks.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. Well, go get a Starbucks and then come back and read that last sentence one more time. The repetitive nature will be amusing to you.

Well, as Starbucks takes hold of not only our ability to stay awake, but also our wallets, I just want to sayâÂ?¦ I want in! I’m fucking tired of complaining about how inequitable and crooked everyone else is. I want a piece of the pie. Perhaps I can bask in the vast excesses of coffee beans and international finance.

Then maybe I can dismissively pass by the hyper-elitist with obscure tea in his cup, and at last afford that $6.50 super skim double decaf espresso bomb delight. At least it’s right around the corner.

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