Friday, January 06, 2006

On Starbucks

When I am with friends and we are searching for a place to sit and chat inevitably the following conversation ensues:

"Where shall we go?"
"Some Cafe?"
"What is near here?"
"I really don't know the area, but I don't see any cafes nearby."
"There is always Starbucks"
"Well. . . I hate the big corporate atmosphere . . . but if there is nowhere else. . ."

And so it goes. We end up having coffee at Starbucks and the other person thinks that he or she is selling out to some big corporation that displaced thousands of mom and pop cafes that are better, cheaper, and more personal.

I find this attitude more than a little crappy. Here is why:

I am a snob. I do snobbish things with my life. I am an academic, I see independent films, I speak more than one foreign language, I don't listen to pop music, I disdain Hollywood, I would not be caught dead in McDonalds or any fast-food chain, I make jokes and references that less than 1% of educated humans understand. . . I pretend to know about wine and Bach, I visit the"the continent" from time to time. Most significantly, I spend a lot of time in cafes talking about Kafka and crap. I am most comfortable in places where lots of snotty people congregate and have lattes and discuss things that interest us and hold political conversations, and talk about philosophy. I have always been this way. For as long as I can remember, I loved hanging out in cafes philosophizing.

My favorites were places like the now-defunct Limbo on Ave A in the east village, and alt.coffee a few blocks away, and pick-me-up across the street. I am a big fan of the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Ave, and even Esperanto and Reggio on MacDougal. I spend a lot of time in all those places. And I tell you they are great places to have coffee and talk philosophy and be an intellectual.

So I know a lot about cafes, especially the student-types in New York. Let me tell you who goes patronizes these cafes: snobs. Yes, snobs, students, artists, faux-intellectuals, posers, wannabees, people who like to read, play chess, and talk politics. The same kind of people who patronized these types of places 150 years ago, when it was basically a forum for intellectuals, and you had to be a member to get in. You know who does not go to these places: regular people. Regular people do not feel comfortable in them. They do not know what to do in a place where people are supposed to sit down, get a ceramic mug, a metal spoon, and a cloth napkin, and spend $7.50+tip just drinking coffee. People who have lunch in McDonalds do not end up in cafe's after to have coffee.

Do you know where they end up now? Starbucks. The space that Starbucks has set aside for regular people is one that they never had before. There was always a place for the snobbish to go, they have these quaint little tucked-away cafes, and they always will. But now regular people can afford and feel comfortable in a place that used to only be the luxury of the elite, the intellectuals that knew how to talk about Proust. Now people can go and be regular and share the luxury that used to be the privlidge of the few. I am willing to share my space with the regular people for this.

The anti-Starbucks attitude, mind you, comes from these big communists who are always talking about social justice and working for the little guy. The mom and pop who ran the cafes. The whole time they are of course forgetting the real average person - the consumer, the person who did not feel comfortable patronizing the hipster joint where the young avant guard hung out.

The biggest proof that these people wanted to but could not go to a place like that is the success of Starbucks. There are 3 Starbucks' in Astor Place, which is just a traffic square. So many people are willing to pay two or three times what a cup of coffee goes for in a deli, just to be in a cafe that they feel comfortable in. And the people who go are not only the students, but all sorts of regular people who want a place to hang with their friends, children who want a place to do homework after school, guys getting together after work, and girls on shopping breaks. People who never would set foot in a small intimate cafe hang out in Starbucks. And there are a lot more of them then there are of me.

Sure Starbucks is the McDonalds of cafes, but without McDonalds, millions of people would not be able to afford to eat out, and restaurants would be the privledge of the elite. But it is the same for Barnes and Noble which made it acceptable to browse through the bookshelf even if you are not part of the literati. (Many B&Ns have Starbucks in them.)

Sure there will be a a documentary called "Make Mine Venti" about the dangers of switching to an all coffee diet for 30 days.

Sure there were a few mom and pop places which had to close because academics found it more convenient to get their coffee from starbucks.

But Adam Smith's invisible hand is well at work. Starbucks is maximizing happiness. It is making it possible for all to enjoy a sphere which is neither home nor work where one can go with others to be friends. So you have to learn some foreign words to order and you have to pay $9.00 for OK coffee for two. But that is something that Starbucks discovered that the average person deserves as much as us snobs.

28 comments:

Joclyn said...

"But now regular people can afford and feel comfortable in a place that used to only be the luxury of the elite..."

Are you saying they can afford it because Starbucks is cheaper than the cafes of yesteryear, or are you saying that they can now afford it because regular people have disposable income like they have never had before, making them more like the snobby elite in bank account only?

Joclyn said...

P.S. Did you see Super Size Me? I think the point was that there ARE people who eat at McDonald's every single day, and not just for a drink.

Shosh said...

I used to go to a cafe called "Sassy's" in my hometown where we'd sit and play chess and talk politics and "literature" all night long. Then I had a child. Many people in starbuck's (such as myself) are former snobs who got knocked up and shackled by kids and now they're lactating and getting barfed and pooped on but they still want that old feeling even though they don't have the time and freedom for it. So there are a couple things at work with Starbucks. Plus, their soy tazo chais are pretty gratifying.

bec said...

i don't go into starbucks anymore, but it's not because i care about the smaller mom & pop stores, because generally, i don't. it's not like it's mom & pop running or owning the cafes. usually it's just some pretentious black clad intellectual who i might have had a crush on back in the day. it's just because i don't have the time.
and if i did have the time, while my pretentious side might yearn to go back to some of the soho cafes i used to frequent, my more pragmatic side realizes that having to either 1.pay a babysitter almost ten dollars an hour so i can have a coffee in peace, 2. bring my little ones with me into a cafe in which they will not be able to stay still for the time it takes a hot latte to cool enough to drink, or 3. some crazy combination of the above, is really not worth the effort.
it's cheaper to just get the little ones in for a nap, brew a pot of tea, and do some quality writing while listening to some quality music of my choice.

Erica said...

does the mind of an intellectual ever need to wind down and take a break and, for sh*ts and giggles, perhaps enjoy eating cheese fries and playing simon & garfunkel songs on the jukebox at del rio at 3 in the morning with old friends who don't want to discuss (forgive my butchering of his name here...) kirkegaarde (sp?) or whether earth was created for man by mark twain?
cafes are like ... okaaaay, but starbucks, no starbucks -- does it really make such a difference? i've been addicted to their caramel frappacinos for more than six years and i usually get them to go anyways.
i admit it: i'm no intellectual. thank G*d.

Anonymous said...

no...notquite. I would say Dunkin Donuts is the McDonalds of cafes. it's just the coffee happens to be better and you can even get scone now (no soy lattes however). Video killed the radio show and Starbucks killed mom and pop cafes, I believe not because of comfort but because of franchise, marketing and availability. That is why you and your friends always end up there. Who wants to travel to the cute cafe 10 blocks away with that Starbucks waving at you from across the street.

bec said...

and here's another one. in the winter, it doesn't make sense to go into the smaller cafes, especially if you're dressed for warmth.
let me explain....
if you are larger than a size 2 and you're wearing a down jacket that covers your tush, regardless of it not being fashionable (the coat, not the tush) it is almost impossible to walk more than two feet past the door inside of a cafe, especially in manhattan, where space is severely limited, and the tables and chairs are TINY. then, once your size six body is in the chair and the parka is on the back of the chair, it is a given that said parka will inevitably fall off of the chair, get trampled, OR that five people of assorted genders will come in and not be able to pass by and then make snide remarks under their breath about your coat which you purchased solely to keep warm, without a care as to how NOT cool it is.
i'll admit that i'm of eclectic style, thought, and attitude, but the truth is, my coat is really not cool, and really big.
starbucks can accomodate my coat, but i'll just stay home, thank you.

Shosh said...

J-Lo has made tushies like mine unfashionable. J-Lo's tush is the McDonalds of tushes. Just stop in for a quick bite and then be on your way. Everywhere you turn is a big ol' booty. I have the mom and pop tush-skinny, small, not booty-liscious. But it has it's own charm and I'm just trying to make it work, you know? But then big bidness (and north american eating habits) come in with marketing and availability and suddenly my mom and pop tush is pushed out of the scene, replaced by a more ample tush. It just seems so *wrong*.
*sniff*

bec said...

if i got hit in the head with
j-lo's tush, i wouldn't know it was her, since i have no idea what she looks like but i have heard much about her tush.
while my tush is (much)smaller than average, if you figure that the average american woman is a size 20, i want to emphasize that the winter coat situation is a problem. the other option open to me is to wear my janis joplin rat fur coat, which is really hip and funky and i wore it all through amsterdam during a winter jaunt, but since it is calf-length, the problem then becomes where to put it once it's removed. should it be folded length-wise and then in half over the back of a chair? is that acceptable? or do i have to go back to what i've always (stupidly) done in canada, and completely done without the coat in favor of freezing my butt off (which i'm sure would greatly help many people as a weight loss scheme)and catching varying degrees of pneumonia by the following weekend.
so, shosh, it's good to have a mom & pop tush, but self-defeating to pair it with a super-size parka.

Shosh said...

anything that has anything to do with Janis Joplin is automatically cool. You could always wear the bulky coat and opt to not wear pants. Then, when you remove your coat, nobody will notice that your coat was ever a problem. Gotch is optional.

bec said...

ya know, that just might work.

Erica said...

i smelled a janis remark, so i thought i'd drop by and see what's up? i love her, if y'all weren't aware. janis was a junkie. that was NOT cool. j-lo's tushee is gross. too bootilicious. mine is kind like that too, except maybe a little bigger, and not nearly as firm. i think small tushees rock. i wish i had one.

Shosh said...

seriously? If I was ever to get any kind of surgery just for looks, I'd get butt implants. BIG ones. But then my booty might sink to my mid-calves as I aged. That would be sad.

bec said...

first of all, i think that there is now something called a butt bra, or something of that nature, it's like a push-up bra, but for tushies. so you can have a big ol' butt, and LIFT too! of course, you can do squats, but those require infinitely more commitment. or, maybe they can come up with an undergarment that has a fake tush built in, kind of like shoulder pads. however, i could see that not going over too well if you're on a date that turns into an overnight excursion.

bec said...

ari has a small tushie. but he's fourteen months. but it's soooo cute and silly. baby tushies are adorable.

Shosh said...

butt bra. that's definitely cheating. Like overly padded bras. I think guys must find those a little disappointing once the clothes come off. Squats....hmmm....actual exercise. What a novel idea!

Joclyn said...

Ever since Karl began serving his country (he does not serve at Starbucks), his calves look like implants.

In a good way!

phishaliyah said...

coffee always leads to butts

it's a laxative

Joclyn said...

I thought coffee is not a laxative, but a diuretic. It certainly can function as a laxative in those with a sensitivity to it, of course!

bec said...

joss,
if you recall the night that we all went to starbucks eons ago, i'd have to say that coffee definitely has a laxative effect....
also, why have i known way too many people who sit on the toilet with a cup of coffee? or is that a cigarette? well, something like that.
i had no idea that karl's calves look like they had implants. at least they're not removeable like the butt bra. the last time i saw him was maybe in 1999. (that was way too long ago.)

bec said...

awww shoot, joss, i'm sorry. i only read the first sentence of your post before responding. yikes, and i used to teach english.

Erica said...

people.



butt implants? tushees? starbucks?
coffee & cigarettes go well together, if you're like a hundred years old, or utterly downtrodden.
babies tushees are mad cute though. the word tushee alone is just like HA-HA L-O-L funny (that's how my teenage cousins and some people in their fifties who i know write laugh.out.loud.).
i could use a starbucks right about now actually.

Joclyn said...

One time I sat on a toilet with a cigarette in my hand.

I think I was holding it for someone.

Or maybe I was smoking it. I bought a pack of cigarettes on my fourteenth birthday.

Shosh said...

smoking on the toilet. Dude, that is nas-teh. I'm just trying to get the last word in here. Anybody going to shoot for 25????

bec said...

the last time i smoked a cigarette was at a phish show, nassau, don't remember the date offhand, but possibly 99, and i was tripping my tush off and really needed something to level me. so i asked jared of notable fame for a cigarette. but he didn't have any. so he bummed a cigarette from some chick for me so that my face wouldn't melt off, and i was sooo grateful. there is nothing like a cigarette, or a cup of coffee, when youre wrecked to even you out so you're not twanging all over the place.

Erica said...

uch, me and cigarettes; nasty habit. i lost my voice for over a week about a month ago, and the residual damage has resulted in my not being able to hit high notes anymore. so depressing.
i don't smoke in the shower though, and i CERTAINLY don't smoke on the bog since the hand that holds the cigarette is also the one that does the wiping.
yeah, i know, TMI, hehehe,

bec said...

yeah, erica, we really didn't need to know about your singing ability, or lack thereof. and the fact that you are ruining your career as a potential pop star is just totally, like, unacceptable, i mean, rilly!
speaking of pop, i could really go for a diet coke.
back in the days of college and unlimited calorie intake...this was a favorite of mine:
ordering a coke, a milkshake, a coffee, a tea, and water with ice cubes (preferably in a glass glass.) and not ordering anything else. maybe toast triangles, but most usually just lots of drinks. does that make me a drinkaholic??? i just used to be sooo thirsty all the time, and to make things worse, i could never decide what to have.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the difference between a laxative and a diuretic?