Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Starbucks Card

I admit it: I have a Starbucks card.

Mine is a half-hearted admission of guilt, because I'm not that guilty at the prospect of being seen in a Starbucks.

I once was.

Among my cool friends, the ones who see only art films and read the New York Review of Books regularly, Starbucks is often dismissed as hopelessly square: bad, burnt coffee, silly attempts at exoticism (ohhh, this coffee is from Ethiopia), and, most damningly, death to the neighborhood café.

I sympathize with that reasoning. I prefer local places, even if the quality may be uneven.

But I still like Starbucks.

I began visiting the ubiquitous coffee chain when writing my first draft of a book about ubiquity, the ongoing omnitopia project. I found a Starbucks in Salinas whose plate glass windows offered views of both the interstate and a Wal-Mart. When writing about placeless architecture, it's hard to imagine a more apt site.

No connoisseur of decent coffee, having never drunk the stuff even after a hitch with the Navy, I started with frothy, milky drinks before discovering the thrilling jolt of espresso. Sure, there are "great" espressos to be had. In Italy, I guess. But you can't convince me that Starbucks offers a lousy one.

Eventually I learned to order mine in the doppio ceramic cups -- no paper for me.

And then I discovered those damned toffee bars.

Sometimes the bars have a lot of toffee; sometimes they have none. Sometimes they're a bit dry and sometimes they're tender and moist. But almost always they go perfectly with the thick, strong shot of espresso served in that tiny cup. Almost always, they help me craft a mental vacation from a busy afternoon.

That's the point of Starbucks, for me anyway. I have an espresso maker in my office. And in a pinch, I can brew up a decent cup. Nothing memorable, but nothing too shabby either.

But the chance to walk a few blocks to a place whose employees seem genuinely happy to rap a few moments (when the line isn't too long) and serve some coffee is a good thing.

So now I have a local Starbucks that is "mine." It's near my office (aren't they all?) in San José. I go every day or so, looking forward to the times when the counter-person knows what I want before I have to ask.

I'd never queue endlessly during a morning just to get a jolt. But the afternoon fits with my schedule and has become a consistently happy part of my day for months now.

So, at last, I decided it was time to buy a Starbucks card. Carrying it offers no privileges, no special deals (yet, at least). Sure, I got a couple of free iTunes selections out of the purchase. But I would have happily bought "Stairway to Heaven" on my own eventually.

It's just nice to know that I keep a reminder in my wallet of a relatively cheap and dependable dalliance from the daily grind, a promise of consistency amid seemingly endless variation.

I admit it: I like Starbucks.

No comments: