Wed, Oct 01, 2014 ●
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The View From Away: It's always warm at the national coffee emporium chain

Opinion

The View From Away: It's always warm at the national coffee emporium chain

First, let me apologize for the recent weather. I am pretty sure I caused it by running off to California for three weeks.

You know the old saying, “Leave Maine in December, winter will remember.” It’s like “Fatal Attraction.” Winter is Glenn Close, and I’m Michael Douglas. Moving to Maine was my choice. I can’t simply fool around with Her and escape the consequences by running back to my old wife, L.A. Winter won’t be ignored, thank you very much.

OK, I get it. I was wrong to leave you. I accept the frostbite from shoveling my way out of the house. I embrace the hip damage you gave me from slipping on the ice (Nice touch by the way, turning Portland into Bret Harte’s doomed “Poker Flat,” then “rescuing” it with freezing rain). You can stop punishing everybody now.

The one marginally positive thing about the recent weather is that it slowed down the inevitable homogenization of the main drag through town a little bit. The last patch of trees near my house was cleared in the fall to make room for yet another bank branch and Starbucks, because you need more of those. Oh, wait, you don’t. Anyway, trees you can always make. Oh, wait, you can’t.

This march toward sameness is distressing more in theory than in practice. I do not oppose banks or national coffee emporium chains. No bank has ever actually stolen my money, checking account policies notwithstanding. Bank tellers have always been cheerful and friendly to me. In my experience, employees have to be pretty far up the food chain before the individuality is completely trained out of them.

However, living in New York spoiled me for banks. There were many grand multi-story bank lobbies filled with art and intricate mosaics. It was comforting to see what you were getting for your money. That sort of temple to avarice is not common in Portland. There is a particularly depressing blandness in branch offices. Charitably put, they do not overspend here on architects and decorators.

I am not competent to judge Starbucks' core business, which I believe is still coffee, or at least beverages reminiscent of coffee. Coffee is not my cup of tea, so to speak. If I want to make my nerves jittery and leave a bitter taste in my mouth afterwards, I will pick a fight with my wife. At least then I would deserve them.

Like my wife, the baristas treat me better than I deserve, and watching the machine in action is like a tour through a particularly well run assembly line. You could say Starbucks’ interior design lacks the scope and majesty of a branch bank’s, but that would be unkind and, arguably, untrue. You could say if you have seen one, you have seen them all, but that would be unkind.

They have certainly mastered the art of locating new outlets next to already successful businesses of the same kind, in this case, a locally owned and operated coffee place that also makes great soups, sandwiches and breakfast foods. And therein lies my rub. Don’t get me wrong: I hate the concept of turning every street in America into the same succession of interchangeable businesses. Local businesses should always win. The businesses went in early, took the risks, and established themselves should always, but ... IkindofhopeStarbucksdoesOK.

I know. I am a bad person. A mindless tool of corporate America. You cannot say anything that I have not already said to myself. The worst part of it is that my hope comes out of how much I love the place. There are couches and chairs and a bar-like thingie where you can just stand and drink your coffee (not me, but still ...). At any given time there could be small children, parents, grandparents, high school students, business people. On one of the below-zero days, I got to talk with some guys who were taking a break from putting a roof on a restaurant, in that weather.

The food is simple, but great. They make their own soups and sandwiches. Each of the wait staff has a unique look, and they are all interesting and adorable in unique ways,even the managers. I think I am literally in love with all of them without even knowing their names. Is that even possible? It must be, because it happened. They even play interesting music.

I want to make it my local hangout. Unfortunately, their customer base won’t cooperate. They keep filling the place up. Whenever I try to hang out, it is sarcastically busy. More than once I have not only been unable to find a place to sit, I could not even find a place to park. So you must be high if you think I am going to make things worse by advertising the place. Scarborough. That’s all I’m saying.

Starbucks, if you’re listening, just take the pressure off. Just do well enough to open up a parking space at the place I really want to go to. And maybe throw in a free download for mentioning your name.