Thursday, January 20, 2011

the persistence of memory

I've been beaten down so long by the corporate bludgeon that is Starbucks that I've forgotten that angrier, eye-rolling-er me who used to ooze resentment all over their faux flagstones and insisted on saying "medium" instead of "grande," verily daring them to pretend they didn't speak my mysterious vulgar cant. NM brought the memories all back earlier this week when she threw up her hands in exasperation and declared "Calm is not a flavor! Refresh is not a flavor! Just tell me what the tea tastes like instead of telling me how to feel!" If she had been a tea, she would have been Rage.

I'd had a little Rage Tea(TM) today when I got to Starbucks for a much-needed post-conference-call sugar shock, and I was reminded of another thing that used to bother a more vibrant, more vital version of me: the Barista Who Thinks You Are Friends. She knows your name! (Well, she knows the Anglo-Frankish version of it.) She remembers that you work in the area! (Or has deduced this from the fact that you're wearing a suit and pumps.) Most of all, she remembers your drink. Except that she doesn't. She has perhaps mixed you up with another person of your gender and ethnicity, but you've never actually ordered that particular proportion of caffeine, sugar syrup, and milk fat that she is currently conjuring onto the side of the white paper cup. So you have to interrupt her tellingly efficient demonstration of intimacy (because really, all this treacle is meant to keep you moving as quickly as possible through the line and out the door before you realize that all this Old World bonhomie is essentially the carcass of a sheep draped grotesquely over the wolf who devoured it). You have to tell her that, in conscious betrayal of all you've been through together, you want to order something else. And for no good reason, you are embarrassed by this. They have tricked you into being ashamed of offering them money in exchange for the thing that you want.

The smartest thing I ever read about Starbucks comes from a article by Jacob Weisberg: "The unappreciated business genius of Starbucks is not charging $4 for a latte but rather giving adults permission to drink milkshakes, on the pretext that they are merely tea or coffee." The baristas' drink-memorization gambit reinforces this notion, that an upside-down caramel macchiato with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles is just the way you take your coffee, in the same way that someone else might have it black with two sugars. Rather than a liquified candy snack (presaging a wider movement away from solid food), it is something that you can reasonably be expected to drink every morning and not tire of; it is a 300-calorie part of your routine, and therefore your identity. And changing that, suddenly and without warning, is a betrayal. It's a betrayal of yourself, and a betrayal of your friend, the barista.


Andy Brommel said...
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Andy Brommel said...

Yeah seriously. I don't really like the taste of coffee or espresso, so every time I get a taste of one of their mixed drinks, I think, yeah, that's ok, but why do that to a perfectly good DQ blizzard?

And the tea-as-feelings/"wellness" thing is unbearable too. I once became apoplectic in the Evanston Whole Foods because I couldn't find a tea that wasn't intended to heal some aspect of my body or soul. I just wanted tasty black tea, maybe with some orange peel in it or something. Leave my chakras alone.

mikaydee said...

I remember that day! You were so daunted. I imagined it to be like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you standing there amidst all that false beauty, looking for the carpenter's cup. Except you ended up like the melting guy.