An Ode to Starbucks

I love coffee shops.

I like coffee shops of all kinds. I like tiny shops where it’s difficult to have a private conversation. I like shops that sell local artists’ work on their walls or coffee mugs I could never find at Target. I like shops with punny names, ones where the owner is the barista and the floor cleaner and the coffee grinder. I like to hear these shops’ stories, too, about how they were once just dreams, like a bag of coffee beans before they’re ground up and dripped into a cup.

And I love Starbucks.

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I know what you’re thinking: Starbucks is The Man. Starbucks steals business away from these little dream shops–why, Starbucks takes their dreams and grinds them right up, serving them in a grande cup. Starbucks has taught us to say grande instead of medium.

And it seems like every Starbucks is the same. After all, there’s one on every Interstate exit (thank the Lord). You can walk in and order straight off the menu, and you know what you’re going to get. Those Starbucks baristas are a dime a dozen, all dressed in black and not caring about your name or how you feel really, really special when they offer to steam your milk even though you just ordered regular coffee.

And let’s be honest–Pike Place always tastes a little burnt.

But I’m here to come, just a little, to the rescue of Starbucks. I’m here to throw Starbucks a bone and a “bless your heart.” Because Starbucks, you have been a friend to me.

novel coffee

You have given me chairs to curl up in with Ulysses, and when I cried because I wanted to punch James Joyce for being so, well, James Joyce, you gave me a place loud enough that no one noticed.

You gave me a spot where almost everyone feels comfortable, even if they’re not regulars, a place to meet friend after friend and lay our hard stuff on your sometimes-off-balance tables without causing a scene.

You have given me familiarity, a place where, yes, I can order my usual, and even though you don’t know my middle name or that it’s my usual, you’ll give it to me the way I like it. You’ve given me a place where coffee is always waiting, no matter where I am, and for this, I am so grateful.

vampire weekend coffee

And you’ve shown me, that in any place in the world, if I look close enough, there are people. Not masses of unknowns, or baristas in green aprons, or caffeine addicts without a story, but people.

You introduced me to Tripp, the barista who has taken to quietly filling my cup before I’ve even ordered, sliding it across the bar to me without fireworks, without announcing that he’s doing some grand thing, but with a slight smile full of grace (for I was here yesterday.)

Within your walls, I stumbled upon a guy whom I call “the archaeologist” for no good reason except that I was reading a book about an archaeologist when I first saw him. This man–another face, that’s all he is–lights up when he sees me walk in, just because I’m someone whom he knows will chat about the weather. Every day, he waits to find someone who will talk about the weather.

There’s the quiet Asian boy who shares his outlet with me, and the group of Christ-sharers who drink cup after cup of coffee at the big table while they talk about God’s goodness.

There’s my friend, in the yellow chair, reading a book, and many days, there’s me, too, writing something.

editing coffee

***

One day last week, I went to four different coffee shops in one day: first, I needed a place to answer emails, then I had a meeting, then I stopped to edit an essay, and then later, I needed a pick-me-up as I drove home. Three of those shops were Starbucks, beacons of sameness standing like pillars throughout the chaos that is my life right now.

You may say Starbucks is The Man, and I will say, Yes, a constant, steady Man full of men and women who have their own stories.

You may suggest I support the little guys, and I will smile and say, Yes, I do. I love coffee shops of all kinds.

You may insist Starbucks coffee is the bottom of the coffee totem pole, and I will roll my eyes, for a coffee enthusiast can’t be a snob, lest she risk being decaffeinated. (Moreover, a poor kid can’t be a snob about anything.)

***

For all that you’ve given me, Starbucks, I offer back a venti “thank you.” I promise to come, buy a grande iced coffee for $2.28, and use your Wifi for hours. I promise to joke with your green-aproned hard workers, to get to know them, to remember they have dreams, just like me. I promise to look up from my Mac every once and while to see the archaeologists and the book-readers, people who need to say hello and talk about the weather. I promise to Instagram my cup and include a witty caption, but I can’t promise more than 25 likes.

And Starbucks, I promise to go get to know the local coffee shops, for I know you won’t miss me. But on long drives home, when the music’s not enough, when I need something hot and foamy, I’ll come–and no matter where I am, you’ll feel like home.

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