I have not had the pleasure of spending nearly as much time in coffee shops as I’d like.
Somewhere, in the back of my mind, resides an idealized coffee shop, where people sit and sip caffeine and have highbrow philosophical/political discussions while posting profound entries to their blogs and harmlessly making the world a better and more interesting place.
I’ve never been to this coffee shop. I fear that it is, and always will be, a figment of my imagination and nothing more.
Now, I don’t hold Starbucks personally accountable for the McDonaldization of our world. I don’t even hold McDonald’s responsible. I am fully aware that their coffee is not the best; that it is overpriced, that their food leaves a lot to be desired (though, admittedly, I’ve never tried any; that’s not what I go to Starbucks for, just as a salad isn’t the reason I got to McDonald’s), and that their community presence has led to the demise of a number of locally-operated coffee shops. I also think their spread and success, however, has raised the bar for coffee bars, setting a new standard for improvement and requiring that their competition be at least a little bit better in order to survive. Being a force that improves quality and value is almost universally a good thing. Almost.
Still, I enjoy Starbucks, and I find it to be too rare a treat when I’m able to indulge in a nice venti triple white chocolate mocha – which, to the chagrin of my unfortunate barista, I still insist on calling “a large white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso.”
I also enjoy at least the idea of sitting in a Starbucks, on my laptop, with a tall cup of sweet/creamy stimulating goodness and all the world at my fingertips, even if it does not come to pass.
And the possibility of it coming to pass seems to be growing less and less. The blog Starbucks Gossip has confirmed that some Starbucks stores are using a passive aggressive tactic to limit the time that people spend in their stores: they are putting faceplates over the power outlets.
Well, first of all, I don’t think aggression should ever be “passive.” Aggression should come at you head-on, with a sledgehammer in one hand and a cinder block chained to the other, flailing and screaming, its voice hoarse with profanity and its eyes wide and red. Passive is a way to describe a yuppie municipal park; not aggression.
Covering the power outlets is Starbucks’ prerogative. They have a business to run, and I’m sure that there are quite a few people who abuse the service they provide. I’ve been startled to read the number of news reports chronicling people who run their businesses from a Starbucks, using the locations to meet with clients and siphoning off the complimentary Wi-Fi and occupying a table for hours a day while paying but an obligatory buck-eighty-five in “rent.” In the restaurant business, the name of the game is turning over tables. Move ‘em in, get ‘em fed, get the pay and send them on their way. Folks occupying a table past their time are creating overhead and degrading customer service for others.
Plugging the outlets and permitting folks to loiter only as long as their laptop batteries will (increasingly) allow will discourage the table-hogging that is, evidently, a problem. Still, I find this disheartening, because it means the door is closing on precisely the coffee house environment of which I’ve dreamed. And, since my laptop battery is bollox, it means that I’ll have about 10 minutes or so of laptop usage before the thing gives out on me and leaves me alone with a cup of coffee and a BlackBerry with which my relationship is becoming increasingly antagonistic.
Taking time out of your day to think, to meditate, to “write history” as Aristotle would say, is important, and Starbucks had the potential to serve as a venue for this for our modern times, enabling people to sit, think, write and share their thoughts through their laptops. That some have abused this to the point of ending it for the rest of us is unfortunate, but what must be must be. I always found it a comfort to think that there was such a place where I could go, sit, think, drink coffee and write, but so be it.
The fact that there’s a Starbucks Gossip blog at all speaks to the problem that people are spending way too much time inside these stores. If you’re too generous with a resource, it will be abused. At Starbucks, the abuse has even become culturally acceptable.
This isn’t going to impact me too much; I have a Tassimo, my own Wi-Fi network and a power outlet right here beside the kitchen table. My “large white chocolate mocha” usually comes from a drive-thru window. Still, knowing that sanctuary is out there, buzzing with free power and Internet, with a skilled staff that can deftly mix delicious caffeinated potions behind that artfully accented counter has been a comfort that, with but minutes remaining on this charge on my laptop, I shall resign.