A very GQ take on Starbucks
Hey, is there anywhere to get a decent cup of coffee around here?
Oh, come on. Don’t look so sad. When we’re in the mood for a twenty-four-ounce cup of pumpkin-pie-flavored Cool Whip, a Feist CD covered in mocha fingerprints, a possibly exaggerated memoir by a former child soldier, and some customer “service” that denies our essential humanity, we still head straight to our corner Starbucks. Or the one across from that one. Or the one that will have opened farther down the block by the time we finish typing this sentence.
Here’s the thing, though: We’re never, ever in that mood.
What we do like is coffee. If coffee were smack, we’d be Pete Doherty and we’d refuse to give it up, even if it cost us our career and our supermodel girlfriend. And we’ll tank up anywhere: the neighborhood joint with the womyn-friendly breast-feeding policy and the couches composed entirely of rusty springs; the swill dispenser down the hall; an AA meeting. Anywhere, that is, but Starbucks.
In this we’re not alone. America is a caffeine nation, perpetually jacked up on gallons of magma-hot fuck-yeah juice, and logically you guys should still be making more money than Halliburton and Hannah Montana combined. Instead your market share is crumbling, and so is your cultural primacy. Snooty people have moved on to snootier coffee—shade-grown, fair-trade, artisanal, brought down the mountain by mules that have good dental coverage. Everybody else went back to Dunkin’ Donuts. You’re still part of the fabric of American life—think of Mary-Kate Olsen’s ever present Venti cup, proof despite massive evidence to the contrary that she’s Just Like Us—but so is soul-crushing corporate suckitude. Your new ads spotlight a straight-down-the-middle brew called Pike Place Roast. We’re glad you’re getting back into the coffee business—seriously, is there anything you haven’t put in a latte yet? Courvoisier? DayQuil? unicorn tears?—but we’ve tried this stuff, and it should come with an Egg McMuffin on the side. It’s a rich, complex blend of desperation and mediocrity.
The real problem is that there used to be something about you, Starbucks, and now there isn’t. You were a quintessentially ’90s company. You were from Seattle, the same rainy cradle of anticorporate corporateness that gave us Microsoft and major-label grunge. Young dreamers camped out in your stores all day like the cast of Friends, filling napkins with business plans for e-commerce Web sites. (“It’s like Pets.com for Wiccans!”) We were all going to get crazy rich and wear ironic sexy grandpa T-shirts to offices where we’d play Frisbee golf instead of working. A $4 latte wasn’t an extravagance; it was a little rehearsal for the cushy life that was about to be ours. Even your stupid fake-Italian language made us feel sophisticated. The 7-Eleven crowd could have their week-old bubblin’ crude; we’d be over here, talking like Marcello Mastroianni, because we knew better. Even back then, you seemed a little evil-empire-ish. But man, your chairs were comfy. So we drank your overpriced espresso-shakes. We drank them up!
You know the rest. Cobain died. We got Dubya, war, a recession, and our workplace doesn’t have a Centipede machine. We’re living in an era of diminished expectations, and if things aren’t going so well for you, maybe it isn’t because people resent your McDonald’s-esque omnipresence, those cups adorned with quotes from deep thinkers like Josh Groban and David Copperfield, or the fact that you roast your beans under the space shuttle. Maybe it’s because your neither-luxurious-nor-particularly-affordable idea of affordable luxury now seems like a nonfat, half-caf, quadruple-grande bad joke. With extra foam.
In other words, you’ve brought this on yourself. If we learned one thing from The Wire, it’s that you can only control all the corner real estate in town and pay disenfranchised young people to sling an addictive product for so long before you lose your grip on the game. But we’re not mad at you, Starbucks. Give us a call sometime. We’ll grab a coffee. It’s on us—we just shorted your stock.
Yours with shaky hands,
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