There really is a difference.
The best coffee I’ve found anywhere around me is a coffeehouse down the street called Fuel. It’s one of those places with the overstuffed furniture in questionable repair and a stage in the back for punk bands, poetry readings, and liberal political speeches. It’s just grungy enough to discourage the casual poseur, with enough dark romance to attract the tragically hip. There are nude models for anyone who wants to come by on a Thursday night for drawing classes, and a cluster of Macs for people who need to get their interwebs on.
But the parking is awful.
Most of the time, I end up over at Starbuck’s. It’s a little closer and I can comfortably walk there, so the parking is a non-issue. The coffee isn’t quite as good, but it’s a whole lot less effort for about the same price, so what the hell. Also, through careful experimentation and countless hours I have pieced together what is, to my tastes, the perfect cup of coffee. (Grande soy, 2-pump mocha, no whip. Yum!) Not too sweet, flavorful the whole way down, plus I almost never drink more than half at a sitting, so I can put the rest in the fridge and enjoy it cold later. Also, since Starbucks’ seem to be almost everywhere on the planet, I can get my favorite cup of joe practically anywhere.
Now, I am writing this blog from Arkansas. Lena and I are visiting with her dad Robbie, and his wife Emily, both of whom are wonderful, big-hearted people for whom I have tremendous affection. They live in Hot Springs Village, an extensive community built out of a national park. It is enormously beautiful here. There is forest and wildlife literally everywhere you look, and from the back porch where I am right now all I can see are trees, birds, and blue sky. What I cannot, most pointedly see, is a Starbuck’s.
Many people would consider this a blessing, and honestly, I have to agree. The green mermaid logo (modified several times over the years so as to disguise the fact that she is rather wantonly holding her twin fish tails apart before her like a three-dollar hooker ringing the dinner bell) is considerably less idyllic than my sylvan surroundings, and could only be considered both obtrusive and invasive. But it was a fourteen hour drive to get here, and if current averages bear out, that means I should have passed some twenty eight million Starbucks’ on my way here. What I want to know, is why every one of them is completely invisible from the highway.
See, I’m driving along, through the dozens of tiny towns between oh, say Birmingham and Memphis. Not only can I not find a Starbuck’s, (supposedly there was one in Tupelo, but I’m not holding my breath) but actually asking anybody about it garners me only slow smiles and head-shaking amazement. The kind of reaction you’d expect if you walked up to someone and asked them if you could have a little piece of their brain for your kid’s third-grade science experiment. A combination of “no, you’re stupid for asking,” and “why is there a tiny monkey dressed like Hitler masturbating on top of your head?”
So I’m driving along, fighting a terrific bout of road-weariness without the solace of a perfect cup of coffee. Finally I decided I was being ridiculous and I pulled over at a Chevron station and got a cup of what they laughingly call coffee. It was horrible, but it kept me awake. (And it lasted a loooooong time.)
I know I am spoiled. I know that the stuff I now revile is exactly the same stuff I used to uncomplainingly drink by the gallon back before I had ever even heard of Starbuck’s. But times have changed, and I have changed right along with them. It’s getting chilly out here on the porch, and the birds are moving up higher into the trees to keep out of the shadow of the house and in the warmer sunlight. It’s the kind of scene that brings peace and perspective and calm to the soul.
But it sure as hell doesn’t bring me a grande soy, 2-pump mocha with no whip.