Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sorry, I Don't Speak Starbucks

On the way to the golf course this morning I decided to stop at my favorite Dunkin Dounuts on Route 66 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I like their coffee and they make a nice breakfast sandwich. Usually I'm served pretty quickly, but for some reason today, the place was packed. The two servers in the snappy paper hats were doing their best to cope, but looked overwhelmed. (In Staten Island, the ten people ahead of me would have been waited on before they could get their money out to pay, but in Jersey they move at that slow motion "MaƱana" pace. A customer at the register whose bill came to $4.14 gave one of the servers $10.14. The look of confusion that came over the server's face told me I wouldn't be getting out of there anytime soon. I think she was taking her shoes off as I walked out the door.

There's not much open at 7:00 AM in the suburbs, but I spotted a Starbucks in a strip mall across the highway. Normally I'm not a Starbucks kind of guy. People in there treat drinking a cup of coffee like some kind of sacred ritual. Many of the customers appear to live in the store. They sit in the plush club chairs in full Tommy Hilfiger regalia, nursing a cup of coffee for hours on end. If I were the owner I'd throw these assholes out the door, but hey, that's me. The owner of this Starbucks had his own problems. He was so super-cheerful it frightened me. At some point I thought he was going to vault over the counter for a group hug.

When I finally got "inside the ropes" I asked for a medium cup of coffee. I absolutely refuse to use the pretentious Starbucks terms for coffee sizes like Venti and Grande...please. Then Happy, the owner, says to me: Komodo or Pike?" Oh no, he's speaking Starbucks. Let me try to reason this out. Komodo is a dragon, and Pike is a peak, what the hell does this have to do with coffee? "What is Komodo or Pike" I ask, raising my voice a little the way we do when we speak to someone who doesn't speak English. I learn that Pike is their standard house blend and Komodo a bolder brew. Since the weakest Starbucks coffee gives me the caffeine shakes, I figure Komodo will turn me into a serial killer. I go with the Pike.

I then remember that Starbucks now serves breakfast sandwiches which are really quite good. I ask for a sausage and egg on a roll. The guy at my diner knows exactly what this means and simply brings me what I want. Happy, the owner at Starbucks, has questions. "Do you want that on a Multigrain roll or an Artesian roll?" I panic. I know what Multigrain rolls are, but Artesian roll is not coming up in my memory banks. Happy looks at me with that well-practiced: "How did this unwashed idiot get in the door" look, and disdainfully points to the glass-fronted showcase at an Artesian roll. It's as if he knew that language was fruitless in trying to explain things to a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal like me. (If you're out of the bread loop too, an Artesian roll is kind of a flat, Pannini bread that proved to be delicious.)

As I sat there munching my sandwich and sipping my Pike, I glanced at the menu just to have something to read. Some other breakfast selections I could have chosen: Parmesan and Gouda-flavored frittata or Black Forest ham and Cheddar, and to drink, a Venti Mocha Latte with a Piccolo Queso Sombrero. (I have no idea what on earth that is.) For lunch you might want to try the Grilled Vegetable San Francisco Ciabatta and wash it down (whatever it is) with an Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte. Before you leave, be sure to pick up some coffee to take home like Arabian Mocha Sanani, Brazil Ipanema Bourbon, Ethopia Sidamo or Guatemala Casi Cielo. Someone please, I need a Starbucks to English dictionary!

I know Starbucks is a very successful chain that redefined the coffee drinking experience worldwide. I know people are simply wild about their exotic blends from every corner of the earth. I know they are committed to saving the planet by using part of their profits for environmental causes. That said, I'm just not a big fan. I'm a Dunkin Donuts guy in a Starbucks world. My feelings can be summed up perfectly by quoting a line from comic George Gobel, who was the last guest to come out on a 1969 Tonight Show program. Already sitting at the dias were superstars Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Bob Hope. George turned to Johnny and delivered the classic line: "Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?" Click below to see this great clip.

YouTube - Bob Hope Dean Martin George Gobel Johnny Carson


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