Monday, April 13, 2009

A Tall Confession

OK. Here's the story.

We had gone up to Northern Virginia for my Mom's 80th Birthday Party. (Don't tell her I said that. She wants people to think she's still 79.) We had left my brother's house outside Loudon in the country, and I went the wrong way. This meant taking an extra hour and a half to get home, and with the whole family of six in the car, that wasn't what we were hoping for.

On top of the realization that I had made this mistake, Bethany wanted me to stop for a Starbucks. Well ... at this point, deep in self loathing, I am not in the mood to stop and spend the time and money at Starbucks when we are already looking at an 11 hour journey home. With no time for argument or reasoning--for we are passing St. Arbuck's high up the hill in the plaza on the right--I realize that not stopping now only means stopping at the next ubiquitous Starbucks. So I decide to pull in and get the coffee, thinking I won't even get myself a coffee for spite even though I know I'll need it for the 11 hour journey, but I've missed the main entrance ... so I take the right at the light on the corner thinking it will give me a side entrance to the shopping plaza. Wrong. I am now on another highway, and I can't see a turnaround or exit, and there is traffic behind me.

The tension is rising. I am the man, and I am driving the car. That should say it all, but I am on this highway with no way off in sight to get this coffee for my beloved. Surely she is worth the small amount of time for this small pleasure.I drive down the road a mile, take an exit and get back to the light where the Starbucks is high on the hill to our left. You can almost smell that smell. The one that gets all over your hands and clothes and hair and mouth and bladder. It's the smell that says this cup of java might have just helped a poor coffee farming family in Africa, or it might have just helped our global enterprise as we fought for copyrights of the names of exotic beans against the coffee farming families of that country.

It's the smell that makes me mad every time I think of how I wish I had $1,000 to spend on Starbucks' stock when I first read about the Seattle based company starting a prototype shop in Chicago before heading to the East coast. It was a no brainer, but I was a temp in the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at the Farm Credit Administration, where among other things I processed letters from American farmers losing their farms due to bad debt situations written to Congressional appointees who signed the responses prepared by their staff to say they were sorry but there was nothing they could do ... and I just didn't have the money to invest. Smells take us lots of places, and this one is conflicted for me, but it's a conflicted smell I have to admit I love.

So I turn left at the light, drive up the hill and wind my way into the parking lot where that smell is coming from. I get out of the car and follow it to the door and enter the air that is Starbucks. It is not just a place; it is a realm. Before the door even closes behind you, you realize you are no longer in full control of your destiny. Whether or not you browse the paraphernalia, no matter who you came to meet, you will end up at the counter. My self absorption has put me in this mood and it is now asking the question, "How can I stand at this counter, face my Barista, and only order a Venti 2% No Whip Mocha for my wife and nothing for me?" I give in ... but with a new angle. I will not give in and order a coffee. Pointless rebellion.

I order instead a Grande Orange Mango Banana Vivanno. It has protein in it. In fact, according to Starbucks' Press Release dated July 14, 2008, this drink is Starbucks' attempt to raise the bar on good nutrition in the coffee shop industry. It states, "Developed with a strong nutritional goal in mind, the Orange Mango Banana ... beverages provide at least one serving of fruit, 16 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber with 270 calories or less and no artificial colors, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup." I realize that a Venti Mocha boasts 17 grams of protein, but this is a No Whip Mocha I'm getting, so you're not going to get all 17 grams.

But you're not thinking about any of this at a Starbucks counter any more than you're thinking about those poor families in Africa washing those coffee beans no matter what you call them or whether the Barista will use a level measure or a heaping measure of their proprietary whey and fiber protein powder. All you can think about is the smell and how for a few measly dollars you can have that Siren on the cup singing in your bloodstream. The Barista is her cousin. She smells of it, too. It's in her teeth and in her hair. It's in her voice as she calls your drink to her associate, who waits with Sharpie in hand ready to cull your selection to perfection, and it's in his voice as he echoes the command. It's all playing into the assuaging of my wounded ego. In fact, the smell, the very air in this realm, has now settled into that part of the brain where pleasure and revenge steep together. Yes. Now I see it. I was meant to be here. When this is all over, I will be higher than the hill this place is built upon and I will know the thoughts of God.

But walking out, drinks in hand, I am conflicted again. Too much cognitive dissonance for one day. I see the van in the lot. I remember how I got here. I've already gone the wrong way. Now I've waited in line for these delicious beverages that I didn't want to stop for but secretly desired, and, Dear God, it's all because of the woman. But I know it's all because of me. Something inside me feels good about it all ... but at the same time, I feel so dirty.

As I hand her the Venti through the window in the crisp Autumn air of Loudon County, I am just not going to smile quite yet. She has to see that I am still not happy. But she can see that I know she was right, and she was worth the stop. She takes my picture through the window. She probably knew it would come to this: a tall no whip confession.