There’s a little campaign going on out there. It’s the Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks thing. Until yesterday I had no idea! I guess from the blogs and other online references I’ve seen it’s a political statement to say so. Along with it’s tee-shirts, bumper stickers and cups promoting the theory, there’s even multiple Facebook pages dedicated to the subject. The numbers vary but of the 18 different pages I counted only one is worth mentioning with a whopping 332 elite members (you have to ask permission to join). Most of the others show membership on the low (3) to very low-side (1). Of the more than 750-million active Facebook users only 1100 have joined the Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks bandwagon.
The reasons for the outrage vary from the glib, to the serious, to the nonsensical — or maybe it’s all nonsense. A few motives cited include corporate irresponsibility: lousy and/or expensive coffee: hatred for anything Starbucks: or as one competitor states, a means to “push” their own brand. Not wanting to get too political in my posts I’ll only say I have a differing point of view. Besides, none of this has much to do with the subject as my title indicates above. It’s all just a side show, more accurately a freak show that serves me well as a point of introduction regarding the community called Starbucks.
The affable Starbucks founder Howard Schultz created quite the phenomenon when he shaped the ubiquitous Starbucks Coffee shops into the force they’ve become today. His stores are communities within their neighborhoods. A regular gathering place for the areas movers and shakers, the policy makers, the wannabes as well as the misfits. Society’s most beautiful people often frequent their local Starbucks just to see and to be seen. I’ve had the opportunity on a number of occasions to stand in Schultz’ company in conversation with him. The experience leads me to think maybe this sense of community has something to do with his down-to-earth nature and his propensity to want to visit and talk with people. Nothing happens by accident at Starbucks.
Howard wasn’t always a gazillionire. He grew up the son of a poor German-Jewish family in the projects of Brooklyn, New York and I don’t think he’s forgotten his roots. He’s self-made. He’s conscientious and a good, decent man. His clientele are made up of folks from all walks of life and financial means. From the elderly to toddlers, from the down-and-outers to the fabulously successful, Starbucks makes ’em all feel right at home. Whether the visitors are decked-out in Keds or Jimmy Choo you never know who you’ll see there.
The one I go to has come to be nicknamed “the Russian Starbucks” due to the many, mostly younger, immigrants from nations that once made up the U.S.S.R. who visit throughout the day. Regular church goers, at least a couple of evenings a week, these young Russkys, dressed in their Sunday-best, gather afterwards to socialize with others of their heritage. Amazing how times have changed. Those who were once our sworn enemies we now share coffee, pastries and small-talk with. I admit it! I’ve done it!
I’ve come to depend a lot on my Starbucks meeting-place and with my frequent visits have come to know quite a few people. It’s gotten to the point where my day wouldn’t be the same without spending some time there, just to say “hello.” Noteworthy in consideration of the fact I don’t even drink coffee but that’s another post for yet another day.
Among those I’ve come to know in my office away from home is Larry who within two minutes of striking up a conversation with a stranger will reveal two things about himself. One: he’s in the “film and television business“, and two: he’s soon moving back to his L-A roots. Larry who’s a rabid U.S.C. football fan is deep into a full-featured movie project that’s bound to be the next Pearl Harbor. With him frequently is his assistant and co-worker — a defense attorney in her day-job — a Jewish princess turned Christian who talks of meetings with the likes of Mel Gibson, intrigue and high finance. Then there’s my friend “Mr. Dependable.” Ron’s a retired Boeing Engineer who’s living the dream. With a wife still working he has free time up the yang-yang and visits on a daily basis at least once and sometimes twice a day. Always with a book in-hand — Ron must read ten a month — he takes a seat at a small table with a cup of his favorite, a Grande Decaf Mocha, extra hot! Predictably Ron reaches into a little cloth bag and pulls out his iPod, dons his Bose headphones, adjusts the volume, tunes out and reads on. Either at the end of a chapter, the end of a song, or upon reaching the bottom of his cup — “just depends” he says — Ron makes haste to return home to his honey-do’s and to lounge by his back-yard pool. He’s never there very long, just in and out in a matter of minutes. But two things are certain: One, he always has time to stop and say hello and to chat a bit, and he’ll say goodbye and chat a little more before he leaves. And two, he’ll be back the very next day and do it all over again. At least once.
I’ve noted when I visit other Starbucks they all seem to have the same feeling and attachment to their neighborhoods and attract the same types of people no-matter-where. Entrepreneurs are frequent visitors especially those with their computer-generated graphic presentations along with an assortment of paper brochures and business cards. You know the type, those multi-level marketers meeting with their latest prospect(s) in hopes of getting them to sign up. Hey buddy, have I got a deal for you. Once in a lifetime! You’ll also always see the smartly dressed business people who meet there regularly with clients and friends. Even the disheveled homeless wander in from time-to-time but few ever seem to pay them much mind.
Other “regulars” at my local hangout include the son of a popular and highly successful minister whose congregation is one of the largest of it’s kind in the area. Tatooed, stubble-faced (mostly peach fuzz), motorcycle ridin’ Tony reeks with the air of rebellion. Yet this typical twenty-something is his flock’s young adult pastor and probably his daddy’s heir apparent. I’m sure he cleans up really nice on Sundays. Then there’s the retired liberal-minded school teacher who’s spent her entire life in the Seattle area. A daily fixture as well Rita always orders a self-designed concoction which appears more dessert than a drink. It’s her own personal formula over years of tweaking in one of those extra-extra large cups that attracts a lot of gawkers and questions. Ask Rita anything about her favorite business Starbucks and she could fill your afternoon with one story after another from our local Starbucks history to matters straight out of SBUX HQ just a few miles north. Rita’s connected!*
You may have heard that Starbucks stores are a gathering place for writers. In my experience that’s true. I’ve come to meet a few of them. From the tall thirties-something Russian woman to the middle-aged bespeckled man. Isabella who appears to have walked out of a spy novel, is writing a screenplay about something I can’t recall. David in longhand is writing a psychological thriller/murder novel and says his agent has found several interested publishers for one already completed. It’s just a matter of time.
Indeed there’s something magical going on at these Starbucks stores. I’m not sure what draws everyone there, besides the coffee and the ambience but for me it’s obvious and it has nothing to do with coffee. Like Howard above I like to visit and talk with people… to get to know them. I’m a people person. Meeting and talking with people can be entertaining, educational and downright fulfilling. I pity the introvert! You’d be surprised what we can learn about people and the world around us by just sittin’ and listening at your local Starbucks.
Yep the old watering hole has undergone a remake thanks to Howard and the Starbucks brand. So don’t let it be said Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks. Friends in-fact are created there! What and where my friends choose to drink is their own choice. It’s their own business and crusades that say otherwise are… well… nonsense. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. But I can’t wait to see and reply to your comments!
*Note: I was saddened to learn, 32 days after posting this blog that Rita suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I’ve been unable to determine the exact date of her death but I’m told it was about the same time this was posted. I never saw her again after writing this. – RG