Oh, Starbucks

Starbucks, you’ve done it again.

As much as I try to fault you when thinkgs are not quite up to my hopes, you have a way of reclaiming my affection.

Today I was working in my Willasprings Starbucks corner office waiting for the line to shrink to a stage which would allow a quick trip to the bar.

I ended up in the line behind the store manager, Helen. That she was in line like the rest of us said something in itself. We spoke a bit about her plans for the day and about the busy-ness of the store. When her turn came to order, I joked to the clerk behind the register, “I’m with her.”

I was joking, Helen. We were supposed to laugh and go about our business.

She wouldn’t leave it there. She turned to the clerk and said, “He’s with me” and then to me said, “What do you want?” I protested, but the clerk already knew that I order the same thing every time, and so she rang it up, and that was that.

Small acts of kindness, to be sure. But it’s the small things that keep us coming back. To Starbucks, yes. But also to the church.

UPDATE: Of course, just because you’ve been kind does not mean that we can’t still have some fun at your expense. Here is SNL’s take on your new Verismo machine. Classic.

Starbucks Miles?

Given the promise of a dollar off my next visit, I agreed to complete a short, online, Starbucks “Customer Experience Survey”. I had to chuckle when I came to this screen:


I visit my local Starbucks “occasionally”. So, I sent it to a friend who “occasionally” is there as well and asked her how she thought I should answer the question. Her suggested answers were worth repeating, and will be appreciated by others who “occasionally” frequent their local Starbucks.

A. Lost track

B. You should know because my card is registered.

C. Lets just say I could circle the globe with my ” Starbucks Miles”

D. People thought they were on “Cheers” because everyone called out my name when I entered.

E. Check your manual. My picture is on the front.

Thanks, Holly!

In Praise of Laptopistan

I read with amusement and identification this article about the laptop/coffee shop culture. I find that I am not alone in finding that I work more productively in a public environment. The author notes this.

At home, the slightest change in light is enough of an excuse to get up, walk around, clip my nails or head into the kitchen. Though home offices seem like the perfect work environment, their unrestricted silence, uninterrupted solitude and creature comforts breed distraction. In Laptopistan, I focused with intense precision, sitting motionless for hours at a time…..
Laptopistan provides structure, and freelancers, like children, secretly crave structure. You come to work, for two or four or eight hours, and you take comfort in the knowledge that everyone else is there to work as well. There’s a silent social pressure to it all….
Back home in Toronto, with my ergonomically correct chair, spacious desk and dedicated Internet connection, I pulled up my notes from the journey to Laptopistan and tried to write. Within 10 minutes, I was lost in Facebook and watching old “Soul Train” clips on YouTube.
So I unplugged my laptop, traded my sweat pants for jeans and walked two blocks to the nearest coffee shop. There was some country music playing at a comfortable volume, and the familiar sight of cords along the floor. I took a seat between a guy working on an identical MacBook Pro and a woman drawing in a journal, and I worked like I was back in Atlas: productively, contentedly, fueled by a steady diet of Earl Grey tea, an economically acceptable quantity of cookies, and that social pressure I was craving.

There are aspects here that some may not really understand. It is easier for some of us to be focused when the environment in which we work is stripped of the familiar. I prosper under the general background hum/white noise of the coffee shop environment.

However, Laptopistan as described in this article and found in Brooklyn and Toronto does not exist in my suburban Florida context. I am working this morning from the closest Laptopistani imitation, a local Starbucks. I have been reading theology since 8:15 A.M. with a focus that would not happen elsewhere. But I’m not sitting where I started. Shortly after claiming the warm seat by the window, a woman came and sat near, a woman in high heel black boots soon joined by others in identical attire, some kind of high heel black boot beauty cult. It wasn’t their public meeting that was the great distraction. It was the woman’s strong, penetrating voice which insisted that it be listened to.

Nevertheless, I still gravitate to places like this, but not only for the focus they afford. I come here to write sermons. It helps me as I write to look around me and see people instead of empty space and books, as I would see in my study. It helps for me to see ordinary, lost and searching people. It helps me to see them and ask, “Am what I am thinking of saying going to make any sense to them at all?”

Those I see here may never hear the sermon revisions they inspire. Nevertheless, I think I’m a better preacher because of them.

The Buzz

How does a business (or a church, for that matter) generate ‘buzz’, that positive reverberating acknowledgment of its existence in a community? Can’t say that I know. But for the past couple of weeks from sources I cannot now all recall I’ve heard tell of a new coffee shop in town, and I’ve been told that it was top notch.

I was there today. Nearly all day. The advance billing was not out of line.

Over the past five years I’ve watched all but a couple independent coffee shops in Bradenton bow to economic pressure and go out of business. Those who have survived have done so by radically abandoning in some way their commitment to being a coffee shop. I’m not a Starbucks hater. I like Starbucks. But I’m also a huge fan of the distinctive character of independent shops. I’m sad to see them come and go.

A while back I watched as a ‘Barnies’ coffee shop opened, existed for a few months, and then shut down. It never looked appealing, I was never drawn in, and by the time I finally determined to visit, it was out of business.

Out of the ashes, in the same location, has arisen ‘Lov A Da Coffee‘. I don’t know if it will last, but everything about this place indicates the owners have done things with the intention of making it work.

I was at Lov A Da working (I work a lot in coffee shops) between an early morning hospital visit and a noon lunch nearby. In between I needed to take my car to a mechanic which was also in the area. After my lunch appointment, the car was not done, so I moved a 4:00 o’clock appointment to Lov A Da and simply spent the rest of the day there, consuming in the process three cups of coffee, one caramel cappuccino, and one Café Americana (I think that is what it was called). I had plenty of time to evaluate the place.

What can I say? The only fault to me is the odd and difficult-to-say name.

The space is large, divided into two rooms. One room has a traditional coffee shop feel, lots of tables, a service counter, and sounds of grinding beans and steaming milk. The other has the feel of a large family room, carpeted, with a dozen or more stuffed chairs and coffee tables. It has as well a well appointed stage for live music. This room is already filling a niche for a comfortable meeting space. I sat there with my 4:00 o’clock appointment, and with nearly 20 others in small groups doing the same, he and I spoke as comfortably as if we were alone. It was wonderful.

As one who lives on his laptop, the first thing I do when entering a new place is scout out the outlets for my power adaptor. This place is loaded with outlets, most discreetly hidden on the bottom sides of the tables, a clever, handy, and aesthetically pleasing solution. For those without laptops, there are a selection of computers scattered around the space, both PC and Mac. (I’m told that the owner is a Mac guy. Of course he is.)

The background music was alternative rock when I first got there, but it soon changed to real (not ‘smooth’!) jazz. It fit.

Every cup of coffee is freshly ground and brewed to order. My cups were excellent as was the service. After my first cup, I asked the barista, “Are refills free?” Very pleasantly he replied, “This one can be.”

I understand that a coffee shop, where a guy may sit for four hours or more, can’t have a free refill policy. I’m okay with that. So, I insisted on paying for my second cup. Later, he brought me a third cup, free. A cheap way to buy a customer’s favor!

The business here was brisk. Very brisk for a store that has only been open for six weeks and has yet to have a sign installed at the road.

Someone there told me that this coffee shop used to exist as ‘Java Moon’ further down the road. The contrast between what that was and what this is could not be more striking. I tried to visit that shop a couple of times, but felt like a CEO in a tattoo shop. It just wasn’t comfortable. Whatever muse led the owner to relocate and redesign, it was a good one.

This, then, is the secret of ‘buzz’: replant, relocate, rename, remake yourself, and do it with a deep commitment to quality. Of course, what is ‘buzz’ other than friends inviting friends. That drives coffee shops as well as churches.

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