Recently I’ve seen Starbucks counter people greeting regular customers by their names. This is a nice thought, although not very difficult since they’re already writing everyone’s names on their cups like we’re in pre-school. But it is so obviously being encouraged by the corporate office to instill a ‘local flavor’ in the store. The more you feel like this is a home away from home, and a caring loving sanctuary, the less you’ll notice that you are paying about seven times what you should be for a cup of coffee.
Maybe if they want the stores to seem more original, they should avoid having the same two characters behind the counter of every single Starbucks in the country. It’s always the Gay Asian Guy with the nose ring and his best friend- The Sad Girl. I once saw The Sad Girl at the milk steamer get blasted in the shirt with boiling foam. She ripped her shirt off forgetting she had no bra on. She then ran in the back screaming and the Gay Asian guy just looked at me and said, “That’ll be an extra two bucks”.
In L.A. a Starbucks is not a coffee shop; it is a Posers Lounge for the Vocationally Challenged. Half the tables are filled with out of work screenwriters staring at hopelessly blank screens. The other tables double as office space for startup money managers and insurance salesmen who need a place to meet with clients. The screenwriters give the brokers dirty looks for being loud in their creative sanctuary. But they light up when a new customer comes in. You can feel the writers’ eyes on you as you enter. Searching you for that spark that could inform a character in a script. Something that will turn this 12-year career slump around so they can finally go home to Minneapolis for Christmas and tell the family, “I sold something Momma! Your son is a winner! Come on, I’m taking you all out to Starbucks for a Gingerbread Latte! Venti!!”
Last week at the Starbucks on Wilshire in Santa Monica, I saw a homeless man shuffle in wearing a Comic Relief sweatshirt. If any of the screenwriters had been searching for irony, he was lurking over by the “coffee fixins” station. As the man began pumping whole milk into an empty cup he’d retrieved from the trash, the Gay Asian Guy swiftly threw the cup in the trash and hissed at the intruder, “Gary, you need to leave right now”. Gary mumbled and retreated back to his shopping cart. As he squeaked away I looked inside and saw something teetering on the edge of the cart between a rolled up blanket and a stack of newspapers. I realized instantly how the Gay Asian Guy knew his name. Splattered with coffee stains, the letters faded from years of pounding, sat a typewriter. Old now. Useless. Trash.