Saturday, April 6, 2013

Coffee Talk

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, most often Starbucks but I don't believe in exclusivity so I make sure to spread the love to other, smaller, establishments as well. Before meeting my girlfriend four years ago, I rarely drank coffee  -- and had never drank a drop of iced coffee. Her obsession with coffee runs deep. Very deep. Think Bubs from "The Wire" and you'll be in the right neighborhood. I enjoyed spending time with her so, in the beginning, I became sort of like that kid, Johnny Weeks, who followed Bubs around and helped him collect copper wire.

(To be clear, no copper wire has been stolen to pay the Seattle cartel for their product.)

Tools of the Trade: an Iced Trenta
compared to a horizontal iPad.
I now fear that, much like Johnny before me, I'm more of an addict than my mentor. For example, in the last three hours at Starbucks I have consumed a Trenta iced coffee (31 ounces) and a Venti iced coffee (24 ounces) and she is still only three-quarters of the way through her first Venti. You could say that I am running laps around her. Seriously, you could literally say that. After 55 ounces of black gold, I sprint everywhere, both physically and mentally. I'm not sure what the average hummingbird's heart rate is, but I may have that average hummingbird beat right now. In fact, it feels like I have a flock of hummingbird's happily flitting through my veins.

So, yeah, I may have a problem. Before the calorie police invade my house, shouting through their ubiquitous bullhorns "DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN 55 OUNCES OF STARBUCKS COFFEE?" allow me a preemptive strike: my coffee is black and almost completely free of any sweeteners. That's right, I drink my coffee straight like a damn cowboy on a week-long cattle drive. If cowboys sit in franchised drug dens, typing on bluetooth iPad keyboards, while the accompanying soft jazz blandly attempts to soothe a plague of overactive hummingbirds.

While we are on the topic of the Trenta, please indulge a tangent. I think the Trenta is the greatest invention in the history of the human species. You can keep the wheel because Trenta makes me levitate. You can keep electricity because that is a discovery not an invention, and, besides, the Trenta lights me up very efficiently all on its own. Keep it all. I'm on a Trenta-fueled vision quest and you won't convince me otherwise. (Even if you could, I wouldn't notice because my mind is wandering and adventuring like Lewis and Clark with rockets strapped to their backs.) Despite its amazing contribution to our species (assuming only humans are reading this), it does bother my obsessive psychology that Starbucks named it "Trenta" because that is the Italian word for "thirty." To be fair: the word fits in well enough with their existing Grande and Venti names. Many companies use foreign words to sound hipper and more exotic. But for God's sake, use the words correctly! As I mentioned previously, a Trenta is 31 ounces not 30. Yes, Trenta sounds better than "Trentuno" but why not make it a 30-ounce cup? Was there a sale on 31-ounce plastic cups the day the Starbucks' Size Squad came up with this idea?

On second thought, never mind! If you work for Starbucks corporate, please stop reading. Ideally, forget what you just read! I don't want to sacrifice even a single ounce. Trenta is a fine name. I swear! I'll just choose to see it like an Italian woman who just turned 31 but still tells everyone she's 30 because that somehow sounds better. (I guess, in reality, that vain birthday girl would probably be using the word "ventinove" -- or 29 -- and not "Trenta" but there's no reason to further complicate my indoctrination.)

However, now that I think about it, they didn't correctly translate the 24-ounce Venti (Italian for 20) either. In an increasingly unpredictable world, at least they're consistent. Let's chalk it up to Starbucks not being an Italian company and move on. I'm here for the coffee not the linguistics lesson anyway.

Looking back, I suppose I should just admit that I took you on more of a bumpy detour than a quick tangent and merge back into the topic at hand: being high at Starbucks while my girlfriend knits yoga leg-warmers across from me and thinks I'm working on my novel.

I started on my road to addiction as an embracing of something a pretty girl enjoyed. Shamefully, we were Dunkin' Donuts people then. I had never really liked hot coffee except late night at a greasy spoon diner while drunkenly plowing through chipped plates of runny eggs, undercooked bacon, and toast that wore slabs of butter like Paula Dean's most erotic dream. That sludge, enhanced with a ton of sugar and creamer, became my baseline for coffee. I make no apologies for it. We all make bad decisions when drunk.

Soon a light shone from the Heavens in the form of Iced Coffee (revered proper noun). Double brewed and strong! Unlike my experiences with hot coffee which seemed to have a six-second window when it was neither too hot nor too cold to drink, this Iced Coffee had every window and door wide open. All the time! I dove through that open window with acrobatic exuberance and my baseline quickly shifted toward bold attempts to mainline my new discovery.

(This idea of "too cold" hot coffee is one of the great ironies in a society that also passionately consumes iced coffee. Is there anyone who would refuse to eat cooked fish after it has gotten cold but later happily and greedily eat chunks of fish intentionally served cold? Wait. Shit. I just described sushi.)

From Dunkin' Donuts, we gradually evolved to Starbucks. Settle down everyone who runs on Dunkin', I used "evolved" to bait you. I didn't intend it to be an insult. I meant it in the way that suggests you still have a tail and I don't. Tails are cute, not grotesque. I promise.

From Starbucks, there was -- and still is -- no turning back. Even if it were possible to turn back, I wouldn't want to. Like I tweeted one day, I now think Dunkin' Donuts is to methadone as Starbucks is to heroin. Would Bubs and Johnny scavenge copper wire for methadone if they could score some heroin? I think not.

Eventually and inevitably, I turned various Starbucks locations into my office. Since the beginning of November 2012, I have been attempting to write my first novel. I have written every word in either a Starbucks or some mom-and-pop coffee shop. I average around 750 words per hour which quite conveniently coincides to one Trenta. See? Karma. I have also written every single word on an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard. This has been an interesting experiment, one that just three short years ago would not have been technologically possible. I know that when I sit down at Starbucks with my iPad, then it's officially time to work.

I imagine that this is exactly what life coaches mean when they advise people to find what they love and then figure out how to make that their life's work. For me, Coffee, Starbucks, and the Trenta started as excuses to spend time with a girl then moved on to a delightful chemical addiction. Now I have a familiar and comfortable environment that helps me overcome my previous mental block and procrastination over what can be a very daunting writing goal.

If I ever finish the book, I hope every reader enjoys it while curled up with a cup of their favorite variety of coffee. Or, at least, uses it as a coaster beneath their favorite variety of coffee.

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