There's No Place Like...

“No matter where I wander, no matter where I la la la la there is no place like home.” A few days ago I read that Starbucks is closing hundreds more stores. My mind knows that these closings are a necessary reaction to our economic situation. Still, my heart pinched at the news.

I’ve heard other Americans comment that McDonald’s Golden Arches reassured them when traveling to unfamiliar places—they can always count on the bathrooms being familiar. Bathrooms aren’t a big concern of mine—I can (and have) gone just about anywhere.  But I do understand the comfort of familiarity. For me, Starbucks is a touchstone.

True, there have been times when I have scoffed at the overabundance of Starbucks—Starbucks in the Forbidden City…really???—One more example of the homogenization of the world, big biz pushing the little guy out, sheep, sheep, everyone’s a sheep... And as a Starbucks shareholder, I applauded the last batch of Starbucks closings; the world did not need that many Starbucks. It was ridiculous, Starbucks to the left of me, Starbucks to the right… But this last closing announcement has me worried.

I’m writing this from the totally alien city of Reno, Nevada, where cowboy-miners meld with grey-haired slot-a-holics. Down the road and across the big street from my mother’s assisted living apartments I found one.  I stuck out early this morning, while Mom was still asleep, before breakfast and med call. I left a note, “I’m at Starbucks, downloading mail” (I had to make it sound like work.) 


What happens the next time I find myself traveling alone, low on caffeine, with no way to download my e-mail?  The next time I am wandering through the fog of the unfamiliar? Will there be familiar green awning and beige signs waiting for me?

No matter what language the locals may speak, we never have trouble communicating in Starbuckese: “vente latte” “half caf” “double shot…hold the foam.” All Starbuck seats are modern, upright, western. The music is always some rock-folk-jazz-indy mix with a little Ella, Frank, Counting Crows, Tony, Diana thrown in. (Dino is playing right now.) The scones and muffins are always in the counter and taste exactly the same. The rack of mugs and coffee paraphernalia are reassuringly earth-colored and the place never smells like anything but coffee—blessedly ordinary, roasted coffee, nothing more. And often, if I’m willing to pay, there is almost a way to download my e-mail. No matter where I wander, no matter where I roam, when I’m in need of caffeine and an e-mail fix, there’s no place like Starbucks.  


Alas, Mom just called: “where the heck are you?”