'Bucked Over | Vox Pop | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

'Bucked Over

A starry-eyed liberal confesses

I have become a stereotype, and it's all the fault of evil corporate America. I have been sucked in, hypnotized, transformed, transmogrified. Damn that Howard Schultz. Damn him straight to hell. He's the CEO of Starbucks. And thanks to Howie, I have become a latte liberal.


I've always been liberal. But the lattes are a relatively recent addiction. If you consider paying three bucks and change for a freakin' cup of coffee every day of your life for the last five years or so "recent," that is.


When I first got to Pittsburgh in 1996, I camped out at an independent coffee shop on the North Side. Naturally, it went out of business. I started heading to the South Side's Carson Street coffee shops, where I found a troubling inconsistency.


Then one day I walked into the McKnight Road Starbucks. It has big picture windows with a lovely view of a giant parking lot and the honking idiots trying not to slam into one another on McKnight Road. OK, so the view ain't what grabbed me.


But they train these baristas (dudes and dudettes who make the java) to death, and the quality of the espresso and the consistency of the latte keep me coming back. And I think that's pathetic. I quit smoking -- twice -- and I haven't smoked since the early '90s. I have successfully sworn off fast food ever since I saw that documentary where the guy eats McDonalds every day, gets fat, and pukes sometimes. Why am I bankrupting myself at Starbucks?


Lynn Cullen is a local liberal radio host. I had to meet her in Oakland to try to revive the vast-left wing conspiracy, which these days is in tatters. I said, "Let's meet at the Starbucks." She refused on principle. She met me at the independent coffee shop across the street from the Starbucks. Conclusion: Lynn has principles. Your liberal latte correspondent does not.


I'm not sure exactly when latte adopted such a negative connotation. "Limousine liberals" used to be the buzzwords for conservative hate-mongers. But you may have seen the anti-Howard Dean TV ad which said "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, Times-reading, body-piercing ..." -- well you get the idea: Take his sissy liberals and get the hell out of Iowa.


By the way, I read the New York Times each day at Starbucks. Apparently I'm hopeless. And how did the conservatives attempt to demonize San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi when she became House Minority Leader? "Latte liberal," screamed the National Review.


But the worst kind must be the Starbucks latte liberals, because of the notion that Starbucks is the Wal-Mart of coffee shops. That view is hotly debated on IhateStarbucks.com. In his defense, CEO Schultz may pay beginners little more than beans, but he offers all employees who work at least 20 hours a week health insurance.


Part of Schultz's evil genius lies in his encouraging of the baristas and managers to get friendly with the customers. They do. I counseled one troubled barista through her affair. I witnessed the great cleavage scandal, when a managerista (they don't really call them that) complained that some of the chick baristas were exposing too much. One barista buddy of mine recently got in trouble for writing a nice note to a male customer on the to-go cup, a note the customer's wife didn't appreciate.


Everyone, manager and employee, is known in Starbucksese as a "partner." One partner told me getting chummy with the customers can get as weird as when "you got 10 drinks in front of you and some girl wants to tell you about her sister's abortion."


The atmosphere, while a tad antiseptic, is also consistent. Because they beat their baristas, or whatever they do to train them, the service is usually fast. I'm a sucker for efficiency.


So in the final analysis, am I just a sell-out latte liberal? Or am I allowed to go with consistency over groovyosity? Should I swear off $3 coffee and buy a new car? How can I get the barista cleavage thing re-established? This is what will keep me up at night. That and those evil damned lattes.


Damn that Howard Schultz straight to hell.

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