Coffee Klatch

A bagel and a cup of Joe can be hazardous to your wallet--and SUV.

Just west of the intersection of River and Stone there is a conjoined Starbucks and Bruegger's. It's less than a block from the place where I work out. Don't laugh. I'm no longer the giant tub of goo I was as recently as last summer. I'm now more like a mid-sized bidet of goo. My friend Todd, who operates the establishment at which I have temporarily transformed myself, is one of those guys who, in an attempt at achieving eternal life, has forsworn every form of food that has even the slightest chance of tasting good. But he does like his coffee.

He makes a coffee run just about every morning and he always politely asks if I want to go. I've never actually tasted coffee, partly because my Mom wouldn't let me and mostly because everybody else who has tells me that it doesn't taste nearly as good as it smells. Therefore, I've decided to go through life really enjoying the smell and not suffering the subsequent letdown.

Finally, one day, I relented and I went with him. He went in to Starbucks to order while I got us a table. I faced southward toward River Road and stared in stunned silence. It was like that scene in Blue Velvet where the camera pans down from the bright blue sky to grass level of a lawn and then finally under the grass, where we see ants engaged in a life-or-death struggle.

First off, the parking lot is so narrow, it only has room for two people, and even then only if those two people happen to be Lara Flynn Boyle and Gandhi. And Boyle and Gandhi can't be driving vehicles; there's just not enough space. Then, the parking spaces are so narrow that my Honda Civic fits in one about as comfortably as Al Bundy does in his high-school football uniform.

But that's a ridiculous observation because virtually everybody who stops at Starbucks on a regular basis drives an oversized SUV. And they drive one really fast so that they can get their coffee really fast and drink it really fast so they can go about the rest of their day's business really fast--while talking on one or more phones the entire time.

In the 10 minutes I sat there, I saw one actual bumper thumper and six near-misses. And I swear on my children, 12 of the 14 people involved in the bad driving were talking on phones. (To be fair, one guy had a headset on, but he also had a PDA in his hand.)

A recent article in a business journal stated that despite the small size of each establishment and the fact that there's a Starbucks on every corner, business is booming. The average customer visits a Starbucks 19 times each month! There's no other business in America that any of us frequents that often. Heck, I have college professor friends who don't even shower 19 times in a month.

I gasped when I saw their price list, but nobody's forcing a steady stream of people to stand in line for the privilege of plunking down $3.50 for a cup of coffee. Starbucks gives the people what they want and the customers leave the place almost giddily. They take a sip, roll their eyes, sigh audibly and then race to their SUVs to get back in the demolition derby.

The only beef I have with Starbucks is that it's a made-up name, like Mrs. Smith's pies. I have a friend whose real last name is Starbuck. He can trace his roots back to the whaling village on Nantucket Island in the late 1700s (which is also where Melville got the name for his character in Moby Dick). People who do business with my friend give him grief like, "Why are you driving such a hard bargain? Your family owns the coffee chain."

I guess it could be worse. His last name could be Microsoft.

I've also never eaten a bagel. When I was a little kid, I thought Catholics didn't eat bagels. Then, by the time I learned just how stupid that thought really was, I had already discovered doughnuts. I figured, why, after having tasted perfection, would I want to move on to something that's harder, drier and doesn't come with maple icing? Plus, there's that whole cream cheese business. How are you going to cover a piece of bread with something that looks like a homogenized mixture of snot and powdered sugar?

Cream cheese even comes in flavors, which should set off all kinds of alarms in your head. There's just no way that something should be able to come in both strawberry and jalapeño flavors. The government has to be behind this somehow.

It should be noted that my wife and kids, who are also Catholic, have all been eating bagels their entire lives.

What bothers me is that people--especially New Yorkers--turn their noses up at Bruegger's. They say stupid stuff like, "That's not really a bagel" or "Aw Man, back in New York ..."

I've had it with all that nonsense. If the bagels in New York are so uniquely wonderful, why doesn't somebody sell them here? Is the guy who runs that little hole-in-the-wall place in Manhattan so happy to be living inside a Spike Lee movie that he doesn't want to experience fame and fortune, not to mention bring his masterpiece to the masses?

While the coffee people are in a hurry, the bagel people take the time to smell the coffee (from next door) and enjoy life. They sit at the tables and visit with friends and co-workers.

One thing I learned through observation is that it's absolutely impossible to eat a cream cheese-stuffed bagel in a manner that could be considered ladylike, gentlemanly or even neo-primate. That stuff comes flying out at all different angles no matter how well placed the bite. You could use cream cheese splatter patterns to teach analytic geometry.

Oh yeah, on the other side of the bagel place is a place where they sell men's suits. Now that place really scares me.

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