Starbucks Blues


It’s so unfair.

Why am I dreaming about Starbucks now, just when we’re going to be all broke and poor and unemployed?

When we lived in Fresno, there was a Starbucks three blocks in either direction of the entrance to our apartment complex, and yet we pretended the place didn’t exist.  This was back when we were DINKs:  Double income, no kids.

Then we moved to the desert, my wife ran out her unemployment, and we promptly became SINKs (single income, no kids).  There wasn’t much in our little hole of a town, but we did have two Starbucks, and we started to notice.  My wife became hooked on black iced tea sweetened, the big one (which at first was “vente” until they came out with the thirsty person’s “trenta” size).

I was not impressed.  Eventually, we got to the point where, to feed my wife’s habit, I would head straight from work to the drive-through to bring home her tea.  By this time, we had stopped worrying about cash.  I mean, how would we pay for her giant tea if I didn’t happen to have any green on me?  Which was most of the time.

So we advanced to the next phase of Starbucks addiction by acquiring his ‘n hers Starbucks cards.  Mine was multicoloured, bearing the words for “thank you” in several different languages.  (My favorite is still xiè xiè, which sounds for all the world like the way one would hail a taxi in the teeming capital of a Third World nation.)

My wife, on the other hand, has a gold card.  Now, for the uninitiated, this is nothing like a gold credit card that allows the holder to get into debt of unmanageable proportions.  No, the gold card provided me with edification regarding how Starbucks got its name.  The gold card simply allows one to collect “stars” each time one spends “bucks” at their caffeinated establishments.  Voilà!  Starbucks.  When a certain number of “stars” are accumulated, the holder of the card earns a free beverage.

There were other benefits of the gold card as well, such as free flavoring shots and free soy.  I believe they’ve since done away with these freebies.

At first, we would periodically receive a card from Starbucks in the mailbox at our front door.  “Congratulations, you have 15 stars and the next drink’s on us!”  I guess recycling all those trees and paying all that postage cut into their profits, as the notices quit coming after a while.

“That’s too bad,” I thought, as I know how my wife loves receiving mail, and we’d receive these missives every couple of weeks.  What could be better that getting mail and cadging a free drink?

Apparently, the whole dog and pony show now plays out its drama online.  Whenever the amount of money on one of our Starbucks cards begins to get low, my wife simply visits Starbucks’ website and fills it up to the brim, no foam, extra whip.

For a long time I felt relatively Starbucks-proof, smug in my imperviousness to its siren song.  I owe this to the simple fact that I don’t like Starbucks’ black tea, and I’ve never been able to abide the taste of green tea at all.

I know, Starbucks isn’t about tea.  It’s a coffeehouse.  Not satisfied to have gained the undying devotion of the jittery morning joe crowd, however, Starbucks had to suck in the tea drinkers as well.

Still, Starbucks must be doing something right.  My wife is rather particular about her tea, refusing to drink anything that is not freshly brewed, often resorting to watering down the stuff that could peel paint off the walls that passes for tea in many restaurants.  Starbucks, however, gets it right, she insists.

In some respects, I have to agree.  I don’t do caffeine anymore, so those trentas are definitely out for me.  I do, however, bow to the deliciousness of Starbucks’ Tazo wild sweet orange and passion teas, both sans caffeine.  Fortunately for my wallet, most of the Starbucks locations that I have visited do not sell these flavors in individual drinks.  If they have it at all, it is in boxes of tea bags to brew your own at home.

Another reason that we stay away from coffee is that my wife and I are both lactose intolerant.  And I just can’t see drinking coffee black, decaf or otherwise.  After all, it’s that rich, creamy moo juice that makes the drink worthwhile.

Ever the marketing geniuses, Starbucks has an answer for those of my ilk as well.  They offer soy milk.  Thus, I have allowed myself the weakness of succumbing to the charms of the vente decaf soy latte.  Also available in mocha for the days when I need my chocolate fix.

While I spent years snubbing my nose at Starbucks as I brought my wife her daily tea, in recent months I’ve upped the ante to purchasing a decaf soy drink for myself as well.  “Swipe twice!” has become our sing-song mantra, as we urge our friendly barista to give us two stars rather than just one, to speed the arrival of the Valhalla that is a free beverage of your choice.

Damn you, Starbucks!  As we refill my wife’s gold card again and again, I begin to see how it is just like any other gold card after all, allowing the holder to get into debt of unimaginable proportions.

Like many addicts, I’ve long harbored an approach-avoidance relationship with Starbucks, believing that I can quit any time I want to.  Now that I’ve been laid off from work, we can no longer afford to indulge in this decidedly hedonistic luxury.  Well, we can still pick up my wife’s tea every few days; it only costs a dollar and change.  As for my vente soy latte, we’re talking a hefty five dollars a pop, bucko.  Let’s just say it out loud, shall we?  It ain’t happening.

So why can’t I seem to stop myself from dreaming about gripping that heat-resistant sleeve and sipping that steamy, frothy, elixir of the gods that makes me go ahhhhh?

I’m expecting my first unemployment check in a couple of weeks, and you know the first place that I’m going.

Someone get me a calendar.  I’m counting the days.

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