starbucks; or, coffee as the origin of all things
(or, i would walk across the highway of death for a good cup of coffee)

by keith c. pounds

I love coffee, mmmmmmm,
I LOVE coffee, mmmmmmmmm,
I love coffee, mmmmmm . . . .

All things proceed from coffee.

What kind of coffee do you like?

There is tall coffee, short coffee, medium blend coffee, and dark roasts; there is flavored coffee, and coffee-flavored crystals that do something when you pour hot water on them; there is drip coffee, and brewed coffee, boiled coffee, and coffee crŤme tailor-made to suit fussy palates, coffee chocolate, chocolate coffee; thereís espresso, cappachinos, mochachinos, white mocha cappuccino, mint mocha chip frappuchinos, caramel macchiatos, double cappuccinos, double espressos, coffee with shots of espresso, cafť americano, lattť, grande latte, Honduran coffee, cold coffee, hot coffee, sweetened coffee, coffee pie, coffee cake; thereís Kenyan coffee, Arabica coffee, Robusta coffee, Indian coffee, Costa Rican, Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, coffee grown on the isle of Kona, coffee grown in the shade, and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. There's peaberries, and Sumatran, Javan, Indonesian, Vietnamese coffee. There are even little jackets for your coffee to keep your fingers from being burned!

You see, I visited the Starbucks website.

It might not surprise you to know that coffee is the second largest and valuable world commodity. Number one is oil. I donít know about you, but I know which commodity Iíd rather have with breakfast . . . .

I visited the Starbucks website,
Hell, I visited the grand headquarters of Starbucks, in glorious Seattle, home of Microsoft and big trees . . . .

I walked across a highway of death for a good cup of coffee, and I'll tell you how I did that.

You see, sometimes I actually believe that if I drink enough coffee I will get it all done, everything, all at once, all at once in this big sit-down effort punctuated only by bathroom breaks with trails of paper and shit behind me like a comet tail, a spontaneous effort that finishes my dissertation, gets a job, cleans my house, moves, sets up shop, opens a performance space, lives with my partner and a few spanking-happy pets to make things interesting.

Coffee . . . Mmmmmmmmmm . . . .

About the only thing that I like so much as a cup of coffee is a three-minute song. And if you think about it, a song only needs to be about three minutes long. They say the first minute introduces you to the song, the second allows the pleasure of anticipating what you liked about the first minute and hearing it repeated, and the third minute . . . (slurp!).

When you consume a cup of coffee, you can feel a steady pressure, a hand from the inside that bids you rise and advance, move out into the day. And you think to yourself, it's going to be okay . . . .

But soon being okay is about 800 times more productive than you usually are . . . and it's legal.

Somehow regular time is transformed into Coffee time, a time that harkens back to efficiency. Wait, ďharken backĒ is too old an expression! No, fast forward to a time of modern efficiency. Everybody knows that all the important business deals are worked out at 6 in the a.m. on eastern time; that gives westerners three hours to sleep before needing to be up, interfacing with the world, in the sleekest, fastest manner possible.

And efficiency gets us there, gets us there without being messy, getting the most out of something without getting messy. We already have automated coffee machines, cash machines and the Internet. All that we are lacking is a new modern body, something smart enough to keep the kinks out of the system, and thatís where coffee comes in, a perfect melding of your slovenly singular body with your car on the way to work (you can make it strong enough to keep you alert, you can make it strong enough to sit in the backseat of the car in front of you, glowering at the fool behind the wheel, honk honking the tops of their heads when the light turns GREEN).

Pow!!

There you are in your car, your office, your computer. Your body expands to fill up all the spaces and you wear your body like some great protective cover, and you strike out against enemies (donít you?). And thousands of years ago, when coffee was just an innocuous bean growing in Africa, the ancients used to grind it up and mix it with animal fat. It gave their warriors extra energy.

You can learn a lot of things from the Starbuks website, including a personalized survey to find out which coffee is right for your palate, temperament, psyche. Average daily income?, coffee or what? Are you the bold adventurist type, or quiet and contemplative? Cold and calculating, or, rash and ill-advised? How far will you go for a good cup of coffee? Down the street, to a brand name coffee shop, over some fences, across a highway of death?

You can learn a lot from the Starbucks website. Except for the fact that it does 1.6 billion dollars of business a year, and that it opens 3,000 stores every six months and has more in common with the spread of a mold than a nice corner store. After they tell you that coffee is the second most valuable commodity on earth, they reassure you that what they sell isnít a commodity. I donít know what it is, then. You can learn a lot from the Starbucks website, but you can learn even more from its world headquarters.

America is the largest world consumer of coffee, and consumes 25% of all coffee produced. You get this image of America breathing fire, deeply, with its fingers spreading out into the globe, obscenely pumping billions of gallons of oil and coffee . . .

And you drink some more coffee.

But when you go to Seattle, the city is beautiful, it's shaped on a hill overlooking the water, and there is a coffee shop on every corner, every corner you turn and there is coffee, steaming, waiting for you, waiting for You . . . . Seattle is so clean that when you step onto the street the first time, you feel embarrassed, like youíre going to get cited if you have a seedy thought, and on every corner there is a crystal palace of concrete steel and glass—Nike Town and Kenneth Cole—and boutiques, and a monorail, so busy and new and modern you can almost, hear it hum: mmmmmmmm.

And when you drink, and look around you can imagine the visions that created the new technology, how pulsing under your feet in the brisk, but soft, north Pacific air are the coiled masses of wires and conduits, bound and bent like a tortured spine, like thousands of tortured spines twisting endlessly for miles, where there are major economic centers, or power plants, it pokes through the skin of the earth like vertebra . . .

And you drink some more coffee.

And you know the city has heard of people who donít use computers (humph). And you can image the torqued imaginations of legions of Bill Gates followers, imbibing the coffee promise of a technologically egalitarian social world, with sped up interfaces, data entry ports, speed more important than content, speed more important than quality, speed along cables and underground lines that some working class person has to lay, that wrap around, that travel down to the distilleries and plants in a place called Texas City, Texas, the most polluted city in the US, where containers and the tanks and the gasses and emissions that contaminate the surrounding area, a place where people live very gritty lives under a very hot sun . . . . I see the back of someone, like vertebra poking out of the sky, the ground, rattling down a twisted back held in my hands and slapped and slapped, [clap] and that city has the humming, the ground breathes and expands like a chest trying to take in air.

And suddenly you are in your car again and it all makes sense, the machines, the coffee shops, its not a conspiracy, itís a desire, a desire for speed, for efficiency, for doing things at the speed of light, you go from fourth to fifth to 90 miles an hour, nothing can stop you, not the lights, not the skinhead who hawks a luggie on the cash machine on your way for money, nothing, you donít even need a car.

And you can see how machines come to be invented in order to keep up this smooth streaming action, like cash machines, a magic money dispenser right at arm level, and a button that says FAST CASH . . . vrrrmmmmm!

It scares me to think of it.

One day I was out in Arizona, doing a performance on the campus of Arizona State University, I was out there with friends, who had promised me that AZ was beautiful, and they were right, and I was out there the morning of my performance, walking from my hotel to the performance with my script in one hand, and my extra tall coffee in the other, walking across the six-wide-laned road, I was walking past cars that had stopped along the line for me, I heard the squeal of tires before I saw anything, then, looking back, I saw a sedan, going FAST, whose driver hadnít seen the cars, had swerved to avoid them, was heading into the only empty lane, that contained me. I remember jumping, and the faces of drivers in the stopped cars looking at what was about to happen like they were about to watch me die, there was recognition in their eyes, recognition of my eminent death, and I didnít see the face of the driver, just the outline of his arm, as he swerved, I didnít see his eyes, I am not sure if he saw my face, my eyes.

I didnít. I donít know if the jump saved me.

And one curious thing was that my coffee didnít spill. I didnít receive a burn. The liquid fire was perfectly contained in the cup with its lid and burn-protective sleeve.

The burns, I think, happened on the inside.

And I didnít let go of my coffee or my script, for a long, long time afterwards.

« previous | next »