the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

why does my espresso taste like i’m throwing up backwards?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on February 21, 2012 at 6:35 am

I live in San Francisco. Because I am a teacher and tutor-for-hire, half of my trunk looks like a library. Because of where I live, the other half looks like a sweater store. San Francisco is not a big city, but the micro-climates are legion. In the course of any given day, you have to be ready for everything from California heat to arctic windstorm. At night, things tend to stabilize, which means it just gets cold. This is why we have a ton of coffee places in most neighborhoods.

But I have noticed a disturbing trend among these purveyors of java, good ol’ joe, the elixir of the Gods. The fancier the place, the worse the coffee. Many people in the know give me blank stares when I point out that the coffee roasters most famous here, Ritual and Blue Bottle being the best examples, serve stuff that tastes like burned vinegar. Recently, I met someone for a meeting at the Blue Bottle-owned cafe downtown. The person I was meeting was one of those in-the-know kind of guys, so I figured he liked Blue Bottle. I also knew that the espresso there was like puking backwards, but I didn’t want to be a downer. That, and the fact that another person-in-the-know, told me my experience with Blue Bottle was not authentic since I was not drinking something made by Blue Bottle coffee gurus.

After waiting in line (because so many people seem to love the stuff) it was my turn up at the altar of caffeine, so I asked the guru-in charge if she could make a hot chocolate for me and dump a shot of espresso in that. Regardless of what I’d been told, I just wanted a decent coffee experience. (If you’re asking why I didn’t just have a straight hot chocolate, I’m not sure. For some reason, that didn’t seem like an option at the time, which I take as a sign that I needed the caffeine to think more clearly.)

Anyway, the Blue Bottle guru looked at me like I was crazy. “We don’t do THAT to our product,” she said. “Don’t you like our espresso?”

To which I answered an unusually honest and blunt, “No. Actually, I don’t.”

It’s not just one place. If you Yelp the best places for espresso in the city, the top nine roasters all produce cups of pain that, to varying degrees, make me feel like I’m puking in reverse. These places do wonderful business. People rave. I puke in reverse. Now, either my buds are off, or I live in the wrong city for coffee, which makes me so so sad. I went to Seattle last year, and it was like every espresso was better than the last. I don’t think my wife is going to allow us to move for my coffee needs, but it’s hard. It’s hard for a man to puke backwards unintentionally.

There are still a few places that serve a decent cup of joe in town–usually, they’re old school places that don’t even specialize in coffee. I have a bakery down the street that serves something called Mr. Espresso, which sounds completely lame except that it’s so much better than the fancy tripple-roasted beans washed by fairly-traded coffee technicians in Sumatra. But the bakery sorely lacks something I need, two hings, actually: seats and wi-fi.

Look, I know I should suck it up and brew my own damn coffee, but the last few months, I have become addicted to sitting in coffee houses while writing. I’m just so much more productive sitting on dusty and dingy chairs, plugged into crappy wall sockets while sipping at my double espresso alongside the new moms and dads and their slinged children. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, then you know that I was doing the Starbucks thing since it was so close to my house, but that sign about something called acrylamide or some such thing and how it’s in their products and might cause cancer, well that freaked me out, (Also the ventilation was horrid and my wife told me that all my sweaters smelled like crappy coffee and cat pee–she thinks all Starbucks smell like cat pee.)

I’m starting to think that it’s just a hipster thing. Hipsters like skinny jeans and stupid fedoras. I do not. Maybe they like burned vinegary pukey coffee, which you could call the coffee equivalent of skinny jeans. They’re taking over everything in town–the cheap housing, the book stores, and now the coffee places. I used to go to this other place owned by a Neapolitan guy–a f-ing Italian, and the coffee was just plain old Lavazza and it was magnifico. Then his business started doing well. He hired some hipster-chick to help now, and wham-bam, I’m puking mam. It’s a conspiracy, I’ve decided. But I won’t give into it. I will keep looking for good coffee and chairs and WiFi. It’s a dream, I know. But you gotta shoot for the stars sometimes. You gotta have hope.


Thanksgiving trip–final leg

In life, media, observations, writing on November 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm

OK, so I’m here at a Starbucks in the middle of California–Soledad, California to be exact, which means solitude in Spanish even though this place produces anything but.  For one thing, it’s one of those towns that’s kind of typical out here in the West.  You’re driving in complete blackness because there are only fields for miles and miles (you know this because of the odd smells that waft through the windows) in any case, you’re driving and then, BAM! POW! every national-chain-eating-establishment is there before you sparkling in neon-luminosity. It makes you wonder where everyone who works here lives.  I know these coffee/burger making, gas station attending, cashier-people live around somewhere, though I’d like to know exactly where.  Could it be that Starbucks has barracks for all of them? I should ask, but I fear that I might find out that I’ve hit on the truth.

So, why am I here?  I’ve pulled over because I wanted to take a break and try to work on my script for an hour.  But before I do that, I thought I’d share a few more thoughts about road trips: specifically, I am going to share how I get by during all these miles of smelly darkness: podcasts.  This, I believe is a progression, though I’m not sure it’s a healthy one.  I used to make this drive a lot when I was in my early 20s.  Then, I was all about radio.  Most of my friends who drove with me wanted CD’s, but I used to argue that listening to local radio was better because then we’d get a sense of the communities we were rushing by.  It’s true that then, the selection was limited to Christian radio and country, and now, the selection is only slightly broader in that there is also Christian Spanish, but I tried.  Because I’m in Cali, there were a good number of NPR stations for large chunks of the trip, but there were also hours’ worth of NPR silence, so I listened to music back then.  Now, with ITunes, I switched over from CD’s to Podcasts of NPR shows I love, which now that I think of it, is a pretty isolated activity except that I like to imagine that there was once a time when lots of people heard the same show, which means that I’m communing with them–sort of.  But now, my love of hearing people talk has moved me even further out into social bubble status.  Now, I’m hooked on the myriad DIY podcasts, which never played on radios for many people.  They are, for the most part, done by comics, some lonely, many neurotic or bitter–and they are produced in garages.  So they are made by loners for loners.

For seven hours, driving at high speeds, I have been listening to cranky comics go off–usually about themselves and their selfish narcissism, which I admit somewhat ironically leads me back to me.  As one of the comics said, “my listeners, by the very nature of the podcast, are lonely, socially awkward young men.”  OK, I’m not so young.  That much I know, but I’m not sure where I fall with regard to the rest.  I’d be tempted to say that all of this makes me want to go osme place and think on it except that that would mean that I’m using my time to think about myself, which I think might be the dictionary definition of a self-involved narcissist, so I’ll stop myself and think about something else.  What?  I have no idea.  Suggestions?

Thanksgiving Chronicles, part 3

In life, observations, writing on November 27, 2011 at 10:59 am



So, I’m coming to the end of my stay down here in LA, and I’m a little sad.  Continuing my neuroticosity, I was sad to leave my wife for the weekend on Thursday and put it off, and now, I’m sad to leave my folks, but I am not just putting it off.  Instead, I’m sitting here in a Starbucks a couple blocks from my parents’ suburban track house.  I’m doing this in order to fight the temptation of staying at home and I’m doing this because I don’t want to cater to this weird fear that one day when my parents are no longer here, I will feel this overwhelming guilt for not having spent as much time as I can with them.  That’s an awful way to think.  I know I should focus on the now–all that Buddhist stuff.  What can I say?  I remember crying as an 8-year old thinking about my mother dying.  Where does THAT come from?  No idea.  Absolutely not a one.

So I’m here listening to some kind of falsetto-singing mellowness on the Starbucks authorized soundtrack for this store, and just this second, a couple of teenagers are sitting next to me drinking one of those mongo-sweet drinks that Starbucks likes to peddle–it’s like a dessert with a scoop of coffee thrown in for Starbucks product-inclusion, and I’m putting off working on my script for my first short, The Unfortunate Brother.  If I can get it done by January, the movie will be coming to you at a theater near you as long as you are near San Francisco.  I don’t know why I’m putting my writing off, but that’s another issue.  This is about Thanksgiving–right?

So, how about Thanksgiving?: malls, which I avoided, though I did run into traffic around an outlet mall late on Thursday night–the pre-dawn I-need-to-get-shit-cheaply crowd.  I can tell you that only a few miles from where I’m sitting, a woman pepper-sprayed her way to her bargains at a Walmart (see picture above).  Stupid and awful!!  By the way, the teenagers sitting next to me are Mormons.  Not that that’s important, except that my folks live right next to a Mormon church.  They are talking about mothers working and still being good moms.

OK, so back to Thanksgiving and the lessons I’ve learned this weekend: my folks are nuts (knew that already) but I still can have a good time with them (knew that, too.  They are good people.  And we’re all nuts.  Everyone.  (I kind of knew that, three.)  So what did I learn?  Not much. But I’m glad I came down.

Now, the Mormon kids are talking about working in film, and I know that that’s God’s way of saying I need to go work on my script.  SO, I will and I’ll be thankful.  As should you!

Thanksgiving Road Trip, part 1

In life, observations on November 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm


It’s Thanksgiving night and I’m on my way down to see my folks in LA. No, that’s not totally true. Right now, I am pulled over at a Denny’s in Pismo Beach. I would’ve pulled over to Starbucks, but alas, even Starbucks closes on Thanksgiving. My reason for pulling over and writing is that this is a very momentous Thanksgiving for me. I imagine that at least for the next 18-19 Thanksgivings, I will not be able to catch up with my off-the-grid- brethren. I am going to have a child in May and I am getting more and more excited about that, but like in everything, there are trade-offs. A child fin exchange for my off-the-grid Thanksgiving experiences.
I’ve had some really strange Turkey Days, and I am thankful for that. The one I spent with a friend at a convenience store in Boston eating Turkey subs with homeless people—that might my favorite of them all. Let me say it now: I’m not looking down on the people around me. Part of the reason that I tried to avoid a place like Denny’s is that here, I’m surrounded by people who want to celebrate the day. It’s just that for whatever reason, Denny’s is as good as they can do. So I’ve got widower or divorced dad and his kids on one side and old guys with Mickey Mouse sweaters on the other. These aren’t the people I’m interested in. I prefer those souls who are just completely uninterested in the holiday and in doing what everyone else does.
Why do I care? I’m going to admit it: I’m interested in people who choose to go off the grid. They fly in the face of tradition because for whatever reason, they choose not to care about something that most of us thoughtlessly accept. That might seem heady, but there’s something to be said about those small moments when you fight against social norms.

OR, I’m just a screwball, an odd-bod. Either way, if you love turkey and this day, more power to you. But if you are one of those people who just doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this holiday, then please know I’m raising a lukewarm cup of shitty coffee to you from somewhere between LA and San Fran.

%d bloggers like this: