It seems a January night like any other, the wind whipping off the Pacific, over the Victorian rooftops, and up the cold corridors of the Western Addition. Down in the Lower Haight, the streets are still moist with rain.
As cheapskates riffle through zines at Naked Eye, nine-to-fivers stamp their feet at the Fillmore Muni stop and co-dependent dogs sit lashed to parking meters, blinking balefully into cafes, watching their goateed owners challenge the Pac-Man game with another mocha. And in the bars, pizza-burping bikers whittle away the paycheck with pints of Placerville Triple-Bock Red Amber Cold-Yeast Boont Stout Pig Piss, or whatever the hell the special is this week. Yes, it seems an average twilight in Slackerville, but a closer look yields an unfortunate truth. Something is creating a yawning pit in the stomach of it all, tearing this district apart from within, preventing its civic link to the rest of the vaunted 415 area code. Something is still missing in the neighborhood, something which has been missing here for the past few years. It's time to get to the bottom of this and initiate an investigation.
"Starbucks customer relations, this is Kevin, how may I help you?"
"Yes, I'm calling from San Francisco," I say. "I live in a neighborhood that has some coffee shops in it, and I'm just wondering why there isn't a Starbucks here."
"What part of town are you in?" bubbles the helpful disciple.
I describe the Lower Haight as "a slacker/Gen-X kind of area," making it sound ripe for an arrogation, a roiling pool of junkies jonesing for more bean squeezings which can easily be dispensed from the storefront of a gleaming corporate methadone clinic called Starbucks.
"Let me see." The goon's fingers clack on a keyboard. "Probably because, let's see how many ... two, four, six ... we've got 14 stores already, so we're just kind of slowly spreading out."
Delicate language for a brutal invasion of 14 stores in just a few years, into a city that has boasted several local roasteries for upward of a century. That fateful euphemism trickles back into the brain from Vietnam about destroying the village in order to save it.
"We may be working on plans to open one in that area," continues the puppet, "but I don't see any on our store-open list in February, so, um, it might be hard getting some good real estate." The acolyte pauses, the sort of moment that can only mean crucial information is on the way.
"Actually, there's one opening on Market Street!" announces Kevin. "It's 1231 Market Street, and that should be in mid-March."
I explain that Market is miles from the Lower Haight, and ask if they would build one there. "If I got a petition together or something?" I say. It would be beautiful -- a legion of identical Starbucks T-shirts and berets goose-stepping down the sidewalk three abreast, armed with clipboards. Caffeine Commandos, nightsticking hippies out of cafes, smashing Internet-access machines, burning piles of band fliers. Go, Big Green!
"Oh sure!" says Kevin. "It'd be great, actually, if you wouldn't mind writing us a letter to our store planning department. Talk a little bit about the area, that would only encourage things." Now the stooge is growing confident. He has a certified Starbucks fan on the line. "I mean, I'm sure we're eventually going to get out there. Maybe if we get some feedback from the customers, that might help, too. It certainly wouldn't hurt!"
It's time to put the bait on the hook.
"There are a lot of coffee shops here already," I say, "and it's an area that's been featured in Rolling Stone as being like a hip new area for younger people. But I'm a little older, and it's sort of like, sometimes the people in these coffee shops aren't completely service-oriented, you know?"
"Uh-huh," says the drone.
"And if you go to a Starbucks, it seems people are pretty friendly."
"Oh good. We definitely -- we're definitely -- that's what we're striving for. That's the focus of our company, is customer service. That's great that they're executing out there. That's really good to hear."
OK, Kevin the java slave, let's see how ruthless you really are.
"If you guys came into the neighborhood, would you buy up one of these stores?"
"When something's up for bid, we have a real estate department that bids on places, and we just try and secure," explains the pawn coldly. "A bunch of factors go into it. We like to have, you know, a stable community. Well-traveled as well."
"There's one place in particular that's kind of, I don't know, not completely up to snuff --"
"-- as far as like, people would like a coffee shop to be. If their lease is up, I could maybe look into it or something, and find out. Would that be something to suggest as well?"
"Sure, yeah, yeah. Anything you think would entice us to go faster, I'd definitely encourage it."
Ah, Kevin, you soul-less, ball-less little fuck, you just showed your true colors. You are definitely in league with the devil. I listen as he dutifully titters out the Starbucks San Francisco office information, a phone call which will be infinitely less interesting than talking to this twit.
"Is this kind of out of line, petitioning for a coffee shop?" I ask. "It seems kind of weird."
"No, not at all. We appreciate your enthusiasm."
"You have more plans to open, right? It isn't like you've done enough."
"Oh yeah, we're going to open plenty more stores!" Kevin is so pumped he's about ready to pop out of his skin. "We have about 750 right now; we want to have 2,000 stores by the year 2000, so we're still growing."
"That's great," I say, cringing at my own lie. "I hope there's more here."
"Yes, so do I!"
Brace yourself, San Francisco. The battle rages on. Give me co-dependent dogs any day over Big Green.
Address all correspondence to: Slap Shots, c/o SF Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8152; e-mail: Slapshawts@aol.com.