I have found Noam Chomsky's hell on earth. I have located purgatory for Occupiers. I have discovered Karl Marx's Hieronymus Bosch oil-painted nightmare. It is an investment bank cleverly disguised as an Internet cafe, and it is run by ING Direct.
Fortune magazine has called ING the largest banking and financial services conglomerate in the entire world. It represents everything the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to dismantle. This is a fortress of The Man, where lives are bought and sold daily: Small countries are invested in and divested from like a two-bit crap game in the Bronx; houses are foreclosed faster than you can say "adjustable rate." They also apparently make a mean latte.
I can't say that the ING Cafe is inviting. It is huge and airy, with three levels and cold cement floors. It's hard to tell exactly what is happening inside, and you are not sure if you can wander in on your own or if you need an appointment. The San Francisco location is in the spot that used to house a Diesel store, and after that the short-lived Orgasm Store (it came and went).
The front is all glass, punctuated with ING's signature orange lion and navy blue logo striped along the perimeter. Is it a bank? Is it a restaurant? Is it an investment firm, like Charles Schwab across the street? Is it still under construction? I peered through the glass and saw normal-looking people lined up on stools at long, tall tables, all plugged into their respective laptops. Who were they? Way in the back I saw two men poking around at some electronic display; to the left of them there seemed to be a counter with food and a few baristas.
"Isn't it awesome?" said my co-worker, who is obsessed with the color orange and had found himself drawn to the business as soon as it opened a few weeks ago.
"Hmm ..." I said, unsure. I certainly was curious, and there was no way I would enter the place without backup, so I was grateful to have his company when we wandered inside. As we reached for the doors, I saw a disheveled man sitting at a table right inside the window, muttering to himself. Phew. This was a good sign.
Once we made it inside, no one accosted us, like they do at Wells Fargo. I feel like I have been through the Greetings Spanking Machine every time I go into a branch of Wells, with everyone from the janitor to the manager asking me how my day is going and if they can help me. (Then, once I actually get in line, still more people approach me and ask what my transaction will be and if they can help me in a way that perhaps the teller cannot. Then the teller asks me about my day, and I always say something depressing just to see if they give a shit, like "Well it was going fine until I saw someone dive in front of a moving BART train," only to have them nod and make tsk-tsk noises like automatons. Then I finally fucking leave, and they call me on my goddamn cellphone that night at home to ask me how I found their service that day. Serenity now.)
No one approached us at ING with any salutations, so I began to relax a little and open my mind. We scooted to the back and checked out the food and drink sitch. There were salads, sandwiches, and cups of fruit. You could also order any manner of coffee concoction. There were three people behind the counter, all friendly but not cloying. So far so good. We got some cookies and drinks and headed upstairs to what looked like the beanbag love-in center; it turns out it's the play area for kids. I'm sure we aren't the first people to feel drawn to the cushy part of an otherwise sterile airplane hangar design.
Things began to get clearer for me. The folks on the laptops were like people at Starbucks who are on their laptops — that is, they weren't working for ING, they were customers. The men in the corner examining some big screen were an ING banker and a potential client. Some of the baristas had come from behind the counter and were showing other customers how to open checking accounts. A lounge area directly below the kids' space had a big-screen TV with market crap on it, and investment periodicals people could thumb through. This was a bank that you could, like, sit down and hang out in. In fact, they want you to.
"I'm gonna come here during my break every day," said my co-worker, as if he had just discovered Xanadu.
"Well it does have one thing going for it," I said, "and that is that you can be sure to avoid any and all of your co-workers, since none of us are going to be caught dead in this place."
I glanced over to the toys section of our rumpus room, and there were savings account kits and a Fisher Price-esque adding machine for toddlers. I immediately had visions of Occupiers with bandanas over their mouths, screaming a muffled, "Sinister Thieves! Evil Paradigm of Doom! Child Abusers!"
"They do make a damn good cookie though," I said, popping the last of my snickerdoodle down the hatch.
"Yup," said my friend. No one had yet approached us. I too could conceivably return to this place on my break, provided I can just buy a cup of coffee and use the oversized plastic calculator that makes animal noises. Of course, said my inner Chomsky, this is how they get you. You think that it's just an innocuous space to chillax; meanwhile, your consent is being manufactured.
"Molasses ginger chew?" asked my friend, extending another cookie.
"Don't mind if I do."