Quit picking on Starbucks.

I like the concept of a coffee culture. Caffeine is my vice of choice and Starbucks enhances the experience. Starbucks didn’t take away any independent coffee shops around here. They were already mostly gone. We have a couple of small, family-run restaurants left, but we didn’t really have a meet-me-for-coffee place until Starbucks built several.

Of the four Starbucks locations close to me, one is so popular that my only complaint is it’s tough to find a seat. I love the idea of being comfortable hanging around with your latte for as long as you want, until the concept means I can’t find a table. One location in my small town has become a satellite office, with every surface covered with laptops, simultaneous cell phone conversations, and meetings large enough to occupy several tables pushed together.

So now I avoid peak times. Early mornings and mid-afternoons are best. That’s when my favorite Starbucks resembles exactly the kind of coffee-shop-as-small-town-microcosm their critics claim they eroded. At one of the long wooden tables there’s a moms’ group with strollers tucked into a nearby corner. Another couple of tables hosts knitters. Knitters who chat. Very early in the morning, a phalanx of uniformed peace officers waits to order. Arriving mid-afternoon, with walkers and canes, here come the rabble-rousing residents of the senior community across the road.

There’s moaning about Starbucks being such a chain operation. I’m personally comforted by the consistency of their look and feel, the clean restrooms, and even the music they play. Critics scoff at the “pretension” of their coffee language – completely made up to impart the aura of a never-did-exist European coffee experience. Clever marketing, I say.

But I’m not objective, because I have a small entrepreneurial crush on Howard Schultz, who put a group together to buy out the originators of the Starbucks brand in Seattle and personally became involved (some say too involved) in every aspect of every cup of coffee sold. Everything about the building of the company interests me, its ups and downs and adjustments, and Schultz’ buck-stops-here recent comeback after closing many stores.

If you have a welcoming, independent local coffee shop that serves all your needs, you’re lucky, and I will never demean the efficiency of a roadside McDonald’s for coffee and a baked apple pie, but for everyday caffeine ingestion in pleasant circumstances, Starbucks is just fine.

The silly side of aging

Age Gain Now Empathy Suit
Jokes about getting old begin in childhood and continue for decades until – gasp – one actually shows signs of age. It’s another case of it’s funny ‘til it’s not. Even when the joke’s on me, I get it, I really do. We joke because what else are we gonna do?

Hooray for Baby Boomers, whose aging numbers are now so great that their wants and needs can’t be ignored. ’Bout damn time.

As we recognize each new twinge and wonder why we keep forgetting things, scientists are busy studying ways to simulate these conditions, illustrating for a younger crowd exactly how bodies feel as we adjust to increasing years.

Enter AGNES, the pretend-you’re-old suit developed at MIT.

AGNES is an experimental piece of wardrobe that duplicates symptoms of aging so that no matter who’s wearing it (her) the facts of life are right there.

This is not for completely altruistic reasons, of course. Marketers want to appeal to the buying side of this burgeoning population. Research can help them make labels easier to read and help designers insure easier navigation of steps and walkways. All kinds of entrances and exits and hardware are being examined right this minute.

For instance – would you like to get into and out of the next new car you buy much more easily than before (without the appearance of actually being older?) The answers are coming right up.

We who are just ahead of Baby Boomers would have gladly told the researchers these things for free. In fact we tried; we’ve been vocal about aging for a while now, but until the marketing opportunities aimed at millions of older Boomers appeared, not many wanted to listen. So thanks, Boomers, for moving into the land of “Have you seen my keys?”