We must do better than this

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When I see the story of two African American men arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, waiting for a friend to arrive, it’s a troubling moment. They know, and I know, and everybody who lives in America in 2018 knows that this only happened to them because of their skin color. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, it was the color of these two men’s skin that landed them in police custody. The content of their character had nothing to do with what happened to them.

The manager of the store somehow determined that calling the police was the right course of action to take in this situation. This should have never been a situation to begin with, but since it became one we need to sort through its ramifications. It’s not my intention to blame the police in this, either. It was the decision to call the police that led to this story in the first place.

Firing the store manager is the obvious first step to take. Whatever lapse of judgment was committed can never be allowed to happen again. No amount of remorse or retraining or unpaid suspension time can undo the toxic views this person carries around inside of him or her. We all make mistakes, but this is one that must not be repeated.

Public businesses like Starbucks provide washroom facilities for their customers. But access to these facilities–which I believe is what gave rise to the incident in Philadelphia–must not be predicated on skin color. There’s not a business around that would deny a white guy like me the ability to use their washroom. There’s no valid reason for denying the same courtesy to anyone else, either.

Starbucks will likely develop and implement guidelines over access to facilities in the wake of this incident. It’s surely leading to the type of backlash that isn’t good for the company’s well-maintained public image. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to examine who we are as people. I like clean bathrooms as much as anyone else, but I’m not comfortable with telling anyone that they can’t use washroom facilities, particularly when skin color appears to be the determining factor in the equation.

We must do the right thing here. All of us.

It was a good day for omens

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Saturday morning, Evanston, Illinois

My daughters are both ice skaters, which makes practice ice a reality for me, several times a week. On Saturday morning, as the rest of the world is sleeping in, my older one gets to the rink at 5:30 AM. It seems like a cruel joke to play on the old man, but I go along with it by driving her to the rink.

I dropped her off this morning, and went to get some gas in the tank of my minivan. It’s not a terribly long way to South Bend, Indiana, but it’s better to gas up now before I head out later this morning.

As I’m filling up the tank, I noticed that the Starbucks in that neck of the woods wasn’t open yet. You know you’re early when Starbucks hasn’t yet come to life.

Since coffee needed to be procured, I considered my options. There was a Burger King I knew of a half-mile away, and while I’m not a fan of their coffee, it would be better than having a steaming cup of nada in my hand. So Burger King it was.

As I drove north toward the BK, something wonderful presented itself. A former KFC restaurant, which had been converted to a Starbucks, grabbed my attention instead. It was as if the mermaid or whatever it is on the Starbucks logo winked at me. It was a call that I couldn’t ignore.

I pulled into the parking lot, curious why this location was open as the other one remained closed. It was almost 6 AM by now, and my guess is the other one would be opening at that time, anyway. But fate had brought me to this location, instead.

I went inside and ordered my usual, a venti drip coffee. I’ve never gone for lattes or any of their pricier drinks; just plain old coffee works for me. The woman behind the counter was as friendly as could be, and she provided my morning cup of stimulation. Now it was time to add a splash of half-and-half and head back to the rink.

On the creamer station, I spied a single penny. I always make it a practice to pick up a penny and look at the year stamped on it. I’ve written about that penny, and the year associated with it, several times on this blog. And for every story I’ve told, there are several more that I haven’t had the time or the inclination to tell. But today’s was a story that had to be told.

The year stamped on the penny was 1995. I saw the date and blurted out “No fucking way!” without even thinking about it. The expletive had to be a part of what I said, too, because the irony was just too much to consider, especially so early in the morning.

1995 was the last time that Northwestern and Notre Dame have played each other in football. So much has changed in the 19 years since then: the internet, smartphones, social media, the cloud, so much of the things that we think have always been there but really have not. My two children were far off in the future back in 1995. I was still renting an apartment in those days. I weighed significantly less than I do today. And I never, ever said no to having a beer. In short, my life today in 2014 resembles 1995 in very few ways.

Northwestern won that football game back in 1995. For 19 years, I’ve been able to say that Northwestern had bragging rights when it came to Notre Dame. The Domers have the tradition and the aura about their program, but they haven’t had a chance to avenge their 17-15 loss to the school with perhaps the least college football tradition of all.

Notre Dame has a good football team this year, and Northwestern does not. The Fighting Irish lost by a wide margin in Arizona last week, and they may be wanting to take that frustration out on the Wildcats at home, in front of their fans. There’s still a matter of keeping themselves around for bowl consideration, after all.

There won’t be any bowl games for Northwestern this year. All that’s left to play for is pride, and that may not be enough to prevail. But the defensive captain of the 1995 team, Pat Fitzgerald, is the Wildcats’ head coach now, and will be for years–if not decades–to come. He understands what Notre Dame means, as an opponent. Nobody will be any better at getting his team ready for a game like this.

I believe in omens. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, and seen too many movies where a minor thing portends something more important down the line. That’s the essence of storytelling, after all. What seems unimportant at the time can turn out to be something greater. You never know in this world.

So if Northwestern can go into South Bend and pull off an upset–as they did back in 1995–a penny in a Starbucks won’t be the reason why. But it sure will be interesting if it turns out that way. I suppose we’ll find out in a few hours.

UPDATE: The Wildcats did indeed pull off the upset, winning the game 43-40 in overtime. I hope to put the game into words soon, but for now I’ll say that it was a roller coaster ride from start to finish, and Northwestern somehow prevailed. Go Cats!

Made it through

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I wouldn’t relive 1982 for all the money in the world. I was a gangly, awkward kid, and I hated myself for it. But when I happened upon a 1982 penny in a Starbucks this morning, I realized that my memories of years gone by–or at least the ones I have shared in this space–have tended to the warm and happy side of things. We remember what we choose to remember, I suppose.

Should any similarly awkward teenagers out there ever see this, I offer this consolation: One day you’ll have Starbucks, or something like it that hasn’t been invented yet, and you’ll be glad you hung around long enough to experience it.

 

They had me at #Starbucks

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I’m sitting in a Starbucks, with some time to kill as my daughter works with her tutor. It’s mundane now, but these are moments I’ll probably miss some day in the future. So I’ll spend a moment capturing it before it slips away.

Since I gave up drinking coffee a few weeks ago, going to Starbucks feels a bit strange. It is as much a player in the coffee business as anyone, yet they want people who don’t drink coffee to come on in, too. So the result was “Starbucks Coffee” is now just “Starbucks” instead. And evidently that is enough. They had me at “Starbucks,” it would appear.

Hold the pastry

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I love my morning Starbucks. It’s one of those things that I lived without for most of my life, but now I have it and I don’t want to go back to a place without it ever again.

This morning I stopped for a cup of Starbucks on my way to work. As I was looking over the assorted donuts, scones, bagels, and other yummy things that I usually get to go with my coffee, I noticed a pile of bananas on the counter.

Paying a dollar for a banana seemed like a lot, but it’s a cheaper than any pastry I would get, and I’m sure it’s a lot healthier, too. So a banana it was, for the first time. And hopefully not the last, either.

The unbeatable Trever Miller

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Every old baseball card could tell a story, if you wanted it to. I have thousands of these things sitting in boxes, just waiting for me to pay some attention to them. And many days I have other topics that I’m more interested in writing about. But these things serve as my bulwark against running out of things to say.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve never heard of Trever Miller before. I hadn’t either, until I happened upon this card and read the verbiage on the back. The alliterative description of him as a “lanky lefty from Louisville” caught my attention, and so I gave his name a Google. As it turns out, he’s got what has to be the most impressive record that I’ve ever heard of, at least as far as pitching goes.

Trever Miller spent several years in the majors as a LOOGY. It’s a funny-sounding name, to be sure, but it’s also a very important role player for a big league club to have. LOOGY is a sort-of acronym for Left-handed One Out GuY (I said sort-of for a reason). These are guys who come in, late in a game, and face one hitter in order to hopefully end an inning.

LOOGYs–I think that’s the plural of the term– are relief pitchers, but without the dramatic flair of a closer, or even the reflected importance of a set-up man. These guys are like the cardboard sleeve that you put over a hot cup of coffee at Starbucks: unremarkable, and not something you think about very much, but just try getting along without them.

The nature of what a LOOGY does is to plug a hole. And when Trever Miller entered a game in San Diego in early August of 2006, he was just an 0-3 pitcher on an average Houston Astros team. He didn’t win that game, but he didn’t lose it, either.

Over the rest of that season, Miller didn’t lose a single game in which he took the mound. No big thing, really, because Miller’s job is to get outs, not to impact the game in any significant way. But still, every mound appearance is a loss just waiting to happen.

Miller managed to get through the entire 2007 season without taking a loss. And he repeated that trick for the 2008 season, as well. It wasn’t until late in the 2009 season that Miller’s luck finally ran out when he took the loss in a game against Colorado. To borrow a line from Bull Durham, “Some days you win; some days you lose; some days it rains.” And yet for three years, Trever Miller somehow managed to avoid the middle part of that proposition.

The best part of this story is that nobody was even aware of the record, not even Miller himself. It wasn’t until a writer named David Laurila noticed something in Miller’s statistics, and then asked Baseball Prospectus to do some research, that Miller’s record was identified as being a record to begin with. Imagine how it would feel if someone approached you and said you had set some kind of a record, without even knowing you were doing it. It must have been a confusing–and yet also thrilling–piece of news for him.

Spring training 2013 is just around the corner, and Trever Miller– now on the verge of turning 40–could get a spring training invitation from one of the teams in MLB. That’s what happened with the Chicago Cubs last season. But there are no guarantees that the Spring Training invite will lead to anything, either. Miller learned this last year as well, as the Cubs cut him and he spent his first season out of baseball in decades. It must have been an unsettling summer for him in 2012.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see what happens with Trever Miller this Spring. Hopefully he still has some baseball left in him, but whatever the future holds, he’s got a record that might never be broken. And how many of us can say that?

Partially my place

For me, Starbucks is a company unlike any other. It’s the one company I think of when I’m out looking for a cup of coffee. In fact, the terms “Starbucks” and “coffee” are¬†interchangeable in my mind. I might say to someone “I’m going out for a Starbucks. Do you want anything?” and they’ll know what I mean. I don’t make “Skippy and Smucker’s” sandwiches for my kids, and I wouldn’t think to order a “Pepperoni Domino’s” for dinner. But with Starbucks, it’s something else altogether.

I bought a small handful of Starbucks shares, back around 2006. It eventually went up to $40 a share for a few minutes, and then–like a caffeine buzz wearing off–it started to drop. The recession set in, and people who were worried about keeping their jobs didn’t want to spent $5 for a coffee anymore. I stopped watching its descent, but I also couldn’t bring myself to sell that tiny stake in the company. It would have felt like giving up on coffee itself, and that was more than I could bear to do.

The stock was down to around $7 a share in 2008, and then it started to come back. Howard Schultz returned as the CEO, and he brought the company back to where it was, and then some. Today the stock is at $50 a share, and Starbucks is pushing into new markets like China and India. And if these traditionally tea-drinking nations develop a taste for coffee instead, look out!

I like how it feels to own a tiny, tiny little piece of Starbucks. Perhaps other companies make more money than Starbucks does, but I’m certain that I couldn’t readily see (and partake of) what it is that they do. And that means something. I bought their stock with the goal of making money, yes, but I also like to think that, when I walk into a Starbucks, all of my interests in the company are somehow concentrated into that one location.

To give an example, there are fifteen letters lit up in the “STARBUCKS COFFEE” sign above. Perhaps I own ten of those letters. Or let’s say I’m out and I need to use the restroom somewhere. I can go into a Starbucks and not feel bad about it because, after all, I own the place. And even if it’s just the bathroom door and the toilet and the mirror on the wall in that one location, it’s still something, isn’t it?

Are there any companies that you feel this way about? Disney, perhaps, when you go to see one of their films in the theater, or visit Disney World in Florida? Or maybe it’s Nike, and it feels like all the athletes wearing the Swoosh stripe are working on your behalf? Or maybe it’s something else that I can’t think of here. Tell me about it in the space below, if you’re so inclined. And thanks for reading, as always.