The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


 I hadn’t thought of the comedy of Henny Youngman for a very long time. Famous for his rapid-fire delivery of one liners he is perhaps best remembered for his routine that starts, “Now you take my wife – please.”

 Another of his routines began, “A man walked up to me and asked me for a dime for a cup of coffee.” I said, “Coffee’s a nickel.” He said, “Won’t you join me?”

 Yesterday after our morning visit to the dog park, Gracie and I made a small detour to Starbuck’s on our way home. I usually have a cup of freshly ground strong coffee at the house before we go on our morning outing but I had slept late and she was insistent that we should go now.

 I left Gracie in the car as I picked up my morning brew. This particular Starbuck’s had no place where I could securely fasten her and I knew from previous experience that she could easily re-arrange the tables if I tied her to one of those.

 I finally got to the head of the line (there were eight other customers ahead of me when I walked in). Although I am not a regular at Starbuck’s, around the holidays I will stop in to get a taste of their Christmas Blend which I have always enjoyed. Fortunately, I could see that it was on today’s menu.

 I also noticed that it was on sale in bulk for $14.95 a pound! It was last year that I bought a pound of it and paid $8.95. I don’t follow the price of coffee futures but when I returned home I looked them up. Wholesale coffee is presently trading at $2.26 a pound. (Nice markup).

 By the way, when I say I go to Starbuck’s occasionally for coffee – I mean it is just that – coffee. I have never been able to master the art of ordering their more exotic drinks. Unfortunately, though I have looked in bookstores and on-line, I can’t find a copy of, “Ordering at Starbuck’s for Dummies.” Apparently the volume is out of print.

 Well I set my coffee on a table and retrieved Gracie. As it happened, we sat right behind the menu board where drive-in customers placed their orders. I could clearly hear the customers and the very pleasant Starbuck’s employee who took their orders, repeating them back to make sure she had them right and then announcing their totals.

 “Your total is $7.14; $5.38; $8.84 (this included a very average pastry); $6.88” – and it went on and on. I calculated that the average ticket was around $6.00 – for a diluted coffee drink.

I tried to put this in perspective. For five dollars I could have eaten the breakfast buffet at one of the local casinos. I would have had my choice of a variety of juices and other beverages, hot or cold cereals, pastries, eggs in multiple forms including Benedict, ham sliced from the bone or bacon or sausage, a variety of potatoes prepared in several ways, etc. All for a smaller price than a quick drink at Starbuck’s – and far more nutritious. And my buffet meal would have created no crisis of conscience on my part regarding environmental issues.

 I realize that Starbuck’s uses environmentally-friendly materials in distributing its products – and I am grateful that they do. But based on the overflowing receptacles which I saw in the patio area, most Starbuck’s customers simply trashed these rather than taking them somewhere that they could be recycled. Yet more garbage to add to the heap of disposable diapers and tires which are filling our burgeoning landfills. (I did bring the little plastic sip-lid and the hot sleeve from my beverage home with me to add to my recycling bin).

 I applaud business success. Obviously, despite the weak economy, Starbuck’s has struck a chord with consumers and is exploiting that to its benefit. I congratulate them for recognizing a need and helping to fill it. And I’ll probably be back next year for a cup of Christmas Blend.

 But I wonder, if Henny Youngman were alive today, how would he revise his routine, “Coffee’s a Nickel?”

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