Again I've commented on a post of Stanley Fish's--a critique of Starbuck's and other such emporia--in The New York Times Select pages. It came out so good that I couldn't help but post it here. Sorry.
As I've let this controversy sit for a couple of days, I've had to modify my initial support for this column (#12). The fallacy of Mr Fish's argument is that he forgets that, even during the good old days, the consumer was always responsible for his own cream and sugar. (Except, of course, at Dunkin Donuts. In Rhode Island, for example, ordering a "coffee regular" gets one a cup that has already had a few splashes of cream and several shovelsful of sugar added. That's livin'.)
The legitimate point he raises concerns the shifting of labor in many venues of the American economy from the vendor ("May I help you?") to the consumer ("It's on aisle five.").
I'm no fan of the modern coffee shop. (My wife vehemently disagrees with me on this.) I agree with Professor Fish concerning the waiting--no matter how simple the beverage--with no comfortable area in which to wait. It would be a fascinating experiment to set up a camera in a Starbucks and document the intricate fandangoes people go through while waiting for their brew. It usually begins somewhere near the ill-defined slot in the counter where the drinks are delivered and ends somewhere near the Mens Room door.
He's also correct when it comes to the tiny counter with the myriad of substances with which one is supposed improve a drink a team of baristas has already labored on with an effort that would have done Sisyphus proud. For anyone with any manners or any sense that other beings exist in the world, it can be a test of patience. For anyone else, it must be like digging for the puck in the corner at a hockey game.
The ultimate thing that I have against Starbucks and many other such outlets has to do with the coffee itself. It's bitter. So bitter that it needs all these other ministrations just to make it drinkable. When all's said and done, give me Dunkin Donuts's coffee every time.