This review is not a platform for toilet humor, so those of you who disdain that sub-genre need not click away. This review is about the intersection of a failing body and the minimal kindness of a multi-national corporation in a very rare and particular space and time.
In this moment, I could not be more grateful for this Starbucks bathroom. In fact, I am grateful for its existence, grateful for its location, grateful to the architect who made it so commodiously large and reasonably far away from the other humans occupying the building, grateful to the interior decorator who chose the soothing paint color, and grateful especially to Carl who last cleaned it on 9/1 at 10am.
Such is my gratitude that I will return here, though it is no where near my house, to purchase a beverage and perhaps even one of the almost inedibly bad pastries sitting forlornly in the bright, purgatorial display case. Perhaps I’ll pocket an over-ripe banana, a stroopwaffel, and a whimsical bag of nuts too. THAT, is how grateful I am for this Starbucks bathroom.
My friend Mike says that pedaling is medically guaranteed to shut down your digestive tract for the duration of any ride you choose. If you’re feeling bad, he says, just start riding. Some biological switch will flip, causing the indefinite pause of internal hostilities. Mostly, I find this to be correct.
But this moment, this sweaty, anguished moment, is a stark demonstration of the difference between mostly and always.
Somewhere on a road known by a number rather than a name I felt the stirrings of tumult, the opening salvo in what would turn out to be a mercifully short battle with my inner demons. It did not take long to realize that Mike wasn’t going to be right on this day, and further, that a brief stopping by woods would not stem the tide of events unfolding in my carefully folded intestines.
Let me step away from the story now briefly to say a few words about Starbucks. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. Sometimes I have appreciated the mediocrity of the coffee, especially when all the other options were downright bad. As a corporate entity, Starbucks is not nearly the worst, although I feel a strong aversion to any business as ubiquitous as the old green and white has become. In some ways, this chance reduction of an entire galactic coffee empire to the role of public bathroom feels like some small redressing of karmic balance, but I’ll leave you to your own views on that subject.
The point is, I came to a moment when I was out of choices as to next moves, and it was then that Starbucks appeared there by the side of the road, as it so often does, whether you like it or not. I happened to like it at the time. I leaned my bike against the wall by the door, not caring so much whether it got stolen, and tippy-tapped my way into the building uttering a short and profanely secular prayer that there was not a line for the facilities.
As I promised at the beginning, I will spare you the vainglorious details of the business I transacted therein. Suffice it to say I solved all of my problems and regretted only the lingering problems I may have left for others, chiefly Carl, if I’m honest.
Here’s what I can tell you. This Starbucks bathroom mimics, rather closely, the vibe of the bathroom in any decent AirBnB you might rent. Subdued coloration. Art(ish) photos on the wall. Tastefully non-utilitarian plumbing fixtures. A vigorous and pleasingly loud exhaust fan. As a human person in some level of distress, I found myself appreciating the attention to detail and the effort to make me, a non-customer, comfortable as I did what all human persons must, at some time, do.
As a point of contrast, here in New England you will find a Dunkin Donuts every 10-15 feet. Even as I type, it seems they are building one in my backyard. If Starbucks seems to be everywhere, then Dunkin Donuts has destroyed the meaning of ‘everywhere,’ just as they’ve destroyed the meanings of ‘donut,’ and ‘coffee,’ and ‘food.’ When I think about weathering my crisis of the soul in the bathroom of Dunkin Donuts a shudder of revulsion passes through my guts nearly strong enough to precipitate another such crisis.
Ditto, the Mobil station.
And so, I sing to you the unintended benefits of letting corporate monoliths remake our living spaces as great, homogenous wastelands of commerce. Sure, they’ve made our hometowns look like so many logoed outposts of cloying, Disney-like charm, driving out the prosaic (and possibly chimeric) “mom-n-pop” businesses of our barely remembered youths, but when you’re on a long ride, far from home, and find yourself struck by a sudden attack of explosive you-know-what, that Starbucks bathroom is there for you, and it’s as sweet as any grande, half-caff latte with two pumps of vanilla and whipped cream on top.