“People’s Coffee”: A Tale
THE SOLUTION TO STARBUCKS?
The Glorious Revolution has occurred!
Dancing in the streets. The Marxists have taken over. They’re able to put their well-discussed theories to work. (Forgetting the maxim, “Be careful what you ask for.”)
AMONG the first orders of business is the expropriation of the entire Starbucks chain of coffeeshops. That epitome of Capitalism, white privilege, and bourgeois values.
The familiar green signs are taken down from store after store throughout America, to much applause. New signs go up– similar, but with a depiction of Karl Marx at the center of them, instead of the mermaid. The chain has been renamed, “People’s Coffee.” Yaaay! Everyone celebrates.
LEADERS of the Revolution, Comrade A and Comrade B, decide the chain’s stores will be run in a socialistic manner. NO bosses. NO district managers. Each store a cooperative– decisions made by employees themselves.
People’s Coffee is made the responsibility of Comrade X, but not really, because no one can actually be “in charge”– that would be oppressive– or take responsibility. He (“he”– X is ostensibly but not oppressively male)– is assigned to informally oversee the chain. Once People’s Cooperation is under way, all will go swimmingly.
Comrade X is an intense intellectual with requisite neat beard and plain eyeglasses, a perpetually perplexed expression on his face. X thinks not fast, but he likes to think, well. He’s proletarian not by background– his parents were professors– but attitude. He fully believes in their ideals. Though Comrade X has no business or work background whatsoever, this is considered an asset.
Indeed, operations begin spectacularly. Employees are happy. No more bosses! Freedom! The cafes are packed. Never has anyone seen so many customers! In part this is celebration, and in part it’s because prices have been dropped to one dollar for everything. Every drink– even the 31-ounce Macchiatos and Frappucinos. It’s been decided that having a hierarchy of drinks and prices would be discriminatory.
“What we are about,” Comrade X expresses in a memo, “is pure democracy and freedom and equality for everybody. The price change allows everything to be fair and equal.”
Workers Councils are established at each store, each with a Revolutionary Representative to express grievances to X and his own carefully chosen representatives. Layers of well-educated representatives arrayed across the country to ensure that everything at the stores remains fair and equal.
“No longer will there be discrimination against customers,” X announces. “Everyone is welcome! Purchase or not– come to People’s Coffee and view equality in action.”
The stores remain packed– loungers taking up all the tables, but still everyone is happy.
“This is what democracy looks like!” the liberated comrades behind the counter, previously known as baristas, shout. “THIS is what democracy looks like!”
The Workers Councils decide there will no longer be schedules for employees. “Schedules are discriminatory,” they inform Comrade X. “A 9-to-5 schedule is a bourgeois concept. 40 hours a week is a bourgeois concept.”
Workers have the freedom to come and go as they please. To work when they please. At first, X worries there will not be enough people to keep up with increased traffic at the cafes. But the Revolutionary Council fortunately votes for full employment– everyone to have a job, whether they work it or not. Staffing at People’s Coffeeshops increases– as many as 250 workers assigned to a single modest cafe.
Comrade X is pleasantly surprised at their work ethic. Many of the new workers actually DO come in for a few hours every day– chiefly to meet friends and hang out. “I mean, like, I have to do something,” one of them tells X during one of his informal visits to one of the shops.
“It’s very expressive, actually,” X tells Comrades A and B during a conference phone call– albeit with much static and phone dropping, as the phones, for some mysterious reason, don’t work with even their previous unpredictable capitalist inefficiency. “The workers have liberated the stores, taken down their oppressive corporate logos and substituted their own art. Walls are filled with art, banners, and manifestos. Hanging from the ceilings!”
Comrade X notices a trace of sarcasm, or displeasure, in his voice as he says this, and determines to monitor that. Fortunately, Comrades A and B don’t notice, or at least, don’t say anything.
THE NEXT DECISION made by the Workers Councils, in a unanimous vote, is to stop making and serving the fancy drinks the chain used to offer during pre-revolutionary times.
“Those drinks were inherently bourgeois and oppressive,” X is told by the worker representatives. “They embody the previous capitalist regime. They embody inequality. They’re oppressive to make.”
Comrade X doesn’t question this. “Yes, you’re right,” he says, chastising himself for not recognizing this himself. Whipped cream! How un-proletarian. “I completely, unconditionally agree.”
The one drink the chain continues to serve is coffee. Plain coffee. For a dollar. Then the price is eliminated. No prices.
“Prices are a bourgeois concept.”
This decision comes from on high. Comrade X doesn’t question it. He’s learned not to question anything. As long as the workers and their customers are happy. In their new revolutionary paradise, who couldn’t be happy?
With the banners, posters, paintings, scrawls, scribbles, manifestos, revolutionary graffiti sprayed across interior walls and bricks outside, combined with absence of authority, unkempt or uncaring customers and irregular staffing, the People’s Coffeeshops begin to look messy. Even slovenly.
“Can we not do anything about this trash on the floor?” Comrade X asks at one of shops.
A worker stares into his face.
“Comrade, cleanliness is a bourgeois concept.”
X decides it’s time to– not assert authority exactly, but to represent revolutionary principles with which everyone agrees. He stands on a tottery chair.
“Comrades!” he shouts. “Be a credit to the Revolution!”
The workers become angry. “Only our union rep can speak to us like that!”
X scurries out of the store quickly before employees– at least two dozen of them this morning– riot.
Afterward X sits in his large apartment– appropriated from a greedy financier– for an entire week. He stares at the walls. Tries to read. More weeks. What would Comrade B think of him? Or Comrade A?!
But they no longer ask how things are going. They have larger priorities, X realizes.
Several months later X receives troubling word about a new kind of coffee shop. Private. Unauthorized. Illegal. Spreading throughout major cities.
“Can you believe it?” his source tells him. “They use basement rooms in the most unlikely of places. With prices. Exclusive clientele. And they’re clean! So clean. They make every kind of concoction, just like the old days. A Caramel Frappucino!”
X looks at the man soberly.
“You’ve been to one of them?”
The man fumbles for an explanation. X waves his fist in the man’s face.
“You’re betraying the Revolution! You should’ve reported them immediately.”
“Likely they’ve moved,” the man says. “They change locations frequently.”
Both grow silent, thinking about the caramel-flavored Frappucino. A forbidden indulgence. Bourgeois delicacy. Comrade X can see the drink in his mind’s eye– whipped cream, caramel swirls, glistening container. Lush. Sweet. Corrupt, yes, but heavenly. He envies his friend.
“We must investigate this,” X decides. “Quickly. Incognito.”
-Karl Wenclas. From a novel-in-progress.