Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Capitol Hill. Population: Me

Last Saturday I stood in my friend's father's ultra-modern-chic kitchen, cooking my famous spaghetti sauce and praising her recent decision to pack up her things, leave her job and her vintage studio apartment on Capitol Hill and move to San Francisco to be with a boy she didn't even know a year ago. To others, it may seem impractical, but to me, it's the exact kind of bold "fuck it" move I wish I'd been adventurous enough to make in my twenties.

"I mean, I graduated college and I moved to Idaho and I bought a house there because I thought I was going to live there forever," I managed to spit out through my laughter. It's funny to me now because it's so ludicrous. I can see now that I'm just not the type of person who will ever want to stay in one place forever—at least, not in the foreseeable future.

My own impending move is proof of this. Just over a year ago I moved to Alki Beach and fell crazy in love, vowing never to part from its laid back atmosphere and unbelievable beauty. I was, and still am, enamored with that beauty. I've seen quite a bit of this great country and I believe nothing compares to where I live. Whenever I was having a bad day or suffered one of 2011's many emotional setbacks, I could take a short walk and see so many beautiful things I couldn't feel sorry for myself anymore.

And this is what I see when I cross the West Seattle bridge, my favorite view in the world that pics don't do justice:

I will miss you most of all.

I loved that it was fairly quiet, a little beachy oasis mere minutes from the city. I loved that I could be downtown in fifteen minutes but come home to my little piece of paradise. I loved everything about it.

But reality has set in. Yes, I'm close to downtown, but the commute is a bitch. I work a few miles from home, but I never know how long it will take me to get there because the West Seattle Bridge can be a nightmare. Then there are the trains in SoDo that fuck my world up on a regular basis, including one I have to beat every single night or sit there fuming for twenty minutes while it gets loaded. And when the viaduct is closed for some huge construction project that's going until seemingly the end of time, I can forget about going anywhere in a timely manner.

If I want to go downtown and have drinks (which, let's face it, I do often—I may as well take advantage of the fact that I am 30 and childless) I have to spend $60 in taxi fare just to get anywhere. Frankly, it's bullshit. That, and a variety of other factors, led to a decision to let our beachside apartment go. It was a tough decision, but as soon as it was made, I felt the overwhelming sense of relief I do when I know something is right.

West Seattle was an incredible place to spend our first year in the city. It was a great way to slowly immerse ourselves into city life and, quite frankly, it was a fabulous place to be broke. Running along the beach is always free, as is sitting in the grass with a good book on a sunny day.

 But we're not new here anymore, and we still have a lot of exploring left to do. There are restaurants I want to try, bars I want to drink in, coffee I have to sample and bookstores I need to browse. So I set out to find the impossible: an affordable living space on Capitol Hill (Seattle's most populated neighborhood) with all the amenities my spoiled ass is accustomed to, like a dishwasher.

I found the apartment complex doing a random search for "Seattle rentals." I was instantly enamored with the close proximity to a Trader Joe's, there's an Anytime Fitness on site, pets are allowed, and it's just far enough back on Capitol Hill to be a few blocks away from all the ruckus….but still close enough to walk to all the ruckus. In fact, I could walk pretty much anywhere. Better yet, the rent prices seemed to be in a range that wouldn't make us pee our pants.

I fired off an email with the subject line "I would like to live here, please." The apartment manager replied right away to tell me that, sorry, all she had were studios. She also told me that the rent prices listed on the website were incorrect (and not in my favor). My hopes of a spacious two bedroom were dashed. I looked at other places, but wasn't having much luck.

Just when I'd resigned myself to living in a hole-in-the-wall and hauling my clothes to a Laundromat, I got an email from the manager. Someone was moving out of a one bedroom with den unit, which is apparently a very rare occurrence. The rent, while still a lot higher than our current rate, was just low enough to get me to show up for a building tour. I was enamored, both with the building and the apartment manager who's a burlesque dancer on the weekends and more hip than I could ever hope to be. I was really sold when I saw the view from the rooftop deck:

OMG, you guys

It's a fabulous apartment. At last I will have two bathrooms again to store the ten million towels I own. I will have a lovely balcony view, a place to put guests (I thought no one would want to stay with us once we downsized from a house to an apartment…how wrong I was), and a walk in closet.  I mean, just, yes.

But this time, I am older and wiser. I am not going to declare that "this is it." I know I will not want to live on Capitol Hill forever. I know there will come a day where I grow tired of the hipsters, tired of the endless crowds, the lack of parking, the noise and the constant commotion. But that doesn't diminish my excitement. It just makes me excited to appreciate every single day that I will be immersed in the depths of the city I love so dearly, taking it all in.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Defense of Starbucks

I've been a fan of Starbucks since they opened a store in my hometown of Yakima, WA many years ago. A more youthful, more robust, less bothered by the presence of calories and sugar version of myself was pumped to learn the coffee shop would blend my beloved Frappuccinos, making them more like a milkshake rather than the watery substance I'd been purchasing at the grocery store.

Yakima is rather devoid of culture. When a chain restaurant opens there, the locals treat it as a momentous occasion and cram its doors until the novelty wears off and they realize the Applebee's they were so excited about is just another mediocre menu with entrees crammed full of sodium and they'd be much better off going to local gem Miner's for a burger.

So, needless to say, I received no flack for my love of Starbucks while living in Yakima. In fact, it may have been the only thing that earned me any cool points at all. When I left, however, I started getting different reactions to the infamous Mermaid cup in my hand.

"Ugh, their coffee tastes terrible." "Those drinks are so overpriced." "You should really support local coffee shops instead."

Well, guess what? Now I live in Seattle, and Starbucks is our local coffee shop. The very first store opened a few miles from where I live. And while I've got plenty of delicious mom and pop shops here to select from (and I admit that I prefer some of them to Starbucks), I still spend plenty of time and cash on Mermaid cups. And I always will. And here's what I have to say to the nay-sayers' comments:

1)      Starbucks coffee tastes terrible. This is a matter of personal tastes, of course. And I admit that, while I brew a delicious pot of Sumatra roast at home, sometimes their in-store brew isn't awesome. But I happen to think their Americanos, lattes and frappuccinos are fantastic. And even better than that, they're consistent. No offense to local coffee shops, but I have yet to find one that will give me the same exact damn mocha every time. I like to know that my beverage I am spending $5 on will be a tasty one.
Disclaimer: It's true that Starbucks tends to taste better in Washington State and the further you get from Washington, the more risk you take with your beverage. I'm looking at you, Florida.

2)      Starbucks is overpriced. The expression "you get what you pay for" applies here. Most frilly fancy coffee drinks are expensive, and Starbucks is no exception. And it's true that CEO Howard Schultz is an ultra mega billionaire who rakes in the profits off his coffee beans. BUT. Guess where else your money goes? To the employees. They're paid more than minimum wage, they're treated well (for an example of a company that treats employees like shit, Google all the dirt on Forever XXI), and they're given health insurance benefits if they work 30 or more hours per week. In fact, Starbucks spends $300 million a year on health benefits. I'll happily pay an extra 50 cents for my Americano for that, thank you very much.

3)      Local coffee shops should be supported. Starbucks is local to me now. But even when it wasn't, they were still my first choice. Why? Let's be honest. Most little espresso stands on the side of the road do not have employees who were carefully trained on how to properly make a shot of espresso (it's an art, people). The result is a drink that tastes like moldy ass. I'd really rather not gamble with my coffee. I take my caffeine seriously. Everyone has a choice on what they drink. I will choose Starbucks.

Now, I realize that Starbucks is a corporation and the entire coffee business is far from ethical, about one step above blood diamonds, and needs to be reformed. But I don't think this company is even close to the worst offender. Here are other reasons why I think Starbucks is getting it right:

Their baristas are friendly. Since moving here a year ago, I have not once walked into the Starbucks by my home or work and not been greeted with a seemingly sincere smile. Not once have I been given an attitude for asking a question or received anything short of stellar service. Even if they're having a bad day and secretly want to punch me, they don't show it.

They go above and beyond. One of my Facebook friends recently said the people at the local coffee shop he's frequented for years still don't know or care who the hell he is, while he can walk into Starbucks on any given day and be greeted by name with his drink started. Recently, my building lost power and all 398734875 of us had to stand outside in the pouring rain while maintenance tried to figure it out. The Starbucks employees across the street rushed out right away with free coffee (with cream and sugar) and pastries for us. Are you kidding me? I dare you to find any other business that would do that.

In 2008, when Howard Schultz returned at the Starbucks CEO, he recognized the problems the company was having as the economy was tanking. He took an enormous profit loss, shut down every single store for half a day, and re-trained every single employee. He also lost more millions when he flew every single store manager out to a conference to give them a pep talk, where he shed tears. There's not a lot of love for Schultz here in Seattle because of the way the Sonics deal was handled. I respect that. But I also respect Schultz. I've had the pleasure of seeing him speak when he came to our company one day to give us an amazing Q&A, and I truly believe he's doing a lot right.

No high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used in their products. Now, have enough frappuccinos and scones and you'll be an unhealthy fatty. Sugar and fat are no bueno. But knowing that my occasional white chocolate Americano won't give me a heart attack on the spot is kind of nice.

So go ahead, fling your Starbucks hatred at me and preach to me about locals and values and what constitutes crappy coffee. I'll hold up my Mermaid cup with my delicious brew and toast my local coffee shop, Starbucks.
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