Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

Cycling confessions

November 2, 2012

What every cyclist needs: a confession booth

Currently, the mood in cycling is one of revelation: I took drugs, I was on the books of a notorious Spanish doctor, I couldn’t help noticing Lance thought Bobby Julich was a bit dull. That sort of thing. But it’s not just the pros who have had something to hide. I, too, have harboured dreadful secrets. And now, pausing only to offer sincere apologies to those I may have hurt by not speaking out sooner, I shall now unburden myself of the guilt that has wracked my conscience. In return, I ask you to find the compassion in your hearts to forgive me for breaking some of cycling’s strictest edicts…

I do not drink coffee. There – I’ve said it. Drinking coffee makes me more tired by the end of the day, and I don’t miss the hit or the taste. More importantly, I came to realise why coffee lovers talk about which brands they prefer without usually discussing the differences: it’s because all types of bean juice taste roughly the same. Seriously, they do. Starbucks and your favourite independent coffee house both leave, quite literally, a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s just a slightly different bitterness. So have a tea instead, guys! Any tea! Black tea, green tea, fruit teas – there’s a lot more variety. And greater variety means more opportunities to indulge in cyclists’ favourite pastime: arbitrary snobbery. You can’t lose!

I have never looked at a carbon Colnago with envy. They look fine. Perfectly fine. Not beautiful, stunning, amazing, awesome, just… OK. Like a nice fitted kitchen or a sensible hat. To me, they appear to be just another assemblage of carbon tubes, but without the futuristic wowness of, say, a Felt, or the old-school romanticism of a hand-built steel frame. They’re sit somewhere in between. With an Italian name. Total whatevvs.

I don’t want to ride the Etape. One of my favourite pieces of cycling-related prose is Bill Strickland’s pithy, insightful and funny article on the Etape du Tour, which appeared in Rouleur’s 2008 photo annual. Bill evokes the event as a kind of living trance, where the landscape and your fellow riders recede from your immediate perception, thereby provoking a reckoning with yourself. And I can relate to that; I’m just pretty sure I don’t want or need that experience from a sportive. I think sportives should be pleasant jaunts around unfamiliar locales, and the Etape always looks far too over-populated and bloody serious to provide that sort of ride. Also, for me, riding a stage from the actual Tour de France without the speed or ability of a pro would be like running around Wembley Stadium while pretending to kick an invisible football. For these reasons, I am never going to ride the Etape.

I’m not that bothered either way about disc brakes or electronic shifting. I think I’m supposed to feel strongly one way or the other, aren’t I? I just can’t muster the effort, fellas. I’m sorry. Look, if the industry wants it to happen, it will happen. One set of aesthetic values will shift to accommodate another. And if you’re a diehard fan of rim braking or analogue gears, then you’ll probably be able to stick with them. Bicycles will still be able to start and stop. Them wheels will keep on turning. Let’s all have a group hug and try not to fight about it, OK?

Not talking of Michelangelo

February 19, 2012

Last summer, I was sitting by the pool of a modest three-star hotel in northern Italy when a clubmate mentioned riding to Florence. A few dozen of us were going to participate in the Nove Colli, a 124-mile bicycle ride through the late Marco Pantani’s hilly backyard in Cesenatico, and Florence was another 90 miles away. Would I really want to sacrifice vital pool-lounging time to ride an extra 180 miles? A silly question: of course I would. We’re talking about Florence, the city of angels and gods, a place where centuries-old representations of divinity are scattered around cathedrals, churches, public squares, everywhere. It is a place of gawping and wonderment, even if you never get to see the poised, uber-human form of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia – and clomping around a gallery in cleats is an impractical idea anyway, even if we did find somewhere safe to leave our bikes. But we’d be tired after such a long ride, and we wouldn’t have much time to spare, so I asked what in particular my cyclechums planned to see.

The answer? Nothing. The idea was just to ride there, have a coffee, and ride back again. Experiencing Florence for what it is – the world’s most abundant repository of beauty – was simply not on the agenda. But coffee was.

So if, by some miracle, this colourful fragment of the blogosphere’s fresco is being scrutinised after the apocalypse, I would like to suggest to the scholarly descendants of the few who survived that the collapse of civilization did not begin with the groan and judder of the global economy, but with the notion that we didn’t need to bother with the heart-stopping awesomeness of art; we could make do with crushed beans, boiling water and hot, frothy cow juice instead.

I realise that some of the flat white fraternity may lob the ugly accusation of anti-coffeeism at me, so let me just say for the record that some of my best friends are black-liquidistas. And, as a modern cycleperson, I have been known to happily participate in the simple post-ride pleasure of a coffee and a chinwag. But I find it baffling how drinking coffee has been stealthily elevated from banal ritual to cultural display. Plugging his new e-book in The Times last week, Will Self noted that art, film, literature and theatre once constituted culture, but thanks to an emergent interest in dining out, “all you needed to be cultured in the late 1990s was a small bowl of extra-virgin olive oil and some warm Italian bread to dab in it”. Now, it seems, the notion of culture has devolved even further: I have friends and acquaintances who talk and tweet about bean water with the same passion and enthusiasm that was once reserved for books, movies and music. In fact, I can’t recall any of them being as excited about, say, a new album or novel as they have been about a newly-discovered coffee outlet or a half-decent barista. The brewed awakening of the early ’90s, which began when American coffee shops appeared on British streets, gave us beverages that tasted better; perhaps it also inadvertently eroded some people’s willingness, in the cultural sense, to cultivate taste.

But hey, you don’t need art when just sitting in a coffee shop can make you feel all arty and creative. Chris Ward, a man who I have spent many a mile pedalling alongside on London Dynamo rides, has written a book about working from coffee shops, in which he notes that “writers, actors, artists etc don’t work in an office – so why are you?” Perhaps one response to this conundrum is that many Starbucks-bound writers would love an empty office to work in, and you can’t rehearse a soliloquy or create a sculpture in the middle of Caffè Nero. But if you want to feel really clever, why not visit Prufrock? The name comes from a T. S. Eliot poem – you know, the one that goes: “In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.” I just hope that the eponymous narrator – a sexually frustrated social inadequate who measures out his life “with coffee spoons” – doesn’t reflect how the company views its target customer. Or maybe they’re banking on their punters not knowing too much about poetry.

As for that bike ride to Florence… well, we never went in the end. I guess the appeal of coffee, even to its most ardent fans, has its limits after all.

Dynamightgiveitamiss No.1: A new ‘c’ word

January 4, 2011

“So where do you want to meet?”
“Well, you could come round to the Coffice.”
“The what?”
“The Coffice. It’s a coffee shop.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, it’s actually a branch of a coffee shop chain, but I take my laptop to do some work there, so I call it the Coffice.”
“Er, right. So Starbucks at 12, yes?”
“Sounds good. Twelve pm. In my Coffice.”
“In Starbucks, you mean.”
“I prefer to call it the Coffice. Because it’s like an office, but in a coffee shop. You mix the words together and make a new one. It’s creative. You see?”
“Well, yes, I understand the general concept of how portmanteau words come into being, and the English language is endlessly malleable, but there’s really no point in inventing a new term if the end result makes your meaning less precise. If you mean Starbucks, just say ‘Starbucks’. Or if you want to meet in Costa, just say ‘Costa’. ‘Coffice’ could mean anywhere. And it sounds ugly and joyless. Like ‘coffin’.”
“Hmph. That’s just the typical narrow-minded thinking of your average office drone. I’m a Coffice worker, pal. I can work anywhere – well, I say anywhere, but obviously it has to be somewhere with decent wifi access – and I make my own rules. There are millions of us. Just you wait until Chris Ward publishes his book about Coffice working. The guy’s made millions, and he’s mates with Fiona Phillips and Jamie Theakston, and he helped get Tony Blair elected or something.”
“Ah, I see. So you don’t think this guy is overstating the extent of this supposedly huge change in working practices chiefly as a means to sell books? And how would ordinary customers feel if – or when – the place they go to for a quiet coffee becomes a squat for pushy entrepreneurs?”
“Every revolution has its casualties, my friend.”
“About that meeting. On second thought, come round to mine for coffee. I’ve just bought a Nespresso, so we can probably get some work done in the kiffice.”

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