What He Said
Great post defending Ikea and Starbucks from the sneers
More importantly, I am also old enough to remember the swill that Americans drank and were pleased to call "coffee" before Howard Schultz swept down out of his damp PNW redoubt and clusterbombed us with franchises. It tasted like soggy cardboard, it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere. There simply was no alternative, let alone an entire alternative venue that also provided comfortable seating. At sixty or seventy-five cents, too, this "coffee" was no bargain - far better to my mind to pay twice that and get something consistently worth drinking.
Can you see that I'm really, really tired of people whining and complaining about the horrible, evil, monocultural, hegemonizing, bland, MOR grafted devil that is Starbucks? I mean, you try and find another place in Beijing, or on I-40 in the ass-end of nowhere, that rocks coffee this good.
Or at rest stops along I-80 in Ohio and I-70/76 in Pennsylvania. Is Starbucks the best place for coffee? No. Is it better than anything at a gas station/convenience store? Yes. Is it generally of reliable quality? Yes. Is there any other coffee shop within a 15-20 minute drive from where I live that I can get a better cup of coffee or espresso? No (not including my own house). That's why I keep ending up at Starbucks when I feel too lazy to do it myself.
Tales of Melwood Avenue
Boring college story time. Feel free to skip to the end to get to my point.
In my first senior year at Pitt
(that would be 1991-92), I lived in an apartment on Melwood Avenue
in the North Oakland area. Located between Centre Ave. and Baum Blvd., it was the perfect location for a college student. Within two blocks of the apartment were 4 bars, a grocery store, a beer distributor, a liquor store, hardware store, and a joint that served food until 4 am on the weekends. The apartments on the block were almost all student rentals. They weren't great places, but they served their purpose. No big surprise that most of the good stories invariably began: One night we were so drunk...
or some other variation.
I lived in a 4 bedroom apartment with 4 other guys, so rent was very reasonable.
Two guys shared the largest room in the front of the apartment by the door. They were really the only guys I knew going into the place. One had been a roommate at another apartment the previous year, and the other had taken the sublet at the last apartment over the summer. They had found the new roommates at the campus radio station and paper where they worked. Shawn was one of them, and we became great friends that continues to this day (helped by copious amounts of alcohol and the fact that we never shared an apartment again after that year). Shawn had the second room from the front door which had a long hall way. I had the third room by the bathroom. The hall emptied into the living room and there was a small kitchen with a back door to the fire escape where we would grill on a hibachi.
The other room was the smallest to the right of the kitchen from the living room. This was occupied by a guy named Rich.
The two stories in this post concern Rich. There are many other, better stories from that apartment and year, but tonight it's about Rich; and I only have two stories regarding him.
Rich was the kind of roommate you wanted. He was never around. He was in college for something, but was mainly in a band. As such he basically used the place as an occasional way station or stop by on his way somewhere else. He had at least one or two girlfriends going at any one time. They all seem to come from one of the nearby all girl's college
. One would be in tow if he stopped by to pick something up in the evening before disappearing for a few days. It was a small college, we never figured out how the girls didn't seem to know about the others. From time to time one would call looking for Rich. He never asked us to cover for him, but we were always capable of honestly answering that we didn't know where the hell he was. Lack of cell phones at the time was definitely an advantage for Rich.
Well Valentine's Day rolled around, and landed on a weekend. For once, I actually had a girlfriend for the day. The guys in the front apartment both had gone away for the weekend. Rich hadn't been seen in a week. Shawn was out with buddies drinking that night, and I was in the apartment with my girlfriend "Kim," after we had been at some fraternity event. It was around 1 am and we were in bed when the phone rang. I let the machine get it. No message. About 20 minutes later, the same thing. Ten minutes after that it started ringing again.
Still, a bit drunk and very pissed about the continual interruptions, I picked up the cordless phone by the bed, "This had better be good!" I shouted into the phone.
Finally a very soft, timid voice, "Is -- is Rich there?"
It was one of his girlfriends. Obviously not his current favorite if she was trying to find him on Valentine's Day. I was not in a mood to be polite, though, "No! Haven't seen him for a couple days."
"Are you sure?" She asked, still very softly.
Am I sure?
Incredible. She either wasn't too bright, or totally, pathetically in love. "Yeah, pretty f***in' sure."
"Could you check his room?"
"What? Could I-- oh, motherf***ing, god damned, son of a bitch, s**t, piss, f**k," and a blue streak of Carlin's expanded list of bad words I shouted into the phone as I left the bed, pulled on a pair of boxers, and walked over the Rich's room. Banging on the door, then opening it, "Rich! Rich! Are you here! No?
"He's not here. You happy now!"
Even softer, more timid, sounding like she was going to cry, "Thank you. Sorry." 67
My night was pretty much shot after that.
In late March, I was coming back from classes in the afternoon. Taped to the front of our apartment door is an eviction notice. There were additional copies under the door for everyone. This is a surprise. As these are all student rented apartments, everyone sends in their rent on their own generally -- just note your apartment and they do the rest. No need to try and collect from everyone at the beginning of the month. The rental office was half a block away, so I usually walked mine over there. It was the standard 5-day notice to cure or vacate. The notice didn't say who hadn't paid, but the amount was a little more than a month's rent.
I walked over to the office, and asked about this. They informed me that the hadn't received a rent check from Rich in 4 months. This was a problem. I told them, we would take care of this quickly.
I went back to the apartment and was confronted by one of the guys from the first room. He asked what was going on. I told him that I just came from the office and that it was Rich.
"Well, where's Rich?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen him for a week. Haven't you seen him at the radio station?"
"No. I don't think he even does anything anymore."
"Well, we need to find him. I don't have an extra $750 dollars."
Needless to say, we didn't have a clue. He didn't come back that night.
The next morning I went back to the rental office. I asked the lady who I spoke to yesterday for our rental application. There were our permanent home addresses and phone numbers. I took down Rich's info and called his parents who lived outside of Pittsburgh.
I first asked if Rich was there. When he wasn't, and they didn't know where I could reach him, I informed his father of the eviction notice.
His father was skeptical, "He gets the money every month."
"Well, sir, he hasn't given it to the agency. Everyone else is paid according to their records."
A big sigh, "Okay, give me their address and phone number and I'll take care of it. I'm sorry about this.
"Thank you, Mr. Rust."
Rich's father paid the deficiency.
Rich actually confronted me a week later. Surprisingly, he was pissed at me for calling his folks.
"If there's a problem, don't bring my parents into it. Just talk to me"
I was sitting on the couch with a beer, "Gee, Rich, how were we supposed to get in touch with you to get the rent?"
Silent glowering for a minute.
"Well just don't call them again."
"Then pay your rent and leave the numbers of all the girls you could be spending the night at."
He stared at me, and then went into his room for about 10 minutes before leaving. I think I saw Rich two more times before the semester ended. He subletted his room for the summer.
I know, they aren't great stories but they were the only real memories about Rich that I have. I actually hadn't thought about him for years, until Shawn called me. He came across Rich's obituary. He was not yet 33. Rich had melanoma cancer. He even had his own web site. He leaves behind a wife, a 2-year-old daughter, and an unborn son.
I haven't been posting much here for the last week or so. I have had a post in mind, but haven't done it yet. Essentially, I told myself no real posting on other things until that post is written. So, I haven't posted much except little time killers. Like this.
Kind of surprised I didn't get classified as Alexander Hamilton