Archive for August, 2013

FACT FOLLOWS FICTION

Is Starbucks ripping me off? Is a giant corporation picking on—or more accurately, picking the brains of—a little guy? Is the announcement made by Starbucks last Tuesday—which turns fiction into fact—just a coincidence?

Fact: Starbucks will launch its first store in Colombia, the South American coffee-growing nation that gave us Juan Valdez. They’ll open in Bogotá in 2014.

Fact: My last novel, San Café, tells the satiric story of a retail coffee giant, Mobys. It’s pure fiction. But what does that mean? Fiction—even fantasy—reflects the world in which we live and particularly human nature. As it happens, Mobys enters its one-hundredth country by opening a store in the Republic of San Cristo, a coffee-dominated nation nicknamed San Café. Moreover, Mobys has major interests in San Cristo, just as Starbucks is involved in Colombia’s coffee industry.

Fact: I was first with the concept of a giant coffee company finally opening a store in a nation, which supplies many of its beans.

Fact: Starbucks’ marketing staff hasn’t thanked me for the inspiration—or even offered a token of its appreciation. Cash would be nice. A gift card would do. Of course, selling San Café in all its stores would really show good faith.

I’m not saying that I’ll sue. But the parallels are, shall we say, interesting. As of 2012, Starbucks had 18,000 locations worldwide with 200,000-plus employees. Revenues totaled $13.3 billion. Mobys? I quote San Café: “Mobys’ operations, even after a modest restructuring, included 15,000 owned or licensed stores, kiosks and in-home dispensaries. If [Chairman Whitman] Scharq was proud of anything, it was soccer moms, stay-home dads and stuck-in-the-job-search unemployed of all demographics hustling a little extra cash by selling coffee out of their garages and living rooms.”

Alas, I’m not at liberty to reveal Mobys’ number of employees, revenues or the status of its Yo Mobys! and ¡Mobys Aquí! handcarts promoting capitalism in the nation’s ghettos and barrios. Even fictional corporations have their secrets.

Fact: Starbucks sells a variety of products and owns Tazo Tea, Seattle’s Best Coffee and the La Boulange bakery chain. Mobys licenses logo-imprinted jewelry, school supplies, underwear, children’s toys and auto accessories. It also offers religious items to mega-church gift shops.

But wait. This Mobys information isn’t fact. It’s fiction. It just feels like fact. Because fact and fiction tend to merge—in either direction.

So maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe Starbucks’ Chairman Howard Schultz bears no resemblance to Whitman “The Great Whit” Scharq. Maybe Starbucks doesn’t run the government of Colombia. Maybe no bodies will show up in and around Bogotá as a response to Starbucks’ looming presence.

But, if Starbucks sends a retired Special Forces officer to honcho the security of the new store… if a leftist revolutionary who loves gourmet cooking announces he’s seeking the nation’s presidency… if Starbucks is cooking up an alternative energy source based on coffee… and if Schultz announces that the Pope will cut the ribbon at the Bogotá grand opening… the graffiti is on the wall. That’s my story.

And I’m sticking to it.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

To all of you observing the Jewish High Holy Days, I wish you a New Year (5774) of health, fulfillment and peace.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

A TALE OF THREE CITIES

I’ve been away for several weeks. My first of two trips took me with several friends on a tour of Midwest baseball parks. The stadiums are eye openers. So are their urban settings.

We flew to Detroit, but we stayed overnight in Dearborn. In spite of the comeback of the Big Three automakers and valiant efforts on the part of small-business developers (see “Chavez, Detroit and Me”), Detroit remains a foreboding city. Comerica Park where the Tigers play? A fantasy world! A huge plaza fronts Woodward Avenue, the Motor City’s main drag. Two huge lions grace the entry. Inside, the park gleams. It even contains a carousel.  Baseball games long ceased being just games. They’re spectacle-filled events.

Back to downtown Detroit. Yes, there’s Ford Field, home of the NFL Lions, and Joe Louis Arena (the NHL Red Wings) as well as the Detroit Opera, the Fox Theatre, Greektown and a pleasant walkway on the Detroit River. But the vast majority of Tiger fans come from the suburbs. A city that once housed over two million people is bankrupt and down to 700,000 residents plus 50,000 feral cats. That cats may someday outnumber people constitutes a real possibility.

After the game, we drove to Pittsburgh. Here we found another wonderful baseball cathedral, PNC Park. We also discovered a city that has reinvented itself. Pittsburgh faced the daunting challenge of a shrinking steel industry. But the city—now graced by clear blue skies—remains home to other major employers, including Heinz, PPG Industries and the PNC Financial Services Group. Westinghouse is headquartered in the suburbs. Then there’s the University of Pittsburgh and its massive medical center (over 50,000 employees) plus Carnegie-Mellon University. The city’s wealthy leaders, it seems, provided serious seed money for urban redevelopment, including repurposing old buildings as well as constructing new ones.

We took a bus tour. Obviously, the route didn’t include slums. It did include a healthy downtown, thriving nearby neighborhoods like the Strip, with its shops and restaurants, and the Southside with its new apartment complexes and bustling commercial streets. To a man, we were impressed. The question everyone has to ask: can Detroit find a model in Pittsburgh?

Some of us accidentally discovered a third city of note—this in addition to visiting Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. I turned onto the wrong highway to Chicago and had to detour on Broadway in Gary, Indiana. In 1960, Gary, a steel town, had 178,000 residents. Today, only 80,000 live in this Rust Belt “icon.” Two-and-a-half miles on Broadway revealed no more than half-a-dozen vehicles ahead. I also recall seeing only one open business—a gas station—though there could have been others. Broadway could have past for a post-apocalyptic movie setting. It made Detroit’s Woodward Avenue look like Times Square.

Three cities. Three stories. The heart of America’s heartland still beats, but its pulse is uneven at best. We who live in prosperous coastal cities may find “flyover country” easy to disregard. But these communities also are part of America. When we ignore their plight, we shame ourselves.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.