A tale of Two Starbucks

So I just got back from a trip yesterday. Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) and I took the Coast Starlight Amtrak down to Martinez, CA (just outside Oakland, basically). Had a sleeper for the overnight portion. Utterly lovely. At Martinez, we swapped for an inland train that was more direct, running to Bakersfield, then hopping aboard a bus and got into LA at a little after 4pm day 2. (Had we stayed on the Starlight, we would have gotten there about 9pm, so worth the swap.)

Met an awesome guy on the train. He is a professional golf pro and we talked to him for several hours. All in all a wonderful thing.

Spent a couple of days in LA visiting a niece and her boyfriend, before renting a car and driving to Vegas to see an adoptive sister.

Because we were staying in the Thousand Oaks area (way out west in the valley), we went over the top on I-5 and then 14, and across the top of the mountains, the day after Christmas, rather than trying to drive all the way across I-10 to get to I-15.

Stopped in Palmdale, CA. I needed caffeine, as both of us had come down with something yucky that is still working its way through the system today. We got to a Starbucks (3rd and Palmdale Blvd) just after a huge rush, but I wasn’t in much of a hurry, since I needed to stretch my legs, hit the restroom, etc.

They appeared to be short a person, since there were only three behind the counter, and both Jordan and Jackie apologized more than once that they couldn’t quite get to me, as they handled half a dozen food orders, and a full drive through, and everything else. Neither of them stopped moving once as I watched, and never put a foot wrong. It was rather mesmerizing to watch, because they were exactly the sort of quality service and cheerfulness that the Starbucks brand it built on. Forgot to grab the email of the district manager, but if anyone is in that area, feel free to point them to this blog.

The team eventually cleared the massive backlog, once Jordan managed all the food orders, then got my mocha going and had it done fast and perfect, and with a smile.

I walked out of that Starbucks with a smile on my face, because they had met and exceeded my expectations for the chain. Seriously.

So then we drove the rest of the way to Vegas. (Word of warning: don’t ever try this the day after Xmas, especially on a weekday. Everyone took off for vacation after seeing the family.)

To give you a feel for my trip, we hit Barstow at 2pm. There was a traffic jam on the interstate, starting just past the Outlet Mall exit. It ran for TWENTY-FIVE MILES. We finally broke free about Harvard Road (25 miles later) and it took 140 minutes to get that far (4:20 pm)

We were staying at the Golden Nugget, up at the north end of town. My wife’s semi-sister lives about five blocks away, so that was the most convenient place. After an eight hour drive, I crashed and then got up the next morning for fuel. Did a double-mocha just for the extra surge of power.

After Palmdale, and a fantastic Starbucks, the one in the lobby at the Nugget has got to be the worst experience I have ever had with the chain. Plus I live in Seattle, and used to work close enough to Corporate Headquarters downtown that I could walk down and get coffee at that store.

I paid $6 for a half-full, unstirred, double mocha, delivered by a surly barista and a crew that were as “whatever” as I have ever seen. We weren’t staying in town long enough for it to matter, but I’ll be walking down to the store on Fremont, next time I’m in Vegas, just because the service at the Golden Nugget’s Starbucks was so shitty.

Why does this matter? (I had a long day yesterday, with the flight and the wait at the airport, so I did some processing.)

Starbucks is not coffee. They serve coffee, yes, but Howard Schultz (the man who created the concept) is about the EXPERIENCE of a good, Italian coffee shop, where you come in and are treated a certain way. Palmdale was everything that a Starbucks is supposed to be, in spite of being in the middle of nowhere, in a strip mall filled with dollar stores and empty store fronts, in a part of town that was a little seedy.

That store was a bright spot. I had a smile at the way I was treated. I even tipped the staff, using the little phone app. That was the first time I’ve done that in forever. Nuff said?

Vegas was horrible. The coffee was mediocre. The service was bad. The experience was atrocious.

You are in a service industry. Coffee is just the medium of communication. My bad memories will last.

I think about these things, because I am a writer. My words are the entertainment for my fans, so I need to make sure you have a good experience when you open one of my books. It might not be your taste in story, but I can’t control that. If you wanted a historical romance, I am exactly the wrong person to read. But if you just want a fun story with interesting people, that I can control. You might even enjoy it.

Consistency is the key, in both endeavors.

The rest of the trip was amazing fun. Good people. Haven’t been in LA in ages, and certain parts of it have gentrified.

And I remember Vegas from the early 90’s, back before it got Disneyfied. Almost unrecognizable. And it’s gone white bread, white-picket-fence. Saw ads for Maroon 5 and Jay Leno doing New Years Eve shows, and flash back to the old days where every twenty yards as you walked on the strip, someone would hand you free passes or ads for “Gentlemen’s Clubs” you should visit.

But it was fun.

What was your Christmas like?