Sunday, October 26, 2014

Urban Beans Coffeeneuring #4: Living Local

Urban Beans building being eaten by cats claw vine (desert-loving green and alive)***

In the Tim Burton movie "Dark Shadows," Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp) is released from his locked up coffin, rapidly dispatches and exsanguinates the construction guys who set him free from 196 years of hungry confinement, then gazes upon the first of many modern sights which provide fodder for the clanky, campy jokes that make this movie so bad: face illuminated in the darkness by a bright and garish light, he sees a McDonald's golden arches sign, and says, "Mephistopheles."

This is hell envisioned as emerging from a locked metal box after a long journey, famished, to consume and devour whatever is put before you as quickly as possible, with little savor or enjoyment, and then to repeat the same over, and over, forever, as one of billions of insatiable cogs in a giant factory machine which profits the few at the expense (economic, spiritual, intellectual) of everyone else. From the available evidence of where we shop, where we eat, how we commute, what we listen to (check out the documentary film The Destruction of Sound), the technology we constantly buy and throw away, and how we live in general, this is not science fiction, or social satire, or dire warning, but rather history, biography, documentary.

It's down to choice, the zillions of small ones people make constantly, every day: where do people choose to shop, what do they eat, how do they commute, what smashed down dead-sounding MP3 are they downloading to their device that they're going to discard to the gadget bin soon as the newest model comes out and listening to with overpriced junk headphones with some flash in the pan mogul's name on them, what generic hell do they choose to take a selfie in each vanilla moment? To illustrate:

Urban Beans on the right, massive global OK chain coffee outlet on the left: with neighbors like these...

I'm no locovore purist, but I try to do my part. The bike I rode over here, for example, was made in China with parts from other Asian countries, while I could have conceivably chosen to buy and ride something like a Coconino Cycles bike over here. I guess I could have ridden one of my three mostly Made in America bikes, but they still wouldn't qualify as local. Dinner last night, though, consisted of squash from Crooked Sky Farms, with a salad that included kale and beets from Duncan Family Farms. Those were our choices. 

Given the street scene above, though, this question boggles my mind: why in the world would someone choose the coffee outlet on the left when they could go to Urban Beans instead? I don't actually know for sure. I mean, I understand it has to do with marketing, familiarity, habit, comfort, brand identification, and whatnot, but I don't actually know. At some point, the decision really ought to include a product comparison, and in this respect, I do know, I can be crystal clear with unboggled mind: Urban Beans is better.

Urban Beans coffee: Better

The mass chain is OK. They have to be. If they somehow devolved to be Not OK*, if they suddenly experienced widespread health code violations or massive product recalls or sudden catastrophic drops in consistent product quality, business would suffer. But what a hellacious job that would be, making sure every day that quality is still OK at tens of thousands of outlets around the globe, ensuring that the modest level of quality and consistency required to retain repeat customers and to ensnare new ones at rates which result in healthy quarterly reports is nurtured. 

Most importantly, though, they have to motivate the masses to make the choice, or better yet to develop the habit of becoming regular customers, so that they descend like locusts upon their outlets during each hour of operation. "How was your uber choco moca latte?" "It was OK!" High praise indeed, music to the ears of a franchisee.**

Sometimes when I want easy, convenient, familiar, OK, I'll stop at a mass outlet. But I do not make it a habit. In fact, I conscientiously avoid developing it as a habit. I've made certain local outlets habitual lunch stops in the past--Los Compadres on 7th Ave, Original Burrito Company in Ahwatukee, Tudo Vietnamese (I miss you!) on 19th Ave are three examples where I ate more or less the same thing at lunch for months on end, and loved it--but I, along with my family who feels the same, avoid making a habit of the mass outlets. We hunger for more than OK/ same/ familiar/ cheap and easy.

Why? Lots of reasons, but to sum up: I prefer transactions between neighbors who know each other, with the proceeds staying local, than those between number-like economic units with the proceeds going elsewhere. It feels better to me, it seems more soulful and whole, if I can say that. And nine times out of ten, it tastes better, too.

Urban Beans ambiance shot

Bike parking: one M rack

A one bridge coffeeneuring ride

11.5 miles ridden to coffeeneur local. The main point here is not about purity of shopping, since we live in a global economy, it's about mindful choice over mindless habit leading to superior products plus stronger local living. I know that it's possible and often permissible to live out of a motorhome that parks in big box parking lots each night with pantries stocked efficiently with affordable OK products, but that's not for me. 

I prefer biting into a local, in-season apple, sitting in the shade of a mesquite bosque, in the middle of a long bike ride. That's not for everyone, and that's the point: it's what nurtures me. It's what sets my soul free. It's what takes my thoughts to new places, and sometimes makes me uniquely me. If that makes me a round peg that has trouble fitting through the square doors of mass franchise outlets, I'm OK with that.  

*In the early 2000s, among parents who wanted to discipline their children while not sounding overly judgmental or cruel, the acceptable and oft-used admonition was "That is NOT OK." A child reared during those years grew to mildly worry occasionally that something they did or said would not be OK. Mass outlets of consumer products still live in fear that somehow something they do, sell, or say will render them NOT OK. Yikes.

**I understand that with the right code words during this season of the year, one might obtain a BOGO PSL at the chain. Sometimes, the universe does smile upon us.

***The shop and the neighborhood have changed. I posted about Urban Beans three years ago, and some of the changes are obvious in comparison.

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