“Convenience” for Whom?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Before sitting down at my desk in the garden, I caffeinate myself at the local convenience store, which is about a block away. Despite the cost, and the watery quality, this is more convenient for me than making the coffee myself, which is work: I have to grind the coffee, keep beans stocked, clean the cup and the potMR SUBLIMINAL Ha ha, you never clean the pot! and also wait for the drip process to complete. That’s a big ask for somebody who’s barely conscious. However, I think the real reason I go to the store is for a bit of physical human contact, even of the most fleeting and commercial kind, before I put my head down over the keyboard.

The convenience store is at an Irving gas station in a Circle K, and alert reader barrisj gave an excellent description of the Irving oil dynasty just the other day. Slightly modified:

[T]here is an intriguing article in the April edition of Le Monde Diplomatique (Maine coverage here) devoted to the Irving family of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where the province is likened to a wholly owned subsidiary of the privately-held conglomerate. Oil, timber, and mining are amongst its huge holdings, and the Irvings have been making strong moves for some years now to “colonize” Maine as well. Rebuffed initially by the Maine legislature to “open up” Bald Mountain to copper and zinc mining, the Irvings are hard at it to gain permitting rights through extensive lobbying and cultivating “relationships” with willing politicos. The company has already received large concessions in timberland, and presently is the largest private landowner in the state.

If one isn’t a resident of Maine, it’s a “who knew?” story of how a foreign conglomerate can create a substantial economic and political footprint in a state eager to promote “jawbs-jawbs-jawbs” to boost local economies.

And alert reader eg:

The Irvings are a deeply repugnant hive of destructive selfishness. Of course they decamped from Canada for tax purposes — would that they had taken their environmental rapine with them…

The Circle K that I enter is owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard, controlled by Alain Bouchard. So, having passed the gasoline pumps owned by a ginormous multinational controlled by one Canadian squillionaire family that has colonized Maine, I have entered a convenience store owned by second ginormous multinational controlled by a second Canadian squillionaire family that has colonized Maine. Of course, I could take an extra ten minutes — five minutes out, five minutes back — to a locally owned coffee shop, but that wouldn’t be… convenient.

So here is the future according to Canadian multinational squillionaires. (Sorry for the somewhat inferior quality of the shots; I can never hold the iPad Pro quite straight.)

Globalization. “Nicaraguan Reserve.” I always get the globalized brand, not because it tastes any less watery than the other Circle K coffees (it doesn’t), but because I figure I might as well send some money, no matter how trivial the amount, down the supply chain to some Nicaraguan coffee farmer. What I don’t understand is Circle K’s reasoning. They are no slouches in the marketing and inventory control departments, so the Nicaraguan (or Costa Rican) must be selling, but why is that? Are they selling to the more aspirational Circle K customer? Or to Latinx customers? Or is it one of those deals where you have the high end product so people buy the mid-range instead? But the price of all coffees is the same. In any case, the beans made it all the way from Central America to the middle of Maine. We’re so convenient, we’re practically Davos!

Loyalty. It used to be that I had a paper loyalty card that the cashier punched on every purchase (the sixth one is free!) Now the only loyalty cards are plastic ones that you scan after buying gas, and I don’t buy gas. But the cashier explained I could, as in the picture, punch in a (which doesn’t mean “my”) phone number instead. Which is far less convenient, being slower, than the punch card, and also makes me interact with a screen, not a human (you can see how the screen cuts off the cashier’s head). The up side (or down side, depending) is that the phone number is a primary key, but the system doesn’t check for uniqueness. So either I get a coffee before I have really “earned” it, or the other person (people?) with the same number I gave are getting the coffee I earned. And how convenient is that?

Loyalty. Finally, you can rate the transaction immediately after completing it, and you can bet the cashier’s ratings are cumulated and go right up to corporate. I really, really hate this, and I never, ever use it. Rating convenience store transactions on a five-point scale? Like, “the most excellent convenience transactions EVAH”? Really? I’m going to down-rate some poor schlub, and maybe make them lose their job — cascading downward to school, house, children, etc. — because I had to wait an extra three seconds because they fumbled cracking the plastic on a tube of coins? That would be BAD. It also slows down the transaction, already slowed by punching in my loyalty code, and further slowed, if I forgot to bring cash, by the new mills-of-God chip in my card. This sick optimization may be convenient for Alimentation Couche-Tard’s MBAs, but it isn’t convenient for me.

Anyhow, this is the future the squillionaires want: A globalized product line, every transaction trackable to an individual, and every employee subject to the most trivial whims of “I’ll call the manager!” [glass bowls]. Yay!

* * *

I don’t have much of a conclusion, except to note the creeping, dystopian crapification; all these changes took place in the last year. Readers, are there other less than convenient interactions that you are having with multinationals owned by squillionaire familes?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

90 comments

  1. Bruce

    Ur doing it wrong. The Canadian squillionaires are running a shell game, and their hands are moving so fast, you don’t know which shell the pea is under. Nicaraguan coffee? Costa Rican coffee? It’s probably the same damn corporate coffee. At least you didn’t give them your real phone number.

    Some instant coffees are very good these days. Maxwell House was good enough for my Mom, who did the shopping in that house. I like Medaglia D’Oro instant espresso, three teaspoons in the mug, some boiling water, but leaving room for a scoop of ice cream. Minimal corporate interaction.

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      Really, French press is just about as convenient as instant if you don’t worry too much about cleaning the thing out.

      But I do the same thing as Lambert, walk to coffee for some morning human contact break from solitary work at the computer. Except I do walk the distance for a decent cup.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I fold a filter cone into a Vietnamese tin one-cup coffee maker. I make one cup at a time. One ‘advantage’ besides the lower cost and relative speed of the effort — I can use the paper and coffee grounds for compost. I use an electric pot to boil the water but if speed really is of-the-essence a Japanese hot water pot keeps water hot throughout the day. This is especially convenient if you shift to tea after a coffee startup.

        Reply
          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I don’t know. I used to use a plastic Melita cone and then saw these tin coffee makers at the Chinese market near where I lived. I got one and took the cover off the top and the coffee press out of the Vietnamese coffee maker. As long as I’m careful, I can use one finger to fold a Melita type cone to fit, set the gadget over my cup, add a measure of the coffee I like and slowly pour hot water through the coffee and filter into my cup. I use the tin cone replacement because of all the fuss about plastics. Besides — I couldn’t find my old plastic cone or a replacement at reasonable price.

            Reply
      2. wilroncanada

        As do I, Joe, out here on a farwest Island. Little villag /mill town, three coffee shops to choose from. I do them in rotation, one each day.

        Reply
    2. lyman alpha blob

      My thoughts exactly on the coffee – why assume they are telling the truth about its provenance?

      Used to work for a seafood wholesaler in Portland who supplied one of the first “localvore” restaurants up the coast a bit before “localvore” even became a thing. They grew most of their own produce on the restaurant grounds which you could walk through on the way in and endeavored to source their meat locally as well. Took Mrs. Blob there one night and the meal was delicious, but I had to chuckle to myself when the waiter told us the chef had caught the mackerel that very day, since my company had shipped it to them earlier. It was high quality and very fresh though, that I knew.

      If a really nice local restaurant will bend the truth on occasion, surely Canadian squillionaires selling watered down coffee would twist it into a pretzel at any opportunity if they thought it might increase sales.

      Reply
  2. bun

    a new word must be coined to describe that filthy dirty liquid dispensed in convenience stores.

    Do try again to enjoy the morning coffee ritual: clean, grind, smell the aroma of freshly ground coffee, load, heat, wait in eager anticipation as you do some stretches to get your body going, foam milk (I use a coffee press plunger – works great), pour, enjoy :-) I often get my coffee and go sit out front – people going by usually smile as they see a big grin on my face. The reward can be great as you use it to reset your body and get ready for the day.

    p.s. as a Canadian, know that we too are no fans of the Irvings, and it’s sad that they are decamping for your lovely state. as we Canucks are fond to say – “sorry”.

    Reply
    1. Cal2

      Coffee press? Beware of nasty chemicals in even organic coffee that paper filters trap. You are getting that chemical “kick” w/o the filter.
      https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pressed-coffee-going-mainstream-drink-201604299530

      Pesticide residues still go through any filter. Go organic.

      The best coffee maker we have ever had is a Chemex. Family owned company too! https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/

      Their filters produce the smoothest brew IMHO, and there’s zero contact between boiling water and Chinese plasticizers, as there is Mr. X coffeemaker. Easy to compost, wrap the filter abound the grounds.
      BTW Lambert, that black sludge on the bottom of the Mr. X carafe is a mixture of always dribbled coffee from the valve on the bottom of the filter basket and toxic Teflon from the nonstick heated pad. The design of the carafe guarantees that it will drip, maybe into your cup, thus your kidneys, when you pour–definitely onto your food prep areas.

      A good locally owned coffeehouse is a marvelous thing. Consider the extra time to go there and make face to face contact with your neighbors. Revolutions and Lloyd’s of London were started in coffee houses. Doubt circle K has started anything, except tumors, from their frozen made in China factory food. Read the labels, it’s there if you search for it.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith

        That is medical scareongering:

        “Five to eight cups a day of unfiltered coffee may actually raise your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.”

        1. Cholesterol has been debunked as a culprit in heart disease.

        2. Over five cups a day of coffee is on the very high end of consumption.

        Reply
  3. Eugene

    Go to Costco, buy 3 lbs of your favorite flavor, grind to your liking, go home, put it in a glass container, put in the freezer, use as directed in you coffee maker. It works for me, 80+ years here on this globe. Of course, you can also buy those little plastic things they sell with the coffee grounds already in there. Even a blind man can make coffee with them. Cheers

    Reply
    1. polecat

      Hear here
      Come on Lambert .. making coffee is not that hard ..
      Plus, the leftover grounds are a great addition to your compost … you Do compost, do you not ??

      ‘sigh’ …..

      Reply
        1. CraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazyChris

          This all begs the question, what do you put in the water in the Water Cooler? It’s delicious, by the way.

          Reply
  4. Bruce

    “Madame Cashier, I’m prepared to rate you a 5, most excellent, for your handling of this transaction, but there’s something I want you to do for me first. I want you to don this plastic cow head and moo for my camera. It’s OK ma’am, I have a whole Youtube channel, Farmer Brucie, with nothing but over 100 other local salespeople doing the same thing. You’re gonna get half a million impressions in the next 48 hours, but your identity won’t be revealed. There, that’s a good girl, a little louder please.”

    Reply
  5. JEHR

    Well, you know with globalization, our squillionaires are your squillionaires: the Kochs made off with mighty fortunes from the Tar Sands so maybe we are even?

    Reply
  6. Ignacio

    Next time take those extra 10 minutes to the local coffee shop and start a conversation there. Those extra minutes will be more valuable than 1000 visits to the convenience shop. When I enter a shop, any shop, and feel it as alienating as you have described this one, I don’t repeat.

    Reply
    1. clarky90

      It has taken me many many years to get to this. My youngest brother (60 yo) was threatening (for months!) to commit suicide. Exasperated, I said, “find a congregation!” (He and his wife are shut-ins. I had run out of “choose life” arguments). Then I said to him, out of nowhere, “where two or three are gathered together in My Name,…” At that moment I felt my heart well up, and I teared up. I, also, had to find others to “gather” with.

      Within two weeks, I joined a little Greek Orthodox Church in my town. Four or five of us have “good-enough” coffee at McDonalds after Sunday service. I visit my patron on Wednesday evenings. I meet with our old (and good) priest for an hour on Thursday afternoon.

      The interior of our church is covered with icons. Our Church is always full (the heavenly host?), even when I am the only person there.

      This old, proven, technology……………………………

      The Orthodox Divine Liturgy in Greek
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVNmXFdo0Fc

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Next time take those extra 10 minutes to the local coffee shop and start a conversation there.

      I do this in the afternoon when I am conscious and temporarily done with work.

      Reply
  7. Carla

    Melitta one-cup plastic gizmo to hold a #2 cone-shaped brown paper filter (also can be Melitta, or some cheaper brand). Put two tablespoons coffee in there (fine grind works best, pre-ground is perfectly okay). Boil water in kettle. Pour boiling water slowly over the coffee grounds. Excellent! Easy as instant but far better.

    Lambert — this could be your favorite part: since you used a brown paper filter, the filter and ground go straight into the compost pile where they are magic for the garden.

    No coffee pot to clean!

    Reply
    1. General Jinjur

      Yes. Exactly my ritual with the same filter system and pre ground hazelnut/cinnamon coffee and using an electric kettle.
      It’s hard for me to believe anyone can be foggier than I am when just up.
      Admittedly, it tastes even better when my husband makes it for me. The only thing I miss is that he’s not a coffee drinker so I can’t share the experience with him. ; /

      Reply
    2. Math is Your Friend

      “Melitta one-cup plastic gizmo to hold a #2 cone-shaped brown paper filter (also can be Melitta, or some cheaper brand). Put two tablespoons coffee in there (fine grind works best, pre-ground is perfectly okay). Boil water in kettle. Pour boiling water slowly over the coffee grounds. Excellent! Easy as instant but far better.”

      Almost exactly the same, with tweaks.

      The store brand white recycled paper filters are about 35% of the cost of the brown ‘name brand’ ones.

      Boiling in the microwave heats just the water, so it is fast, and probably less energy. Just add 45 ml of cold water to the 450 ml of microwave boiled water to compensate for quantum energy effects, immediately after boiling, (also drops it to optimal coffee extraction temperature). Pyrex is your friend. This much is about two full filter cones of water.

      Pour, keeping the filter full, or to almost top as many times as you need if you are also doing something else while it drains, like feeding the cat(s).

      The endless debate about coffee? Room temperature vs refrigerator vs freezer. I’ve gone with pre-ground and the refrigerator. Amount of coffee varies with brand, blend, roast, and grind… from about 1.5 ‘Melita’ scoops to 3 Melita scoops – the last was Maxwell House, which is now off the list, but some store gourmet blends are quite good, and encourage a bit of variety.

      Total time about 5 minutes, and the paper and grounds go in municipal organic compost.

      Reply
  8. Jerry B

    Bruce, bun, and Eugene—I think you missed the point of the post. I believe that Lambert was using buying a cup of coffee at the local mart as an example of the dystopian crapification of our society.

    ===are there other less than convenient interactions that you are having with multinationals owned by squillionaire familes?===

    I cannot think of specific examples of recent “less than convenient interactions”. It all seems to blur. Doctor’s visits, car repairs, clothes shopping, etc. Maybe it is my 60 year old nostalgia for a time that never was , but I remember when it was easier to buy something or “have an interaction”. You just went to the local Sears store or J.C. Penny and got what you needed. It seems much harder today. I think it is possible to “buy local” from mom and pop stores if you live in a mid to large city. I live in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago and there are franchises everywhere or if they are not franchises they are small-medium size businesses that are a front for a larger corporation pulling the strings.

    I think many people including myself do not realize how many of our daily “interactions” are with multinationals/large corporations. We may believe that we are buying something from Smith and Sons Furniture Store but in reality behind Smith and Sons is a large conglomerate or layers of conglomerates.

    Not the best example but one example is buying something from a big box store. You may think you are buying X brand and you may be, but that particular item is from layers of suppliers to that big box store. As Bruce mentioned above it is one big shell game.

    Lastly I have even noticed local businesses that have policies similar to large corporations. For instance when I went to get a haircut the stylist mentioned that a lot of even small salons have their employees sign non-compete agreements. Non compete agreements for hair stylists??? Sheesh.

    Reply
    1. False Solace

      Recent interaction with the local gas station: This is a chain that was owned by a PE firm until recently, which made their gas stations notorious for the obvious lack of investment. Crumbling rundown buildings, broken gas pumps. They were recently acquired by a different chain and rebranded.

      They have loyalty cards, but the employees will hand you one without a phone number. The loyalty cards are pretty much mandatory because without the deals everything is priced sky high. Of course there’s not much a sane person would buy since the food mart carries little besides corn syrup and soybean oil in varying ratios.

      While the new ownership has begun to clear the backlog of needed repairs, the new gas pumps have large screens with the ad volume cranked up to excruciating levels. I filled my tank yesterday with ads screaming at me from all sides. In stereo and no way to turn them off. I tried pressing random buttons but that trick no longer seems to work…. In the future I’ll go out of my way to fill up at Costco instead.

      Reply
      1. Jerry B

        Thanks Solace!!

        ====the new gas pumps have large screens with the ad volume cranked up to excruciating levels. I filled my tank yesterday with ads screaming at me from all sides===

        That has to be one of my pet peeves going of going to the gas station. Thanks for reminding me that Costco’s gas stations do not have the screaming screens!!

        ====Of course there’s not much a sane person would buy since the food mart carries little besides corn syrup and soybean oil in varying ratios====

        Many years ago I worked the graveyard shift at a local 7-11 convenience store. It was privately owned and not managed by 7-11. That particular store had a lot of basic staples such as eggs, milk, bread, some produce, frozen food, and canned goods. Basically it was a small neighborhood grocery store.

        Forward to today’s society. Recently a Casey’s General Store and gas station was built near our house. But it is anything but a “general store”. I call it the Dopamine, Caffeine, Sodium, Sugar, and Fat Store. They sell hot pizzas, Monster/Red Bull drinks, and a lot of other garbage food and drinks, etc., etc. There is nothing of any redeemable nutritional value in that store. No eggs, no milk, no produce. Casey’s business model seems to be to get you hooked on the dopamine, sugar, and other stimulants in their food and drinks so you come back in a few hours for more.

        Back in the day there was a store in the Chicago area called White Hen Pantry and years ago even before White Hen there was a store called Open Pantry. The White Hens/Open Pantry’s were like the 7-11 I described above as a small grocery store. Most of the White Hens had a deli counter where you could get a fresh made sandwich.

        There is a book called the Hacking of the American Mind by Robert Lusting. In the book he discusses many of the issues I mention above about the crapification and addictive nature of food consumption in our current society.

        https://www.amazon.com/Hacking-American-Mind-Corporate-Takeover/dp/1101982586

        https://robertlustig.com/hacking/

        Reply
      2. doug

        There is money to be made by someone who comes up with a small cheap gizmo to shut the pumps up. Talking gas pumps are not valuable to society….

        Reply
        1. Jerry B

          Good idea. Another one is an app that tells you which gas stations have pumps with the screaming screens.

          If I think about it I probably do not need an app as around me not all the gas stations have the ad screens so I just have to be careful and take my gasoline business to ones that do not have screens like Costco. But it would make life easier to know beforehand. I usually do not “think” about which gas station to stop at as it is a mindless activity dictated by where my gas gauge is at the moment. It seems the Shell Oil franchise gas stations are the most common with the talking ad screens.

          Reply
          1. Auntienene

            As an old Jersey girl, I don’t have to interact with gas pumps. We’re the last hold-outs and I want it to stay that way.

            Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Indeed the point of this post is the remarkable ugliness and impersonality of the world Neoliberal economics and globalization is constructing. But it’s easier and more fun to suggest other ways to make coffee. The consolidation of our economy by multinationals, large conglomerates, and Cartels is more widespread than immediately visible — “The Hidden Monopolies Everywhere” [stealing the title of chapter 1 in Barry Lynn’s book, “Cornered”. Many of the seeming small businesses are franchises of one kind and another. There was a small spices store opened in a nearby town. It looked like a small business. I talked to the owner and found out it was a small business in one sense, but his store was a franchise he purchased and all the merchandise and much of the store policy was dictated by the franchising company which did appear — at least on the surface and for the moment — like it had started as and remained a relatively small business. [If it grows enough and makes a profit I expect McCormick and Company will buy it up to add to their portfolio.]

      But I don’t wish to minimize another Leitmotif of this post, the mind numbing graphic ugliness and repulsive nuances of the conglomerated globalized commerce encasing our world. It is a pure expression of the inhuman drives and prejudices of the Corporate persons infesting our planet.

      Reply
      1. Off The Street

        As a Maine-visiting Robert Downey, Jr.’s character might say:

        You went full Couche-Tard? You never go full Couche-Tard!

        Reply
    3. dk

      I think this was Lambert’s goal too but I don’t drink coffee.

      My observation is that one of the drivers of “convenience” it that the opportunity to quickly fulfill a desire (or need) like already-made coffee or an Amazon purchase is that it allows individual to spend more attention and time on work for earnings. Whether squeezing more satisfaction out of a 15 minute break or eating a store-bought microwaved meal at the desk, we focus more and for longer periods on the labor, increasing net productivity, and hence production for the employer (even when we’re self-employed as I often am) in various ways.

      This of course benefits the distant “job-creator” and rent-extractor, and also represents a kind of hidden inflation when wages don’t increase along with output.

      Computers are similar, I remember doing my tax sums on paper the first time, then I got a calculator, then a computer, completing the task more rapidly with each permutation. But I still check my work out of neurotic compulsion habit and find mistakes regardless of the medium.

      Cellphones another example. Toting a supercomputer with a radio, GPS, and a camera on both sides is wildly convenient. It’s also convenient for an employer, advertiser, bill collector, law enforcer, scam artist, etc.

      Electronic voting. Enough said.

      Convenience inevitably entails risk, risk being the obverse of safety. Risks are always two-way streets, hence the conceptual error of convenience.

      Reply
    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Bruce, bun, and Eugene—I think you missed the point of the post. I believe that Lambert was using buying a cup of coffee at the local mart as an example of the dystopian crapification of our society.

      Thank you.

      Reply
  9. David

    Either take your iPad to a coffee shop and work there or buy a Nespresso machine which about every third person in Europe owns, and which makes professional standard coffee in a few seconds. Once you buy the machine the coffee works out at about 35 Euro cents per cup.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its obviously a lot cheaper and nicer to make coffee at home, but I take Lamberts point that sometimes its good to just leave the house and get some human contact. When home working I’ve found myself go out for silly excuses to buy something unneeded just as a break from the routine.

      Although I must admit I’d prefer to drink cheap instant coffee than what looks like really terrible convenience store coffee.

      Reply
      1. David

        I do actually work from home most of the time and I regard going out in the morning for a coffee as an important part of the day. I usually take something with me to do that I would otherwise do at home. The rest of the time I make decent coffee as above.

        Reply
        1. Cal2

          You can always make your high quality coffee at home, drink some, wake up, then take your to go cup to your local starbucks or corporate outlet and enjoy their amenities, hang out with your neighbors w/o spending a cent there.

          When on the road, I often eat my made at home or purchased in a good organic market, lunch at Starbucks, Plenty of parking, power outlets, comfy chairs and lots of neighbors and people to talk to. They all hear about Naked Capitalism too.

          Reply
      2. polecat

        Why try to make for human contact, when, via distribution of spent grounds, bring salt-of-the-earthworm to you ? … the good thing is .. even if they don’t talk sh!t, they’ll still take and like it .. unlike most bipeds !
        ‘;]

        Reply
      3. Math is Your Friend

        Trade-offs, as always.

        I figure I am looking at about 12-15 cents Canadian before milk or cream. End result is saving about $2,000 a year (after tax!), which is a decent laptop every year or so, or excellent tower every two years… or a new lens every 1-2 years or camera body every 1-3 years. Or a lot of books. Or some nice trips appropriately spaced.

        Reply
    2. Peter VE

      Nespresso and Keurig dispense 190 degree water through coffee grounds in a small cheaply made plastic cup. I would be very hesitant to subject my health to all the by products of that plastic. All the crapification, without any human contact.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith

        I tried French press coffee, but the really fine filters (there used to be 2 filters in a French press machine) go bad in a year or two and I can’t find replacements….and newer ones don’t seem to have them. The coffee coms out muddy, too many grounds in it for my taste.

        So now I use a moka from Bialetti. But you have to mind them…..

        Reply
        1. JCC

          I agree about the French Press. Too muddy, too often.

          After winning a Keurig at work I tried that for awhile, including buying my own cups for reuse with my preferred coffee, but the coffee really wasn’t that good and they are awful noisy. Whether I used store-bought cups with all that plastic waste, or reusable cups, I found it to be relatively watered down compared to good coffee. And either way, it was expensive.

          So I went back to my old standby, a 4 cup (now 5 – but same size pot) Mr. Coffee. Fresh ground, fresh drip every morning, 3 normal sized cups. Perfect every time. And grounds for the garden.

          When camping, it’s hard to beat an AeroPress, reusable paper filters that are good for 2 or 3 cups, and that’s plenty for me. They are good for a quick single cup, too, at home.

          Other than road trips, I avoid “convenience” markets like the plague when it comes to coffee (and just about everything else except gas). I’ve never had a good cup yet after 40 years of attempts, and everything else is typical corporate, over-priced junk.

          Reply
          1. Ignacio

            Italian coffee makers or moka coffee makers adapted to induction modules or to gas cuisines work really great with not too finely ground coffee. You can prepare a single dosis or coffee for multiple refill in about 5 minutes. The only waste generated in 100% organic.
            It is 100% dumb technology, I love it.

            Reply
            1. EoH

              I prefer Italian stovetop, or moke, coffee makers. Relatively little clean-up. Better brew than drip. Less muddy than the French press. Keurigs and their mimics are awful, even with the reusable cup.

              Going out is more social. I avoid chains for the reasons Lambert explains. Thankfully, I have a local house that roasts and grinds its own. Real cups, not plastic or paper. The money spent is recycled locally rather than sent to Bentonville or Detroit and then trundled off to a tax haven.

              Reply
    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Thank you: this captures the essence of the post, and has nothing to do with the nuances of our and Lambert’s lifestyle preferences.

      Reply
  10. Frank Little

    There was a story a while back about similar rating systems in “fast casual” restaurants like Chili’s where lower ratings often led to reduced hours and lost income. I really hate those surveys too, but after reading it I try and give positive ratings to any and all service workers when prompted in the hope that it might at least offset the petty tyrants who mistake service workers for their servants.

    Reply
    1. JBird

      Loyalty. Finally, you can rate the transaction immediately after completing it, and you can bet the cashier’s ratings are cumulated and go right up to corporate. I really, really hate this, and I never, ever use it.

      I really hate those surveys too, but after reading it I try and give positive ratings to any and all service workers when prompted in the hope that it might at least offset the petty tyrants who mistake service workers for their servants.

      Lambert and Frank, thanks for that.

      Most people treat clerks as human, there is always at small set of little lords and ladies usually, but not always, of Credentialed Class who seem to seem to think that those who work retail are morons. Apparently morons are to be trained by verbal abuse, sarcastic wit, and complaints to the manager, and they are never mistaken.

      Putting some of that bitterness aside, I must say that it is the lowest upper ranks of the middle or the lowest ranks of the upper classes that spawn such for it seems those who have achieved “success” have the greatest need that it was done on merit. They must be better than the common herd and not have achieve their success at least partly through chance and connections.

      Of course, that is not true, but the Credential Class of the Meritocracy believe that they live in Neoliberalism’s (somewhat) Best of All Possible Worlds; that little nagging fear inside of them that says that is not true, the horror that they might fail to stay to be successful, is kept away by frantic work and exasperation with the trouble making homeless and idiot clerks.

      The mindf***ery put into them is truly impressive. It is also sad to see such self destruction.

      Reply
  11. Henry Moon Pie

    My initial response to this was to search for a suitable Wendell Berry quote about the evils of “convenience,” and that led me to this interesting article that included a Berry quote. Here’s a little excerpt as a teaser:

    There’s something rather pernicious about this. It seems clear that despite the continual adoption of technologies that promise to save time or make things more convenient, we do not, in fact, feel as if we have more time at all. There are a number of factors that may explain this dynamic. As Neil Postman noted around the same time that Tierney was writing his book, the “winners” in the technological society are wont to tell the “losers” that “their lives will be conducted more efficiently,” which is to say more conveniently. “But discreetly,” he quickly adds, “they neglect to say from whose point of view the efficiency is warranted or what might be its costs.” Tierney himself admits that what he has to say is likely to be met “with a degree of self-preserving … denial” because he will argue that “a certain value is not freely chosen by individuals, but is demanded by various facets of the technological order of modernity.” Which is why, as Horgan put it, “we’ve ended up living in a world we all chose, but that nobody seems to want.””

    BTW, before embarking on my effort to enlighten Lambert, I had my lunch that included a nuked hot dog (All Beef!) and corn chips from the bag. I also had some strawberries and pea pods from the garden. Still, I’d better work on that log in my eye.

    Reply
  12. BrooklynFreddie

    I. Easy coffee at home
    Preliminary: Obtain coffee. Beans or ground
    Prep:
    1. Grind one superheaping tablespoon of beans, if necessary.
    2. Place one cup of water in saucepan, heat on stove until boiling.
    3. Remove from heat, place superheaping tablespoon of ground beans in hot water.
    4. Swirl mixture around for a few seconds, pour through handheld strainer into preheated coffee cup.
    5. Lovingly deposit wet grounds into your compost receptacle.
    6. Drink coffee while on the way to the convenience store for a meaningful money-free interaction.
    No obnoxious machines. No waste-intense coffee packaging. No cleaning of coffeemaker. No filters.
    It may take a few tries to get your proportions to your own taste.
    Don’t forget to turn off the burner.

    II. Lambert, surely you aren’t so naïve as to believe the beans in the containers have any relation to the alleged source.

    Reply
  13. Carl

    I find places like that described in the article unpleasant and so never patronize them. Ditto for Walmart, Target, all chain restaurants and practically all apparel stores, especially those located in a shopping mall.
    One thing I particularly noticed while traveling in Portugal and Italy a couple of weeks ago was the lack of chain stores and restaurants.

    Reply
  14. Light a Candle

    I rent an apartment, quite a nice one, in a great location in a small Canadian city

    Four years ago, my building got bought by a big corporate landlord based out of Ireland who regards tenants as sheep to be harvested.

    The corporate landlord has many irritating characteristics including a clear pattern of promising repairs but then delaying for many months, even trivial repairs. I think they are doing this to satisfy some spreadsheet requirements.

    For example, it took me six months of repeated requests and many false promises and finally a written letter to get some very minor but badly needed repairs to my bedroom blinds so I could have privacy. They were trying to force me to buy and install curtains at my own expense and suggested this several times.

    More seriously, an attempt to evict me for nonpayment of rent although my cheque had been cashed! And I am a good 7 year tenant who always pays the rent on time.

    But as a longtime renter in a province with rent control I pay less than market rent which could be a strong incentive for a corporation to evict me.

    The landlord is known to be bad but has figured out how not to be identified in the Province’s residential tenancy dispute system by using employees names instead of the company name in arbitrated disputes.

    I could go on, but this gives the flavour of both dealing with corporations and commodifying the housing market.

    Reply
    1. Steely Glint

      Don’t know if you get NPR in Canada, but their 6 /23 On The Media program, available through pod cast, was their deep dive into evictions, and mostly the LLCs behind large corporate landlords. After listening, my thought was that I knew the truth should set me free, but the only thing set free by the truth I heard was my anger.

      Reply
      1. Svante

        It’s “blocked” here. Funny, huh? He certainly doesn’t seem to have ever actually used a French press, though. I’d thought it apropos, buy discovered yet one more enjoyable little tid-bit of my wasted life has been snatched away. Next, it’ll be dueling banjos? Thanks for looking, though. Pour over’s better, though.

        Reply
  15. Susan the other`

    I think “convenience” is a qualia that is dependent on speed – not speed of coffee delivery but how fast you arrived at the point of sale. Did you drive or did you walk. So this is just one more point for getting off fossil fuels and getting back to our senses. Convenience doesn’t have to be fast.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      Lambert is a notorious “Pedestrian” of long standing. (Either that or I have been fooled by some genius level public relations work.)

      Reply
  16. the suck of sorrow

    Yes, I smell the coffee!
    For me, the signal marker for crapification is the presence of a television. You are in a captive space and assaulted by a visual and audible annoyance.
    And the ‘app for that’ is a fast rising number two on my radar.
    Third, is the closing of retail where it is accessible by foot. Given a choice, the chains close the small town walkable location and keep the exurban box with a parking lot open.
    Finally a pro tip on the coffee. Make an extra cup that you can microwave upon waking.

    Reply
      1. Big River Bandido

        Would that it worked in airports, or anyplace else where teevee is “piped” (meaning the individual monitor is not controlled).

        Reply
  17. Peter

    Why is it that you get good coffee in Germany in every Cafe, same in France, excellent coffee from excellent machines – galão (similar to capuccino), meio de leite (half milk, 1/2 coffee), café (that is actually espresso) or Cafe grande (espresso with water added in a large cup) in Portugal in every convenience store, bakery, restaurant or mall or bar but neither Canada nor the USA is able to serve what I would call coffee except in usually small specialty coffee shops?

    Reply
    1. Svante

      Went pretty directly from small town Germany to the Sheetz that Mitt Romney was so fascinated by ordering on touch screen. They still had the horseradish sauce and pesto, and passable fries, then. It’s the employees I’m concerned about. Not just the hateful job, or the notion that 18 or 80, their boss’ is always some punk. They have to EAT the bovine somatotropin engorged, nitrosamine flavored, reduced creulity free-range pink slime 24/7/365 while breathing fabric softner oozing moron sweat FOREVER!

      Reply
  18. Copeland

    Lambert, the coffee station shot looked pretty good to me, but does the iPad Pro camera have a setting to add grid lines to the viewfinder? I find that it helps a lot with my Android phone camera.

    Reply
  19. nmtdoc

    Seriously? I know you’re a Mainer, and as such, closer to a dollar than bark on a tree, but give your money to the local coffee shop and stop with the convenience thing. At least half of your contributions on NC seem to be railing against this very issue. . It’s no different than patronizing the local Co Op or Farmer’s Market rather than Bezos Foods. So here’s the conclusion, Lambert……put your money where your mouth is.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t know if you’ve considered this, but — follow me closely here — the people behind the counter are Mainers, too, and I like them. I also have other coffee shops that I patronize, in the afternoon. And the Farmer’s Market is (a) only on the weekend, (b) forty minutes away, and (c) I don’t cook for myself anyhow. It doesn’t save me any money, and it’s work and costs me time. Thanks for sharing your concerns.

      Reply
  20. Whoamolly

    Lamberts routine makes perfect sense to me. I find myself falling into similar routines after a morning of solitary work.

    We live in a remote area that requires a car. After a few hours in the office I will often drive into town for a cup of mediocre coffee just for the change in scenery and some brief human contact.

    Fortunately the shop is owned by a local woman.

    Reply
  21. Jimmie Q

    “Alimentation Couche-Tard’s”. Is that French for “Eat Shite and die” or “Eating for Couch T*rds” ?

    Reply
  22. anon y'mouse

    the first time you mentioned the “everyone using the same fake phone number loyalty card”, i thought it was a great idea.

    consider–random free coffee spits out for someone regularly. Approximately every x customers, in fact.

    kinda like the lottery. or Life

    also, what a nice way to be surprised: your fellow humongs got you a free coffee that week. such things can be viewed pro-socially.

    unless one is caught up on the idea that they personally “earned” that free coffee.

    Reply
  23. Ptb

    As others said, the act of making coffee can be something to enjoy. Popping open the jar of beans, a little tease from the smell of the roasted berry seed…

    Not that I’ve never gone to a coffeeshop for some minimal human contact on a WFH day. But gas station? Rural life, eh?

    Interesting tale of the tycoons.

    Reply
  24. drumlin woodchuckles

    If taking the extra time and effort to go to an independent coffee shop in the morning is genuinely painful, then doing it anyway and fighting through the pain the whole way there and back is some genuine virtue-practicing. Which would entitle you to some virtue-horntooting.

    And you would be keeping your coffee-money out of the clutches of the Evil Irvings.

    ( Here in SouthEast Michigan, the Canadian Colonialist Coffee Overlord is Tim Horton’s. )

    Reply
  25. Wukchumni

    The greatest lengths i’ve ever gone to making a cup of joe was walking 15 miles to a remote grove of Sequoias in Sequoia NP for a trail crew party, and far from the trail on a raised slab of granite was a couple of mortars i.e. grinding holes, with the original pestles still in them. Starting 100 feet away is a perfect line of 5x 1,500 year old brobdingnagians each set 30 feet apart. I had a pound of Juan Valdez’s product in my backpack, you see.

    We cleared out the duff from the bottom and all took turns grinding beans, and although said mortar hadn’t been used by the Native Americans in food prep since the 1870’s, it worked like a charm, and for once it wasn’t acorns!

    Coffee the next morning had extra special manna, lemme tellya.

    Reply
  26. Steely Glint

    The phrase “convenient for whom” caught my attention, as I have asked myself the same question driving 15 minutes to the local CVS for a prescription (because insurance coverage) & waiting in line either in store or at the drive-through, when I could have picked it up at a grocery store 4 miles from my house.
    Recently I needed to buy flowers for a funeral in a small rural town where the local florist I had used for years shut down. After googling, like magic, a new florist appeared. Turned out it was Amazon controlled, and after typing in the church & adding the address to my account (took about 40 minutes) Amazon told me the address didn’t exist. I ended up calling the funeral home, asking for a name of a nearby florist, calling them & ordering directly (took 10 minutes). The florist was so grateful. Seems Amazon was ripping them off.

    Reply
  27. Senator-Elect

    This is great, start to finish. Great little observations.
    On the survey point, it seems everyone is doing surveys these days. Sometimes orgs want you to do it for free; other times, they offer the possibility of winning a prize. What I wonder is whether all that data they collect is useful or put to use at all?
    I think the damn managers should climb out of their corner offices and go down to the shop floor and ask the customers what they think. (Speaking of the need for human contact…) I know qualitative data is not trendy anymore, but surveys don’t get what they don’t ask for and managers won’t understand a problem from a 3.4 on the Likert scale.
    And I don’t want to do free labour for the corporation while paying for my purchase or wait for the people in front of me to do it. But then, standing in line and watching how people behave can be quite interesting….

    Reply
  28. Lambert Strether Post author

    I don’t want to be cranky about this, but I said I didn’t want to work, explained why, and then listed the kinds of work I don’t want to do.

    So what do I get? Comment after comment explaining how to do the work I have specifically ruled out in my initial set of requirements.

    I get that morning coffee rituals are very important to people, and I get that people are only trying to help, to show a better way, but please: Read the post!

    Reply
    1. vlade

      Well, you have a bit of a brexit there then, because your options are either to work or to put up with the crapification, so if you don’t want either..

      Arguably, it’s still a convenience, because you have options – so you choose the one most convenient for you. But it’s still the lesser-evil option rather than anything else. Unfortunately, a lot of people found out that people may rail against lesser-evil-options only, but that’s about all they will do for a lot of them.

      Reply
    2. anarcheopteryx

      And this is what it’s like whenever someone with a disability [me] says “this is how I live for reasons and it kind of sucks” and all the replies are “but what if you lived completely differently, ignoring reasons??”. So yes, I sympathize. But have you tried yoga, Lambert?? /s

      I don’t drink coffee or drive, but the local Irving Circle K in my hometown has really good fresh banana bread so it was worth going in once in a while. Not sure where they sourced it from. Maybe 5 years ago now it was found out that they had been pumping regular fuel from the Premium++ pumps with associated prices. My father swore off them in retaliation, but it’s largely a symbolic gesture.

      Reply
  29. Ook

    In my country, the local McCafe has an Android app for loyalty points, so there’s the phone number verification, plus an email verification. Getting your coffee involves a clumsy QR code generated and held at a non-intuitive position (usually the clerk has to physically take your phone and hold it correctly for the camera). The app is only available to people with a permanent address (as registered by Google) in country, and it wants access to my storage and location (I’ve turned off the storage part to no ill effect). Original version wanted access to all my contacts as well.

    Reply
  30. KFritz

    And now for another two cents. This is a limited/qualified recommendation of the Toddy, cold process, method. Toddy sells a food grade plastic brewing container with an inset in the bottom, with a drain hole and a seat for a filter. Grind one pound of coffee coarse. Add two quarts of room temperature water to the coffee (without stirring!) and let sit for twelve to twenty four hours. I always do twenty four. Remove the rubber plug and drain into a container. Toddy includes a glass carafe which dovetails with the plastic brewer, but you’ll break it eventually and switch to (2) one quart plastic containers, which require close attention to switch at the proper moment.

    The resulting coffee is smooth and much less acidic than drip brewed or French press coffee. Unfortunately, it’s totally lacking in the taste equivalent of musical overtones. “Bland without character,” is the blunt assessment. It’s actually wise to use not-the-highest-grade coffee, since subtle flavors from coffee variety and roasting are lost using this method. However, you can store in the refrigerator for weeks and drink it quickly whenever you like. Here in California’s Central Valley, it’s a blessing to have ice coffee nearly ready to go 24/7 during the the summer.

    Addendum: Toddy’s business model is to make money selling the filter, which isn’t manufactured by anyone else. If you use them longer than recommended, rinse well after using, and keep them in the fridge, there’s no problem with rancid oils. Buy the filters from Toddy in large enough quantities for a discount, unless you can find a local retailer you like.

    Buon gusto!

    Reply
  31. sharonsj

    Although I need a huge cup of coffee in the morning to feel human, there is no way I would spend time grinding and pressing beans or doing anything else that requires thinking and coordinated movement before I’ve had my coffee. I have a Keurig and when when I can’t get the pods cheaply enough, I just dump commercial ground coffee into that plastic gizmo. Sorry, but I just do not understand the obsession with different types and flavors and the search for perfection. It requires too much work.

    Reply
  32. Martin Evans

    oh, boo hoo,

    Multiply your experience a hundred times and you have what it’s like in Canada having the cultural life blood squeezed out of us by US squillionairs.

    Reply
  33. ewmayer

    After since my longtime neighborhood non-corporate coffee place – great mix of locals, techies and students from the community college across the street – got rent-jacked out of business a couple years ago, I experimented to find a convenient way to make a large daily batch of coffee from real beans, without the hassle of messing around with paper filters and ceramic cones, or the hard-to-clean-ness of French presses. Finally found a way that works well for me – I had a 50oz French press which was only rarely used for e.g. dinner guests. Unscrewed the plunger and pulled all that cleaning-nightmare stuff out, leaving just the metal-dome lid, whose hole I plugged with a little round rubber foot-thingie that had fallen out of the bottom of a defunct car air pump, giving the lid a handy finger-handle.

    Once a day I fill that sucker, use a butter knife to swirl the raft of grounds into the hot water after filling, then let simply let the ground settle out, Turkish-style. The coarse ground settle in under an hour, and the really fine ones are insensible from a mouth-feel perspective. Super easy to clean, just the glass beaker, and no need to remove it from the handle-frame deal for that purpose. I don’t mind warming coffee in the microwave, so make a pot each night for the next day. Hardcore coffee addicts often end up buying a big grinding setup, but I just use my little Krups whirling-blade grinder, about once a month I spend 30 minutes grinding ~3 lbs of beans with that and filling the grounds into a pair of Costco-style leftover square plastic storage jugs, the ones with the wide plastic screwtop lids, store ’em in the fridge.

    And I still frequently grab a cup at the local coffee shop in my new-as-of-last-year town of residence – it’ll never replace the old one, if for no other reason than it closes at 5pm – but the coffee is great and, as Lambert notes, you get some social interaction.

    Aside: Lambert’s description of his local strip-mall tempts me to editorialize, “The Circle K that I enter is owned by Alimentation Couche-Tard, controlled by Alain Bouchard, notorious money-grubbing douche-tard.”

    Reply

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