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I created a new avatar at Face Your Manga and I wanted to show it off. It doesn't look exactly like me, but I think it's in the general vicinity!
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Doing My Civic Duty

Speaking of ghosts, today I was reading "Stalin's Ghost" by Martin Cruz Smith. It's the latest in the series of Arkady Renko novels. The series, about a Russian investigator in Moscow, is a favorite of mine.

I was reading along, happily minding my own business. On the bottom of page 58 (the hardcover edition; I don't think it has been released in paperback yet), I read this:

"Arkady and Platanov took one end of the bench, the pensioners Antipenko and Mendeleyev took the other end."

Fair enough. Down towards the bottom of the next page, I read this: "Six elderly riders got on, including those two ancient riders from the night before, Antipenko and Mendeleyev."

WTF? It was same subway ride. I reread carefully, and I now think I have spotted a genuine continuity error; something the editor probably should have caught. I'm not bringing this up to gloat, but because, after putting the book down, and seriously questioning my sanity, I went to Google. Then Yahoo. I searched diligently, using numerous combinations of keywords, with no luck: there was no mention of this error.

I am specifically posting about my experience so that the next anal Arkady Renko fan who comes along and does the same search will find at least one entry about this minor continuity error, and he will know that he is not alone.

Hail to you, Sir or Madam! I salute you!


Have I not been here in a long time or WHAT? At least it hasn't been an entire year.

I don't really have much to say; just wanted to break the chain of silence. Now, if I do have something to say, it won't have to carry the additional weight of being the first post in such a long time. Because I am concerned for that hypothetical future post's emotional well-being. This post is emotionally stable and secure enough to take the hit. So go ahead, heap your heightened expectations on this post. We can handle it!

Starbucks Challenge #7 - 11/28/06 Beverly Hills

11/28/06 5:25pm at 202 S. Beverly Dr. in Beverly Hills:

I requested a cup of fair trade coffee. He said they weren't brewing it today, went to the shelf to look for the beans, didn't recognize the bag. I pointed out the Cafe Estima bag to him. He instantly and without prompting offered to make me a presspot. I gratefully accepted. He made it. I drank it. It was good.

Quickie Starbucks Challenge - #6 11/21 10:30AM

This one will be brief. 11/21 10:30 am I went into the Starbucks @ 9824 National in Palms, L.A., CA.

Busy; long line. I asked for a Venti of fair trade coffee. Without batting an eyelash, he said "we're not brewing it right now, but if you don't mind waiting, I can make you a press pot. It'll take about 5 minutes."

I said that would be terrific.

End of challenge!

Starbucks Challenge #5: Leading by the hand

10/12/06 6:50pm - Starbucks @ 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica, on 3rd St., just north of Santa Monica Blvd.

I stepped to the counter, asked for a venti of Fair Trade Coffee. Newbie at register gave me blank look. She looked to her co-worker for help, who stepped over, and seemed to be examining the cash register for the answer. After a few moments, I helpfully volunteered: "The Cafe Estima?"

"Oh I think we have some of that in the back!" And off she goes. She comes back and starts to hand me the bag.

"I wanted a cup - brewed."

"We're not brewing that right now,"

"How about fixing me a presspot?"

"Oh! Ok!" The Barista #1 asks her how she rings that up, and I told her just like a regular venti drip. Barista #2 goes to work on the presspot, and says it'll be five minutes. Five minutes later, she asks me what size I ordered, fills the cup, caps and sleeves it, and hands it to me, "Here you go! Sorry it took so long!"

The coffee tasted fine.

RECAP: This visit was a triumph of excellent customer service training over product and policy education. The baristas new almost nothing about fair trade coffee, what it was, what it meant, etc. They didn't know about the presspot-on-demand policy. But with a little help, and a few suggestions, they were happy to accommodate me, and were consistently pleasant.

I wonder what is level of obligation here? Should I be educating Starbucks personnel? Is the primary purpose of the Starbucks challenge to gather information about the effectiveness of Starbucks's stated policies in the field, or to raise the awareness of the front line workers, or both?

I suspect it's a little of both, so I try to explain a little bit why I want what I want, without coming off like an eccentric or as a know-it-all. Most baristi seem receptive, provided they're not too busy to really listen.

It changes the tenor of a Starbucks visit, but I think it's worth it if it can improve the general situation, even a little bit.

Starbucks Challenge #4: A Revisit

Same Starbucks, different results...

This challenge took place at the Starbucks at Olympic & Sawtelle - the same as the one in my Challenge #2. It was 10am, once again pretty busy.

I asked the Barista for a venti cup of fair trade coffee. She gave me a blank look: her mental processor was trying to make sense out of the request and then her system froze.

I helpfully said, "The Cafe Estima? That's Starbucks' only blend of fair trade-certified coffee."

"We're not brewing that today," says she, turning to the chalkboard for confirmation.

"Were you aware that it is Starbucks policy to....[blah blah blah presspot on demand blah blah blah - I really try to come off friendly and not a know-it-all and not just a guy who is holding up the line because he won't shut up and drink what they're serving]"

Our Beleaguered Barista's eyes had glazed over about half-way through: she was waiting for my mouth to stop moving. She turned to Somebody More Senior with an "I'm being harrassed by a deceptively polite rabble-rouser" look. More Senior Barista steps up and says, "oh we're brewing the Estima right now."

"Well then, why does it say Verona?"

"We ran out."

"Ok..." I'm confused now. "I guess I'll have a venti of that please."

She serves me. Her skillful use of illogic has effectively neutralized my arguing skills. I take my coffee and sit with my colleague.

I don't have a particularly skilled coffee palate. I know what I like and what I don't. I tried to tell if I was drinking Estima or Verona. I don't THINK it was the Estima, but short of a chemical analysis, I can't be sure, and my CSI kit was in my other pants.

1) Was it Estima, or did the Barista lie to me to get me moving? I don't know. If she was lying, she was skilled enough, without overdoing it, to make a very convincing performance.

2) If she wasn't lying, why didn't they change the sign? Do they not care what they serve? Just call it whatever because nobody can tell the difference? Why try to pass Estima off as Verona? Why not proudly proclaim, "We're brewing Cafe Estima!" ?

RECAP: I either got a cup of Estima falsely labeled as Verona, or more likely, a cup of Verona, falsely described as Estima. Either way, the uncertainty added a bitterness to my coffee that made it impossible to enjoy.

Starbucks Challenge #3

Well here we are on challenge number 3. It took place on 9/26/06 @ 4pm at the Starbucks in Gower Gulch - corner of Sunset & Gower in Hollywood.

I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge, or at least variations on a theme:

It was pretty busy. I made it to the counter and requested "A Venti cup of Fair Trade coffee, please."

Newbie Barista: "What?"

I explain that the Cafe Estima is Starbucks' only Fair Trade Coffee.

Newbie Barista: "We're not brewing that right now." She thinks hard, then, like she's doing me a HUGE favor, "We could make you a press pot if you don't mind waiting."

At that point, More Experienced and/or Knowledgeable Barista tells Newbie Barista about presspot-upon-request policy.

They rang me up for a Venti. I sat down at a little table (they were hard to come by, so I wanted to stake out my territory). Experienced Barista comes over with the presspot, timer, and porcelain mug & saucer.

"I can do this myself if you prefer, but since you look comfortable, I could just leave this with you. When the timer goes off, press this [she indicates plunger] down."



1) Newbie Barista wasn't familiar with Fair Trade Coffee or the presspot policy, but to her credit, offered me a presspot of her own initiative.

2) More experienced barista set newbie straight.

3) Everybody was polite and friendly despite being busy.

4) I ended up with the entire presspot again!

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode...