Thursday, November 24, 2005


(Advance for Saturday, 11/26/05)

Washington State’s export binge seems to have slowed a bit. The key word is “seems.” It really hasn’t. It’s growing underground with expansions and the insinuation of this social movement into other areas.

Seattle is a lovely city, so ‘tis said. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer.

Here in New York, we have been infiltrated by two major Seattleists: Starbucks, the coffee monolith and Washington Mutual, the financial wannabe-monolith.

Fine boys and girls, all.

But different.

Not from each other, but from everything else around here.

Not BAD different.

Just different.

For a time, Starbucks expanded geometrically. Multiplied like the brooms in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Chop ‘em in half, and you get two active brooms instead of just one. Or like worms. Cut ‘em in half and you get two living worms.

In fact, it appears the goal was (if it isn’t still) The Starbucks Mirror Window Experience. That’s when you look out the window of any given Starbucks and see… another Starbucks.

It’s not a bad place. The brownies are a little cement-y. The plain coffee is a tad French (read “burned”) But there are so many add-ons you can cover the burn with any flavor you like. And when you dunk the cement-y brownie, it becomes, well, moist and chewy.

There are lines. Oh, what lines. That’s because walking into one of these places turns even the most decisive and regular customer into a puddle of puzzlement.

And here’s something you maybe didn’t know.

The menus on the wall?

They become blurs while you’re waiting on the line, forcing you to re-read them when you get to the order-taker and THEN spend time making up your mind.

But there’s a friendly pseudo-intellectual, pseudo relaxed chaos in the place that many find appealing.

Washington Mutual has copied some of the more appealing of these characteristics and added a few touches of its own.

There are no lines. There are waiting clumps.

The tellers are not behind a glass cage, they’re out at kiosks arranged in patterns that look from the air like Jackson Pollok’s castoff preliminary sketches.

They give away coffee to sip while you wait. It’s better than Starbucks’ and doesn’t cost enough money to feed a family of four for the day.

But they don’t have money at the kiosks.

So, if you’re there to cash a check, say, you swipe your account card, type in your pin, and get a receipt which you then take to another kiosk, this one, automated.

You punch in a code you’ve been given and the machine dispenses the money you’ve withdrawn.

The machine kiosk doesn’t panic when a masked and hooded hood comes in with a gun.

But it IS an extra step.

The cutesy arrangements at these two places may be catching on.

Trader Joe’s, based in New England and with no known ties to Seattle, has a similar kiosk-style checkout system.

Target’s checkout counters are almost as confusing as WaMu, as it calls itself.

And Costco has food sample kiosks on weekends.

But you can’t buy hot coffee there.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™

©wjr 2005

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