Photographers' Blog

Occupying Starbucks

November 9, 2011

By Paul Hackett

I left the Occupy protest camp at St Paul’s cathedral in London to go to Starbucks to file the pictures that I had taken. As I walked through the door I saw this man sitting there; of course it made me smile. I took a few images of him and then a member of staff put their hand over my lens. I knew that I had something, so it was fine. I sat close to him, got his name (Adam Murray) and sent the picture in. It was with the office a few minutes after I took it – I wish they were all that easy!

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Up till a couple of years back, I frequented Starbucks for coffee and enjoyed surfing the web almost everywhere in their chains.

I have since stopped, not because of the many homeless people I have met there. Rather, what made me shocked was an experience in Los Angeles. I witnessed several Hispanic Starbucks employees served a tall, well dressed Caucasian American male first, before a petite Asian casually dressed Asian girl. When the Asian girl complained, the manager and a few Hispanic Starbucks staff, rather than apologizing practically harassed her, constantly coming up to disturb her in a patently annoying way. She was just using her laptop like this guy, without the facial gear of course. What’s more shocking was that when a routine police patrol officer came in for coffee, the Hispanic manager and staff’s behavior reminded me of Mexican drug lords, acted in pretense that they wielded special connection with the police, giving hounding looks to the petite customer several times during the conversation with the police. The Asian girl was smart enough to call it a bluff.
The next morning, the Asian girl came back for coffee again. And I heard the Hispanic manager and the staff comment blatantly and outrageously, that this customer “dared to come back”, as if they were rolling up their sleeves to harass her more by making excuses to disturb her while she used her laptop. Right then, the same patrol policeman came in again for coffee, only this time, he sat down at the nearby table to the Asian girl, instead of taking the coffee to go. The policeman was very affable, and started chatting with various customers all around him. Some of the customers seem to know the policeman just from frequenting that Starbucks store. I heard the policeman say that they like to get to know the local, because it helps them fight crime more effectively, but the Starbucks manager was not standing close enough to hear that.
It was very obvious that this police officer had not noticed that the Starbucks manager had misused the police’s presence and general friendliness to puff up a harassment attempt.

The Asian girl joined the conversation with several others with the policeman. And it was obvious that the policeman almost became interested in her and took a liking to her, asking her what she does for a living. And she was a scientist. It was one of the most amusing experience I’ve ever experienced at Starbucks, when I saw the Hispanic manager looked at the sight with almost horror(yes, more than embarrassment). After the policeman left, the same employees that harassed the girl the day before, suddenly started acting obsequiously. It served them well, for behaving like hooligans as Starbucks employees.

Somehow though, that experience, though amusing, seemed to quench my thirst for Starbucks experiences forever after. Somehow, I rarely went back to Starbucks any more. It might have something to do with the bragging of that Starbucks manager that he was a hiring manager for the greater area of Los Angeles in that vicinity, and not just for that particular Starbucks. I had seen him bring in a Hispanic youngster, who appeared to be looking for a job, and interviewed him in the center of the Starbucks store, so that many of the customers cannot avoid hearing the interview to sense his “power” level at Starbucks. No telling if he was acting. Didn’t look like it.

No matter what, my “addiction” to Starbucks coffee evaporated just like that, without “rehabilitation” ever after. Curious why. It’s quite a different “OCCUPY STARBUCKS” story, but perhaps no less curious and interesting. This picture just brought all that back to mind.

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