I made much this same observation to Peter the other day:

Manhattan resident Eve Epstein goes to Starbucks daily. Three mornings a week, she also takes her son, Asher, 2, and meets her best friend — with her toddler. "Our kids will spend their childhoods there," she jokes. For parents, she says, "Starbucks is the new McDonald's."

And, I think, it has the potential to earn itself the same kind of hatred from the self-righteousness mongers as McDonald's (and Wal-Mart). I used to pretend disdain for Starbucks when I was younger. But darn it, they're consistent. Predictability in a world of unknowns is important. Yes, I've gone to local, independent coffee houses that made better espresso, but if I'm in a strange city without a guide and I want the assurance of decent coffee, I can find a Starbucks and order a mocha knowing it will be pretty much the same as the mocha I can get down the street from my house. I take comfort in that. The form my coffee snobbery take is that my fear of really bad coffee is stronger than my desire for truly extraordinary coffee. My Starbucks beverage may not be extraordinary, but sure won't be awful. And awful coffee just plumb ruins my day.

Again, a generational parallel: if I'm on a road trip somewhere and I need to get breakfast, I'll go to Starbucks by default, and if not Starbucks then the local greasy spoon diner, because I fancy myself a conno...connoss... a person who takes pleasure in rating and comparing the vast variety of fine diner food in our great nation. If my parents are on a road trip and need breakfast, they go to McDonald's-- not because it's great, but because they know the menu and know they can get something that won't be too bad for not too much money. This used to make me crazy (not least because McDonald's coffee is so horrendous), but now that I think of it in the light of my Starbucks penchant, I understand them a little better.

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