Featured Column
Week of 3.22.2004
"I'll have a neighborhood
with my coffee, please"
Starbuck's in every neighborhood
          As president of United Neighborhoods of America I have a proclamation. “Effective immediately all new homes built in clusters (tracts) will have a Starbuck’s located one to every block.” 
           No, I am not a Starbuck’s stockholder. No, I don’t own a sprawling Columbian coffee plantation and no I don’t own a sugar plantation or a cream producing dairy farm.
           It’s just that I see a disturbing and increasing trend that finds the residents of these clusters (tracts) homes all leaving their homes at 8 a.m., traveling down the freeway to their places of work. At 5 p.m. these same residents reverse their directions on the freeway, click on their automatic garage door openers a hundred feet from home, pull in and close the garage doors behind them. There has been no contact with anyone in the neighborhood Monday through Friday.
           Saturday and Sunday there may be a wave from one SUV driver in the neighborhood to another neighborhood SUV driver as they pull into their garages following a foray to the local supermarket. At times one neighborhood child might skateboard past another and give an acknowledging wave.
            For those of you growing up in 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s and even in the 70’s you might remember seeing a real neighborhood. One in which the residents actually knew each other and conducted dialogues. You know, like spoke with each other.
          An ecosystem is described as “any group of living things, interacting with each other.” I’m not sure that there are many of these newer clusters of homes (tracts) that would be described as an ecosystem – other than they share some common utility feeds.
           I’m always impressed with the sense of neighborhood I feel when I walk by a Starbuck’s. There are people there because they want to feel the closeness of other people. Some bring their laptop computers, others a book or a magazine. Some are doing crossword puzzles; others are sitting, staring at the parking area, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a friend or companion. Many are engaged in conversations with their coffee “mates.” Some, I’m sure, are lonely and just want to be around other people. I get the feeling that many of the lone individuals sipping on a cup of coffee would welcome some friendly and innocent companionship – in short, someone to talk to.
          Starbuck’s has become a “neighborhood.” In older neighborhoods, in small towns and especially in areas on the east coast, neighbors know each other and often-times share a cup of coffee (or a beer) after work. They know the names of their neighbors’ children and they know their neighbor’s grandmother and they watch out for each other’s children and grandmothers.
          Starbuck’s has become a gathering place. It’s not a place to be lonely. You can go to Starbuck’s, order a hot cup of coffee, flavored to your taste, and have an instant neighborhood. There are people sitting close to you who are like you. People who are tired of the lack of communication and closeness in their neighborhood. They go to the
           Starbuck’s “neighborhood” to prove to themselves that there are people who can talk and who can listen and to see if there is life on the other side of their closed garage door.
           I have a hunch that our lives would be a lot more satisfying, interesting – and even safer – if we shared just a portion of our lives with our neighbors. Maybe someday we will see neighbors standing in front of their houses, talking with each other, watching their children play, spending some time getting to know each other, maybe even watching out for each other. Maybe even just standing there together, admiring the nice weather, having a steaming cup of coffee or agreeing to walk down the street together to their local Starbuck’s.
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger