Sunday, May 24, 2009

Giving And Graduation

Toyah Texas School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
In 1978 when graduating from Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio, I accumulated over $200 in gift money. A little more than three years later when I received my bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, I might have received about $100 in gift money—maybe. Seven years later, I received a Master’s degree in Vocational Education from Northern Arizona University and following graduation, I found myself completely broke with a five grand balance on my credit card. As a result, I ended up selling my ski and camera equipment so I would have gas money to drive back to Ohio for a visit with the family.

I wonder if my experiences in these life’s accomplishments are unique? I suspect they are not. So, I’ll ask the question: Why is it that when almost anyone graduates from high school these days, we lavish all kinds of gifts on them? Yet, when some of these same people go on to earn degrees in post-secondary education, professional certifications or licenses—often going into debt in the process—there’s little fanfare compared to that which is associated with the achievement of something as a mediocre high school diploma.

Perhaps when we receive the announcement from a relative, friend or neighbor who is completing their high school diploma, nothing more than a twenty-dollar bill should be offered. After all, they are only achieving today’s “minimum daily requirement” in this common achievement. However, when they complete their associate’s degree, or secure their multi-engine pilot’s license, we should up the ante—each time for the completion of a higher level.

Given this philosophy of giving, think about how unfortunate it might be for you and your pocketbook to know someone finishing up their Ph.D.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

McDonald's: A conduit to world peace?

McDonald's Coffee Stirrer
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
It’s easy enough for any of us to poke fun at McDonald’s. They’re a big enough target given their status as a successful mega-corporation. And if anyone can be made fun of without serious fallout, it would be a big, international corporation like McDonald’s. Further, this is the same entity that has been aligned with the world’s questionable eating habits while transforming our English lexicon by adding “Mc” in front of words like “fish,” “chicken,” and “flurry.” Even beyond the McDonald’s menu, new McWords are created by McOthers every McDay, implying a certain McDonald’s-esque in anything to do with our McWorld.

And I’m as guilty as anyone in allowing myself to stoop to such frivolity at McDonald’s expense.

So along comes McCafé—with the appropriate accent mark over the lower case “e.” I was ready to hoot and holler with everyone else when I heard of this. As I recall, this has been a purposeful attempt by McDonald’s to take away some of the fussy coffee drinkers from another mega-corporation known as Starbuck’s.

Lucky for my hometown of Powell, Wyoming, McDonald’s decided to install a version of McCafé in our very own McD’s franchise, even though the closest Starbuck’s is 90-miles away in Billings! They didn’t have to do that, did they?

So, the other day I invited a coffee-drinking friend of mine to join me for a test-drive at our local McCafé—he’s a bit of a coffee snob too. Not surprising, it was easy for us to serve up wisecracks as if they were hamburgers—ordering European coffee drinks made with gourmet coffee at something as American as McDonald’s. How preposterous!

McCafé Peace Cup
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Now, for my confession: the McCafé latté was as good as any I’ve had at Starbuck’s. I can’t say it was the best latté I’ve ever had, but it was worth the two-dollar-plus price and certainly beat the hell out of the dark-coloured dishwater that is passed off as coffee in other local establishments for half the cost.

I’d like to think if McDonald’s can do justice to coffee, it’s time for all the other coffee-serving establishments to pony-up as well.

Nevertheless, as we sat there with gourmet coffee in hand, I experienced an epiphany of sorts—caffeine induced no doubt. What if there’s more to this than something as simple as McDonald’s raising the bar on coffee standards in America? Whether intentional or unintentional, is it possible that MacDonald’s McCafés are instilling a greater awareness of cultural diversity with these little, gourmet coffee stand installments—more than Starbuck’s could ever imagine? And stretching this meditation even further, might McCafés be responsible for deconstructing classism, encouraging tolerance while moving us all closer to world peace?

I know the above will take some explaining so, here’s where I’m coming from—along with an abundance of generalizations.

Despite its huge success over the past 15 years or so, Starbuck’s answered the call of those Americans who desired better coffee due to their keen awareness of coffee quality as a result of their worldly travels, culturally sensitive education or both. I would venture to say that Starbuck’s clientele could be distilled down to a profile that is upper middle class, college educated, white-collar workers living comfortably. McDonald’s clientele on the other hand are lower-middle class, not as much college (if any), blue-collar workers and just getting by for the most part. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that by in large, people who patronize Starbuck’s do not patronize McDonald’s and vice-versa.

Two-Cup Guy
So, along comes McDonald’s with high-end Arabica coffees and espresso drinks hoping to win over some of the Starbuck’s customers—and perhaps they have. However, there’s something greater happening here: McDonald’s patrons who may have scoffed at Starbuck’s and other coffee house foo-foo espresso drinks might become a bit curious about this new product since it’s in their own backyard now—and Lord knows, come to like it!

What happens when people come to appreciate something as alien as gourmet coffee and espresso? Don’t they become curious about it—what’s it all about, what is the history, how is it made, who else uses it and where else is it served? All this leading to my theory that McCafés transform the huddled masses of America (that never gave Starbuck’s the time of day) into a people who are more tuned in and sensitive to the world beyond its shining seas.

I know, it’s a stretch, but just think about it when your sipping your next cup. Besides, where else can you get a mocha in Powell at 9:30 p.m.?