How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates Gill’s memoir about how he goes from being an Ivy League son of privilege, working a cushy job as an advertising exec, to being a lonely old man who commutes 90 minutes each way from Bronxville to the Upper West Side to pour coffee at Starbucks, isn’t a bad premise.
And Gill’s pedigree–his father is famed New Yorker scribe Brendan Gill–certainly stoked my anticipation as well. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one–Tom Hanks has signed on to play the author in the film version.
Too bad the book sucked.
How Starbucks Saved essentially serves as a 260-page Starbucks recruitment pamphlet, where “Partners” (the dude/dudette who pours you your coffee) treat each other with utmost respect, the company bends over backwards to help each Partner reach his highest level of happiness (to be fair, its employee health insurance plan is exceptional), and its coffee was set on this earth to heal the world’s wounds.
Gill stumbles through the entire book in constant amazement that an older white man–one from tony Bronxville, no less–can actually talk and joke with people of color–people from actual ghettos where folks are poor and some even get shot!
Mind you, the affection between Gill and his boss Crystal, a young black woman, is genuinely endearing, and Gill’s access to literary lions through his pops–“Gatesy”, as Michael is called, meets the likes of Robert Frost, E.B. White and Brendan Behan, and has chance interactions with Sinatra and Queen Elizabeth–offers an intriguing glimpse at some very compelling people.
But he’s just such a ninny. The whole point of the book is Gill breaking from his priviledged past to make it on his own–at 64, no less. But all the while, the reader can’t help but think, Man, there’s no way you get a book deal if your father isn’t Brendan Gill.
I’d recommend How Starbucks Saved My Life–the title refers not just to his barista job helping Gill pull his head out of his ass, but to a coworker saving him from a knifing in his Upper West Side ‘bucks–to a grandmother with a taste for Mitch Albom. For everyone else, it’s as enjoyable as spilled a venti cappuccino on your lap.
And back to Gill’s onerous commute. He makes a big deal of his three-hour round trip on public transportation from Bronxville to his Starbucks on West 93rd Street (which is a 14-mile drive, by the way):
“If I could eliminate the three hours a day of commuting, it would give me a big break physically and mentally between every shift. I was always anxious to make the right train, catch the shuttle, and grab the right subway.”
Sorry, Gatesy, but I have to call BS on that. He lives right next to the Bronxville train, which takes less than half an hour to Grand Central. So if it takes him, say, 35 minutes to go from his apartment to Grand Central, I’m just not buying the fact that it takes Gill another 55 minutes to take the GCT shuttle to Times Square, then hop the 3 train up to 93rd. Old guy or not, there’s no way.
In fact, Gill admits this near the end of the book. “My last shift did not start until 1 p.m. It was already noon at my little train station in suburbia, yet I knew I could make it to my store in New York City in plenty of time.”
Obviously it doesn’t add up. I fault Gill’s editor for that one as much as I do the author.
Yet another reason to skip the book.