Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Evil will always triumph because good is dumb

Okay, admittedly I've been looking for an excuse to use one of my favorite lines from "Spaceballs" for some time. ("Bikeable feast: the flame thrower" was too hard to work in. Maybe "Bikeable feast: the beercan stove." Kind of catchy, isn't it? Okay, back on point....) Well, yesterday as I passed a Mobil gas station, a Walmart, and a McDonalds crossing the border into Arizona, the opportunity to ruminate on the line in a blog posting presented itself....

There are a few empires that some liberals who will remain nameless might consider pure evil: Cargill, Monsanto, the pharmaceutical industry, ExxonMobil. Some might propose that these profit-driven, to-hell-with-humanity-and-the-planet businesses have no redeeming qualities. I am not addressing those particular industries, but a few who inhabit the next tier down: Starbucks, McDonalds, Walmart. These are corporations that have been crushing local communities for at least the past decade. They are crumbling, but not quickly enough for my taste. (Oops. I'm one of those liberals.) And yet -- and yet! -- they possess a few qualities that I have found to be helpful along my current journey. (Hey, when I'm biking through the desert -- food desert and otherwise -- I'm forced to make a little lemonade from the lemons I'm presented with. Mmm, fresh, cold lemonade.)

Starbucks may have squeezed most mom and pop java joints out of business in hundreds of towns across the country, spread abroad and desecrated the Forbidden City with the construction of a coffee shop within its walls (I almost cried when I saw this on a visit to Beijing back in 2002; I would not have deigned to sip a latte there for all the tea in...nevermind). The shops sell pretty pricey coffee, very little of which is fair trade (and with the amount of coffee the collective shops sell they have the potential to be a major player in reforming the coffee industry if they went strictly the fair trade route, but alas, no such luck), and go through disposable cups like nobody's business. However, they do have dependably nice bathrooms, free wifi, and a decent $1.50 espresso that one can sip very slowly while waiting for rainstorm #3 of the day to pass. And they don't seem to care how many packets of raw sugar and napkins I stuff into my pockets.

McDonalds may be -- with support from KFC, Taco Bell, and the rest of the fast food giants -- driving our country toward even more atrocious rates of obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes, but the folks working at these fast food stops will fill up your water bottles for free and I'll be damned if they don't have clean bathrooms. In fact, I recall reading in one of my Lonely Planet travel guides a few years back that around the globe McDonalds has consistently clean bathrooms. I would wash my hair in those sinks. (In fact, I have.) I'm not sure I'd walk around barefoot in there, though.

And finally, perhaps the most notorious of all is Walmart. Fair wages and benefits for employees have been points of contention in recent years, and they may only have carried one single organic food item in the entire Parker, AZ store (a 16 ounce tub of Stoneyfield Farm vanilla yoghurt) in spite of all the press about the chain carrying organic products, but it's also a place where one can buy clean underwear (socks and underwear are where I draw the line for thrift store shopping) and camp in the parking lot for free (I just learned this the other day). I saw a number of RVs in the lot yesterday afternoon but I still had another 30 miles to bike so I kept going. (As for the underwear, I was desperate. Three days left until I would get to Aunt Cami's house with the blessed washer-dryer and the repeated handwashing of undergarments just wasn't cutting it in the desert. At $7.50 for a 3-pack, I'm hardly holding up the Walmart empire. Even so, perhaps I should do a little penance. Ash Wednesday is tomorrow....)

I'm not endorsing these groups. Hardly. But there are ways to use the fringe benefits the corporate giants offer as we spend the majority of our dollars elsewhere -- at local coffee shops, restaurants, farmers' markets, and food co-ops. Ha! Take that! Good will eventually triumph... and in the meantime I've got a handful of sugar packets to sweeten my lemonade.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. ah, but we must not forget how much starbucks helped popularize coffee to the point that more independent coffee places have now started thanks to the overall enlargement of the coffee market. there's even a coffee place right around the corner from me that opened only a month ago (replacing another independent coffee place that went out of business)!

  2. I'm your father's brother's cousin's former roommate. (I couldn't resist a little quote of my own!)

  3. Great post - it's all about balance, my friend. Keep pedaling, and don't breathe in too deep while passing those AZ mega-dairies...

  4. Good point on the cultivation of "coffee house culture" and the corresponding market, Colin.

    And, Meghan, you'd better be ready for a Spaceballs quoting extravaganza when I get to Houston...in less than two months!

    Mega-dairies? Ick. Haven't noticed any (and I suspect they'd be hard to miss if I were nearby one). I did bike past a cattle feed lot a bit northwest of Florence, AZ....


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