Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pay It Forward, Starbucks


A man in desperately bad shape comes into Starbucks, Beverly Hills, heads for the napkin dispenser and after a struggle pulls out a nice-size stack, stuffs them in his shirt, and leans over to where I sit and demands, "Buy me a coffee!"

"Ok", I say, "tell them at the counter." "No!", he shouts, "I don't know how!" I order the drink for him, and he goes.

"Pay It Forward" is the slogan behind a Starbucks campaign: buy any drink and you can order at no charge a coffee for the person of your choice. Much as you'd expect, if you thought about it, there is in Beverly Hills and adjacent territories an army of desperate people who make the streets their home who'd like to have a coffee bought for them and the have heard about the campaign.

Next thing that happens, I ask a woman pulling a red plastic toy wagon filled with coffee and pastries where she was going. To the celebration of the groundbreaking for restoring the lily pond at the Beverly Hills Gardens. You can come, she says, and I do.

The youthful Mayor is there in blue jeans. He gives a speech, as does the somewhat less presentable grandson of the founder of the Beverly Hills Hotel who's spearheaded the voluntary effort for this important restoration project. No one asks why the volunteers have to do the job the city should do itself. If you can believe the architect Charles Moore, Beverly Hills, having its own water supply, was able early in the last century to remain rich and independent and successfully resist the surrounding city of Los Angeles' extortion of a withheld water supply to join in legal union.

I remember driving down Santa Monica Blvd past the Lily Pond when I was a teenager. It was no big deal. The prominent people of the City Of Beverly Hills are out to tidy up its properties, and don't want to wait on the complex game of balanced corporate bribery that is now assumed to control all aspects of government, city, state, federal, whatever.

The army of the desperate from the streets will be soon trouping past the lilies on the pond's surface. Will they demand from the city's prominent, whose eyes have been refreshed by lilies and pond water, "Pay It Forward"? Torn to pieces by the complex game of balanced corporate bribery that is now assumed to control all aspects of American government, city, state, federal, will they floating like corpses among the lilies ask the city volunteers for a lucky coin for every tossed into the pond?