Derek Johnson Muses

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The Starbucks List, Part 1

About two years ago, I had a double-Starbucks day, the first that I could remember. It began in Ames, Iowa where I left that day to go to Hastings, Nebraska with an emergency load of seed for our grower. I got up at six, and I first hit the Starbucks in Des Moines for my morning coffee. Off Exit 129, this particular Starbucks, is crammed into the end of a strip mall and really need about another 10-20 square feet. The second Starbucks of the day came after 320 miles, stops at the farmer’s market in Omaha and a rest and recharge at home in Seward, and after dropping the seed off in Hastings. Like the one in Des Moines, this Starbucks is at the end of a strip mall, but there’s enough room in it. As I sipped my green tea latte and pondered my double Starbucks day, I decided that I should make a list of every Starbucks I had ever been to. Embarrassingly, it took up most of an entire page in my journal.

It’s an odd thing for me. While I do try to patronize the local coffeehouses when I see them, I have thing for Starbucks. There are many Starbucks locations that have been logged into my mind, and I always search for Starbucks on my GPS and even check for them online before I go to certain cities. It’s an indulgence, I know, but Starbucks keeps me going mile marker to mile marker. Each one is it’s own little home, and I’m grateful for it.

So, from that journal, here is the first installment in the list of Starbucks I’ve patronized over the years:

Rosecrans Street, San Diego, California.

My Dad and I were staying at a local hotel near Point Loma for the Holiday Bowl in 2009. This Starbucks was right down the street from us, and, even though the neighborhood was obviously safe in retrospect, I was still worried about leaving my room. But the morning of the game, just after it became light, I ventured down the street to this Starbucks to have my morning coffee and devotions. There was an older black man reading the paper there, and while there, I made some calls to sell our extra tickets to the game, as the sun began to enliven San Diego’s obvious yellows and dull greens.

Shelbyville, Indiana

It was an off-and-on rainy Sunday afternoon in September of 2009, and I was driving from my sister’s house in northwest Indiana to some  fields of ours east of Cincinnati. Having just passed Indianapolis, I saw this Starbucks off the interstate, next to an eatery named Half Pints Bistro (which looked more like a family restaurant. It was also the reason I remembered where this Starbucks was to begin with.) and figured, hey, last chance for a latte for ninety minutes. I pulled off and hit the line inside. This Starbucks got the low-lighting perfect and had some nice local photographs. I ordered my fall seasonal latte, and got back on the road.

Peru, Illinois

I’ve made multiple stops at this Starbucks, including the return from the aforementioned trip (pounded another pumpkin latte that day). It’s conveniently located in a strip mall, and is almost identical to the one in Grand Island. although the rest of the exit metropolis is falling apart, including an abandoned hotel and restaurant. Wish Starbucks could have taken an abandoned building but no luck.

Heartland Renaissance

There are three demographics articles that I read or heard of in the last year that surprised me, mainly because they’ve mentioned my small home state and the heartland region, as an economic haven. The first was a list of the best cities for young professionals, which included Omaha and Des Moines as number one. The second, which came out this December, listed the top cities to start over in, and included Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Fargo, and Iowa City as number one. Given the small size of Lincoln and Omaha, I never thought much of either city in terms of national importance, but the benefit of being a frugal culture has caused us to recover a whole lot sooner from the economic downturn.

I travel a lot to Michigan and Indiana, the state where my sister lives. It’s not overtly difficult to see why these states plunged into the depths of the recession-too much year-round recreation. Too many middle class families taking too much time at the lakes in winter must have been bad for business. In Nebraska and Iowa, nobody owns summer houses; there is no place within a reasonable driving distance of Omaha or Lincoln to get away to.

I travel a lot in the summer, and I’ve seen a lot of urban renaissance in the mid-sized towns. Sioux Fall, Des Moines, Eau Claire, Dubuque, and Omaha, all have revitalized downtowns centered around rivers, very similar to Twin Cities. None of the shops are as extravagant as Chicago or San Francisco, but each is their own little world. When I see painted park benches overlooking a river or metal statues of wolves and pioneers lining the street, I can really tell that a city cares about its image, and it makes me want to be there.

Statue in downtown Sioux Fall-courtesy of Anita Davis’ blog:

(Direct Link to the photo above)

Even conservative, nice -place-to-raise-the-kids Lincoln has evolved with the times. Since I was in high school ten years ago, the aging Starship 9 second-run theater has been torn down, and finally now, a parking structure is being built to replace it. The Haymarket is a thriving district, although it could use another good restaurant. A couple of rotting building have finally been ripped out of the shady block between 9th, O Street, 10th, and N Street, and hopefully there will be some good replacements. Will Lincoln ever look like the hip college scene that Madison, Wisconsin or Dinkytown in Minneapolis is? Maybe not, but at least things can move in the right direction.

The Lincoln haymarket in the morning.

In processing all this, I am reminded of something that Robert James Waller wrote in The Bridges of Madison County (yes, I’m embarrassed). “The people of Madison County liked to say, compensating for their own self-imposed cultural inferiority, ‘This is a good place to raise kids.’ And she always felt like responding, ‘But is it a good place to raise adults?'”  The answer to that isolationism isn’t to build a fancy downtown in a city of 200,000 and to start new businesses; it is to change from an attitude of isolationism to an attitude of acceptance and mutual support.

Paul Rhoads’ 10 Year Contract: It just means you’re Gullible

Since I follow Iowa State by the mere of having to go to Ames for work and suffer their bad sports talk radio, I thought it was high time to weigh in on Iowa State football now that Paul Rhoads has been given a contract extension. I find listening to Iowa sports talk radio excruciating; when it was possible the Big 12 would break up, the Des Moines media reacted in the same way Chris Rock says the other type of black people react when they hear that welfare is going to be taken away from them.

For the record, I was happy when Paul Rhoads got hired at Iowa State because Jamie Pollard was hiring “one of Iowa State’s” own, which meant to me, one Rhoads wouldn’t be very good, and two, Iowa State would end up keeping him a year too long.  Now, I’m sure many Cyclone fans would probably tell me I’m wrong. I’ll admit that Rhoads was a better coach then I thought at the time, but now that he’s armed with a ten year contract, I do think there’s an even greater chance that Rhoads will remain at Iowa State one year longer than he should, ALA Dan Hakwins at Colorado.

Rhoads inherited a team that had won a total of nine games in the previous three season, and no conference games the year before. His first year, he went 6-6, with one huge upset win on the road at a 10-4 Nebraska team (game I attended, to my chagrin),The next year, he went 5-7, but did beat a 5-7 Texas team on the road while the Longhorns were ranked.  Through his first two years, Rhoads was 3-4 in games decided by a touchdown, a stat he would improve to 5-1 this year.

This year was arguably Rhoads’ best year. Iowa State was an underdog 10 times, and more than half of those times were by more than a touchdown. Rhoads did a great job getting his team up in the spots were they had to win: first at home against in-state rival Iowa, Rhoads’ first victory against the Hawkeyes; then going on the road after that win and playing up against UConn on a short week; and finally, in the home finale against No. 2 Oklahoma State, the highest ranked team the Cyclones had ever beaten. In the first three games of the season, Rhoads had to overcome multiple turnovers, and then had to go with a freshmen quarterback late in the season. If Iowa State had the benefit of a Big 12 North schedule and an extra non-conference game, they could have gone 8-4.

So Rhoads finished three years at 18-20 after yesterday’s loss in the Pinstripes Bowl, and now he gets a ten year extension. Yes, he over-performed expectations against the talent he had, but say it Iowa State fans: loosing record, and you’re giving him a ten year contract. If you can’t smell the fish, you’ve got a clothespin on your noose.

Let me do this in vacuum: Rhoads is a great coach in the moment. The Youtube clips of his post-game speeches. Getting his team up when they played Texas Tech the week after they beat Oklahoma, and again against Oklahoma State the week right before the Cowboys played Oklahoma. Rhoads even said in his ESPN interview after the OSU game that he’d told his team about that very opportunity before the game. Rhoads, much like Rex Ryan, who is flamboyant, gets his players to play hard for him, and gives the media good quotes. Granted, that personality works better in college than in the NFL, but the potential for his act to wear thin is there. But there’s enough good with Paul Rhoads, so you definitely want to keep him since he’s selling out your stadium.

But here’s how I would have negotiated: I would have started at about $1.7 or $1.8 million in annual compensation, and been willing to work my way up to $2, perhaps $2.2 million. But there is absolutely no way I would give Rhoads more than eight years: I would have started at six, and hoped I could settle at seven. I would have even given him more money and bonuses, if it meant not giving him more years. The reason: Iowa State plays nine conference games, plus a tough non-conference game every year against Iowa. This year, Rhoads got most of the breaks to go his way, and he still went only .500. The question will be, if Iowa State goes 4-8 each of the next two years, will Rhoads still be able to sell out the stadium just because he grew up within twenty five miles of it?

There is a direct precedent that should worry Iowa State: Notre Dame quickly doled out a ten year contract to Charlie Weis after he’d been in South Bend two years. Two years later, they knew Weis was the wrong guy, but they had to wait him out another year because of the contract. And remember, they’re Notre Dame; they fill their stadium every Saturday.

Yes, Iowa State fan, you may end up getting snookered by this deal, but this may be the bright side: by locking Rhoads up for ten years, they wouldn’t have to add years to back end of the contract for a while. If Rhoads does end up going to a bowl game every other year, Iowa State may have him locked in at a bargain price for the next six or seven years.

But here’s what I wonder: did Iowa State look over at Iowa City and what Kirk Ferentz makes per year, and say, let’s get Paul Rhoads locked into a long term, low rate. Yes, the low rate is great, but even if you succeed, you’re just going to have overpay him again when he gets other offers.


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