I don’t jump on bandwagons. They’re usually too full of people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but are just hanging out so they can feel like they belong to something.

But I have to say something about this ridiculous Starbucks Red Cup business that’s going around.

First, my position on Starbucks is this: I don’t like their coffee. I will drink it if I don’t have any other option, like at FOT plantings or business meetings where the enormous jug of brewed sludge is the only source of caffeine, or I’m on the road and I need caffeine and a toilet, or if a friend wants to meet for coffee and, for some reason, picks Starbucks. I prefer small businesses, and, as I said up front, don’t jump on bandwagons. On Starbucks, I’m not a fan.

But the furor around this year’s (very sophisticated) design of the cup is preposterous. First, even though I’ve worked in marketing and understand how companies focus on “brand” and color and imagery for marketplace position, that there is a contingent of the population that gives two shits what the coffee cups look like is mind blowing. That that contingent furthermore has interpreted religious stance from a marketing decision is insane. It’s like the scene in The Holy Grail where the peasants accuse a woman of being a witch and drag her to the stake. Based solely on their terror of things they couldn’t understand, they interpreted benign characteristics (her “wart”) as evil and immediately condemned her to death.

and so it is with the Starbucks accusers. Based solely on their terror of things they don’t understand (marketing) they interpret benign characteristics (absence of holiday imagery) as evil and have condemned Starbucks to…to what, I don’t even know. A boycott? Sure, I’ll boycott Starbucks, but only because their coffee sucks.

There are hundreds of cogent defenses of Starbucks, none of which need my voice to improve their message. The gist of the defense is, essentially, “No, Starbucks didn’t mean to be anti-Jesus by using a plain red cup. They just liked how it looked.”

It’s a fine response. And I’m sure it’s true.

But what if Starbucks DID intend to be anti-Jesus? I mean, what if they had a hard-line atheist CEO who wanted all branding to reflect a total rejection of holiday imagery? What if their marketing division was led by a Satanist who wanted to re-appropriate the color red from Santa? What if the company WAS trying to make a stand against participation in Christmas spirit?

It is, after all, their right.

We saw the same radical fundamentalist Christians defend Hobby Lobby’s right to use their corporate actions to reflect closely held religious beliefs. The argument of the radicals at that time was that corporations have an absolute right to freedom of religion, and that Christian-led companies have a right to establish corporate policy based on those Christian beliefs.

Doesn’t the same hold true for non-Christian-led companies?

If Starbucks were *actually* making an anti-Jesus policy statement with their red cups, wouldn’t that simply be an expression of their freedom of religion?

And as an expression of religious freedom, wouldn’t Starbucks also deserve the wholehearted support of the radical fundamentalists who so ardently defended other corporations’ religious expression?

I’m cynical enough to know the answer will be “of course not!” The position of radical Christians arguing publicly for Hobby Lobby isn’t “hey, we want to be free to practice our religion!” it’s “We believe Christianity is the only true religion and we support corporations and policies that align with OUR principles, but everyone else can go jump off a cliff.”

A surprising number of people have been conned into believing that Christians are being persecuted, and now, based on their terror of things they don’t understand (the power of diversity, the peace that’s possible through love and acceptance of our fellow man, the *actual* instructions from Jesus, like “whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers, that you do unto me”), they are interpreting benign characteristics (red cups, or in my fictional scenario, an expression of non-Christian beliefs) as evil, and have condemned Starbucks.

Tell you what, radicals: go on with your protest. I’m not going to try to convince you Starbucks didn’t mean any harm. You would never believe me anyway. Plus, your protest won’t amount to a hill of coffee beans, what with the prevalence of Starbucks addicts and people who might just be swayed by the idiocy of your argument to start drinking Starbucks.

But you’ve painted yourself into a corner with your so-called defense of religious freedom. I can’t wait for the day when a Satanist-owned bookstore wants to express their closely held religious beliefs by requiring all employees to remove religious items (a cross necklace, for instance) while they are working. Your refusal to defend the employer will reveal the truth of your argument: that it’s not about the freedom to be ANY religion, for you it’s only about the freedom to be YOUR religion.

Visit Portland!

A couple of people are coming to visit me in the next few months. I’m pretty excited to show them my new city, particularly because I’m super excited about this place. Maybe you’ve noticed.

But I think it’s important to tell my friends about a couple of Portland quirks that took me aback when I first got here. I’d like to save them the surprise.

1) Portland will seriously f*ck with your sense of direction.
I am the opposite of directionally challenged. When I have a map or a list of directions, I’m golden: even without them, I can typically find my way around any area. I’ve done it in Chicago and suburbs, New Jersey, New York City, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Reno, Seattle, and even Livingston, Montana.

Portland is a different story.

Maybe I got spoiled by Chicago’s grid system, or am flummoxed by the persistent overcast skies shrouding one of my tried-and-true navigational methods, but after almost two years of driving around this city, I still regularly lose my sense of direction. We have a river that curves around the city, so sometimes it’s north of you and sometimes it’s east of you. We have streets that meander around the side of foothills, and they often run both north-south and east-west. We have streets that end abruptly with no notice, turn into other streets, and then resume two blocks later.

And this town can’t build a decent merge ramp. Getting on and off the highway is a game of roulette, and you just have to be patient and recognize that it is not the idiot drivers, it’s the idiotic design of the ramps. They’re awful. I have so much more respect for Chicago’s roadways since I moved here.

A native Portlander once excused the street system in this way: the streets we use for cars were once cow paths, where the cattle were run from the farm to the river for transport. Okay, I get that. But it’s a really screwed up way to navigate. Fortunately, Portland is small enough that even when you do get “lost”, if you keep going, you’ll find your way back eventually.

And don’t even get me started on the terrifying, barely wide-enough-for-my-car overpass elevated portions of the highway required to get you to the aforementioned ramps. With their flimsy chain-link fences and unlit curves. It’s a pastiche of bad engineering that adds to the charm of the town–if you’re not the one driving at night in the rain on unfamiliar roads.

OH AND ALL THE ONE-WAY STREETS! Basically, you can’t turn left on Burnside. Or anywhere downtown.

My advice: don’t rely on your sense of cardinal directions for getting around. And don’t rely on a map. And be careful and patient on the highways. Seriously. Just…let somebody else drive. Like me. Hey, I only forget which way is north for about ten seconds, and then I’m right back in sync. It’s cool.

2) People will talk to you. Like, every day. Recently, I was walking out of a brand-new craft supplies shop (new letter-writing paper: mmmm.) when I encountered a woman standing at the threshold, thinking about going in. She asked, “Is it cute in there?” I’ve never heard that question before. I said yes. Because it was.

People I have never met or even seen before say hello, wave, make eye contact and even smile at me every single day. We talk about the weather and the snow on the mountain and whether we saw the unicyclist recently. Conversations are started on buses, in coffee shops and parks, in line at the post office, on the street and even at the DMV. I know the life stories of more people than I can count, and here’s the thing: I LOVE IT. It feels like I’m part of a community. Sure, many of us in this community are pretty strange, but that’s part of the beauty of it.

I know for some of my visitors, this will be a shock. Coming from Chicago, where making eye contact can be perceived as a bodily threat, this was a huge adjustment, but trust me on this one: it’s perfectly safe to respond when people talk to you. In fact, a surefire way to get treated like crap, like a tourist, like a non-native is to act freaked out when strangers talk to you. If you want the Portland experience, just go with it. It’s cool.

3) There are a lot of street people here. Like, a LOT. I thought I would get used to the numbers of people sleeping on the street, but because this is feeling like my community, I see the people living on the street as my neighbors, and it’s gotten harder to act like it doesn’t bother me. It does.

But I remember the shock when I first moved here. I have no remedy for you, because I have none for myself, but I’m trying to prepare you. Just know you’ll see this.

4) It rains. Deal with it. Bring a slicker and comfortable, water-resistant shoes. Do not worry about looking dorky or unfashionable; the risk of being wet and cold all day is not worth those awesome sandals you bought. Portland is plenty fashion conscious (albeit in a Lumberjack-Hipster vein), but the consensus seems to be that staying warm and dry is paramount. Oh, and skip the umbrella; that only works for rain that falls straight down. This is more like walking through an invisible sponge.

5) Dogs in stores. And libraries. And book stores. And coffee shops. And Target. And restaurants. Everyone has a dog, and dogs are everywhere. I kept expecting security to escort out the people owning the dogs, but that hasn’t happened once. Dogs are treated as speechless humans; every cash register has an attendant bowl of dog treats. And everyone pets everyone else’s dog, and asks questions about it. Next to tattoos, dogs are the number one topic of conversation I’ve overheard.

Number three on that list is tattoos of dogs.

Number four is tattoos ON dogs.

6) It is so freaking green and lush and nature-y here you won’t believe it. I still don’t. I still drive down Burnside every morning and think “good GRIEF this place is beautiful.” And the mountain! And the other mountains! I tell you, I’m STILL stunned by this place. There’s no way to prepare you, so I should have skipped this one. But. Wow.

7) Coffee here is AMAZING: but also tea. I started drinking tea like a boss out here, and it’s so awesome. And if I see you with a Starbucks’ cup I will slap it out of your hand and buy you Water Avenue or Spielmans (and a bagel!) or Stumptown.

I am still swooning for this city, almost two years into my life here. I can’t wait for people to visit to I can show you my favorite things. And for everyone who hasn’t yet planned their visit, we just added a futon couch to our assortment of places for people to sleep, so now we have two beds for visitors, three if our kids aren’t in town. Make your reservations now! Space is limited, but we’ll show you a good time.