|Photograph courtesy of Lexie Rand|
I did what anyone does under those circumstances: shut off the computer and turn it back on.
Still no go.
A creeping dread. What if we were cut off?
I alerted my wife. She suggested powering down the modem, and turning it back on. That sometimes drives the gremlins away. We traipsed downstairs, began pressing buttons.
Modem lights no longer blinking, she said we should give it time— to cool perhaps — so we went for our walk in the Botanic Garden. A Halloween celebration was going on—little kids dressed as dalmatians, as princesses.
It was nice. Still, I was concerned -- my thoughts were of you, of course. If I couldn't get online, I couldn't update the blog. I might miss a day — Every goddamn day, remember? — and not only would your day be just a little less festive, but the trolls hiding under the bridge of Eric Zorn's blog would all leap up and start gleefully dancing around their Malice Pole, cackling and ululating that Steinberg had missed a day, missed a day, missed a day. So yes, I guess I was thinking of myself too.
"I suppose I could take the laptop over to Caribou Coffee and use their wi-fi to update the blog," I said, as we walked.
"Starbucks," my wife said. "You'll go to Starbucks."
"Of course," I said, immediately understanding what she was meant. The Caribou Coffee in Northbrook is radioactive. You can't go in. A dead zone, our own Chernobyl. Oh, the building is there, a block from our house, but it no longer exists as a place a person could walk into and get coffee and a sweet roll and go online.
Why? It had, during the recent homecoming week, allowed students from Glenbrook North High School's gay-straight alliance to paint a window, as local businesses will do during homecoming festivities. But when the Caribou manager saw what the students had painted, the rainbow gay pride flag, he quickly washed it off.
Parents complained on Facebook. They urged boycotts. The newspapers covered it. I expected the Caribou to do what any sentient business would -- beg the kids to come back, ply them with brownies and soda, allow them to repaint their window, a bigger rainbow flag this time.
But no. The Caribou corporate parent in Minneapolis issued the standard, we-welcome-everybody-to-buy-our-coffee BS statement. The Illinois Caribou organization did too. But nothing from the local coffee stand operator, the guy with the most to lose. He should have been going door-to-door in sackcloth, personally apologizing to residents.
To me, purely from a business perspective, it is that second lapse that is the true sin. People are human, they err, they let their fears and biases get the better of them. Happens to everybody. But to leave the error sitting there, festering, particularly a business as marginal as a coffee shop—it isn't like coffee is hard to find—in a squishy liberal community like Northbrook, well, that's just unforgivably stupid. "It's worse than a crime," as Talleyrand said, "it's a blunder."
To people with long memories, such as myself, who sometimes shudders when I see a BMW because of a photo I saw at the Holocaust Museum in 1994 of prisoners in World War II walking the "staircase of death" at a BMW factory, Northbrook's Caribou Coffee is now a hate group, like the Posse Comitatus, and we are never, ever ordering coffee there again. It might as well change its name to Westboro Baptist Church Coffee.
That might be petty of me. But in the immortal words of Nicholas Cage in "Moonstruck," "I ain't no freakin' monument to justice." Maybe there is something about humans that just needs to hate something, and since I can't find it in my heart to despise any particular group of people based on race, religion or nationality, I express that natural tendency to loathe by really getting my back into hating certain companies and their products, and not always rationally either.
I will not, for instance, drink Perrier, because it was tainted with benzene. The fact that it was tainted with benzene in 1990 is meaningless. You can get pure water from the tap; what bottled water companies are selling is an idea, and if that idea is "benzene," even faintly, why waste your money? Go for the brands that weren't once poisoned. Time doesn't fade on horrors. Brown's Chicken didn't wait a couple years after the massacre and then try to re-open the shop where it occurred. They tore the building down. Because it would always be tainted.
Not that forgiveness is impossible. For years I did not fly American Airlines, because American flipped a DC-10 over at O'Hare in 1979, killing 271 people. I didn't even like to fly on DC-10s. But after 25 year or so, the memories of reading the graphic descriptions of body parts being plucked out of the fields around the runway faded, a little, and I grudging allowed myself to fly American, and now I quite like it.
But for some companies there is no forgiveness. Ford, and its anti-Semite founder, Henry Ford—as bad as it is to be a fan of Hitler, Ford was worse: Hitler was a fan of him. Or Jimmy John's, rushing to bitch that giving health care to its workers will add pennies to the price of a sandwich. Or Walmart, which is practically a branch of the Chinese Communist party.
For me, the lowest rung of chthonic corporate ill-will must be reserved for The Berghoff Restaurant. The Berghoff used to be my favorite place to eat. When out-of-towners came to Chicago for the first time, I would take them proudly to the Berghoff, as if I had created it -- my pal Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker's man in France, and I had our first meal there.
Then, in 2006, the Berghoff pretended to close, in order to fire its union waitstaff, putting its customers through this elaborate mock farewell, only to reopen, on the down low, a few months later. They did it for a little money. It was if your mother staged her own death and funeral, fooling you kids, in order to get out of some magazine subscriptions she no longer wanted.
As with Caribou, the vile initial act was compounded by the indifferent response. The Berghoff never apologized, never explained. Just a big, loud, drawn out, middle finger in the air fuuuuuuuck-youuuuuu to all its devoted, long-time customers. Then turn around, smile broadly, adopt a different tone of voice and welcome them all back in with a sweep of the arm to spend their money there again. No thanks.
Still ... I'm a soft-hearted guy. I don't like to hold grudges. Even when right, it still feels petty. And I missed their creamed spinach, their schnitzel. I ran into the Berghoff publicist at the McCormick Place restaurant show a few years back. Let's bury the hatchet, I told her. All that has to happen is for one of the vile Berghoff spawn -- I didn't use those exact words -- to spell out exactly what happened, and in the purifying light of candor, all will be forgiven, and I will lead a joyous procession back to the Berghoff for thuringer and sauerkraut sandwiches and their good homemade root beer.
So damn the Berghoff then, the restaurant, the family, the whole edifice of deceit and bratwurst. There is no wrath like the lover scorned. May the avenging god of restaurant calamity smite it, and send it down to the oblivion that has claimed so many far better restaurants. And while the Berghoff lingers, unwelcome, on Adams Street, a haunt for tourists and the soulless, we turn our faces away from it, the way we'd turn away from a lunatic on the street corner doing something disgusting.
Sometimes it takes effort. I ran into Newt Minow, the famous lawyer, at a party, and it turns out he is a fan of the column. We decided to have lunch. We chatted in his office for a while, then went down to the street. I found he was steering us toward the Berghoff. Respect mingled with a kind of panic.
"Umm, Mr. Minow," I finally said, freezing in the entranceway. "We don't want to eat here."
"No," I said. "Bad karma." I believe that puzzled him a bit, but we walked out, ate nearby at Vivere, on the ground floor of the Italian Village, without having to worry about the ghosts of betrayed waiters spitting curses upon our food. Our lunch was excellent.
Postscript: The Caribou Coffee in Northbrook went out of business in May, 2014, part of a corporate mass closing of outlets.