Coffee has a special place in Rhode Island. Coffee milk is the state drink. Dunkin Donuts, once regional, went from a local caffeine fix to a national institution. “America Runs on Dunkin.” And yes it does.
Even though Rhode Island has been surpassed by Washington DC and Baltimore as having the worst drivers in the nation, there are still tons of accidents and near misses, most related to Dunkin Donuts parking lots. It is a fact that most of the traffic accidents in the state do not occur because people forgot to purchase the blinker package on their new cars (yes, you do have to request it separately in this state) or because they thought the moon roof was for the middle finger. They happen due to a lack of Dunkin Donuts coffee.
I know, I used to investigate claims for a major insurance company. Everyone crashes in a Dunk parking lot because they do not properly process the law of physics that states “two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time” until their coffee has actually been consumed. And even though it’s impossible to travel more than 5 mph in the space between the entrance and the drive thru, the before-coffee accidents are never pretty.
Coffee is so important in Rhode Island that even the old Providence Civics Center has been renamed–in an age of corporatization, it seems only fitting to name it “The Dunk.” I used to think that was because the Providence College basketball team was pretty good and people enjoyed the players slamming the ball into the hoop (ergo, “dunk”). Incidentally, they should be good with the tuition they are charging these days. But that’s not the reason for the name. It is because Dunkin Donuts bought, I mean sponsored, the renovations to the Civics Center, doing an excellent job including all the typical shades of pink and orange one associates with a hot, steaming, fresh cup of coffee.
Except that most Rhode Islanders drink iced coffee in all seasons. The fact that someone shoveling snow does so with an iced coffee in hand used to mystify me, but I’ve come to realize that there are things about Rhode Island I will never understand–like the accent and why Del’s lemonade forgets to peel the lemon, leaving in chunks of sour rind. Iced coffee in winter, I can accept. What I can’t accept is the seven-cup insulation system that Dunkin Donuts uses to keep it cold until the next polar freeze, killing a little piece of the environment with each large satisfying cup.
We have Starbucks here, too, but that’s expensive. A West Coast subversion, actually. Most locals can do without it. Rhode Islanders aren’t fancy people creating grunge music and investing in four-dollar lattes that no one can spell let alone pronounce. I love Starbucks, but I STILL can’t translate which size is which into Italian. Just give me a really big coffee that doesn’t cost half my paycheck. Sorry, that doesn’t exist? Well, give me the one over there, then.
My friend and almost-colleague agrees with me on that point.
“I just want a %$^* cup of coffee, not an existential experience.”
I agree. I do think it’s super cool to see people obviously much smarter than me dressed entirely in black, huddled around books and electronic devices–the types of people who have hair sticking straight up on one side of their head because they are constantly tugging at it while ruminating about the root cause of human suffering. Sometimes it gets in the way of getting my caffeine, though, because each one of the beverages they order takes roughly five hours to make. When I need a “coffee quickie” to boost my spirits, I can’t wait behind people talking about the meaning of life.
I know that the reason they are there is because either someone paid a lot of money for their particular breed of graduate school or because they are truly smart enough to order their cup of coffee properly–and that, I respect. Not me, I always get it wrong. I was advised that using the right word order is actually part of the Starbucks’ training program. The size, kind, flavor additions, exclusions, and cream choice must go in the right order and flow like the most elevating spoken-word. I don’t know what that word order is. I don’t flow. That fragments the harmony of the universe causing everyone to frown before taking my fifty dollars and asking me if I’d like anything else.
I don’t want a coffee that requires a sentence, paragraph, personal statement or membership to Mensa to order.
I also don’t want a coffee that requires me to buy an additional Rosetta Stone language system to order correctly.
I don’t want a coffee that has exclusions like, “no whip, half-decaf, just a touch of soy, light on the styrofoam.”
And I don’t want a second mortgage. The first one’s enough, thank you.
I just want a really strong cup of coffee. And once in a while, when I’m certain no one is looking–even a flavor. I usually make my own coffee with my Keurig or French press, but sometimes I go to my local joint–Brewed Awakenings. They’re a small business in the community getting much bigger. I’m rooting for them. They always smile, grind my pounds of coffee when necessary so I can use it in my Keurig environmentally friendly-kill-no-spotted-owls refill cup, and tell me to have a nice day. Because if they forgot to tell me, I’m sure it wouldn’t be as good.
And no one even crashes into me in the parking lot.[image: Amy Sussman of Getty images via CNN Money. This photo sums up Rhode Islander's worship of coffee perfectly. Thanks, Amy--we give you a key to the state]