For a person on the move, the world’s countless Starbucks locations provide a lot of very useful infrastructure. They provide caffeine, wireless internet access (even at night when they are closed), a place to sit, bathrooms, electrical outlets, and tolerable food. Their bagels with cream cheese are affordable, reasonably filling, and not spectacularly unhealthy when consumed in moderation.
Starbucks has been key for me on a great many trips. For instance, when I was in Washington D.C. photographing the Keystone XL protests. It is especially useful and important when I am traveling somewhere where Fido’s data roaming rates are evil. I can orient myself with Google Maps, make calls with Skype, check email, upload images to Flickr, and update websites all through the glory of Starbucks WiFi – and all while keeping my iPhone safely in ‘airplane mode’. And it can all be done with the accompaniment of a half-litre of highly caffeinated brew.
In Oxford, Starbucks locations were part of my meandering reading system. I generally can’t just sit in one place for hours and pay attention to the documents in front of me. I do much better when moving periodically from place to place: from one library to another to a Starbucks and on to a different library. If I do start a PhD, I will probably resume similarly peripatetic habits when dealing with large volumes of reading material.
Just as coaling stations were once essential support infrastructure for coal-fired ocean-going ships, the vast scattering of near-identical Starbucks locations around the world provide the necessities of life for those away from home everywhere. If they just added some coffin hotel style sleeping berths, there would be no real need to rely on any other businesses when visiting a strange city.