On my officially sanctioned guided tour with the Dunkin’ boys, all the stops were spacious, airy locales, clearly chosen for their PR suitability. Alas, these turned out to be Dunkin’s Potemkin Villages. Many of the other stores I visited had all the ambience of a Texaco outside El Paso, resplendent with interrogation-quality fluorescent lights and pee on the toilet seats.
Maybe that’s part of Dunkin’s anti-charm charm. A week later, I made an unchaperoned visit to a Dunkin’ store on Chambers Street in the financial district. Okay, it probably wasn’t realistic to expect I could get through a chapter of The Year of Magical Thinking there, but I wasn’t expecting to be seated at a crumb-covered table near a homeless couple bickering between themselves about something, as far as I could ascertain, that happened in 1974. But with all the ranting, I was forced to turn off my iPod and fall into the rococo rhythm of the place. In an hour, cops bitching about A-Rod came and went. A pimp (at least I hope he was a pimp) wearing a yellow-with-black-stripes three-piece suit ordered a large black with one sugar and two creams, got it (quickly, of course), and was gone. Even the two squabblers made peace, with the girl moving next to her dude and announcing to the world, “I love this man.”
Eventually, I left and walked through the fall puddles to a Starbucks across the street. There were the green-aproned antiseptic counter zombies patiently waiting on the button-nosed, apple-cheeked beauties in their new cashmere sweaters sipping nonfat something-or-other with the insouciance of the privileged class. Thinking about the dark-roasted aroma and surgically perfect features, I realized Freddy Ferrer was right. There are two New Yorks: the java leisure class and the rest of us poor schnooks. And that’s when it occurred to me that Dunkin’ Donuts is doing a public service—providing caffeine to the class of New Yorkers that is rapidly disappearing from this BlackBerry-packing, Prada-wearing megalopolis. They’re the sons and daughters of Cheever characters who paid a quarter for an Automat ham sandwich between doorman shifts and seamstress gigs at Macy’s. Dunkin’ Donuts is the rocket fuel for the people who actually do the city’s hard work.
In this, New York’s most recent Gilded Age, perhaps that’s worth fetishizing.