Noe Valley Voice May 2000

Valley Views: The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated

By Will Walker

When I'm on 24th Street and in need of a feeling of empowerment, I just sashay past Starbucks a couple of times. I don't even slow down to peek in the window.

You see, I'm a Starbucks boycotter. I object to the chain's moving in across the street from an existing coffee store. The Starbucks at 24th and Noe, which came in about six years ago, went head to head with Spinelli Coffee Company (now Tully's, another chain!).

I understand that it's just capitalism. Still, I resent it. And I'm driven to take action. What else can I do as a consumer but lash out, viciously, at their bottom line?

These days I am heartened to note that my guerrilla tactics are proving extremely effective. You might say, pshaw, business looks rather good in that spick-and-span emporium of exotic caffeinated beverages. I say, nonsense, there's no sister store on the same block, thanks to my personal crusade.

I take pride in my boycotts. Starbucks is the latest in a long line of inspired campaigns. Bank of America, I think, was the first institution to suffer the sting of my wrath. Back in the days when you could purchase a used car with a rotary engine, I put down $50 on just such a car being offered for sale by a man in white plastic loafers and a burgundy double-knit sports coat. I immediately thought better of my purchase, however, so I hustled over to my BofA branch and put a stop-payment on the check. BofA cashed the check anyway, and it took me an hour of cooling my heels at the branch manager's desk to get my money back. Once my account was properly credited, I closed it, and I've not set foot in a BofA since -- although I do confess to using their ATMs a couple of times, before they started charging a fee to noncustomers.

Perhaps my boycott was ill-considered. After all, a year or so ago Bank of America suffered a profit loss that led to an erosion in its management capability and its eventual takeover by a ruthless outsider. Then again, based on how they handled my stop-payment, I'd say they got what was coming to them.

Wells Fargo was next on my boycott list. I'm not sure of the exact incident that tipped the balance. I just developed a feeling over the years that if I happened to be waiting in line at the bank and then sneezed and a teller said Gesundheit, I'd find a service charge for the transaction on my account. I also dimly remember that my wife Valerie had some problems with unwarranted charges, but that's a story she would have to tell. I can barely keep track of my own grievances.

Everyone loves to hate banks, but I've also suffered a boycott-worthy offense at a local restaurant. I used to meet a friend for lunch on Thursdays at Bull's on Van Ness, until one day the bartender got my goat. I had invested an uncharacteristic, celebratory couple of dollars in the jukebox to hear their full Van Morrison catalog, and just when Van was launching into "Wild Nights," the management turned the sound off and cranked up the volume on a Giants' playoff game. Now, I'm a Giants fan, and I wouldn't have minded listening to the game, but I was not pleased to have the manager refuse to refund my jukebox money. I've never darkened their doors again.

I feel certain my absence has been damaging to the club. Business still looks brisk, but you'll notice that Bull's hasn't managed to open any other San Francisco locations or franchise the operation. I may not have opened a can of whup-ass on 'em, as they say down in Texas, but I've definitely put the hurt on 'em.

While I admit I am somewhat fanatical about my targets for boycott, I know I'm not the only one who has such strong feelings. For years, Valerie has waged a campaign against a certain movie theater in town (with the initials O.P.). She began her boycott after several bad experiences involving surly help. Again, she'd have to be the one to supply the gory details, but the upshot is, we never, ever patronize that theater.

We aren't sure of the economic consequences of our protest, since we don't have occasion to go near the place. However, about six months ago Valerie was delighted to read a newspaper column in which the writer reported encountering the same sort of disrespect from the help there. Valerie's crusade may not have closed the theater's doors, but it is no doubt gathering steam among disgruntled patrons.

With all this focus on boycotts, you're probably wondering if we have any time left in our lives for fun. Don't be silly; revenge is one of life's most underrated pleasures. And besides -- show me someone who loves everyone in the world, and I'll show you a person who isn't really paying close attention.

Will Walker is incensed that the Voice decided to withhold the full name of the theater he and his wife are boycotting. And now he's threatening to boycott us!