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We’re rolling on a handsome and very wide interstate, I-75 to be exact, connecting Atlanta and Chattanooga. Rob’s cell phone can go online, and so: as we slice through densely wooded hills and ridges, Rob finds the Starbucks locater website and dials in Acworth, Georgia. And lo–tucked into these rural hills are not your naïve imaginings of banjo pickers on lonely cabin porches in grassy clearings, but rather 53, yes, 53 Starbucks within a 20 mile range. This is mindboggling. Fifty three Starbucks in a small patch of rural South Carolina. We’re far down this road to the future. There are wonders to be seen in the palm of your hand.

Rob has located a Starbucks. We’re exiting for Cartersville. At 605 Main Street, we are promised a Starbucks. We stop at the access road. In every direction are tall pines. Surely we will see the maiden Hiawatha treading a cool shaded trail. No. There’s a fresh red dirt gash in forest slope, and a pastel gas center. With a very long line.

Now we pass a Kohl’s Chili’s Pier 1 Imports Target Red Lobster Honda KFC Knights Inn Applebee’s BP (Beyond Petroleum) pastel empire. Anymall, USA. And there’s the Starbucks.

outside.jpgA young couple is huddled at the outdoor patio, downloading each other’s favorite tunes For Free. Everything is free. Everything works. The future works. We are not collapsing. We are entering Starbucks.

This is a good one. It’s not like the tawdry and already tattered Starbucks at the sunbleached access road in Baker, CA, where the barista couldn’t pull a shot if his meth informed life depended on it. No, this is a highly trained multi racial poster child of a Starbucks crew, the shiny end of the what’s-right-with-America-God-save-her veneer bravely preserving this troubled land. Rob orders his secret drink, a concoction that makes a verbal end run around Starbucks regulations. We can’t tell you what it is, because then Starbucks would be flooded with this rogue order and would shut it down, but it does involve ice and soy milk. That’s all we can give you.

We’re seated at comfy chairs. s.jpg

Rob’s charging this very computer generating these very words, sipping his secret drink. Shawn too has ordered the Rob Special. (Shawn’s verdict: “It was a nice change. It got me going, without a lot of product. Wakes you up. I don’t have to pee right now. I’m not sick to my stomach.”) Paul M has uncharacteristically ordered the adolescent Java Chip Frappucino. pm.jpg

Paul L is dipping a chocolate chip cookie into a soy cappuccino and babbling ecstatically, absorbing a rainbow of doomsday headlines screaming from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution. pl.jpg

We step out into the heat. We’re low on gas. The brand new BP, like every gas station in the South right now, has a line of cars waiting for their 10 gallon limit of regular gas flowing through the premium pump at premium prices (hold on to your receipts, Carolinians, you may get a 75 cent refund in a future class action suit). We get in line. Not too bad. Our faithful KIA mini van drinks its fill, and now we’re a sure bet to make Chattanooga. I-75 is a 6 lane tunnel through an unchanging rolling wall of woodland, kind of hypnotic. We see few vistas, mostly trees, with some towering billboards, these suckers are tall. Hours pass. We reach the outskirts of a new Hawks city, with multiple consonants and vowels indicative of the south: Chattanooga.