Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Starbucks: New form, function for your coffee experience

Starbucks Coffee / "One person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time."

Visit Seattle like I did during the recent Christmas holiday and one quickly notices that the Emerald City is a world center for coffee-drinking enthusiasts. One need only thank Starbucks, the American global coffee company and coffeehouse chain that's based here, for inspiring and nurturing the human spirit of "one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time."

An environmental mission statement.
While it seems like there's a Starbucks on every city block throughout much of Seattle -- including some very hip and trendy ones in Queen Anne and on Capitol Hill -- there's one in the Ballard neighborhood in northwest Seattle (5221 15th Avenue NW) that's unlike any I've ever seen before: it's a multi-use, drive-thru/walk-up store made out of mobile and energy-efficient used shipping containers. That's right. Industrial-looking, used shipping containers. "Truly a Ballard look!" wrote a commenter on Yelp earlier this year. The industrial containers have an etching of the Ballard Bridge above the walk-up window and there's a map of Seattle and the Puget Sound on the façade.

Why did Starbucks build this? A message to its customers, printed on the side, explains the concept: "Starbucks relies on shipping containers for transportation around the world. We also rely on the planet we all share, and we believe in doing things that are good for the earth. This means finding solutions that keep things like old shipping containers out of the waste stream. So we've found a way to reuse them to make stores like this. Learn more at starbucks.com/responsibility."

Starbucks is committed to building green spaces, its website informs its customers. "By building environmentally sound stores and facilities, conserving the energy and water we use and purchasing renewable energy credits, we're pushing ourselves to reduce the environmental footprint of our operations"

An etching of the Ballard
Bridge appears above the
walk-up window at the 

Reclamation Drive-Thru in
the Ballard neighborhood.
The drive-thru and walk-up location in Ballard, built using four used end-of-life-cycle shipping containers, measures about 450 square feet. Shipping containers have become trendy building material and this seems a natural for what is an area with a lot of car traffic.

Because Starbucks coffee and tea is shipped from their countries of origin using shipping containers, it's as if it's come full circle. One small sustainable container holds garbage, recycling and storage.

The whole store is contained within the shells of four containers that have been reclaimed, refurnished, renewed and revived. And according to the Starbucks website: "Savings go beyond storage containers, as well. The store reduces material use with simplified, environmental signage. The building itself serves as a sign post, while form painting on the asphalt intuitively guides customers into the drive-thru.

"Rainwater collected from the roof of the drive-thru is used to nourish surrounding landscaping. Xeriscaping (selecting plants that naturally require less water) helps reduce water consumption And in the event that the store needs a new location, the entire structure can be disassembled and moved."

Indeed, the sustainable store design for the 21st century -- the Reclamation Drive-Thru -- is in action. And, it's forever changed the form and function of our Starbucks Coffee experience.

Photos: Courtesy of Yelp.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Kerr-ific start for a first-time head coach

Steve Kerr / "I'm the luckiest coach in NBA history..."

Two months into the new pro basketball season, the Golden State Warriors have been the darlings of the National Basketball Association. Nightly, the "Splash Brothers" duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are providing a highly-entertaining -- and potent -- 1-2 scoring punch in the back court. The "Dubs" achieved a franchise best 16-game winning streak, going five weeks without losing a game.

One of the reasons for the Warriors' new-found success is simple: they have one of the brightest minds in the game in their new head coach, Steve Kerr. He's off to the hottest start of any first-year NBA head coach with a 23-3 record, the best record in the league. He's coached the Warriors to an impressive 10-1 record at home, including a 128-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night, and they're 13-2 on the road.

"I'm the luckiest coach in NBA history because I inherited a team that was already this good," Kerr recently told the San Jose Mercury-News.

Before the start of the season, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Kerr far away from Oracle Arena, where the Warriors regularly sell out their home games. Our paths crossed following a couple of University of California, Berkeley women's volleyball matches, where his daughter Maddy excels as the team's libero. It was back in September during the first week of basketball practice, long before anyone could imagine Kerr's good fortune as a first-time coach.

My first impressions of Kerr were positive. Although our first chat was brief and mostly introductory, he was very gracious with his time and took a genuine interest in getting to know me and my wife. His role on this night was that of a college volleyball parent -- not an NBA head coach. He came dressed the part of a parent, too -- wearing chino slacks, a long-sleeved t-shirt and casual sneakers.

The second time we chatted occurred a few weeks after our first meeting. I wanted to ask Kerr, an avid reader and learner, about his reading interests and he eagerly shared with me that during the summer he read a 600-page biography about one of his basketball idols, legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden. I sensed from our brief conversation that Kerr, 49, wished he could have been old enough to play for Wooden. As someone who is a few years older, I remember the UCLA glory years as a kid growing up in southern California. I believe Kerr would have fit in well, both as a good team player and as an eager student of the game.

Even though Kerr wasn't old enough to play for Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, he was well schooled, learning valuable tools of basketball wisdom from Lute Olson during his collegiate days at Arizona. Then, as a pro, he was mentored by the two of the best: Phil Jackson in Chicago and Greg Popovich in San Antonio. Kerr is a five-time NBA champion, having won three titles with the the Bulls, alongside Michael Jordan, and two with the Spurs, where his teammates included Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. As a broadcaster following his 15-year playing career, Kerr teamed with one of basketball's best in Marv Albert, and he applied his skills learned as player towards becoming a knowledgable and good-humored analyst.

After reading Eleven Rings, in which Jackson chronicled the 11 NBA titles he won coaching the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, I was intrigued to find out what books Kerr was given to read by his coach during his playing days with the Chicago Bulls. Jackson was legendary for assigning books to his players to keep them engaged during road trips. Kerr said the most memorable one he received from the Zen Master was the novel All The Pretty Horses by American author Cormac McCarthy.

"I want to keep stimulating my mind and keep fresh things coming in," Kerr told the San Francisco Chronicle. It's one reason why his staff regularly brings him articles of a non-basketball nature for him to read, and Kerr enjoys doing things away from the basketball court like watching his daughter's volleyball matches.

Here's what I've learned from observing Kerr: He's a very affable, down-to-earth guy who blends in easily with other Cal volleyball parents and, while sitting high up in Haas Pavilion out of the spotlight -- he graciously takes time to greet fans who approach him and willingly poses for photos -- always smiling. He's humble while also being likable, and both on and off the court, he's a credible communicator.

After I introduced myself as a long-time fan of Cal volleyball and complemented him on behalf of Maddy's gutsy on-court performance in a Cal victory, I also offered him congratulations on becoming the Warriors head coach. Little did either of us realize in September the tremendous success Kerr would enjoy during the start of his inaugural season. It's a work in progress that's still being written, but has all the makings of a becoming a best-seller.

Photo: Courtesy of espn.com and Google images.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wanting to be a part of the solution, how the Cal women's basketball team took the steps that were in their power

This is Cal Basketball / These athletes have a voice and a platform.
Now, they want to be part of the solution.

Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb is as competitive an individual as any you'll find in college basketball. Winning is important and she sets pretty high standards for her nationally-ranked team. While losing any game is disappointing -- especially when it's by two points in overtime as the Bears experienced during a 58-56 road loss against unranked Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon -- Gottlieb admitted afterwards that she's not sure she's "ever been more proud of these players or our whole team and staff."

Cal's student-athletes have a voice and a platform -- and, in Gottlieb, the women's basketball team has a mentor who encourages them to speak up and act out. In an ever-changing sports landscape, in which athletes are being encouraged to take a stand and become leaders in social activism, Gottlieb understands that her team "wants to be a part of the solution, and they took the steps that were in their power today."

In an interview with EspnW, Gottlieb said: "I trust our players to express themselves in ways that are proactive and productive and not destructive. Our players know they represent us all the time, whether it's at a protest, or in class or at church, or at the movies."

When the 18th-ranked Bears took the court for their warm-ups at the Walter Pyramid arena in Long Beach, Calif., the entire team -- all 10 players, eight of whom are African-American -- wore plain black t-shirts that brought attention to lives lost -- recently and throughout history. The names, which were written in Sharpie ink on strips of masking tape and affixed to each player's t-shirt, included: Emmett Till, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tayvon Martin and Oscar Grant. Each elicited "strong emotions from everyone."

"As student-athletes at Cal, our young women have a voice and a platform, and they chose to use it today."

Across the country in South Bend, Ind., the Notre Dame women's basketball team came out for their pregame warmups at home against Michigan wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts last Saturday. Afterwards, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he was proud of the stand shown by his players. "They are students first and you want students at a university to be passionate about things, to be engaged in conversations about social issues," he said. "If there's anything I worry it's that our kids get too focused on the athletic side of it and don't do enough of the other things."

Back in Berkeley, which has been a hot bed for protests and has drawn associate head coach Charmin Smith and All-America candidate Brittany Boyd to the streets to participate, it's something echoed by Gottlieb, too. "We can talk about X's and O's all day," she said in a statement released after the game on Calbears.com, the university's athletic website, "but in reality there are bigger life issues and the moral consciousness of our players is something I'm proud of. I don't tell them what to think, but I do encourage them to think."

According to Gottlieb, earlier in the week, the team's captains -- including seniors Boyd and Reshanda Gray -- came to their coach and said that as a team they wanted to wear "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts next Sunday when the Bears play at home against Louisville, a game which is expected to draw their largest crowd of the season to Haas Pavilion. Then, on Saturday, following a morning shootaround, Gottlieb and the team "were quickly met with images from our campus that were disturbing."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the images were enlarged photographs of lynched African Americans hanging from the university's famed Sather Gate with the words "I Can't Breathe" affixed to each.

"These images may have been to bring awareness to injustice, or they may have been an act of cruelty; either way, they elicited strong emotions from everyone. The entire team came to me. They were compelled to act. We met for 45 minutes about how to best use our voices. As a group, they decided to wear shirts ... and to stand and say that black lives matter; all lives matter."

Despite showing great fight to the end, Gottlieb labeled Cal's overtime loss to Long Beach State, which was the Bears' second straight defeat after opening the season with seven consecutive victories, as "brutal". Yet, she chose to stress the positives: "Our players wearing handmade shirts to symbolize something poignant and important is what I will remember proudly from today. I love this team and staff for who they are as people."

Waiting for her flight home Saturday night, Gottlieb had some time to pause and reflect. "Sometimes," she wrote on her Facebook page, "it's about so much more than the game."

Photos: Courtesy of Cal women's basketball Twitter feed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Men in Blazers: Offbeat and quirky, they love their football

Downtown Abbey meets Men in Blazers / Michael Davies (L) and
 Roger Bennett (R) share a visit from "Mr. Barrow", Rob James-Collier
during this week's show.

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett like to discuss football -- the "beautiful game" not the American gladiator version played in the NFL -- and they wear blazers. Usually at the same time. Their little media empire "Men in Blazers", which includes a podcast, a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed (@MeninBlazers) and a weekly TV show on NBC Sports Network, is driven by the belief that "soccer is America's sport of the future. As it has been since 1972."

Very simply, Davies and Bennett, both balding English blokes -- the former (nicknamed "Davo") is an American TV game show producer while the latter is a bespectacled-but-serious documentary journalist -- are funny and articulate. And, thanks to their small but passionate following with "Men in Blazers", they are taking advantage of a growing American fascination with international football, specifically the English Premier League. It's the kind of show you can equally enjoy with your choice of morning stimulant, be it a cup of coffee or a pint of Guinness.

Beginning in 2011, "Men in Blazers" started as a weekly podcast on Grantland.com, the ESPN-owned sports and pop culture website, and Davies and Bennett offered their quirky and off-beat analysis of recent Premier League matches as well as coverage of the UEFA Champions League and other international fixtures. Davies roots for Chelsea while Bennett holds a dear spot for Everton. The popularity of their podcast has carried over nicely to television, where the British duo were regularly featured on ESPN's coverage of the FIFA World Cup tournament from Brazil last summer. In September, "Men in Blazers" became a lovely complement to NBCSN's weekly Premier League coverage and the show originates from cozy confines in New York City.

According to their website, the aim of "Men in Blazers" is "nothing less than to enlighten the masses to the wildly entertaining world of soccer and the English Premier League in particular. Immersed in the high and low culture of the beautiful game, the program mixes analysis and guest appearances in equal measure, with the aim of providing an intelligent yet often humorous, and always passionate, soccer broadcast."

On the air, the "Men in Blazers" analysis is filled with similes, World War I poetry and lots of pop culture references and inside jokes -- so listen and watch with a keen ear and eye. They love to answer fan e-mail and acknowledge their favorite fan Tweets on placards. And, they're obsessed by PBS Masterpiece Theater's "Downton Abbey". So, it's not surprising that they invited Rob James-Collier, who plays Mr. Barrow, the reviled "Downton Abbey" character everyone loves to loathe from the wildly-popular British drama, to be a guest on a recent show. Needless to say, it was highly-entertaining television.

"We've tried to revel in the narrative of football, which for us, is like an elite athletic competition fused with the storylines of a telenovela," Bennett told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. "Albert Camus had a great quote, 'Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football.' We agree with that. For us, football is life, like it was for Camus, I guess. Never met the bloke. Would've loved him to come on the show."

Note: The weekly "Men in Blazers" TV show airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network with repeats on Saturday mornings.

Photo: Courtesy of Men in Blazers website.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Confronting protesters: Embarrassed and mad at Oakland

Beauty's Bagel Shop / Local Oakland business was vandalized but not looted.

I feel embarrassed to admit to my friends that I live in Oakland, Calif. And, it has nothing to do with the mediocrity of the hometown NFL Raiders and their dismal 1-11 record this season.

Instead, I live in a city in which the Oakland Police Department is afraid to confront protesters who willingly and brazenly break the law. It happened during the Occupy protests in 2011 and, again, in 2013, during the aftermath of the death of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Fla.

Once again, the Oakland protesters showed they're in charge. They showed no fear. For three consecutive nights last week, what started as peaceful protests against a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury decision that decided not to indict a white police officer, Darren Wilson, for the killing of an 18-year-old black teenager, Michael Brown, turned into chaos, vandalism and looting. By the third night, by all accounts, the streets of Ferguson were a safer place to be than Oakland's streets.

I stayed home, monitored the situation via local and cable TV news, Twitter and Facebook, and did not go out for three consecutive nights. I stayed away from the downtown Oakland fitness center I regularly use most early evenings after work. Even though I reside about four miles from the downtown City Center along Broadway -- Ground Zero for most Oakland protests -- I feared for my safety. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't get caught in traffic gridlock on the I-580 the first night when protesters on foot managed to shutdown a portion of this busy interstate freeway that cuts across a wide swatch of Oakland.

Shame on our lame duck mayor, Jean Quan. Sure, she pushed for police officers to show tolerance towards the hundreds of protesters who turned out each night last week before Thanksgiving, then moved on across the bay to San Francisco last Friday and Saturday -- and I am all for being tolerant. But when push comes to shove, I want our police to uphold the law -- not look the other way for fear of a lawsuit.

Sadly, local merchants and small business owners suffered the brunt of the senseless violence that befell Oakland for three consecutive nights. One of them was Beauty's Bagel Shop, which is located on a busy stretch of Telegraph Avenue, between West MacArthur Boulevard and 40th Street, in the city's Temescal neighborhood. I am friends with the owners, Amy Remsen and Blake Joffe.

Last Tuesday night, during a march up Telegraph Avenue from downtown, vandals tagged the front entrance of Beauty's (3838 Telegraph Avenue) with spray paint and wrote in big block letters: RIP MICHAEL BROWN. It could have been much worse as the protesters started a street fire less than a block away near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 38th Street before moving on up Telegraph where there were more acts of senseless vandalism and looting, too.

Fortunately there were no broken windows and no looting took place at Beauty's. Just graffiti. To its credit, the popular bagel bakery, which has been a local success story since it opened in August 2012, was open for business Wednesday morning just hours after the defacement. However, I can't imagine that it felt like business as usual after what took place the night before.

On its Twitter feed, Beauty's responded to its customers, tweeting: "We were luck enough to only suffer graffiti. Sending our thoughts to those businesses that sustained more damage."

I stayed away from Beauty's for a few days, then returned after Thanksgiving, as usual, early on Saturday morning to buy bagels and scones for the weekend. By then, the graffiti had been removed at Beauty's, and while things seemed normal and business was brisk, still, one wonders if they will be so lucky the next time there's an ugly protest.

There's a big difference between what's happening in other cities and what's happening in Oakland. I support the right to free speech and civilized protest. It's what sets my country apart from others less fortunate, less democratic. However, when people stop acting in a civilized manner and behave in a disrespectful way towards law-abiding citizens and deface public property, then it's time to for my city's elected officials to take decisive action and keep my city safe.

Photo: Courtesy of sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com