Young Bob had cultivated a daily habit. He stepped into his neighbourhood coffee shop, “Joe’s Coffee and Donuts,” and drank a black coffee on his way to work. One day, he saw that the new chain store opened across from Joe’s was also offering coffee, but always fresh. Bob liked that, even though he could not tell the difference – it made him feel valued, the new pot seemed to be put on just for him as he entered the store. He didn’t mind paying the small premium for “fresh.” He switched.

The following year, the price of a cup of java skyrocketed three times as the most recent owners (who bought out the “fresh” guys) had a global brand name and offered flavoured coffees in fancy cups, and had renovated the store to create “ambience”, whatever that was. Bob noticed people of his age and status walking down the street with these fancy cups in hand. Soon it became infra dig not to show up for a business meeting without one’s steaming cup of this standardized flavoured stuff from which the taste of coffee had all but disappeared.

Bob bought his first new car – it was pretty cheap – automatic, 1500 horsepower, heater and air conditioning. And it went from A to B reliably without breaking down. Well, there were not many parts in it to break down, you see. But as Bob’s appetite for exotic coffee developed, so did his appetite for cars. Soon he needed ABS, power steering, stick•shift, 3600 horsepower, 6•cylinders, TV, remote controls, GPS, anti•theft, anti•collision and anti•you•name•it. Heck, he was ascending the corporation due to unlimited growth opportunities – he could afford these things.

Talking of appetites, Bob was developing exotic interests in women too. He dumped his high school sweetheart the day he switched to flavoured coffee. He checked out the scene in ambient coffee shops to pick up fashionable, progressive, aggressive and driven women, speeded on java. He drove them to even loftier heights in his fully loaded sports car – they fell for him in droves.

When he was promoted to VP, the up and coming leader in the firm, Bob married one of his turbo•speed girlfriends to project the right image of corporate respectability. The wife had to be accommodated in a highly•mortgaged double•car garaged house in the suburbs that he couldn’t quite fully clean every time he tried; there were just too many nooks. The wife also suggested that a down payment on a lakeside cottage and a boat would wrap up the image. Bob complied, even dyeing his temples grey, to give that impression of early wisdom, or stress, or both.

This brings us around to the Fall of 2008. Bob got his pink slip as he sucked on his morning Mocha•Cinnamon Double Latte. The house, cottage and boat were put up for sale that afternoon and the wife had left by dinner time. The next week Bob traded in his car for an old Chevy.

Today, a naturally greying Bob is back at Joe’s, slurping the only coffee he can afford, wondering how he could have drunk this crap in the first place. He looks at the pure black liquid – either he is going to have to get used to it, or he has to win the lottery so that he can cross the street once more. Suddenly, this second crossing now seems impossible.

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