Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, America

Three days ago my automatic coffee maker broke. Just like that. One day it was working and the next it simply stopped. This isn't good I thought. You could say I was steeped in panic. Coffee makers are electronic. And just about all electronics, as we by now surely know, are Made in China--except my formerly-functioning Braun coffee maker, which had been Made in Mexico. Whatever. Not. Made. Here.

The incredibly cheap Made-in-Mexico-for-Braun coffee maker had lasted over a decade--yes, diez anos--and only cost like $20. In a way it represents what American manufacturing is up against. How can we possibly bring these kinds of jobs back here when it's so blankety-blank inexpensive to manufacture elsewhere? When shoppers clamor for this type of unbelievably cheap deal? When most Americans on tight budgets expect their nearest big box store (or pharmacy, where I'd bought my Braun) to meet their penny-pinched-consumer demands.

¡Ay, caramba! What's a country to do?

On the first morning without my increasingly-beloved coffee maker, Starbuck's bailed me out: grande coffee to go. Yesterday I scooped Peet's ground coffee into a cone-shaped paper filter, held the filter over my empty coffee mug, poured hot water into the filter, and waited. Drip. Drip. Drip. After standing there like a fool for a good five minutes, I ended up with an ounce of not-quite-hot, not-quite-good coffee.

And so I headed to Target, knowing full well it would be an exercise in frustration. Not to mention how tempting it would be to stray from my Just Say no to Imports rule. And just as I'd expected, from the moment I walked through those wide, welcoming doors, everything looked appealing. Colorful sweaters, adorable fall decorations, neat toys for my now five-month-old grandbaby. Other "normal" shoppers browsed the aisles, their red plastic carts brimming with foreign-made enticements. I put on my blinders and made a bee-line for the coffee makers. Within minutes I was out the door, empty-handed. So much for contributing to the economy.

Day Three--today--I didn't even attempt to make coffee. Instead I did research and stumbled across MrBuyUSA on YouTube looking for American-made coffee makers in a store. He mentioned a brand named Bunn as a possibility, but then quickly walked away disgusted after one of the Bunn models said Made in China on the bottom. I recognized the name from restaurant coffee makers. But it turns out that Bunn also makes products for home use.

The guy in the video shouldn't have given up so easily. Sure, Bunn makes some of its models in China, but a phone call to corporate confirmed that there are a few models made here: BTX, GRX, BX. "The parts are from China, but they're assembled in Illinois. Would you like to know where you can buy them?" asked the upbeat sales representative. She rattled off a list of retailers: Wal-Mart, Sears, Lowes, Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware, and J.C. Penney's.

I bought the last Bunn GRX in stock at my local Ace. The sales clerk helped fetch it from the very top shelf. I explained that it was the only coffee maker I'd heard of still manufactured here. She heaved--deeply heaved--a sigh. "I know, I know," she said. And we both hunted on the box for the words "Made in the U.S.A." "Oooh, there," she said, as if she'd unearthed a diamond. "Isn't it great to see that?" The two of us stood there in the Ace aisle, surrounded by Made in China coffee makers, gazing at the Bunn box. Yes, it was pricey: $109.99 plus tax. But to me it's worth every penny. I told the manager so, on my way out. "You should have a prominent 'Made in the U.S.A.' sign over this brand," I said. "Or is that illegal or something? I mean would the other brands tell you not to do that?" He smiled. "Hey, I own this store. I can do whatever I want. And that sounds like a great idea. In fact, it might be good to group all the U.S.A.-made items in each aisle together, so people would see that, you know?" Yup. I know.

On my way home--still morning-coffee-deprived--I stopped in at Starbuck's. The shelves were crammed with dozens of mugs for sale, unfortunately all Made in China. I thought about Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz's newly formed Create Jobs for the U.S.A. initiative. For $5 you can donate to the initiative to create funding for small businesses in America. In return, you'll get a nifty red, white, and blue woven (yes, Made in the U.S.A.) bracelet with the word "indivisible" on it. Nice idea, but how ironic that Schultz's 6,500 Starbuck's stores all carry merchandise made Anywhere But Here. Merchandise that could be creating the very jobs his initiative would want to save. All those ceramic mugs and metal travel mugs and French style coffee presses could've been manufactured in the good ol' U.S.A.

But miraculously, just as I was about to leave, I turned one tall plastic traveler mug over and there on the bottom were the words "Made in the U.S.A." I took it up to the register, ordered my latte, and said, "I'm buying the travel mug because it's Made in the U.S.A. Isn't that great?" The barista / clerk was visibly moved. "Wow. I love hearing that. I thought everything here was Made in China. Go figure."

My new travel mug is black and white with quotes all over it. Here are a couple:

Here's to starting the day together…To being part of something, to sharing books, movies, vacation photos, new songs, old family recipes. To always saying what you want, wishing for yourself and for others. Here's to you.

I think the second sentence of the quote should say: Here's to being part of something that's bigger than yourself.

To me, that's what CAMJ is about. It's you and me and people all across this crazy-quilt of a country. It's those two clerks I talked to today, giddy over seeing the simple words "Made in the U.S.A." It's all of us, waking up and smelling the coffee. What we buy matters. We can be picky. We can take our time. We can turn this economy around. It may seem like a drop in the bucket--or the coffee mug, as the case may be. But before you know it, the hardware store manager is showcasing goods Made in the U.S.A. And maybe he'll tell others to do the same. And Americans will respond to that. Just wait and see.

Here's to being part of something bigger than all of us: the United States of America.