It was the end of the second day I spent with Winter, a 47-year-old man who has devoted the last 22 years of his life in pursuit of a single goal: to visit every Starbucks location on the planet.
The sun was setting and we were a few hundred kilometers from the Starbucks in Sydney, Nova Scotia, so we pulled over to find an inconspicuous place for him to park and spend the night. He was sitting just inside the trunk of his hatchback Honda Fit that he lives in and the temperature was dropping quickly. We were freezing. I was working as fast as I could to wrap up our final interview when Winter said something that put his entire mission into perspective:
“When somebody says ‘Starbucking is pointless,’ I turn around and say: point to something, anything that people are doing that is not pointless.”We’d spent the previous 48 hours driving along the Atlantic coast, stopping occasionally for food or wifi as I asked him hundreds of questions. I sat by as Winter called a Starbucks in Arkansas to confirm that they had in fact opened, then watched him add the new location manually to his meticulously kept global map where he has information on nearly 30,000 stores. We spoke candidly about topics ranging from Starbucks store design, to his ex-girlfriend (with whom he spent two years Starbucking around the world), to his passion for competitive scrabble, to his mother's dementia. For the most part I just let him talk, listening carefully while trying to figure it all out.
Since 1997 he’s visited over 15,000 stores in 55 different countries with an unshakable drive. He told me story after story of just how brutal and exhausting it can be for him on the road. He recounted enduring a polar vortex overnight in the back of his car in Chicago; another time a cop in Florida dragged him into the street at 2 a.m. because there was a nearby robbery. When I asked him if he has ever considered quitting he quickly replied “never.” I was struck by how certain he was about his life. I found it almost confrontational. Even with a job I like and a good family and social life, I spend most of my free time questioning everything. Should I move to another city? Should I change my career path? Am I pursuing the right passions? Winter has none of that.
Over the course of three days, it became clear to me that he’s Starbucking simply because it's what he likes to do. In the same way he has also taken on a personal challenge to stop using the letter “V” and instead use “W,” or decided he will only fill his car with an amount of gas equivalent to the pump number (pump 6 = $6.00). In Winters mind, life and all of its conventions are futile, so why not pursue everything with the same gravitas you would a family or job. There’s something kind of magical about his thinking, recognizing the futility of life seems to have freed him rather than spurred existential dread.
Despite hitting 15,000 stores this past summer (that’s roughly half of the locations on earth), he explained that due to Starbucks’ rate of expansion and constant store closures, his goal will never be achieved, but he’s OK with that. I actually began to feel as though if the goal was achievable the whole thing would be ruined. What makes Starbucking appealing to Winter might be its endlessness. Like any good ambiguous life-long goal, be it ‘finding happiness’ or ‘personal fulfillment,’ a sense of achievement would probably spin us into a panic. Moving targets are more comfortable. We all need a north star and for Winter it’s Starbucks.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.