(Not) Well Done

This afternoon Kish and I walked along the waterfront and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Cardero’s.  We decided to share a seared yellowfin tuna appetizer, but I had a hankering for a cheeseburger for my entree.

“I’ll have the burger medium rare,” I told the waitress.

“Sorry, sir,” the waitress replied.  “It’s against the law to serve any hamburger that isn’t cooked to be well done.”

“What?  Seriously?”

“Yes, but don’t worry — it will still be juicy.”

IMG_6014Yeah, right!  But I ordered my burger anyway, even though I normally would consider any beef cooked to be well done to be a colossal waste of good meat.  And, despite the reassurances of our waitress, when I got the cheeseburger it was overcooked and on the dry side — certainly not as juicy and delectable as a medium rare burger.

When we got back to our hotel room I checked — and sure enough, in Canada provincial statutes and health codes require ban medium rare hamburgers.  I was shocked, but perhaps I shouldn’t be; it’s just the nanny state notion run amok in our neighbor to the north.  I wonder, though — how do the health regulators who have insisted that burgers be grossly overcooked to avoid bad health consequences explain the reality south of the border, where bloody red and dripping medium rare burgers are the norm and the happy people consuming them don’t seem to be keeling over as a result?

Please, Travelers, Don’t Set That Alarm!

Our first night in Vancouver, Kish and I were jolted awake because a prior occupant of our room had set the clock radio alarm.  We stumbled over, bleary-eyed, to paw at the device and shut it off.

ButIMG_20140424_091322 then this morning the alarm sounded again.  We obviously didn’t shut it off entirely, and now we have two options — spend precious moments trying to figure out an alien clock-radio that is far more complicated than our home unit, or just suck it up and accept that we are going to be awakened at the same time tomorrow.  Since the first scenario is undoubtedly beyond our stunted technological capabilities and the second is unacceptable, we’ll probably just unplug the damned thing.

Please, travelers, don’t set that alarm!  Use the alarm function on your smartphone, or get a wakeup call from the front desk instead.  If you set the clock-radio alarm, you know you won’t disable it before you leave the room — and if you don’t no one else will, ever. If you set the alarm on the clock radio, you therefore are dooming generations of future guests to fumbling with that screeching alarm at your designated time until doomsday comes — or until some other thoughtless individual resets the alarm for a different time.

No hotel clock radio alarm that gets set ever gets fully turned off.  It’s as permanent as the pyramids.  So fellow travelers, please have mercy!

The Doctor’s Park

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Vancouver’s Chinatown has probably seen better days.  It’s right next door to the street where there are throngs of homeless people, vagrants, beggars, and other vaguely menacing types, and many of them apparently wander over to the Chinatown district — giving it a distinctly seedy, low-rent feel.

There is, however, a small oasis of peace, quiet, and beauty in Vancouver’s Chinatown.  It’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park.  With its water lilies, small pagoda, bamboo shoots, and picturesque trees, it is a fine place to sit.  Dr. Sun — who helped to overthrow the Qing dynasty and found the Republic of China — no doubt would be proud.

Sky And Sea

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There is a float plane dock across the street from our hotel in Vancouver. When I was down at wharfside this afternoon one of the planes taxied along the water, reached skimming speed, then took off over the top of one of the freighters in the Burrard Inlet. Very cool, and fun to watch — although I’m not sure I’d want to be one of the passengers.

Seagull Sound

I was up early this morning, trying to adapt to the Eastern-to-Pacific time zone change. It was black outside as I worked to get my mobile devices connected so I could catch up on the Eastern time zone world.

As the pre-dawn darkness turned to a dim and overcast gray, I heard the cry of a seagull. It’s a unique combination of high-pitched squeal and squawk that immediately tells you that you are very near a large body of water — in this case, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and the Straits of Georgia, the principal bodies of water on which Vancouver sits. That seagull sound is one of those sounds that is so closely identified with a location that, when you hear it, you can almost smell the sharp tang of salt water and the wafting odor of seaweed decaying on shoreline rocks.

For this landlocked Midwesterner, who doesn’t have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of oceanic birds, the sound of a seagull is a welcome, pleasing sound. I sat for a while at the predawn minutes ticked by, listening to the seagull cries and the sound of the water slapping against the dock below and watching the birds wheel over the bay.

On The Pacific Rim

IMG_20140422_214024 We’ve finally reached Vancouver after a hard day’s travel that included flights to Seattle through Detroit, a multi-hour drive up the congested Route 5, and an inadvertent foray through Vancouver’s apparently immense homeless\skid row area. But we made it to the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which has a pretty nice view of the harbor and the mountains beyond.

What To Do With E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are becoming more popular. The battery-powered tubes that produce flavored, nicotine-laced vapor have millions of users world-wide and are generating billions of dollars in sales — so much that tobacco companies are getting into the business. One of the users is Russell, who has turned to e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco.

What’s up with these devices? I’m surprised to find that, in the United States, there’s little regulation of the marketing or sale of e-cigarettes at the federal level, and there’s not much in the way of data about their health effects. In some states, for example, e-cigarettes can be sold to minors and some of the candy-oriented flavors and marketing techniques seem geared toward luring young people into a nicotine habit. No one seems quite sure, either, about the health effects of inhaling the mixture of nicotine, flavoring, and propylene glycol — a common additive that is used products like salad dressing and soft drinks. Eating propylene glycol has been studied, but inhaling its heated vapor in combination with nicotine apparently is a wild card.

For me, the big question is whether e-cigarettes are a gateway or an exit. Restrictions on sales to minors and marketing and product schemes designed to entice them seem like sensible steps, and of course we need to determine whether e-cigarettes can cause significant health problems. I’d also be interested in studying exactly who uses the devices, and for what purpose. If e-cigarettes are being used by tobacco smokers as a means of ratcheting down their addictive habit on the way to quitting entirely — as I’m hoping is the case with Russell — I’m all in favor of making them available for that purpose.

The Brady Bunch

Today my eyes passed over a website referenced to the Bundy Ranch, where ranchers and the federal government had a weird standoff about western land use.

Unfortunately for me, my quick scan initially read “Bundy Ranch” to be “Brady Bunch,” so the insipid Brady Bunch theme song started playing in my head and I was beset by images of the chipper Bradys — Carol and Mike, Greg and Marcia, grinning, head-bobbing Alice, and the two little kids that nobody cared about except for the fact that the little girl was “the youngest one in curls.”

My sisters loved The Brady Bunch and idolized Marcia, so we had to watch the show on our one TV set. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand the Bradys, their ludicrous, squeaky clean children, their boring split-level suburban life, and the absurd scenarios that passed for plots. I’d managed to put the whole unpleasant thing out of my mind, but clearly it was lurking there, brooding just below the surface, ready to bubble into my consciousness when I misread “Bundy Ranch.”

Prior to today I really hadn’t read or thought much much about the Bundy Ranch incident. Now I know that I will studiously avoid any news coverage about the matter, because as soon as I read the word “Bundy Ranch” the musical loop of “Here’s the story . . . of a man named Brady . . .” will begin again. Arrgh!

The Illusion Of Presumed Competence

Whenever we board an airplane or a boat, or enter a bus or a taxi, we’re presuming that the captain or driver knows what he or she is doing. We assume that they are fully trained, knowledgeable, competent, and indeed expert in their field — that they are all like C.B. Sullinger, the heroic airline pilot who coolly landed his crippled aircraft on the Hudson River a few years ago, allowing all of the passengers to be rescued.

That’s why it’s so jarring when we read disturbing stories about events like the catastrophic sinking of the South Korea ferry, which seems to have been mishandled in just about every way imaginable. When the accident occurred the boat was being steered by a third mate who had never navigated those waters, and the captain wasn’t even on the bridge. Transcripts of conversations between the boat and a boat traffic facility on shore indicate that the crew was panicky and confused about what to do with the passengers when the boat began to list, and the captain unwisely told passengers to stay inside the boat as it began to take on water, rather than come to the deck and evacuate. Worst of all, the captain was one of the first off the boat, in violation of a South Korea law that required him to stay aboard until all passengers were off the ship.

We presume that the people who have our lives in their hands are competent because it’s a necessary rationalization and mental defense mechanism. If we are taking a ferry ride in a foreign country, boarding a bus to see a ball game, or ducking into a cab at a busy airport, we can’t realistically check the qualifications and past performance of the captain or the driver — so we assume that somebody else has done it and that the person wouldn’t be in that position if they didn’t measure up. Sometimes, that assumption is unwarranted.

The next time I get into a cab, I’m going to be sure to fasten my seat belt.

Once More Into The Same Age Interlude

As of today, for the next two months, I am the same age as my older brother. Of course, when I saw him this afternoon he taunted me about it, as brothers must. It’s an annual rite.

00019762We were born 10 months apart, back in the ’50s during the Baby Boom, when hospitals were overloaded with newborns and every family was growing like crazy. He was the spindly one and I was the beefy porker. He was the well-behaved one who would pose politely for a photo with a smelly goat at a cheap petting zoo, and I was the Curly-lookalike who wrinkled my nose at the odor and wandered away as fast as I could waddle.

Having a brother so close in age has its good points and its bad points. The principal good point is that he went through everything right before I did, and if there were barriers to be broken he did the breaking so I could sail through clear. And, of course, we spent a lot of time together and both grew up cursed with loyalty to Cleveland sports teams, so I had someone to commiserate with when the inevitable sports disasters occurred. The principal bad point is that now virtually everyone thinks that I’m the older brother — and its not even a close question — while skinny, black-haired UJ is the youngster.

So it will be, again, until June 19 when UJ celebrates number 58. I’ll kid him about it when it happens, as brothers must.

Mixology 101ers

IMG_1914Last night we had dinner with friends and our hosts had a surprise for our merry HJ band: they invited a bartender to teach our group how to make drinks. It made an already great evening into a riotous one.

Our bartender, an outgoing young woman named Charity Justman, gave us a funny, soup-to-nuts overview that started with wrestling pour spouts into bottles and ended with sage advice on tipping techniques that will improve the service you get in a public bar. She taught us how to do a professional bartender’s pour without using a shot glass (it’s all in the “one and two, three and four” cadence), showed us how to shake, muddle, mix and pour our concoctions, and clued us in on the language of bartending — a lot of which includes sexual references. We all got to serve as the “bar back” and the bartender, make a complicated drink, and then sample small portions of our reasonably well-prepared libations. At one point our hardworking crew donned unique sunglasses for a picture.

There’s more to bartending than the uninitiated would think, and learning about the craft from a friendly and patient pro like Charity is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for something different to do during your next dinner party in Columbus, you can reach her at http://www.facebook.com/YourTravelingBartender.

Why You Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Prince had a long and successful career with Warner Bros records. The records and singles, like Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, that catapulted the musician to international stardom all appeared on the Warner Bros label.

The partnership between Prince and Warner Bros ended badly. Prince felt that the label was too controlling and resented the fact that he didn’t own the rights to his own songs, so he started referring to himself as a slave, adopted a weird symbol for his stage name, and became known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Along the way, he released some uninspired music and his popularity dropped — and when his Warner Bros contract ended and he started to record on his own label, the damage was done. Although diehard fans, like Richard, might argue the point, most observers believe that Prince’s fight with Warner Bros had a lasting negative impact on his career and his musical significance.

This week, Prince announced that he was re-signing with the Warner Bros label, which will release a new album and an anniversary edition of Purple Rain. As part of the deal, Prince will acquire ownership of the master tapes he made during his prior tenure at the label, so he apparently achieved what he sought by his stand on principle.

I’ve always believed that it is ill-advised to burn your bridges — whether it is with employers, co-workers, or friends. Rather than sinking into acrimony that might forever poison your relationship with people, why not suck it up, behave professionally, and depart to your new position with class? You never know when the wheel might turn and you might need to work once again with the employer or colleague you publicly maligned.

Maybe Prince’s bitter split with Warner Bros didn’t affect his creativity — although it’s hard to imagine that the bad blood didn’t at least distract him from his music — but it certainly changed the public perception of him and made him the butt of a lot of jokes. Now that he’s back with Warner Bros, was it all worth it?

The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.