Arch City Tavern

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Richard, Russell, and Julianne were all in town yesterday, and we decided to celebrate the happy homecoming by heading down to the Short North and having lunch in the first interesting place we found.  We ended up in the Arch City Tavern — so named because Columbus used to be called the arch city because it featured lots of arched lights over its main streets — and that was a happy occasion, too.

It was about noon, so there were two crucial lunch decisions to be made.  First, heavy or light?  It was a hot day out, so I went for a choice on the lighter side, with an arugula, fig, prosciutto, and goat cheese pizza.  It was excellent, and had a particularly delectable and crunchy crust — which any pizza aficionado knows is a crucial element of the entire pizza experience.  So far, I was one for one.

Second, beer or no beer.  It was a holiday, sure, but noon is pretty early for me.  I took a chance and ordered a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale.  It was so good I promptly had another.  It had an excellent tart taste that went well with the hot weather, and it really held its own against the goat cheese.  So, I was two for two — or perhaps three for three, since I had two of the beers.

I’m going to be on the lookout for places that sell the Monk’s Cafe by the six pack.

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Living On The Card

The Wall Street Journal reports that, sometime this year, the collective credit card balances for Americans will hit $1 trillion.  That’s just shy of the all-time record — $1.02 trillion — that was reached in July 2008.

We all remember what happened after July 2008, don’t we?  Subprime mortgage defaults soared, the housing market crashed, Wall Street firms toppled, and the American economy stood on the brink on catastrophe.  Credit card debt wasn’t a primary cause of the Great Recession, but in those tough times many American families recognized that owing too much money wasn’t particularly prudent and they needed to change their ways.

antandgrasshopperOver the next few years, our collective credit card balances declined steadily, and then stayed flat for a while.  Lately, however, they’ve been moving up again, and the trend lines are unmistakable — people are using their credit cards more and are carrying larger balances on them.  Auto loan balances, too, are at record levels.  The WSJ reports that much of the growth in collective credit card balances has come because banks have been reaching out and marketing their cards to subprime borrowers.  (There’s that troubling subprime word again.)

Any financial advisor will tell you that racking up substantial, long-term credit card debt isn’t a good practice, and that people would do better to set budgets, establish personal savings to provide a cushion against unexpected costs, and live within their means rather than borrowing for nonessentials.  Americans aren’t very good at that, however, and they’ve got short memories.  When you combine the mounting credit card debt with the declining savings rate in America, and then you read stories about how almost two-thirds of American families couldn’t handle an unexpected $500 car bill or a $1,000 hospital bill, it makes you wonder whether we’re on the brink of another big economic problem.

Why are Americans like the grasshopper in the tale of the ant and the grasshopper?  One of my retired friends who enjoys light reading about behavioral economics says that discipline views it as a combination of a desire for immediate gratification and a kind of paralysis in the face of potential financial problems.  He notes that even when Americans take courses on basic personal financial concepts and thoughtful planning, the lessons just don’t sink in, and the old bad habits remain.

At some point, however, the piper needs to be paid.  People who live from hand to mouth, with maxed-out credit cards that require large monthly payments,  might avoid complete disaster and make it to retirement, but with it’s not going to be the retirement of their dreams.  Without any personal savings, and with only Social Security to fall back on, they’re looking at “golden years” that are distinctly grim.  There’s a reason the grasshopper in the tale usually ends up in a threadbare coat, begging for a handout.

Checking In On The VA

Memorial Day seems like a good day to check in on the Veterans Administration.  How is the federal agency charged with helping out veterans, and showing them that we truly appreciate their service on our behalf, doing?

Here’s an indication:  last week, the Secretary of the Veterans Administration got withering criticism from people at all points on the political spectrum when he compared the inexcusably long wait times at VA facilities to vacationers waiting in line at Disney theme parks.  At a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., VA Secretary Robert McDonald said:  “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”  Sure . . . let’s compare veterans waiting forever for medical care for life-threatening ailments and conditions to the winding lines at the Magic Kingdom.  Makes you wonder if Robert McDonald shouldn’t change his first name to Ronald.

ap-travel-trip-amusement-parks-survivalIt’s hard to believe somebody so tone deaf could become the Secretary of an important federal agency, but let’s face it — we don’t exactly have the best and brightest staffing up our public service jobs these days.  At least McDonald had the good sense to apologize for an incredibly stupid comparison.

I don’t think we should overreact to one dim-witted comment by some functionary, of course, but I do think McDonald’s statement illustrates a core issue with the VA:  unfortunately, it’s just not that high a priority.  It doesn’t attract the most talented and dedicated people, people who understand that we have an obligation to our veterans and just aren’t living up to our end of the bargain.  So we end up with administrators who, over the years, have let VA health care facilities deteriorate and veteran wait times grow.  We’ve got issues with the VA’s approach to prescribing drugs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  And now we’ve got a guy who makes ignorant comparisons of veterans needing medical care to families waiting in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Two years after the most recent major VA scandal, has any progress really been made?  In the midst of a presidential campaign, we’ll get the speeches about needing to do a better job for our veterans, and taking care of our veterans, but we’ve been getting those speeches for years, without any noticeable success or progress.

Sometimes I think the Department of Veterans Affairs should be renamed the Department of Lip Service, because that seems to be our focus.  When will we stop talking about honoring our commitment to our veterans, and actually do right by them?

All About The “Applewood”

Recently Kish and I went to a brunch buffet.  One of the heated chafing dishes held “applewood smoked bacon.”  Last week when I went out to lunch, my cheeseburger was topped with “applewood smoked bacon.”

IMG_1086“Applewood,” “smoked,” and “bacon” have become inextricably linked.  No one has plain old Oscar Mayer anymore.  No, it has to be “applewood smoked bacon.”  It’s become as ubiquitous on restaurant menus as quinoa and kale.

The prevalence of applewood on our menus, adding just the right smoky flavor to our favorite fatty meat, raises questions.  First, why is it called “applewood” instead of just “apple”?  It’s the wood from the apple tree, sure, but nobody calls the wood from the pine tree “pinewood” or the wood from the oak tree “oakwood.”  “Applewood” sounds like a made-up word that was invented precisely because a focus group decided it sounded upscale and would appeal to restaurant goers.

Second, exactly how much “applewood” is there?  Americans consume a lot of bacon, all of which apparently must now be smoked with “applewood.”  I’m concerned that Johnny Appleseed’s hard work is being chopped down and our national strategic reserve of apple trees is being devastated by our ravenous demand for “applewood.”  This is another good reason to support the efforts of “Emily Appleseed.”

I’m as big a fan of bacon as anyone, but I’d like to save a few apple trees for the next generation.  I’d be perfectly fine if my next rasher were smoked with “cherrywood,” or “peachwood,” or even “orangewood.”  Heck, I’d even make the ultimate sacrifice and settle for sowbelly in its plain, unadorned state.

More Fountains, Please

IMG_1110They’ve put a new fountain in at one of the entrances to the Columbus Commons.  It’s a nice fountain, with its lily pad look and bright green surrounding shrubbery.  But then, all fountains really are nice, aren’t they?  The burble of the water, the coolness of the air around them, the slight spray on your face, the gleam of the shimmering water on a sunny day — these are the things that make fountains a great addition to any metropolitan area.

If I were in charge of city planning, I’d make sure that a chunk of development money was dedicated to building more fountains.

On The Squirrel Superhighway


The bird feeder in our backyard broke, sending birdseed falling to the ground — and in the process turning our back fence into the German Village Squirrel Superhighway.  As I write this, no fewer than four squirrels are racing over the fence lines, romping through the backyard, twitching their tails, eating as much birdseed as they can stuff into their gluttonous buck-toothed mouths, and then skittering back up the trees that serve as the squirrel superhighway on and off ramps.

Squirrels are basically rats with tails, but they are industrious little buggers and fun to watch.  Hard-working and personally greedy, they are the prototypical capitalists of the animal kingdom.  When an opportunity presents itself, they are highly motivated to get their share and will do what they can to maximize their personal gain.

Now that I think of it, I’m surprised somebody hasn’t tried to tax them.