When A Restaurant Goes Downhill

Last night Kish and I went out to dinner with Mr. and Mrs. JV at a Grandview restaurant that, at one time, was among the better restaurants in the Columbus area.  We hadn’t been there in a long time, and boy . . . the years have not been kind.  The meal was mediocre at best, and we came away shaking our heads and thinking that we wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the near future that the place is closing.

crash-996-1499798871This once-hot restaurant is heading downhill faster than a mountain biker who missed a hairpin turn.

The telltale signs were there from the beginning of the meal.  First, the place was almost deserted — in contrast to its glory days, when getting a table was almost impossible.  Initially, we thought it was just a late-arriving crowd, but it turned out to be a never-arriving crowd.  Second, the service was indifferent.  We had a perfectly pleasant young woman take our order, but she ignored us for long stretches of time — even though she didn’t have many tables to worry about.  She also committed the unforgivable sin:  when I specifically asked for something, she promptly forgot about it, and I had to remind her about it when she came around again after I had eaten about half of my dish.  Good restaurants know that attentive service is a key part of the dining experience.  This restaurant, unfortunately, just wasn’t paying attention.

And finally, the food wasn’t very good.  This particular restaurant was once a kind of a foodie place, where you could anticipate getting interesting, fresh, well-prepared food.  Last night, I ordered a pasta dish, and the pasta tasted like it came out of a box, the marinara sauce was bland to the point of total flavorlessness, and the meatballs tasted like they might have been frozen and thawed for the night.  I finished about half of it and then decided that my taste buds had suffered enough.

I’m quite confident I won’t go back to that place, but I found myself wondering about the arc of a restaurant.  What changed?  Has the original restauranteur lost interest, or given up the reins to someone who thinks scrimping on the food and service is the road to profit?  Whatever the reason, this restaurant looks to be in death-spiral mode.  The unpleasant experience also made me appreciate restaurants that have consistently maintained high quality food, service, and ambiance over the years — like two of my favorites, G. Michael’s and Indian Oven.  Fortunately for fans like me, they’ve been able to avoid the downhill arc.

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Potato Peril

A constant of my daily shower routine is using the washcloth to scrub behind my ears.  Why?  It’s not like the behind-the-ear area of a 60-something guy working at a desk in a white-collar job is constantly exposed to dirt and therefore requires a vigorous daily scouring.

g-fruitandveg-potatoes-mainNo, it’s because I remember my mother inspecting that particular area and then saying, with a tone of terrible shock and deep regret, that my postauricular regions had become “so filthy” — not just dirty, mind you, but filthy, which was much, much worse — that “you could grow potatoes back there.”  And then I would be marched off to the bathroom to wash my face and neck and the unseemly behind the ear areas, preferably with rough Lava brand soap that was made with pumice and seemed like it was taking off a layer of skin in the face-washing process.

Interestingly, it was always potatoes that could be grown in the heavy layer of dirt and grime that somehow had accumulated while I was out playing with UJ and our friends.  Not carrots, or corn, or even flowers, but inevitably potatoes.  Because, at that age, mothers seem to know everything, my natural assumption was, and still is, that potatoes must require an especially deep, dark, heavy soil if they are to grow properly.

Mom used to have a sign hanging in the house that said “my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy,” but that just meant the house was treated differently from the kids in the family.  The house may have gotten the benefit of the doubt, but Mom was extraordinarily sensitive to any sign of human grubbiness or — God forbid! — “B.O.”  (And “B.O.” was pronounced by my mother, who never uttered a profanity of any kind in her entire life, as if it were the queen mother of curses.)

And yet, when we were doing chores around the house, Mom inevitably would tell us kids to “put a little elbow grease into it.”  How we were to do that and still maintain the expected level of spotlessness was left unexplained.

Wake Me When It’s 2020

I’m capable of paying attention to a finite number of things at any given point in time.  And right now, the 2020 presidential race is not even close to making that list.

scottball_beto-orourke_alamo-music-hall_campaign_election_senate_11-4-2018-5-1170x782I see stories like this one — “Beto O’Rourke plans ‘reintroduction’ as 2020 buzz fizzles” — or this one — “Florida takes shape as Joe Biden’s firewall” — and I happily skip over them without a second thought or a guilty conscience.  And it’s not just stories about “Beto” or “Joe” I’m not reading:  I’ll also gladly pass on stories about how “Mayor Pete” is being received by big-money donors in Hollywood, or whether Amy Klobuchar’s campaign is gaining any traction, or how Bernie Sanders is doing in tracking polls in New Hampshire.  I’m not going to read any stories about how any of the candidates are doing on fundraising, or whether they are lining up “super-delegates,” or any inside baseball/horse race analysis pieces, either.

There are people who are political junkies, and I’m not one of them.  At this point, the 2020 election is so far away, and there are so many Democratic candidates vying for the nomination, that I really can’t spend time analyzing their positions or trying to figure out their qualifications or capabilities.  With the number of officially declared Democratic candidates at around two dozen, trying to do any meaningful candidate-by-candidate evaluation is an overwhelming task.  So at this point, I’m fine with allowing the political junkies to carry the ball and do whatever they do to let the field be winnowed down to a manageable number.  Whether the winnowing occurs because of fizzled “buzz,” fundraising efforts, or tracking polls, or super-delegates, I don’t care — just don’t expect me to pay any attention until we’ve got a narrower field that consists of people who might actually have a reasonable chance to win the nomination.

In short, wake me when it’s 2020.

Drawing An Unscientific Maggot Line

I have a high regard for scientists . . . generally.  But sometimes scientists don’t exactly have a solid appreciation of the sensibilities of normal human beings.

maggots_lede_photo_bigstock_2100-768x526Consider, for example, this report on the work of scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.  They conclude that, given the population in the world, humans need to start turning to alternative sources of protein besides animal meat.  The article linked above quotes “meat science professor Dr. Louwrens Hoffman” — apparently “meat science” is a discipline that has been developed since I’ve been in college, because otherwise that would have been a pretty darned tempting major — as saying:  “An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food.”

So far, so good.  But Dr. Hoffman and his team at the University of Queensland are looking to replace beef and chicken and pork with — gulp! — maggots and locusts.  They reason that the world’s insect population is a far more sustainable source of supply for such protein.  They also recognize that most people rebel at the notion of consuming chitinous locusts or squirmy maggots, so they are working on developing “prepared foods” that include locusts and maggots as disguised ingredients.  So far, they’ve worked on a maggot sausage with promising results, and Dr. Hoffman swears that a student has developed an insect ice cream that is “very tasty.”  Who knows?  Soon you may be able to have an ice cream cone with a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of “insect.”

According to the article, there are already some insect-based products available in the U.S., such as Chirps chips and Chapul protein bars.  I haven’t had any of these items, and I haven’t noticed them flying off the shelves at the neighborhood grocery store, either.

There’s a basic repulsion issue involved in eating maggots.  With a nod to the French government defense strategy before World War II, you might call it The Maggot Line, and scientific-based arguments aren’t going to cross it.  I think the the issue with insect-based foods is whether ingredient lists on food packaging are required to accurately and clearly disclose the insect element.  If maggots can be called by their scientific names — which are Lucilia sericata and Phaenicia sericata — and jumbled in with the other scientific sounding ingredients for prepared foods, like sodium benzoate and monosodium glutamate, then maggot sausage might stand a chance.  But if the packaging has to use plain English and disclose maggots as an ingredient, forget it.

The Biggest TV Competition

The success or failure of a hotel chain obviously is going to depend upon how successful they are in appealing to potential patrons. It stands to reason, then, that hoteliers must have a lot of information about the preferences of their guests.

My recent experience suggests that hotel chains believe that visitors want to watch a lot of TV — and on the biggest TVs imaginable. In fact, seems to be a competition, pursued with nuclear arms race intensity, to see who can install the biggest TVs in their rooms. This TV, in a room at the Hyatt Arcade in Cleveland, is the largest one I’ve yet encountered. It’s gigantic, takes up the entire top of the dresser, and dominates the room. It’s got to be 50 inches across — if not more. It’s like having a drive-in movie screen in your room, situated directly opposite the bed.

I’m clearly out of step with other hotel guests, because I almost never watch TV in my hotel room. And frankly, I’d be afraid to even turn this TV on. With a creek this size, the volume would probably blast me out of the room.

The Impending Dash Clash

The apostrophe battle has been amicably settled.

spaced-em-dash2After some sternly worded exchanges, with many grammarians and wannabe English stylists weighing in, the B.A. Jersey Girl found an authoritative source that was able to bridge the gap between our competing positions and resolve the dispute.  She discovered that Bryan Garner’s Redbook:  A Manual on Legal Style acknowledged that while many style manuals follow the rule that always requires an apostrophe s to indicate a possessive, former journalists follow the Associated Press Style Manual and don’t add an apostrophe s when the word in question ends in s.  In short, both sides have a basis for their opinion, so we shook and decided to leave that issue behind.

Alas, a new punctuation fight looms directly ahead.  The virgin battleground involves something called an “em dash”—this super-long dash that, according to some grammarians, can be used as a substitute for a parentheses, can replace appositives that contain commas, and can be used to set off a sudden change in the direction of a sentence, among other uses.  It’s called the “em dash” because the length of the dash is about the same width as a capital M.

I’m all for adding a little dash to writing, but I’m not a fan of the “em dash” because it’s too long and is used without spaces on either side.  I’m a proponent of the dash that is formed with two hyphens and a space on both sides.  I think it looks neater and more orderly, whereas the “em dash” looks like a spear that is impaling the neighboring words.  I’m a fan of space in writing, and the “em dash” makes a sentence look crowded.  I say tap the space bar, give your words space to breathe, and let the “em dash” be damned.

Old, And Still Working

America’s elderly are working at levels not seen in decades.  Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

This year, the participation rate in the labor force of retirement-age workers — that is, workers aged 65 and older — has cracked the 20 percent mark.  That’s the highest participation rate in 57 years, and twice as high as the low mark participation rate in 1985.  Since 1985, the rate of participation has steadily moved upward, with a significant increase in recent years.

seniorsThe Bloomberg article linked above suggests that many of these working elderly are doing so because they have no choice:  “Rickety social safety nets, inadequate retirement savings plans and sky high health-care costs are all conspiring to make the concept of leaving the workforce something to be more feared than desired.”  But the statistics indicate that at least some of the people who are working longer are doing so by choice, rather than by desperate need.   The share of all employees age 65 or older with at least an undergraduate degree is now 53 percent, up from 25 percent in 1985, and the inflation-adjusted income of those workers has increased to an average of $78,000, 63 percent higher than the $48,000 older folks brought home in 1985.  The increase in wages of the working elderly is better than the increase for workers below 65 during that same time period.

So why are people working longer than they used to?  To be sure, some may be doing so because they’ve got no choice — America’s retirement savings statistics are dismal.  But if that is the root cause for some significant percentage of the working elderly, why is that a bad thing?  If people haven’t saved, working longer in order to build up your retirement nest egg, and cut down on the number of years in which you’ll be living on that nest egg, is just the responsible thing to do.  We shouldn’t feel sorry for them, we should be applauding them for recognizing that, when it comes to retirement planning and saving, it’s better late than never.

The more interesting and deeper trend is that the economy is welcoming these older workers and rewarding them with increasing salaries.   In short, it’s not like all of these older workers are serving as friendly, red-vested greeters at Wal-Mart.  The salary statistics indicate that the job creation in the current economy is strong, and that companies are holding on to experienced older workers rather than incentivizing them to retire.  They are recognizing that older workers have value, and still have something to contribute.  If you are an older person who likes working and wants to continue to work, that’s a very encouraging trend.