Bed Tax

The other day when I checked out of my hotel in Minneapolis I saw that the bill included a “bed tax.”  I think the tax came to $17.98, or some odd number like that.

Bed taxes are just another way for municipalities to raise revenue — I get that.  Minneapolis isn’t alone; you see bed taxes in lots of places.  Sometimes they are levied for specific projects, like building a sports stadium or supporting local arts, and sometimes they just go into the city’s general fund.  Either way, they’re smart taxes from a political standpoint.  You don’t tax the residents who have voting power, all of whom have their own beds; instead, you fleece the business traveler who’s just in town for the night and needs to rent a bed.  And most business travelers aren’t going to get bent out of shape for paying another $17.98, or $22.37, or whatever the “bed tax” is — especially when it’s combined with a “state occupancy tax” and, in some jurisdictions, a “hospitality tax” or other random taxes that are attached to hotel bills.

It’s all an accepted part of doing business for state and local governments, but as I looked at my bill it got me to thinking.  What if the bed tax were calculated on the size and quality of the bed — say, as determined by certified “bed inspectors”?  If I’m going to be taxed for a bed, shouldn’t some government flunky be assessing whether it’s truly tax-worthy?  Shouldn’t a king-sized bed with a nice firm mattress and crisp, clean sheets pay more of a bed tax than an aging queen with a sagging mattress that you sink into and that causes you to wake up with a backache?  And how should the number and utility of pillows that need to be tossed onto the floor enter into the taxation equation?

For that matter, perhaps the “hospitality tax” should be based on how much hospitality the weary traveler actually receives from locals.  If you had a hospitality inspector making judgments on appropriate tax levels, you might encourage some places to up their game in the welcoming department.  New York City, I’m looking at you!

 

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Map Folding

The world can be pretty easily divided into two different categories of people who are  distinguished by meaningful criteria.  For example, there is the category of Ohio State football fans, and the category of the Great Unwashed.  There is the category of people who actually care about “reality TV” “stars” and will read clickbait articles about them, and the category of people who don’t know who those “stars” are and don’t give a flying fig about them.  There is the category of crass people who talk loudly on cellphones wherever they happen to be, even if it is an airport restroom, and people who think their conversations are private and are properly mindful of inflicting them on anybody who happens to be nearby.

map1And then there is the category of people who believe that paper maps should be properly folded, carefully returned to their condition when they were first acquired by the map user, and stored somewhere so the maps can be found and used for however long the maps may be needed.  The other category includes people who disregard, and in fact blissfully and willfully violate, all recognized conventions of map folding and will just fold and crease and crumple a map however they damn well please and leave it a complete mess, and perhaps even torn or with a wad of gum stuck to one corner.  The people in the second category then happily wait for someone in the first category to take the messed-up map they have left behind and carefully mend and return to its intended, well-folded, logical map state, thereby restoring order to the universe and allowing the cosmic tumblers to regain their balance.

I’m in the first category.

Proper map folding should not be a hard call, but apparently it is.  Do a Google search of “map folding” and you’ll actually find diagrams and directions and instructions on map folding, as if folding a highway map is as hard as putting together pieces of Ikea furniture without an Allen wrench.  This is ridiculous, because map folding is not all that complicated.  You start by finding the front cover of the map, and work backward from there, understanding that the ultimate goal is to fold the map so the front cover is, in fact, the front cover.

But at least people who run such searches are trying.   It’s the people who don’t even give map folding the Old College Try who need guidance and, probably, some form of psychological help.  Intentionally doing things the wrong way is undoubtedly a sign of a deeper, more pathological issue that perhaps has not yet been fully manifested.

Maps should be treated with the respect they deserve.

The Newest Tallest, Fastest, and Longest

Designers are constantly pushing the envelope of roller coaster construction, so that pretty much every year there’s the announcement of a new “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster.  This year, the honor goes to the Canada Wonderland theme park in Ontario, where the Yukon Striker coaster will be opening.  (Given the weather this winter, it’s probably going to be a few months before the grand opening, so coaster fanatics have got time to make their travel plans.)

maxresdefaultThe description of the Yukon Striker ride in the attached article sounds, well, pretty intense.  For one thing, it’s 3 minutes and 25 second long and covers more than a half mile of track.  The ride will reach top speeds of 80 miles per hour, has one drop of 245 feet — that’s more than two-thirds of a football field — and an underground tunnel that, according to the photo, opens in an amusement park lake.  The article states, somewhat breathlessly:  “At the top of the drop, you’ll be held for three seconds over the 90-degree drop before you drop down into the underwater tunnel, and there’ll even be a complete 360-degree loop for an extra adrenaline rush.”  (Like that will be needed!)

Oh yeah — the ride also has four different “inversions,” where riders are turned upside down before being turned right-side up.

The Yukon Striker won’t achieve the fastest speeds of any roller coaster in the world, an honor that’s currently held by a coaster in Abu Dhabi, but it will be the fastest “dive” coaster, “where there’s a straight vertical drop which sees riders facing down.”

I like roller coasters, and it’s interesting to read about the newest advances in coasters, but I really wonder whether we’re reaching the point where coasters are eclipsing normal human tolerances.  A more than three minute ride that jets you along at speeds faster than the speed limit on most highways, puts you through 360-degree loops, plunges you straight down into an amusement park lake, and then flips you over and back four times sounds like a lot more than my psyche — and stomach — can stand.  I also think that, in their zeal to be the highest, fastest, and longest, roller coaster designers are ignoring other creative design elements that make coasters exciting and interesting without torturing riders and exploring the limits of human endurance.

I’m sure there will always be thrill-seekers who want to ride the newest “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster, but it will be interesting to see whether, after a ride or two, most visitors at the Canada Wonderland park pass on the Yukon Striker and try to find their amusement park fun somewhere else.

Studying Stonehenge

When I took a trip to England right after I graduated from college, one of the coolest places I visited was Stonehenge.  There was a strong air of ancient mystery lurking among the massive stones arranged in a circle on the Salisbury plains.  You couldn’t help but walk among the stones and think about where the enormous stones came from, who put them there, how in the world they got there — and what their mysterious purpose actually was.

02-stonehenge-dog-tooth.ngsversion.1492466772317.adapt_.1900.1Now scientists have answered the first question, at least in part:  many of the smaller stones at the Stonehenge site came from ancient quarries in the Preseli Hills of Wales, and they were consciously mined and taken to Stonehenge, not deposited on the Salisbury plains by glaciers.  Scientists used tools that allowed them to test the chemical composition of rocks in the quarry and match it to the composition of the rocks at Stonehenge.  The tests are so precise that scientists were able to determine that the Stonehenge stones came from quarries in the northern part of the hills rather than the southern part — a finding that is significant, because it means that the stones were probably transported to the Salisbury plains over land, rather than floated there on rivers.  The scientists also found mining tools at that date back to 3000 B.C., when the first stage of Stonehenge was built.

So now we know that, 5000 years ago, human beings mined large stones from Wales and then somehow dragged them 150 miles away, where they were arranged in circles that seem to be related in some way to the summer solstice.  But we don’t know why ancient humans would undertake such an enormous task, or how they accomplished it.  Unless someone invents a time machine, the answers to those questions probably will forever remain an unsolvable mystery — which is one reason why Stonehenge is so cool.

California Warning

The Mamas and the Papas sang about California Dreaming.  Things have changed in the Golden State since the ’60s, however.  Now, whenever I enter the California-plated rental car for our little trip through southern Arizona and New Mexico, I get a weird  California Warning.

It’s a big, intrusive notice plastered right there on the driver’s side door that tells me that operating a motor vehicle can be hazardous to my health.  You see, the State of California apparently knows — hey, that’s the word the notice uses — that engine exhaust, carbon monoxide, phthalates (how is that pronounced, anyway?), and lead cause cancer and birth defects.  So what’s a driver to do?  Well, the notice says you should avoid breathing exhaust fumes and idling your engine, you should service your vehicle — I think that means gas it up when the tank runs dry — in a well-ventilated area, and you should wear gloves or wash your hands frequently when servicing your vehicle.

From the look of the notice, it appears that California voters enacted one of their voter propositions — in this case, Proposition 65 — that requires the notice.  In fact, Proposition 65 was passed in 1986 and, among other things, requires the State of California to assemble and publish a list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects — which now includes about 800 chemicals — and obligates businesses to notify consumers about chemicals in products. Hence, the Big Brother-type notice on our rental car.

I have to say that the notice gives me a laugh every time I get into the car.  Why?  Because, based on what I’ve seen of California, it’s got to be one of the most ignored — even flouted — notices in the history of governmental notices.  Californians don’t exactly seem to be avoiding their cars; California traffic congestion is easily one of the worst in any state.  And because of that, Californians are routinely breathing in those bad exhaust fumes as they wait in a colossal traffic jam on “the Santa Monica Freeway” or “the 405” or any of the countless other highways that are always subject to a traffic snarl at any time of the day or night.  And I haven’t noticed Californians donning gloves at the filling station as they fuel their cars or rushing to wash their hands after gassing up, either.  Apparently they’ve made the rational judgment that washing your hands in one of those gross, soiled sinks in a gas station bathroom is more hazardous that those phthalates.

By the way, phthalates are pronounced ftha-lates.

Arizona Sunset

On my last night in the Southwest, we were treated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. We just don’t get them in Ohio during the winter months.

We came to the Southwest in search of the sun — and we found it, and how. The temperatures have been a bit cooler than normal, but seeing Old Sol everyday makes up for just about anything. I’d recommend the desert in winter to anyone interested in combating the Midwestern gray sky blahs.

On The Dusty Trail To Las Cruces

It’s 275 miles from Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico, as the crow flies, and it’s just about the same distance if you’re traveling by car.  You get on I-10 and head east, and it’s a straight shot on an unbending road that takes you past long freight trains rattling west and dusty mountains framed by blue sky, bright sunshine, and high clouds.

And speaking of dust, the section of I-10 from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the few places in America where you’ll see highway signs warning you of what to do if you’re caught in a dust storm.  As I took in the brittle, dry look of the surrounding landscape, with only a few desert plants here and there and lots of exposed earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine a dust storm kicking up.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any dust storms — the recent snow presumably tamped down the dust, and it wasn’t that windy, anyway — but I now know from seeing multiple signs that you’re supposed to pull to the side immediately, turn off all lights, set your emergency brake, take your foot off the brake, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt buckled, and wait until the storm passes.

Shortly after you pass from Arizona to New Mexico you pass a notch in the southern border of the state that puts you within 40 miles or so of Mexico.  If you look south from the roadway you see desolate countryside that probably hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, more dusty looking mountains in the distance, and not much else.  You do, however, have a great selection of Mexican AM radio stations to keep you company as you roll along.