We’re in New Orleans for a family gathering, and last night we hit the Acme Oyster House — a Big Easy institution. Astonishingly, our group of seven was seated immediately, and we promptly ordered some pitchers of Abita beer, two dozen raw oysters, and the house specialty: char-grilled oysters.
It’s not easy to describe how good the char-grilled oysters were, and how spectacularly they kick-started our weekend. They’re topped with Parmesan cheese and are melts and crusty, all at the same time. They were so good we ate four dozen of them, and probably could have polished off 100 more.
For dinner, Richard and I split the seafood platter, which was a mound of crunchy fish, crab, shrimp, French fries, and hush puppies. It was the perfect food to consume before heading out for a little live music crawl. Thus fortified, and with the lip-smacking goodness of the char-grilled oysters still freshly in mind, our hardy band ventured forth into the New Orleans night.
Out in California there’s a “fast casual” restaurant called Caliburger. As the name suggests, hamburgers are one of the staples on its menu.
Caliburger’s Pasadena location has a new worker called Flippy. Flippy is a quiet, methodical, highly reliable worker who doesn’t take up a lot of space, because Flippy is actually a robot. Made by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s design is simple — it’s a robot arm, bolted to the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen next to the grille. Flippy has a spatula where his hand should be, and he’s programmed to flip burgers and then put the cooked burgers onto buns. A human assistant puts the meat down, Flippy does his burger-flipping thing, and then the human worker finishes dressing the burgers to fit the incoming orders. The fact that Flippy has only a spatula hand make it easy to clean and maintain.
Flippy sells for $60,000. Caliburger was one of the investors in the company that manufactures Flippy, and it got one of the first devices. It has pre-ordered others, and it plans to install them in a number of its restaurants. And, of course, Miso Robotics will look to sell Flippy to other burger-oriented restaurants.
Each burger-flipping robot will be performing a job that used to be done by a human being. At about $60,000 a pop, Flippy seems expensive — until you figure that, with many states and cities raising the minimum wage, it wouldn’t take many months of operation before Flippy starts to pay for itself. And Flippy is never going to miss work, or show up late, or complain about its hours, or become distracted by talking to a co-worker. And Flippy is not going to need health insurance, or file a claim against his restaurant employer for violating a federal or state statute, or advocate for wage increases, either. Until legislators start legislating about treatment of robots, Flippy is a lot easier for employers to deal with.
Welcome to the future. And good luck finding that entry-level job that pays the ever-increasing minimum wage that is supposed to be an economic panacea and allow a fast food restaurant worker to support a family of four!
Recently President Trump got a letter from Frank Giaccio, a sixth-grader from Falls Church, Virginia. The youngster said he admired President Trump’s background in business and that he was starting a business of his own: mowing lawns for $8. He had a proposition for the President — he’d come and mow the White House lawn for free.
The President heard about his letter, and last Friday he gave the 11-year-old his wish. Frank came to Washington, D.C. with his Dad, mowed the Rose Garden lawn, posed for pictures with the President, and said a few words to the media. The President even sent out one of his famous tweets about Frank, thanking him for a lawn-mowing job well done.
We’ve heard similar stories before, about a young kid with a dream who dared to think big, and found out that sometimes thinking big gets rewarded with big results. And in this country, we traditionally want and encourage our young people to dream big. It’s a classic American feel-good story, right?
Not so fast! No, some people in the Twitterverse pointed out that, by allowing a young kid to mow the lawn — even equipped, as young Frank was, with safety goggles, ear plugs, and gardening gloves, by the way — the President wasn’t sending “a great signal on child labor, minimum wage and occupational safety.”
Seriously? Have we really reached the point in this country where a young boy who wants to start his own little business and make some money can’t mow a lawn under the supervision of his father without somebody invoking the great National Nanny State that has to control everything people do? Have we really reached the point where we feel that mowing a lawn is just too dangerous a job for a kid to undertake?
I’m critical of most of what President Trump does, but I’m with him on this one. Show our young people that they should dare to dream, even about something like mowing the White House lawn, because sometimes those dreams come true. And stop the incessant hand-wringing and caterwauling about perceived risks everywhere that discourage kids from doing anything other than hunching over their video games in the living room.
But when I’m by myself in a restaurant, please . . . just leave me alone to read my book and eat my dinner in peace.
Sure, it might just be the milk of human kindness– or it might be a desire for a tip. But every time I eat alone these days, the wait staff annoyingly gloms on to me, asking what I’m reading and making irritating chitchat when I ‘m just trying to read and eat my dinner. It makes the dinner intensely irksome. I don’t want to hear what waiter X has to say — I just want to read my book.
Here’s a tip for the wait staff. Sometimes, at least, the solitary diner with a book isn’t lonely and craving your company. They just want to read. Leave us alone, already!
Recently, signs like this one have been cropping up around German Village. In these troubled times, they express a worthy and noble sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. Yet I feel that the message is somehow . . . incomplete.
I’m perfectly happy to live next door to anybody, no matter where they are from, what they look like, where they work, their religion, national origin, or sexual orientation, or for that matter what they do with their lives. If they’re willing to live next to the likes of me, I’m willing to live next to them. My focus, instead, is much more narrow and admittedly self-interested. I only want to know whether they will perform very basic property maintenance — mow the grass, weed from time to time, not put a crappy couch on the front porch, slap some paint where it’s needed — keep their dogs from barking and biting, and not be obnoxious, intrusive, or noisy at 3 a.m. when I’m trying to sleep..In my view, these are the acid tests of neighborliness — the straightforward, but crucial, measuring points on the good neighbor scale of behavior.
So I think I would amend the sign as follows: No matter where you are from, so long as you keep your place up and keep the noise down we’re glad you’re our neighbors.
They’re remodeling a Starbucks near our house. There’s a dumpster out front filled with a bunch of debris that’s been removed from the store, and a trailer that apparently houses tools and remodeling accoutrements, and the baristas and loyal Starbucks patrons are jockeying for position amidst the ongoing work and materials — because coffee consumption obviously can’t be sidetracked by mere remodeling efforts.
I mean, really remodel. Because every Starbucks I’ve ever been in — and for that matter, every coffee house I’ve ever been in — has pretty much the same kind of decor. The layout might differ, but in terms of look and feel they’re incredibly generic, no matter whether you’re in New York City or Podunk Gap. Along with the odor and sound of ground coffee, you can expect to find basic lighting, some overstuffed armchairs occupied by people checking their smartphones as they sip their cold brews, a few table and chair sets where somebody is tapping on a laptop while listening to music, and utterly forgettable wall art that typically consists of large black-and-white photographs of coffee beans or coffee bean bags or growing coffee plants or coffee warehouses. Starbucks and coffee houses aren’t exactly triumphs of bold interior decorating.
So what are they going to do in this “remodeling”? Move the comfortable chairs to different positions or change their colors? Reconfigure the tables? Replace the old bland coffee-themed art with new bland coffee-themed art? I’m not sure that Starbucks patrons would welcome bright colors or radical furnishings or “accent pieces” that they might stumble into during that early morning, bleary-eyed run for the first cup of Joe. But then again, they might not even notice the changes, because coffee house customers tend to be pretty self-absorbed when they’re retrieving their lattes.