Friday, 24 September 2010

Are They Still Standing There? Can't They See We're Busy?

The other night the missus and me decided to go out for dinner. We walked down to our new favourite place at the end of the block. This little Italian restaurant, well off the Via Italia, is successfully busy. That’s great, and I’m glad to see this 30 seat restaurant with energy and buzz and a full house. Maybe a little easier to do with a small place, but still congratulations are in order for the great food and loyal clientele.

Probably because of the high minimum wage, like a lot of smaller restaurants these days there’s one less person employed, one less position filled; the essential position of host or hostess. Instead, this valuable first and parting impression is left to the servers on the floor. Seems these servers didn’t get the memo.

We arrived were ignored at the door. There might be more to the story than that, but when the three servers on the floor deliberately turned their back on us so none of them would have to greet us, well, they got their wish. We left.

Compare that to a walk down the Grand Allee in Quebec City. Every cafĂ© and restaurant has a host or hostess stationed outside with menus, greeting the pedestrians and doing their best to entice them in for dinner. I must have walked by 5 or 6 tonight. It’s the same on King Street in Toronto.

No problem, we won’t bother you again, little Windsor eatery. But it’s nothing a little competition either side of the place wouldn’t fix.

"Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" Gilles Villenueuve

It’s hard to put a feeling on the kind of patriotism that is awakened by a morning run around the Plains of Abraham on the first day of fall. This is Canada, but you can’t see a Canadian flag for trying.

This is Canada, a country nearly torn asunder by separatism, but my Quebecois friend insists we stop at a statue of Rene Levesque for a moment of “je me souviens”.

This is Canada, and if you’re not from here you don’t get it, and if you’re from here, you can’t explain it.

Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver. My country is not a country, it’s winter with all its beauty, isolation, bitterness and necessary harshness and desolation.

And it’s only a few leaves on the trees away…

Sh*t, my Facebook status says..

These days, with the television line up including such stellar offerings as “Sh*t, my Dad Says”, perhaps an understanding of the various levels of sh*t is in order.

Other than the sh*t on TV, here’s some other sh*t I have come across.

Bullsh*t: 1) an out and out lie 2) disappointing nonsense that drives one to anger, as in “this is BULLSH*T man!” This type is commonly afflicted by authority figures on the plebes who toil beneath them.

Horsesh*t: 1) an exaggeration, bordering on a lie 2) an unbelievable story told as an excuse. The best way to deal with it is to hear the idiot out, let him spin his own incredible web of nonsense, then calmly call him on it. You: “I am loathe to call you a liar since it may crush your spirit, but I feel duty bound to let you know I wasn’t born yesterday.” (or more simply put, horsesh*t!”)

Birdsh*t (my least favourite but also seemingly the most popular): Also known as passive aggressive behaviour, expressed through social media, typically through Facebook updates. e.g. “It would be nice if some people would express appreciation once in a while” or "no matter how many times I am let down I never lose my faith in people" This is typically aimed at one person, not the other 244 friends listed on the Facebook account, but since direct confrontation is so damned hard, the birdsh*tter tries to guilt the offender into the desired behaviour, without naming either the offender or the behaviour. Birdsh*t is made worse by the other Birdsh*tters who enable this behaviour by “liking” it, or making bullsh*t comments like “Oh Susie, what happened?” or “Be strong, you are woman.”

By the way, although this behaviour is typically seen on women’s Facebook status updates, men do make these birdsh*t statements occasionally, but in doing so forfeit what was left of their obviously dwindling manhood and are best ignored, defriended or birdsh*tted back with a comment like “you go, girl!”

Sunday, 19 September 2010

For the Love of Money

Amos 6: 1, 4-7 Luke 16: 19-31 Year C 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some people will do anything for money, and we love our deals. Sure, we love to shop, but what do we talk about when we get home? A little about what we bought, a lot about what a great deal we got, or how much money we "saved".

When we, as a society perfectly capable of paying a fair price for a fair product, instead invest ourselves in searching for the “best deal”, and finding that deal to be shirts and shoes and watches and backpacks and sandals made offshore by the impoverished labourers of Asia, we are in effect buying the poor for shirts or shoes or watches and backpacks. They produce the goods we consume, and because we won’t pay more they won’t be paid more. Because we look the other way to child labour, health and safety standards and ecological stewardship (and those things drive up the cost, make no mistake) they can produce these products for a lot less money than they’d cost in a developed country. We get our cheap stuff, and they remain poor in every sense of the word.

We won’t pay more. We love our money. We, amongst the wealthiest people on the planet are obsessed with getting a deal, without regard to the cost. Our unwillingness to part with two bucks for a better quality product made in Ohio, for example, in favour of saving two bucks on a lesser quality item from a factory in China is actually more than just two bucks. It’s the cost of well paying full time jobs in Ohio. It’s actually also the price of the poor working under intolerable conditions in Asia.

Many of the deals we treasure begin in the factories of China where there are no laws enforced, with deadly chemicals flowing freely into the air, the water, the streets and the ground all around the workers. CBS 60 Minutes recently uncovered a story about illegally shipped discarded cellphones from North America being torn apart, dismantled and recycled in China. The unregulated result is a chemical soup of toxic chemicals. The 60 Minutes reporter interviewed one worker. Many Chinese workers leave their small agricultural villages and come to factory towns because that’s where the jobs are, that’s where the money is. The man complained that after years working and living in these conditions, it hurt him just to breathe. Asked why he doesn’t just leave town for the good of his health, and his children’s health, he admitted he had to stay “for the money”. See the whole story here:

Whose money is that, my friends? Mine and yours. We’ve bought his health for the thrill of the deal. That man sold his health for 200 free minutes, unlimited texting, and free evenings and weekends, or more accurately, to paraphrase Amos, we’ve bought him for the price of modern day silver – electronic gadgets.

In her book “Cheap, the High Cost of Discount Culture”, author Ellen Ruppel Shell quotes Richard Locke, professor or Entrepreneurship and Political Science at the Sloan School of Management and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in referring to the scandalously dangerous working conditions in Asia and South America and Africa he concludes that there is only one force powerful enough to enforce workers’ rights and protection: guilt. We can effect change by guilting people into ethical and moral choices. He goes on to say there’s only one institution capable of evoking that force on a global scale: the Vatican. Here's a link to Ruppell Shell's book:

Maybe the terrible abuses of the poor in other countries would not happen except that we’re just not ready to take a stand, with our wallets.

Every so often we need to step back and take a look about what’s important in our lives, what’s really important, and by looking at our behaviour it soon becomes evident what it is we value most. It’s only when we devalue our currency of money by putting stock in prayer and faith, in charity and hope, in works of mercy and in living the Gospel that we can ever gain the best return in this life, and the next.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Test Drive - the Lincoln MKS

Last week I traveled to Ottawa and took a few friends golfing at an annual tournament for charity. I golf so badly that the only way I can get through the game is to pick and choose those who will either golf as badly, or politely tolerate my incompetence. I was fortunate to find three such friends, who also accepted my offer of a ride to Montebello in my rented Lincoln MKS. It was a beautiful day on a beautiful course, and we arrived in style in a beautiful car.

The Lincoln MKS is a luxurious sedan that is thoughtfully appointed. The ride is smooth, the handling superior, and the whole look of the machine is impressive.

Good? The handling, the pick up, the smooth ride, and the tightness you'd expect in a vehicle of that calibre. It had great trunk room, and lots of room for back seat passengers. I loved the automatic seat settings and the way-cool interior lighting. It's a fine automobile.

Great? I really loved the safety features like the air conditioned / heated seats, the front and rear warning when you get too close to another object or person, the automatic high beams and I think there were rain-sensing wipers, but I might be confusing the car with son's entry level Saturn.

Room for Growth? It's a small thing, but I'm always astounded when I don't find a handle inside the trunk to close it. Saab was one of the first to add this thoughtful touch, and even the Nissan Versa I rented this week has it. Driving the Lincoln MKS you'd end up with dirty fingers and dusty fingerprints on the trunk lid, something that people who live in Windsor know equals certain secondary inspection at the border.

Would I buy it? Yeah sure, but I'd miss my wife's 7 year old 9-3. The Saab may have retailed for half the price of what this Lincoln sells for, but the drive, the handling and the acceleration blow this brand new Lincoln out of the water even still.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Dinner at Hooters

A number of years ago in Nashville a group of guys were looking for a place to have dinner. One of us suggested Hooters. I'd never heard of the place, but I was soon familiar with the concept - busty women in short shorts and tight tank tops. I refused to go in. As I said then, "if you tell me this place has the best burger or whatever, then I'll go in to eat. All you've talked about," I said, and forgive the language, "is t*ts. If I'm just going in to eat crappy food so we can ogle the women, I'll pass."

Hey, I've got a wife and a daughter and sisters, and at the time a mother. I cannot abide the objectification of women. Yup, I'm a saint.

Time passed and Hooters came to our little town, and closed down 10 years later before I got around to checking it out. I heard the wings were amazing, but I frankly didn't want to be caught in the place, particularly in the last few years as I prepared to receive Holy Orders as a Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. Wouldn't want to scandalize the Bishop, and all that.

After some discussion our Deacon class agreed it would be OK to eat at Hooters. After all, Christ hung out with sinners, didn't he? Still, none of us ever had the guts to walk into Hooters until this week.

Jeremy Goes to Hooters
Last night I hit the Hooters on the airport strip in Toronto for some wings. I'm sure Christ would have been comfortable sitting beside me at the bar, but I'm just as sure he wouldn't have been checking out the barmaid's assets so neither did I, much.

The wings were not that good.

But I did learn something surprising that caused me to climb down off my lofty perch. Yes, the girls were busty and attractive, as they're supposed to be. They were also very friendly, and not at all flirty. I was greeted when I arrived by the very friendly and not even slightly flirty Hooters girls. They were conversational, attentive and wonderfully welcoming. I watched the girls take pictures with a table of firemen, welcome regulars, and laugh and spark conversation as they served beer and wings to the mostly male patrons.

Say what you will, but that's a damned sight better than the lacklustre ambivalence that's passed for service in the last five restaurants I've eaten in (for a lot more money).

I'd go back to Hooters, and at the risk of my own sainthood, I'll admit it wouldn't be for the wings. I'll try the burger or the ribs, and maybe just lighten up and enjoy the place for what it is.

What was good? The spotless restaurant and bar, and the many big screen TVs showing MLB all over the place.

Great? The genuine friendliness and outgoing service.

Room to Grow? The wings were scrawny and overcooked, although I will admit that I ordered them "naked" and not all pimped up and floured then deep fried. But clearly they were saving some money on the raw product by buying them small and untipped (Picture a chicken wing as being your arm and bicep. Typical wings are cut in half at the "elbow" and the "forearm" part is trimmed at the "wrist" That's called tipped and it costs more per pound to buy them that way, but the yield is better because you're not paying for the extra weight of the "tip" that no one eats anyway)