Friday, August 21, 2009

Tips on Tipping?

The Maple Leaf restaurant in Maplewood, NJ, is an institution. Located right in the middle of quaint Maplewood Village, it's been a mainstay (albeit in more than one location) since something like 1492. Back in the late 1990's, when my wife and I were just married and had no kids--our footloose and fancy-free days--we used to frequent the Leaf a lot. Not only was the food good and the service excellent (every waitress called you "hon"), but the prices were downright cheap. It was not usual for both of us to get a great breakfast and get a bill that totaled less than $10.

One day I had breakfast at the Leaf with an old friend who'd grown up in Maplewood but moved away to Colorado. When we were done and the bill came, I put down a two or three dollar tip--I'll be honest and say that I don't remember the details--on a $4 or $5 tab. I put my wallet away and stood up from the table when my friend stopped me.

"Hold it," he said. "You can't leave that much of a tip."

"Why not?" I asked? "It's an extra dollar--maybe. What's the big deal?"

"If you leave that much," he said, picking up bills from the modest pile on the table, "the waitresses will get used to it. It's not fair to them."

"Put the money back," I said. "It's fine."

I mention this story in the interests of full disclosure, to show that maybe I'm just not good at tipping and that's why I don't get the argument voiced by one City Councilor against the meals tax that Northampton just passed last night. Ward 5 City Councilor David Murphy objected to the tax on the basis that it will hurt the waitstaff, because they'll earn less money.

As reported on Masslive: "Ward 5 Councilor David A. Murphy, who cast the lone vote against the meals tax, called it a de facto tax on people who work for tips, maintaining that patrons will take the additional cost out on waiters and waitresses."

Now, I can understand if the point is that the meals tax will cause people to eat out less than they might otherwise, but I've also heard the the increased tax will mean that servers will see a reduction in tips, that somehow because the bill for eating out will increase, the tips on those bills will decrease. But how does that work? Do people separate out the amount of the meal from the tax when they calculate tips? And if they do that, how would an increase in the tax result in a decrease in tips?

I simply look at the amount and apply the percentage on the total. So I have to ask again, am I tipping incorrectly?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Contrasts and Plastic

I went to Thorne's on Saturday, just to do some window shopping. I took stock of the names of some of the stores and businesses in Thorne's, noting particularly the images each name brings to mind. Yoga Sanctuary and Impish and Glimpse of Tibet bring to mind images of peace and calm and acceptance. Cedar Chest and Petals in Bloom remind me of grandma's house and fields of wildflowers on a warm summer's day.

And then I was riding my bike the other day in Florence and rode past this new sign on the big factory building on Nonotuck.

I suppose I should be applauding Chemiplastica for not hiding behind a cuter name like, oh, Chempanzee or Giraffica, but I have to question a name that shouts out two terms that are the antithesis of the feel good, life-affirming, organic businesses that populate other areas of Northampton and presumably appeal to a significant portion of the population.

But then I did a little digging and found out what Chemiplastica does. As stated on their website, "Chemiplastica has more than 70 years experience with thermosets, particularly urea and melamine molding compounds. These compounds are used to manufacture beautiful and functional plastics, from stylish dinnerware and household accessories to precision medical parts and electrical switches, junction boxes and insulation materials."

One word in that description brought me back to my 9th grade biology class: urea. I learned about urea when we analyzed urine. Urea is found in urine.

So I suppose, on reflection, Chemiplastica did the best with what they had to work with.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Collectors

I can't figure out if these two people are exactly what I would picture two people who collect toilet paper to look like or nothing like what I would picture.

Monday, August 3, 2009

How A Triathlon Helped Me Better Appreciate The Move Papillon

In the movie Papillon, Steve McQueen, playing the title role, is placed in solitary confinement, and every so often, he and the other inmates in solitary have to stick their heads through a special hole in the door so that the guards can check on them. Early in his incarceration, McQueen is surprised and perplexed by the old man in the cell next to him who demands that McQueen tell him how he looks. "How do I look?" the man groans. "You look good," McQueen lies. Later in the movie, after years of solitary, McQueen is the one asking his neighbors how he looks.

I thought of that movie yesterday as I competed in the international division of the Greenfield Triathlon. And competed is a pretty strong term. I didn't finish last, but I came closer to last than I did to first. For the biking and running portions of this race, participants must bike four times around a 7.5 mile loop, and then run the loop (for the most part; the run leg varies a little bit at the end.) That means that the volunteers who man the water stations around the course--and let me just say, the volunteers were GREAT, very supportive and helpful--see each particpant at least four times during the course of the race. And as I passed them, most of them said the same thing to me: "Looking good!" Which I knew to be a complete lie. But you know what? It did help me get through the race.

I've been training for the race for the last couple of months, but I didn't realize how wrapped up I'd gotten in the preparation until the day before the triathlon, when I got an email from the race director saying that the swim portion had been canceled. Now, you might think that not having to do the swim (instead of the swim, they scheduled a short sprint) would make preparing for the race easier, but I'll admit to being very perplexed for a couple of hours because I couldn't quite figure out what gear I needed to bring, after having already laid out everything I would need for a "regular" triathlon.

Here's all the gear I ended up bringing, laid out in my section of the transition area.

Here's the swimming area that caused all the problems (the recent heavy rains had caused some bacteria to get into the water).

A wider view of the transition area:

For me the low point of the race came when I was on my last bike loop. I passed one group of volunteers and they began clapping and cheering. One of the guys said, "You're the last one, right?" Now, it took more a little more than three hours to complete the entire triathlon, which means that I had more than enough time to think about a lot of stuff. So, of course I started thinking much too much about what this guy had said. "How rude!" I thought to myself. "I know I'm slow and all, and that he's been out here all day--and that he probably can't go home until I'm done, but there's no need to point out how poorly I'm doing."

It took me a while to realize that he wasn't saying, "You're the last one, right?" He knew that he'd seen me before. What he was really saying was, "Your last one, right?" In other words, he was asking if it was, indeed, my last loop on the bike.

I did manage to pass someone on the run leg. As I passed, I said, "we're getting there!" He replied, "At least this isn't as bad as a hangover!" I don't really know what that means, but I do have to question his training regimen.

The highlight of the race was approaching the last turn on the run and seeing my family there to cheer for me. When they met me at the finish line, my youngest son asked me how the bike leg was. "Owen," I said. "Everything today was really hard."

But at least I wasn't hungover, too.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1: A Poem

August announces her arrival in the valley with a banner of fog that blocks the early morning sun and sends me scrambling for socks to cover my tanned feet.

As I watch the fog burn off, I see August for what she is.

August lacks May’s elegance, June’s optimism, July’s bravado, December’s wonder, and February’s fury. Her pallet is made from September and October’s drippings and July’s bacchanalian waste.

August resents us and gives us her worst: tepid heat waves, mild feelings of regret and back-to-school sales. We named her after a man and not a god for good reason.
August bullies like an annoying little sister.

So, August, I’m calling you out: You’re the ass-end of the summer, a resentful wench who delights in reminding us of how much we haven’t yet done as she robs us of the daylight we need to do it all.

You may have the celestial opera on your side, but I will not go quietly into your mild nights. I will use you as I see fit and when I’m done, I’ll welcome September with genuine warmth and open arms and not regret August’s end one bit.