Free Refills & Why I Love America Rotating Header Image

April, 2009:

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Patriots in Pennsylvania legislature stand up for drivers rights.

Big Sur

There will be no more of that...

A draconian plan to limit the freedom of drivers, bikers and skaters to communicate could cost the city of Philadelphia some $90 million in road and bridge funding if the Pennsylvania legislature gets its way.

Patriots in the Pennsylvania house passed legislation that would withhold Philadelphia’s portion of gas tax revenue if the city goes ahead with a plan to crackdown on cell phone use by motorists.

The city’s proposed ordinance would not only ban talking on a cell phone or texting while driving, but also while biking or skating, making it one of the most stringent in the country. Violators would be fined $150 for their first violation and $300 for their second.

Fortunately, the good patriots in the Pennsylvania state house have used their power of the purse (which is more often used to crack down on freedom as in the case of the 21 year old drinking age) to stand up for drivers, bikers and skaters rights.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has the full story

The American consumer spirit in 1 minute

The difference between the European and American approach to comfort and enjoyment is simple.

Europeans see something –like free refills or air conditioning—and ask “why?”

Americans have an urge—like driving with the windows down and air conditioning on—and ask “why not?”

It is good to see that some companies are playing to the American “why not” consumer spirit.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJLXzF117l8&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

Travel Tips #.2 Where to pee in NYC

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Years ago, in the dark ages of the early 1970s, New York City had a lot in common with its European counterparts. It was dirty, drug ridden and was suffering under a repressive pay-to-pee regime.  But in the mid 70s a fearless band of patriots successfully fought to banish pay toilets from NYC forever. Today, it is illegal for shopkeepers, restaurateurs and pay-toilet booth operators alike to charge someone to pee.  

But of course, in a city as overrun with workers and tourists as New York is, the disappearance of for-profit restrooms has left a vexing question. Where to go to the bathroom when you’re on the go? (This being America, we certainly wouldn’t expect the government to offer such services)

In most of the USA, the answer to this question would be simple, McDonalds. They’re located every mile or so and always have free restrooms which are generally clean. Plus, the standardized layout means you never need to waste precious time searching for the men’s room.

But one of NYC’s failings is that there simply aren’t enough McDonald’s locations to serve the sanitation needs of the millions of residents and tourists the city holds. Thankfully, the good men and women at the Starbucks Corporation have taken up some of the slack.

New Yorkers love their coffee—especially when it costs $4 and has a goofy name—and the Starbucks Corporation has indulged this love by blanketing Manhattan with hundreds of Starbucks locations. The upshot of this is that not only do you never need to walk far to get your next cappuccino, but there is also a plethora of friendly, clean, and easily identifiable free toilets plastered across the city.

So next time you’re in New York, and you see three Starbucks’ locations at one intersection remember: Starbucks’ pricey coffee and free bathrooms are a cornerstone of America (or at least NYC).  After all, in Europe you’d have to drink Nescafe and pay €2 to use the bathroom afterwards. 

Why Europe Sucks €4. Inadequate air conditioning

New Air Conditioner Unit

Today the temperature was more than 80 degrees here in Michigan. This means one thing—Americans across the upper Midwest enjoyed the first warm day of the year from the air-conditioned comfort of their homes and automobiles.

Sure, some Americans popped outside for a short walk or a brief spat of gardening. But more often than not, they were back in climate-controlled shelter before even breaking a sweat.

This is as it should be.

Despite how much Americans say the love the summer, they have an intrinsic understanding that heat—like nature—is something that is best experienced in moderation. They understand that prolonged exposure to heat and sun can result sweating, squinting, body odor and general discomfort. That is why Americans invented electric air conditioning over a hundred years ago.

But air conditioning is a concept that is seemingly foreign to Europe, as anyone who has traveled there in the summer knows all too well.

It is not that Europe lacks air-conditioning technology. You can buy an AC unit there in just the same way you could here in America.*

No. What Europe lacks is a culture of air conditioning.

In America, we understand that air conditioning was invented so that mankind would not have to sweat involuntarily ever again. As a result, we use our air conditioners accordingly. When the mercury hits 73 degrees, the air conditioner automatically kicks in. And our movie theaters, malls and other public places are often air conditioned to the point where throwing on a extra layer is necessary simply to keep warm.

Europeans, on the other hand, are deeply suspicious of air conditioning. They often have a unit in their homes or businesses, but the devices are rarely turned on. This is because Europeans don’t see air conditioners as a staple of modern life, but rather as a kind of Pandora’s Box. They know it is there and they are intrigued by its potential, but they are terrified of what they might unleash if they touch it.**

The result of all of this is that summertime in Europe is truly unbearable. Outside it is hot, but indoors it is often hotter, as most European restaurateurs and hoteliers steadfastly refuse to turn on the air conditioning—preferring instead to soak in their own sweat.

So the next time the temperature crosses 70 degrees or so, make sure to crank up your air conditioning. And while you’re doing it, remember: in Europe you’d be sweting right now.

God Bless America!

*Except for the fact that you would pay 20 percent more, would receive horrible customer service and would likely be unable to use a credit card for the transaction.

**They would be much more comfortable and pay slightly more on their electric bill.

Weekly Poll: What European institution do you hate most about airports?

[polldaddy poll=1564369]

Check out the full story here.

#12. Class Action Lawsuits

My Trusty Gavel

We Americans love to sue.

  • Fire us from our job? We’ll sue you.
  • Serve us hot coffee that we spill on ourselves? I hope you have deep pockets.
  • Arrest us for disorderly conduct at a baseball game? You’d better hope those cops didn’t touch us, or there will be a lawsuit on the way.

Sometimes we will even sue over legitimate grievances.

But filing a lawsuit takes a lot of effort. So as with most things that are hard in life, we Americans tend to spend a lot of time talking about suing people and very little time actually following through on our threats. While our general laziness about actually suing people probably prevents our courts from becoming clogged up with dog-bite suits, it also means that sometimes Americans aren’t suing big corporations when they should be.

That’s why the great patriots at the American Association for Justice (formerly American Trial Lawyers Association) invented the Class Action Lawsuit.

A Class Action Lawsuit is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of people—say people who bought iPod Nanos—without naming every individual. But every individual who meets the criteria is eligible to receive some of the settlement or award.

What is great about Class Action Lawsuits is how little you have to do to get involved. Someone else does the litigation, and you just collect the reward. Generally you’ll simpley receive something in the mail informing you of your eligibility and you just sign up on line or by mail. After that, you need not think about the lawsuit again. The lawyers will litigate it, take an enormous fee and pass along whatever is left of the proceeds to the members of the class.

This typically means you’ll get a check for some pittance in the mail – or maybe a voucher for a free rental from Blockbuster. Some whiners complain that lawyers exploit this system by charging huge fees. But that argument is nonsense. After all, the only thing better than winning a lawsuit is winning a lawsuit you didn’t even know about.

God Bless America!

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Drivers’ rights under siege in U.K.

The nanny state that leads the world in speed cameras, surveillance cameras and congestion taxes recently announced another scheme to clamp down on drivers’ rights in the name of “public safety.”

This time, the U.K. Government wants to slash speed limits on primary roads by nearly 20 percent (10 mph). If government officials get their way, the reduced speed limits will only be the beginning. Westminster regulators also plan to institute a regime of random breathalyzer tests as well as clamp down on motorists who—in their judgment—pass to close to bicyclists.

The Times of London has the story:

The speed limit on many A-roads will be reduced to 50mph under plans aimed at cutting the number of road deaths by a third.

Drivers also face limits of 20mph in residential zones, random breath tests and tougher fixed penalties for offences such as passing too close to a cyclist.

The proposals for ten-year safety targets are to be published today. It will be the first time that the Government has set a specific target for cutting road deaths – by at least 1,000 from the current 3,000 a year.

No doubt, the U.K.’s 4.2 million + surveillance and speed cameras will be carrying out much of the new crackdown on drivers.

Thankfully, in America, most states have been siding with freedom and raising speed limits since congress repealed the national 55 mph speed limit in 1995

Why we hate airports

JFK Terminal 1

We all hate going to the airport–the lines, the prices, the hassle, the stress and the general discomfort. Over the last decade, airports have become so unpleasant that the term no longer evokes images of modernity and mobility, but rather images of misery and incompetence.

But why do we hate airports so much?

Security, parking, and customer service are a drag for sure. But no one of these common complaints are enough to explain why going to the airport is so utterly miserable. The real reason is bigger than any one shortcoming. The reason we hate airports is because airports incorporate many of the things that suck about Europe into one place.

NO FREE WATER: Ever try to get a free glass of water at an airport? Good luck. Not only do airport vendors sell you bottled water for upwards of $2.50/bottle, but they have also conspired with security to take away any of your own liquid refreshments at the checkpoint.

HORRIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE: In America, the customer is always right, unless you’re at the airport. Airline customer service has always been gruff, but it has only gotten worse after years of wage cuts. Today, the typical airline customer service representative is so snotty and curt that they are indistinguishable form a waiter at a fine Parisian restaurant.

EVERYTHING IS 2X AS EXPENSIVE: A bottle of water, $2.50, a piece of pizza, $5.00, a pair of clean socks, $15.00. In short, prices in the airport are so exorbitant that you’d think you were being hosed down by  your typical European street merchant. Either that or, you’re paying European-style 17.5%+ VAT that nobody told you about.

UNPREDICTABLE HOURS: Airports are full of stores, restaurants and stands selling (for very high prices) anything you could want. But if you’ve ever been to an airport at sometime that wasn’t 2-8 pm, you’ll know that the store you’re looking for is probably closed. Airport stores seem to operate on what I’ll call the Italian Model. They are open when they want, for how long they want and will charge you whatever outrageous price they want—and no, they don’t post hours of operation either.

BAD TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS : Nothing is more of hassle than getting around an airport, except, perhaps, for getting to and from the airport in the first place. Airports, like Europe, lack sufficient parking. This forces you to take, at minimum, a bus from your car to the airport. This is even true in car-centric cities like Detroit. In cities like NY, if you want to get to the airport, you need to take at minimum 2 different types of public transit (possibly more) and that does not include all the walking you’ll have to do! What makes matters worse is that at each transit transfer, you typically have to wait a while and pay more money too.

GENERAL FILTH: Some American airports are nice—take Detroit’s for instance. However, the vast majority of our airports were built in the 60s and have low ceilings, dirty waiting areas, dated amenities and a lackluster commitment to cleanliness. It rather reminds you of Europe—Italy in particular. Add the general filth of the buildings to the fact that many of the patrons have been caught in the airport system for hours, if not days on end, and have not had a chance to shower. Well, you get the picture.  

NO WIRELESS: Half the bars and coffee shops in America these days have free wireless internet access. It is getting to the point where free wireless access is a birthright. But have you ever tried to log in at an airport? If they have wireless at all, it is likely for some exorbitant hourly fee. And if you don’t want to pay the fee – try using one of those goofy pay internet terminals—the slow connection and pay-by-the-minute pricing will make you feel just like you’re in a dodgy European internet café.  

So next time you’re fuming about how miserable the airport is remember: in Europe everywhere is like the airport. 

Posting Updates

This weekend I will be traveling to NYC so posting could be slighly irregular.

I will, however, use the occasion to expand this site a bit. I want to include a bit more location-specific travel commentary. Expect things along the lines of last week’s post on Travel Tips for Europe, only a little more specific.

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Free booze refills on the march

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The financially strapped Greektown Casino in Detroit is set to become the city’s first casino to offer patrons complementary alcoholic drinks, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Michigan law prohibits business from giving away free alcohol (any readers in a position to address this should take note). However, there is an exception to the rule for hotels, which all three of Detroit’s casinos have added over the past few years.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the  MGM Grand, Motorcity and Greektown casinos were all in negations with the Michigan Gaming Control Board over the possibility of offering free alcohol, as many casinos in Vegas do. But only Greektown has decided to go ahead and offer free drinks to high-rollers and valued club members on a trial basis.

If free alcoholic drinks are anything like free refills, once people get wind of the idea it will quickly become entrenched. Before long all of the casinos will be offering free booze, and with good reason. It is the American thing to do. With any luck, the popularity of free booze will encourage Michigan’s legislature to overturn the ban on it.

The people of Michigan owe Greektown a great debt of gratitude for bringing free booze technology the state.* After all, the only thing more patriotic than spreading the gospel of free refills across the world is spreading the gospel free booze!

God Bless America and God Bless Greektown Casino!

*Apparently some of Michigan’s numerous tribal casinos have offered free booze in the past. But these don’t count as no one wants to drive out into the boonies just for a free beer.


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