Free Refills & Why I Love America Rotating Header Image

November, 2009:

Motorists: 11, Speed Cameras: 0

no speed camerasEuropeans might get all hot and bothered by the Google Streetview Car, but they sure don’t mind the government looking over their shoulder. As anyone who has been to the UK or France knows, surveillance cameras are everywhere. And it doesn’t stop at security cameras; they’ve also turned their traffic enforcement over to automated ticketing machines. Red light cameras, speed cameras, carpool lane cameras, they’ve got them all.

Now traffic cameras are popping up in America as well.

Though they were only introduced a few years ago, traffic cameras, like the dandelions weeds brought over from the Netherlands, are spreading across our nation like an invasive species. They are undermining the great cat-and-mouse game of American traffic enforcement and saddling us with countless tickets in the process.

But last Tuesday, three towns showed the whole nation how to stand up and fight back against the traffic camera—by using the ballot box.

The citizens of College Station, TX voted overwhelmingly to tear down their city’s traffic cameras. This was despite the over $60,000 that the company that operates the cameras spent trying to defeat the measure. Voters in Chillicothe, OH did the same.

According to the Washington Post, voters in Heath, OH were so disgusted when the Mayor was caught taking down anti-camera posters that they voted to both tear down the cameras and throw the Mayor out of office as well.

To date, 11 communities have held referendums on traffic cameras. The score is motorists: 11, cameras: 0.

Let’s keep it that way.

God Bless America!

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Maryland legislature defeats speed camera bill

Your favorite posts from October

This post is a little late this month because the first few days of November were quite hectic. I spent most of my time trying to get Mayor Michael Bloomberg—the guy who put credit-card machines in cabs and banned smoking in restaurants—re-elected.

But I’m back. And here are the top ten most-read posts of October:

The graph the New York Times doesn’t want you to see “Safety experts” and paternalistic editorial pages around the country are pushing to ban cell phones in cars. But there is one question none of them can answer: if cell phones are so dangerous, why are the roads safer than ever?

Judging by the tremendous number of Google hits this post is getting, I think Americans are looking for similar answers.

Forget the soda tax, it’s time for a salad tax! The food police want to tax your Big Gulp and take away your Double Down sandwich. But it turns out salads might be a bigger health risk. Why not tax them?

Is texting while driving dangerous? This piece looks at the numbers to see if texting-while-driving has led to a spike in car crashes. The answer is no, but look at my nifty graph.

#10. Super Big Gulp (2nd month on the list!) There are some things that perfectly encapsulate the American spirit, and the Big Gulp is one of them. This post continues to get a constant stream of search-engine traffic.

#20. Camel Crush Cigarettes [American innovation] I’m not a smoker and I support smoking bans because they keep my dry-cleaning bill down. But that being said, Camel Crush Cigarettes are amazing and proof that American innovation is alive and well.

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Senate considering Coke tax (2nd month on the list!) People are concerned about taxing soda. After all, who wants to pay 32 cents more for a Big Gulp?

McDonald’s in America [progress] A map of just how ubiquitous McDonald’s has become. Isn’t it beautiful?

Is a “Coke Tax” a threat to Free Refills? (2nd month on the list!) A 1 cent per-ounce tax on soda would drastically change the economics of free refills. Might it spell the end of the most American of institutions?

What makes Europe Stink €2. Nescafé Instant Coffee (2nd month on the list!) Europeans are the biggest food snobs in the world. But they have a dirty little secret, they LOVE instant coffee. That’s why Starbucks developed VIA.

Making the world safe for free refills and decent coffee If you thought the map of McDonald’s in America was impressive, check out this one of Starbucks and McDonald’s locations across the globe. Looks like it is safe to go anywhere, save for most of Africa—and Iceland.

Check out last month’s list as well.

The “No Free Refills” boycott [fighting back]

American restaurants and fast-food joints have offered free refills on soft drinks and coffee for years. And for good reason, refilling drinks for free is a cheap and easy way to keep your customers happy and make them feel like they’re getting a good value.

But free refills are more than a marketing gimmick, they are an American birthright.

What’s more, free refills are a kind of social contract between restaurateurs and us, that one we pay two or three dollars for a product that is essentially free, we have the right to have your cup refilled as many times as needed to quench our thirst.


There might be a lot of Europeans in the West Village, but it is still part of America--so offer free refills!

Earlier today, I went out to lunch at a diner down the street from my apartment. The food was decent, and I was excited by the prospect of a restaurant in the neighborhood that wasn’t enormously expensive or gimmicky (vegetarian / falafel / overpriced noodle places, I’m talking about you). But when it came time to refill my coke, the waitress informed me that they don’t do free refills on soda. “I guess the economy is too bad that we can’t do that anymore,” she said.

I for one think it is important to stand up for free refills. And I don’t appreciate being nickel-and-dimed by a restaurant over something that costs them fewer than 10 cents (what’s next, a napkin quota?).

So starting today, I am going to be boycotting any restaurant that does not offer free refills. I hope you will join me.

The first restaurant on my boycott list is University Restaurant at 12th Street and University Place in Manhattan.

View Restaurants that don’t offer free refills in a larger map

I am also creating a map of anti-American restaurants that refuse to offer free refills to help you avoid these establishments in the future. The map will be regularly updated as I discover more restaurants that have European refill policies. If you know of any restaurants that should be added to the list, please contact me.

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