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MINUTEMEN UPDATE

Should you lose your license because of a parking ticket?

Private Parking MetersReader John emailed to report some alarming news for Michigan motorists.

It seems that Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids has introduced legislation that would bar the Secretary of State (Michigan’s DOV) for issuing or renewing licenses to people who have three or more outstanding parking tickets.

Harsh.

I’ve always viewed metered parking as a kind of cat-and-mouse game. When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I almost never had change and consequently rarely fed the meter. Most days, I did not get a ticket. But there were definitely days when the Ann Arbor Police would slap three tickets on my window in a single afternoon.

If left unpaid, that is enough parking tickets to cost you your driver’s license under Rep. Schmidt’s bill.

It strikes me as overkill. After all, isn’t accumulating  and fighting back against unpaid parking tickets uniquely American?

American style tipping comes to London [progress]

03 Unjustified Service ChargeAs anyone who has dined out in Europe knows all too well, service in European restaurants is not exactly the same caliber that it is back in America.

Waiters are uniformly rude, slow to take your order and seemingly determined to serve you cold food. Once you do get your meal, they avoid checking in on your table like the plague. And if you’re thirsty, good luck. It is nearly impossible to get a refill, even if you’re willing to pay for it!

All of this stems from the fact Europe doesn’t have the institution of tipping.

Instead of wait staff being compensated partially based on the level of service they provide to customers, they are simply given a portion of the “service charge” that is tacked on to every bill. Thus the only incentive waiters have is to coax customers into ordering the most expensive things on the menu.

But according to The Guardian, the era of bad service might be coming to an end, at least in Britain. The left-wing British daily reports that twenty high-end restaurants owned by Terence Conran will stop adding the customary 12.5% service charge to bills. Instead, they will ask customers to tip their servers in the American fashion.

A spokesman for the restaurant group told The Guardian that the move would lead to better service by “re-establishing the relationship between the customer and the member of staff.”

I hope so.

Here is some free advice for those newly accountable British waiters: keeping a customer’s water or soda full is the surest way to a big tip.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#1. Ice

The revolutions we like, and the ones we don’t

Empire State BuildingA few weeks back, supporters of the ill-fated Green Revolution in Iran petitioned to have the Empire State Building lit in green during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. The supporters wanted the lighting as a show of solidarity with the Iranian opposition during a time when the world’s leaders were gathered in New York City. The Empire State Building, however, was not so keen on the idea and turned them down.

However, the Green Revolution supporters were elated to find that the Empire State Building would be green on Thursday, Sep. 24, in honor of the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz (you know, the emerald city and all) and planed demonstrations that night.

The Empire State Building authorities were not amused by this. So at the last minute, they changed the lighting scheme to all red –for Dorthy’s ruby red slippers. Take that Green Revolution!

But tonight, the Empire State Building is more than happy to honor another revolution—one that occurred 60 years ago and brought the Chinese Communist Party to power.

Just goes to show you that in America we will gladly turn the ceremonial lights on for your revolution provided that you:

A: win

B: make cheap shit for us

General Motors is dead, long live Walmart! [polls]

Walmart Supercenter signThere was a time when General Motors = America. This was true both in terms of corporate might and popular imagination. But those days have long past. Today General Motors is literally owned by America! But I digress.

With GM now lying lifeless on the dust heap of history, what mega corporation best represents America today?

According to a poll released by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair, the answer is Walmart.

48 percent of respondents named the discounter as the institution that best symbolizes America. Google came in second with 15 percent and 13 percent of respondents said Microsoft. There was hardly any love for the National Football League, with only 6 percent of respondents choosing it, just a hair more than the 3 percent who named investment bank Godlman Sachs.

But why wasn’t McDonald’s on the list? After all, its got free refills, clean restrooms, drive-thrus, cheap food and is conveniently located everywhere.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#2. Drive-Thrus

€1. Pay toilets

Remember when GM had balls?

What do you think?


Don’t worry, Starbucks doesn’t expect you to drink its bad new instant coffee.

Starbucks Via Ready BrewSo the big news today—at least in the Starbucks at the corner—was that the new instant coffee VIA has finally arrived.

Seeing as I don’t have a coffee maker, I decided to pick some up and give it a shot. The verdict: it sucks, just like all instant coffee.

But that is OK because Americans aren’t supposed to like VIA. Starbucks developed this down-market instant brew for Europeans.

Europeans, you see, have a dirty little secret: they love instant coffee. They drink tons of it, and they don’t just drink it at home either. Order a coffee in any café, restaurant or hotel in Europe and you will be served some barely drinkable Nescafe mixture.

Starbucks, which has about 1,200 locations in Europe, evidently thinks that the reason its sales are still sluggish there is because its coffee is too good. Perhaps exploiting the European penchant for watery instant coffee is the way to conquer the market.

I wish them luck. After all, anything is better than Nescafe.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Why Europe Sucks €2. Nescafé Instant Coffee

Remember when GM had balls?

GM Renaissance Center HDRRemember the good old days before General Motors was a government company?

Well, it seems those days have come to an end. The Detroit News reported yesterday that General Motors, along with ten other auto companies, has signed on to government efforts to ban texting while driving.

Sissies.

Maybe one day GM will regain a little bit of its old screw-consumers, safety-be-damned, to-hell-with-the-environment swagger. Perhaps then it can lobby for something that will save lives and improve its bottom line, like banning carpooling.

(Hat tip, John R)

The “Joe Wilson approach” to dealing with unscrupulous merchants

The Honorable Joe Wilson of South CarolinaSo, Congressman Joe Wilson (R-Confederacy SC) shouted “YOU LIE” in the middle of the President’s Healthcare speech last week, and his outburst has been pretty much the only political news story since then. Wilson, his Democratic challenger and the DCCC have all raised a boatload of money off the event, making “YOU LIE” the shortest, and most successful fundraising hook in years. And as of today, the House has passed a resolution condemning Wilson’s outburst, which will presumably provide fodder for one final fundraising pitch from the DCCC.

But despite the fact that Wilson seems like a total slime ball, I tend to think we need more raucous yelling in congress, not less. This is one area—dare I say it—where the British have it right. Tune in for an episode (it is so entertaining that episode seems like the word to use) of Prime Minister’s Questions on C-SPAN and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Members of Parliament jeer, holler and do everything short of telling “yo mama” jokes while the Prime Minster tries to field hostile questions. The whole undertaking makes Joe Willson’s “YOU LIE” look tame, but it nevertheless results in a much better—and more entertaining—public debate.

I can’t help but think if we had a little less decorum and a little more shouting we might have avoided few fiascos, like the war in Iraq. But I digress…

What I really wanted to do was follow-up on last week’s post about dealing with unscrupulous merchants.

It seems to me that I might have omitted one tactic from my list of what to do to when a merchant tries to impose a minimum purchase amount for credit card users. I call it the Joe Wilson strategy.

Scream “YOU LIE!”: Politicians may love scenes—they raise money after all—but shopkeepers hate them. In a crowded shop or restaurant, screaming “YOU LIE” when confronted with a minimum purchase amount will not only get the merchant’s attention, but it will also draw the gaze of everyone else in ear-shot. Now is your chance to quickly outline your case. The merchant will either quickly back down or throw you out on the street. Either way, everyone will remember what you said.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Fighting back against credit card minimums

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€5. Different sized banknotes

An open letter to VISA

What is more America, Big Gulps or Credit Cards?

ACTION ALERT: Senators aim to introduce European-style Credit Card fees

Should New York try running negative ads?

London UndergroundThe AP reports that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and London Mayor Boris Johnson have agreed to swap ad space on each city’s public transportation system in order to boost mutual tourism. London will be able to place a few dozen ads in MTA buses while New York will get poster locations in the Underground.

Of course, what matters here is not mutual cross-border cooperation, but who wins. Specifically, which city pulls in more tourists.

With that in mind, I have a suggestion for New York’s tourism officials: Go negative and tout air-conditioning.

The London Underground has no A/C and temperatures there routinely approach boiling. It is the perfect environment in which to tout some good old fashioned American comforts–like chilled air. Might I suggest also mentioning that the NY Subway has been air-conditioned for over four decades.

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Being an American means you don’t have to sweat (as much)

€4. Inadequate air conditioning

Did the President say the Twitter guys are as important as the Founding Fathers?

I am not going to weigh in on the Obama school address “controversy” other than to say it is stupid. If the president wants to talk to kids on the first day of school, that’s fine. He is the president and that is his prerogative.

What I will take issue with is some of the parallel structures the President used towards the end of his speech. Here is the text:

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and they founded this nation. Young people. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google and Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So does that mean the Twitter guys are the modern-day equivalent of the Founding Fathers?

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few patriots the President could have mentioned without lowering the bar of greatness quite so dramatically.  I’d like to nominate James Guilliow, the inventor of the cup-holder, Helen Barnett Diserens, who developed under-arm deodorant and the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America, whose work liberated us all from the indignity of pay-toilets to name a few.

The Pay-Toilet Address

Automatic ToiletI wrote this as a memorial on the 18 month anniversary of the new pay toilet installed in Madison Square Park. It is one of two pay toilets that have been installed in New York by a Spanish company seeking to undermine the right to pee for free that was hard won by the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America over 30 years ago. Thankfully, plans to install 18 more pay toilets have stalled.

One score and fourteen years ago, great patriots brought forth in this Nation, a new right, conceived of necessity, and dedicated to the proposition that all men should be able to pee for free.

Now we are engaged in a great public struggle, testing whether that right, or any right so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. Here in New York, at Madison Square Park, is the latest battlefield of that struggle. It is fitting that when we look at the new pay toilet erected here, we remember those great patriots who fought so hard that we might pee for free.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we remember them in our hearts.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot give up—we cannot capitulate—we cannot leave unfinished their great struggle. The patriots of CEPTIA, living and dead, who fought here and across our Nation, have earned their place in the American cannon, far above our poor power to add or detract from their accomplishments.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we do here today, but it can never forget what CEPTIA accomplished.

It is for us of the 21st century, rather, to be dedicated again to the unfinished work which they who fought to end pay toilets years ago so nobly advanced. It is up to us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that despite the recent setbacks we have suffered, we take increased devotion to the cause for which the patriots in CEPTIA gave their full devotion—that we highly resolve that the struggle to banish pay toilets from America shall not go unfinished—that this Nation, under God, shall have a new constitutional amendment banning pay toilets in all their forms—and that the right of all the people, rich and poor, to pee for free, shall not perish from this earth.

(Hat tip, Gothamist)

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

€1. Pay toilets

#1. CEPTIA

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