Restaurant Rights and Race

Last weekend, I met up with Margie and Suze at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. We’ve been friends since we all started at our first jobs at Simon and Schuster on the 16th floor of the Gulf and Western building, now a Trump building, in Columbus Circle 1987. We still talk several times a week and meet up in the city as often as we can get away from our families.

The routine is always the same. We meet up at a bookstore and then roam through the neighborhood stores talking non-stop and then eventually end up in a restaurant for more non-stop chatter. It’s good to have old friends.

It was a blustery day, so we ended up in restaurant quickly after brief visits to ABC Carpets and Fishes Eddy. As we settled into several plates of dumplings and scallion pancakes at a Chinese restaurant, a commotion broke out around us. A guy who was working outside the building got into a shouting match with the restaurant owner. He wanted to use the bathroom without buying any food. The owner blocked his way to the bathroom and said that the bathroom was only for customers. The worker yelled that he just wanted to use the toilet and leave. After lots of yelling, the worker finally left.

And because race and restaurants are in the news, I have to say that the worker was African American. The owner and the customers were white or Asian.

We got into a debate at the table. One of us thought that the owner should have let the guy use the toilet. He was in a construction outfit. He was clearly not a homeless guy. She felt that the worker’s race was one of the reasons why he was shuffled out of the restaurant.

Another friend said that restaurant owners never let non-customers use the toilet. Anybody who is in New York City knows that you can’t use a toilet in a restaurant without buying anything, and you have to know where the open-use toilets are, like the second floor of that Barnes and Noble.

Who was right?


The End Times of Brick and Mortar

Last month, Ian remembered that he had $50 worth of gift cards for Toys R Us in the bottom drawer of his desk and that those cards had to be used quickly, because the company was going bankrupt. We hastily purchased some electronic items, but we were notified three weeks later that the order was cancelled without refunding the gift cards. The company ate our $50.

So, I’m currently trying to work through the phone tree at ToysRUs to get that money back. I know it’s a lost cause, but losing $50 is bugging the crap out of me. Even if all the good stuff is gone in the stores, I want to buy diapers or something and donate it to the local food pantry. The odds of getting this money back is very slim, but I have to give it a shot.

Toys R Us is yet another business that cannot compete with the convenience of online shopping. Our local mall is a ghost town and is mostly used by retirees who pace back and forth to get their steps on the Fitbits. Sears will soon be replaced by yet another fancy supermarket with lots of prepared foods.

Is the demise of ToysRUs and its fellows a bad thing? No more teenagers hanging out at the foodcourt at the mall. No more flat-iron salesmen at the kiosks chasing me down the hallway with their products. No more lines of kids waiting to get their pictures taken with the Easter bunny. Does it matter? Probably not.

I’m quite happily buying picture frames, rugs, and eyeglasses online. My rug showed up in two days and was perfect. My glasses were inexpensive and were easy to exchange when the first pair were too large. Framing my picture online saved me several separate trips to get the picture printed and then matched to the right frame. Over this winter, I also purchased my holiday cards and a stylist-approved outfit — all online.

The stores that are going to survive the continuing extinction of brick and mortar are going to be like creatures that survived the dinosaur extinction — smart and agile and small.

People still want to go out to be inspired. They want an experience along with their shopping. So, stores that show you what your rooms can look like with their products, an IKEA for example, will be fine. Stores that provide services for the busy family, like the prepared foods at the fancy supermarkets, will keep expanding. Stores that make you feel hipper with carefully curated items and hip workers will be okay.

But you should hurry up and spend your gift cards to stores with piles of dusty board games or piles of discount jewelry. Their days are numbered.

Kids and Their Protests

Anyway, lots of kids marched out of their schools yesterday. Some faced discipline from school administrators. Other school districts supported and cheered for the kids. Here in New Jersey, it went both ways.

I watched a minute of two of the film clips of the protests, but couldn’t stomach much more. I’m too jaded to be moved by impassioned speeches of 15-year olds. I love that they are testing out their political opinions, but I don’t really care what they have to say.

At some schools, there were counter protests by students on the right. Some students say that left-leaning school administrators tried to squash the counter protestors.

Administrators were largely just afraid that the situation would get out of control and someone would sue the district.

Will those protests make for any changes on gun control? My guess is no. The protests were impressive, but nobody is talking about them today. The moment is done.


Activism 101

True story. When I was a kid, I didn’t have any black magic markers. I had a box full of orange and yellow and green, but no black. Why? Because my parents used them all for protest signs.

At that time, they were very involved in local politics fighting corruption and environmental issues. Before that, my dad had rallied against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. By the time I was six, I knew how to collect petitions to organize a third party run for local office. My dad would position me outside of supermarkets, and I would thrust a clip board into the faces of shoppers.

After my folks became more religious during the Reagan era, they switched teams. Now, they put those protest skills to work for the Pro-Life movement. In their 80s, they still attend the March for Life.

So, I like activism. Like Hannah Arendt and Aristotle, I think that we are political animals, who come alive when participating in communal decision making. Sometimes, I get irritated when it’s done badly; I think that the Women’s Marches have been major missed opportunities to do something real. But there’s no question that activism is on the rise. I’m overjoyed over that students are walking out of schools to protest the lack of meaningful gun control.

The trick with activism is not to be too democratic; there needs to be some proper leadership. There has to be a concrete goal, but one that is a notch too high, so there is room for compromise. There has to be a group with the movement that knows how to use the media.

But change is happening pretty quickly, so there have definitely been more successes, than failures. In the midst of this Trump fiasco, there have been these little triumphs.


How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?

If there were a “10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most” list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they’re going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn’t for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at “random-ass meetings (RAM).” That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

More here

Property Tax in New Jersey

Taxes in Jersey suck. They just do.

Walk into any diner on Route 17 and ask the guy at the counter. He’ll tell you, “our houses cost a lot, and we pay a shit load of taxes. Now get me a egg, cheese and Taylor ham sandwich, dammit.”

Here in Jersey, we are going to get royally screwed with Trump’s new tax plan. We used to be able to deduct part of the giant-assed local taxes from our federal taxes. Can’t do that anymore. Am I slightly laughing at the Trump voters in New Jersey right now? No. Because I’m too pissed off at them.

The towns directly around us are considering a plan to convert taxes into charitable donations, which still can be deducted from federal taxes. Our town must be considering the same plan.

More on Transportation


We didn’t move willingly out to the suburbs. We were pushed out of New York City by the need for good neighborhood schools and the mosquito-like annoyances of being poor in the city — alternative side of the street parking, inconvenient laundry, four flights of stairs, a heating system that might conk out in the middle of winter for two days, cockroaches in the kitchen. There wasn’t one particular issue, but when all those problems swarmed around you constantly, nipping at your ankles, city life became draining.

Still, in the back of our heads, we planned to move back when the kids finished school. Since Ian will be in the system until he’s 21, we thought we had another six years before getting a two bedroom on the A Train line.

But I’m not so sure about that anymore. My family and friends who live in New York City,  DIE-HARD city-types, are miserable. The subway system is falling apart. The cars are more crowded than ever. Crammed into cars trying to grasp a handrail isn’t a fun way to start the day. And the trains keep breaking down. Repairs means that trains are rerouted, so it might take three trains to get to work, instead of one.

Everybody knows that the subway system, which still uses 120-year old parts, is falling apart. While corruption and union rules have made repairs prohibitively expensive, the real solution is to rip it all out and start over again. Which is impossible. Nobody could get to work or school for five years.

And then getting around the city by car has also been a nightmare. We drove into the city to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week. In ten degree weather, the line to get into the museum curled around the front fountains. (Insider tip — the parking lot entrance to the museum was empty, so we zipped right in.) There are tons and tons of tourists in New York City these days.

After the museum, we went to our favorite dive Chinese restaurant in Chelsea. We drove down Fifth Avenue. It was bumper to bumper Uber cars all the way downtown. Uber cars have made traffic so much worse.

So, that’s just my commuter gossip for the day.

Dr. Manhattan sent me two links to transportation articles that he likes. I’m still reading them: James Q. Wilson piece from 20 years ago writes there’s no way in hell the car could be invented today.  Charles C.W. Cooke piece on the politics of self-driving cars.

The Times has had several excellent articles on the transportation issues: How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York’s Subways and Your Uber Car Creates Congestion.