Category Archives: Life

🎈  2023 turned out to be a Michael Dukakis kind-of-year for Nikki Haley.  She spent the first 45 days of 2023 running-not-running for the Republican nomination for President; then the next 315 days trying to wordsmith her way past DeSantis for the runner-up slot; then came December 27, where a strange malady gripped her vocal cords and kept Haley from saying that the U.S. Civil War was fought over slavery.  The remaining few days of the Pale Year of Nikki Haley didn’t matter much, nor will her 2024.

🎈  At the start of 2023, my no-profit-website Pet-Free Hotels had about 1200 listings — at year’s end, the number is 2255.  I do pet-free hotel searches while copying music CDs to USB sticks so I can play them in my car.  (Who would’ve imagined back in 1983 that those sleek silvery discs would one day become boomer relics?)  A recent Pet-Free Hotels visitor tipped me $24 after he/she found a pet-free hotel in Nashville.  I’m no Bill Gates — my site won’t finance a cure for anything — but a handful of folks seem to appreciate my quixotic efforts, and that keeps me going.  As has been the case since grade school.

🎈 2023 was not the best year in humor at The 100 Billionth Person; surprisingly, it was one of my leanest years (only five posts) in that category.  I can’t blame it on my teen hero Tom Smothers dying, as he sadly passed away just a few days ago.  I can’t blame it on our three cats walking over my keyboard and erasing my best joke ideas, as we don’t have cats.  (Now there’s something to ponder: would I write more humorous bits if I had a cat’s anus in my field-of-view 16 hours a day?  Some readers might suggest I give it a try.)

🎈 2023 marked another year in which, to my knowledge, I avoided being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its ever-evolving strains which we no longer bother to name. It’s all boiling down to getting two shots each fall instead of one, which simplifies things.  Americans need it simple.

🎈 In the same vein so to speak, it seemed like health care appointments besmirched my 2023 calendar like never before.  I’m sure many of my friends and their family members felt the same.  In March, I was naively congratulating myself for turning 70; but just a few weeks later, I had a fall (my first broken bone!) and it took a lot longer than I figured for Humpty to re-assemble his shell.  Things seem to pile up these days like dents and dings on a car — nowadays one just hopes to avoid collisions and major repairs.

🏴 Gun violence 2023.  Unless a shooting sets some new record, we hear less and less about it on the evening news (which fewer and fewer of us watch) but the guns don’t care.  There were 43,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. this year; more than half were suicides.  Mass shootings were overly concentrated in Chicago and the Deep South.  Here is a map:

Credit: Gun Violence Archive (gunviolencearchive.org)

🎈 While my spouse read prodigiously again this year (70 books, she claims), my count was 2 or 3, maybe a few more if you include the ones I didn’t finish.  The most compelling was the autobiographical My Struggle: Book One by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård (translated by Don Bartlett).  I got so absorbed in Book One (of Six!) that upon finishing it, I promptly checked out Book Two, only to stall out after 100 pages (of 600!) of Book Two.  I renewed Book Two twice but never picked it up again.  The same fate befell The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life.  That title sounded interesting on paper, but was far too laborious in print.

🎈 2023 was the year I finally indulged myself and subscribed to the literary magazine The Paris Review.  The Paris Review is artsy and unconventional and wasn’t it about time I embraced the world of fine (read quirky) contemporary literature, because who knows what creativity it might unleash in me.  Since I subscribed, The Paris Review has reliably arrived in our mailbox every quarter; I have yet to finish reading the first issue and I have yet to open the three issues subsequently delivered.  What a dedicated follower of literary fashion I turned out to be.

🎈 The only live musical performance I attended in 2023 was in our own home when my friend Rob Simbeck visited and we got out our guitars and played well-known tunes from the 1960s and 70s.  (To preserve what remains of our dignities, neither Rob or I attempted to replicate Taylor Swift’s thigh-forward performances of her 2023 Eras Tour.)  Our music and memories spoke for themselves — here’s hoping for more musical reunions in 2024.

🎈 2023: It’s a wrap!

🎈 As I said, it’s a wrap!

🎈 I insist, it’s a wrap!

🏳️ OK, I give up.  Sorta.  Best wishes for 2024.

 

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It is odd but telling, in a way, how the practice of tipping — under what circumstances and how much — remains a sure-fire conversation-starter among Americans.  Our culture is divided on tips: half the time we wonder whether we’re doing it right; the rest, whether we should have to tip at all.  And to further muddy the waters, we are often expected to tip for services that are ostensibly free, included or have indeterminate value, where percentages do not apply.

We visited our children/grandchildren in Ohio over Thanksgiving, and we stayed in a Fairfield Inn for our own comfort and convenience.  Whenever we stay in a hotel, we try to remember to hang the “No Housekeeping Needed” card on our door handle — but this trip, we forgot to do so the first morning.  So we came back to the room that night to find the beds made, but not a full refresh — the ice bucket, trash baskets and coffee cups were not emptied, the coffee packs were not replenished, and used towels were not replaced.  It was a “we-were-here” courtesy call at best.

My spouse and I didn’t feel like we needed such courtesy, and so every day after that, we made sure the “Don’t Bother Me” tag was on our doorknob whenever we left the room.

Naturally, at the end of our stay, my spouse and I had a minor debate about the proper tip to leave for the housekeeping staff, considering the courtesy visit and their final remake of our room.  The fact that I won’t recount details of our debate — as interesting as you might find it! — serves to illustrate our cultural issues about tipping.  What I will say is: one of us thought we should tip x amount, the other that we should tip half that amount.

“Half-that-amount” won the day in this case.  Who was right cannot be answered.  It’s not like there was a 2023 U.S. Labor Dept. Tipping Handbook in the bedside nightstand for us to consult.  All we found there was a Bible [1] and a Book of Mormon.  (Both unread.)

But did either of us venture to open our laptop and search for hotel housekeeper tip 2023?  No, we winged it.  Truth-be-told, we probably wouldn’t have liked what we found.

What is interesting is that our notions of what to tip were based on divergent principles: one of us viewed the housekeeping visits and services rendered as a transaction; whereas the other saw the tip as a kind of charitable contribution, based on a presumption of the station-in-life of the housekeeper and the mere fact that they showed up, never mind the value of the service provided.

• • • 

One morning during our stay, I interacted with a staff person at the free breakfast buffet, the kind that most mid-scale American hotels now offer in one form or another.  You know the deal — pump-dispenser coffee; texture-free bread slices and bagels housed in polyvinyl bread-o-domes awaiting their bleary-eyed tong-extraction and clumsy conveyance to the nearby toaster; eggs, sometimes pre-packaged, assuredly not free-range but if they’re free who cares; and for the kids, a colorful tower of factory-to-bowl Froot Loops.

Come on, admit it, you’ve dispensed a Froot Loops jackpot at least once in your life.

Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor Visitor

Anyway, one morning I wanted to take a slice of toast back to our room for my spouse, along with my own bagel and coffee, and as I was pondering how to transport everything, the sociable buffet attendant came up to me and kindly offered me a tray.  That was a first.  I thanked her, accepted the tray, loaded up my items and went on my way.

Now, I happen to think simple things like trays should be (but rarely are) readily available if a hotel wants its patrons to enjoy its humble wares in their own rooms, instead of forcing them to sit at featureless tables among nameless strangers under the droning blather of CNN or Fox News.  But I guess that’s just me (and Stephen Sondheim) asking, Where are the traysThere ought to be trays!   Send in the trays!

• • • 

All this is accessory to the fact that most complimentary hotel breakfasts feature a tip jar  invariably easier to spot than the trays.  Being that we can’t carry food back to the room in the tip jar, what are we supposed to put in that jar and why?  $2 if we exchange glances with the attendant?  $2 if we can pump a healthy stream of hot coffee into our cup instead of sputtery-warm dregs?  Maybe that’s worth $3.  Soon enough it will be $5.

Just another topic not mentioned in the 2023 U.S. Labor Department Tipping Handbook.  To think our hard-earned tax money is paying those people for such non-existent advice, says Nikki Haley through her teeth as forcibly as she can.

• • • 

Okay, but what about the kindly breakfast bar attendant?  Did I leave her a tip?  Flatly, no. It was too hard for me to make the connection between what the attendant does, how she/he is employed and compensated and why a gratuity is predicated.  A hotel breakfast buffet doesn’t look or feel like a restaurant — it’s basically a self-serve concession area.  Shouldn’t a hotel cover the cost of the food and the contract labor to provide it, without involving the patron in a so-called complimentary transaction?

Again, back to the attendant who offered me the tray!  The following morning, I happened to notice a few trays on a countertop ten steps away, which I could have used without help, had there been the same kind of sign pointing to the trays as the one calling out the tip jar.

Send in the trays?  Don’t bother, they’re here.  (Thank you, Mr. Sondheim!)

I ultimately decided that friendliness was a basic human trait that does not necessarily call for monetary compensation, even when exhibited in a hotel breakfast bar.  But even that calculation gets too complicated.

• • •  

My thesis is that the typical [2] American views tipping not as a utilitarian service charge, nor as a progressive gesture of income equalization, but as a kind of charitable donation that our culture obligates us to give to service workers, whether the service was needed or not and whether the service was adequate or not.  This creates a tension.

In the early 1900s, wealthy Americans paid tips to encourage and compensate the delivery of extra services, especially those related to prohibited drinks.  Thus the practice of tipping in the U.S. became associated with desirable off-the-books transactions for all involved.  From there, tips slowly evolved into unreported and (initially) untaxed wage supplements that were gladly embraced by service workers and hotel/restaurant owners alike.

It now seems to be American Economic Gospel (AEG) that all parties benefit when an ever greater portion of a service worker’s or cab driver’s income comes from tips:  it means less of the wage has to be paid by the business owner, which lets the owner post lower prices for their service, which (deceptively) attracts more customers, which generates more sales and more tips!  In any case, isn’t it a rule that service is better when a large tip is at stake?

[The preceding message was sponsored in part by The Libertarian Party.  Libertarians: Promising the world of your dreams, if you often dream of wandering bleak city-scapes in search of a working pay toilet.  Libertarianism: Always your fourth choice!]

• • •  

Aside:  Long, long ago in a United States of America far, far away, there was something called a punitive tip which was universally seen as such.  (This is to educate my children, for whom the very idea may be — what, the Greatest Generation and their offspring could be tip trolls?)  Patrons who were pissed off about a plate served late, or cold, or without enough cheese, or just to show who’s who in this transaction, would “send a message” by leaving a tip so tiny that there could be no mistake how displeased the customer was, and how small the customer was to leave it.

In the early 20th-century, the typical punitive tip was a dime.  One asks, why not a penny, since it is worth even less — but a penny doesn’t make a strong enough statement: the coin is dull and easy to overlook.  Whereas the U.S. dime is shiny, visible and doesn’t get left behind by mistake.  Best yet, the dime is the smallest coin in the realm, giving it additional symbolic bite.

In James Rosen’s wryly-titled book, “Scalia: Rise to Greatness“, the future Supreme Court justice’s tipping ethics, ca. 1970, were disclosed by Henry Goldberg, a Scalia lunchmate:

“Over lunch at the Roger Smith Hotel… Scalia ended the lunch angry.  He got into a fight with the waitress… He left her a dime tip.  I was appalled and said ‘Gee, let me put some more money.’  ‘No,’ Scalia erupted, ‘don’t you dare put any more money!’  ‘Well, don’t leave any tip then — a dime is an insult.’  ‘That’s just what I want to do!  I’m going to put a dime down!  That’s the tip!'”  Taken aback, Goldberg christened the incident the Dime Lunch and needled Scalia about it the rest of his life.

My next podcast-length book review:  “Scalia: Descent to Smug Petulance.”

• • •  

Strangely, given America’s incoherent mix of social, puritanical and meritocratic strains, both the standard tip and the punitive tip have grown in percentage terms over the years.  Regards the standard tip, then-renowned columnist Carlisle Bargeron [3] in the Feb. 1951 Nation’s Business noted that “the ten per cent tip has, in the course of progress and increased cost of living, gone to 15 per cent” and was now “regarded as basic” except in small towns.  Four decades later, Emily Post would update the rule:  “It wasn’t long ago that 15 percent of the bill, excluding tax, was considered a generous tip in elegant restaurants.  Now the figure is moving toward 20 percent for excellent service.”

That was 1997.  In 2023, although Emily Post continues to cite “15-20%” as the suggested sit-down restaurant tip, it’s my experience that the expected tip — after a brief stop at 18% — is now a solid 20% without regard to elegance or excellence.  The “above and beyond” tip has climbed to 22-25%, which I am sure will soon enough become the new standard.

One way to follow tipping trends is checking the gratuity calculations conveniently printed at the bottom of your restaurant tab.  If any of you happen to see a 15% tip option printed on your tab, I’d like to hear about it.  (And if you do, save it as a keepsake.)

Photo of Suggested Gratuity AmountTab from a casual dinner in Asheville, Dec. 2023

Now, all-day breakfast places (i.e., diners) operate under different rules — the food prices are relatively low and the service (all those coffee refills!) is often frequent and fast-paced.  Breakfast servers make their money based on the number of tables they serve and not the modest tips.  That’s why I tip more generously at diners — generally 25-35% or a minimum of $5 if it’s just me.

As to punitive tips, the cultural consensus seems muddled.  Today’s opinion writers tend to tip-toe around the issue of bad service, as if in denial that it even exists; they tend to advise disappointed customers to voice their concerns to management rather than letting their tip do the talking.  The implication is that one should never “penalize” the server.

Writers who do discuss tips for bad service generally mention 15% or 18% as their floor, with 10% as rock-bottom.  Personally, I have a hard time leaving less than 18% even when the food is cold or the server seemed to disappear.  Why?  Probably because I don’t want to look like a jerk over a few bucks.  If I have a bad dining experience, I’m more likely to vote with my feet and not return rather than leave a turd tip.

In my view, the owner is responsible for the patron’s whole experience — it should not be the patron’s job to figure out who to blame among the various persons and teams in an establishment.  That is why my “punitive” measure, if you will, is loss of patronage.

This places me in the “tip = service charge” segment of the populace, those who view tips as that part of a server’s wage the owner wants me to pay instead of them.  For that reason, I rarely deviate from the standard, because my “front of the house” tip has little to do with the overall quality of the experience.  It is up to the owner to own it all.

• • •  

The COVID pandemic created a dilemma in terms of tipping — and a crisis for everyone in hospitality businesses — as sit-down restaurants either closed or had to improvise take-out operations to stay afloat.  During the pandemic, we often ordered dinners-to-go from our favorite restaurants and we patriotically tipped the total as if they were sit-down dinners.  But once the pandemic faded, I began to recalibrate my tips on take-out.

Everyone draws the lines differently — for take-out, here is how I now draw mine:

💲 THE BAGEL STORE.  We never get “prepared” bagels at Bruegger’s — we just order an assorted half-dozen and bring them home.  To me, my calling out six bagels for a person to put in a bag and hand to me does not feel like “service” but lack of access.  I could just as easily bag my own if I were allowed behind the counter.

So, I’ve decided to ignore the tip choices displayed on Bruegger’s pay terminal and just click the “No Tip” button.  It gets easier every time.  I apply the same rule to any place that basically dispenses goods like a market does, without adding thought or time or value.

Side note: Bruegger’s Bagels, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme are all owned by JAB Holding Company, a German conglomerate.  I didn’t know that.

💲 PIZZA AND CHINESE.  Some restaurants, like our go-to pizzeria, were always strictly take-out.  Others, like our usual Chinese place, ended table service during the pandemic and never went back.  In these cases, “service” consists of a person taking a few steps, handing over your box or bags, and guiding your payment process.  During the pandemic, to support service workers in general, I was leaving 20%.  But I have since scaled back to 10-15%, that is, $3-4 to be handed a pizza, $5-6 to be handed a bagful of Chinese food.

Why the difference between Bruegger’s and our local pizza shop?  Somehow I feel more compelled to tip workers at locally-owned places than corporate ones.  Maybe I figure corporate restaurants have deeper pockets and therefore should pay their staff better instead of guilting their customers for tips.

💲 TAKE-OUT FROM SIT-DOWNS.  I also tend to tip a bit more when we order take-out from sit-down restaurants — it feels like I am somehow depriving servers from their tips when I elect to take our food home.  Again, the 20% I had been tipping during COVID is more like 15-18% now.  I’m not sure I can make a logical case for my behavior, but does logic really prevail in tipping?

• • •  

I could get into all the “incidental” tips involving bartenders, housekeeping, valet parking (never complimentary even when it supposedly is), luggage handling, etc., but I will leave advice on those to the 2023 U.S. Labor Dept. Tipping Handbook and other authorities.  What I would like to close with, however, is the trap that old people can easily fall into when it comes to dollar-denominated tips — once we get the idea that a customary tip is $2, for example, that $2 figure gets stuck in our heads for decades, without regard to its ever-declining value.

In the January 1993 issue of Successful Meetings, columnist Deborah Bright included a gratuity guide that covered the common incidentals.   Her 1993 figures are a bit amusing, but also cautionary.  Below are a few of her recommended gratutity amounts:

  • Coatroom Attendant: $1 per item
  • Parking Valet: $1 minimum
  • Baggage Handler: $1 per bag, $2 per heavy bag
  • Housekeeper: $2 per day
  • Car Wash Dryer: $1

When these figures were published, I was 40, our kids were in middle school, and we had just started to take vacations, so these were the first such guidelines I learned.  My best  calculations [4] suggest that hotel/restaurant prices have inflated 2.3x from then to now.  So, if we were only to adjust for inflation, an $89 hotel room then would cost $205 today, the housekeeping tip would now be in the $4-5 per day range, and the other figures would obviously go up accordingly.

That said, if you think that a $2.30 tip will be well-received by your parking valet in 2023, I’d advise you to drive someone else’s car to that establishment on your next visit.

• • •

Having shared a few of my own thoughts on tips (which are not necessarily shared by my spouse), it’s time for me to tip-toe.  There may be no hard and fast rules in tipping but there definitely are cultural norms, many of them unwritten, all continually evolving — which guarantees there can be no one right approach.  I invite you to comment on your own philosophy and any conundrums you face when it comes to tipping post-pandemic.

P.S.  I should disclose that I’ve received $48 in “tips” over the past year from generous readers who bought me a cup of coffee on either PetFreeHotels.com or on this site, after reading my articles about the physics of hanging pictures.  For the record, I don’t plan to report my tips to the IRS.

__________

[1]  Left there no doubt to help with good Rocky’s revival.
[2]  Insecure writers who feel the need to point out their puns and other literary bon mots to their readers lest their little gems go unnoticed… well, there should be a name for such writers.  Oh, wait.
[3]  Carlisle Bargeron, “Tips, incidentals, etc.”  Nation’s Business 39 (February 1951)
[4]  The inflation rate for restaurants and hotels has only been tracked separately since December 2009.  For the inflation rate from 1993 to 2009, I used the overall urban consumer price index.

 

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I always sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes on my pizza and pasta.

I always add a few shakes of salt to homemade turkey-lettuce-mayo sandwiches.

I always douse cottage cheese with salt and pepper, especially pepper, until the mound of cottage cheese takes on the appearance of a volcanic range.

I always put horseradish sauce on my burgers and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, after which I take my chances.

I always shake more salt and pepper on fried or scrambled eggs, even after my spouse says she has already salted and peppered them.

And yes, I have added pepper to steak au poivre.

When I make tuna salad — and it’s rare that I get to make it — I always add curry.

I always add about 1/3 teaspoon of sugar to my coffee, as more would be too sweet and less would be too bitter.  And only a dollop of half-and-half please.  Adding skim milk to coffee is a crime against javacity.

I always butter each individual pancake in a stack of pancakes.

If there is excess onion or scallion flavor in a dish — and almost any amount is too much for me — I try to mentally subtract it, as if the onion was somehow added by mistake.

When I was a kid, I salted watermelon because that’s what my dad did.  It took me years to stop parroting him and decide that watermelon tasted great on its own.

I always add something to my martini.  If we have cherries or raspberries, it’s those.  Otherwise it’s a couple of olives.  Otherwise a lemon peel.  Otherwise I see something 1920’s elegant in the angle of the glass and drink it with that mental embellishment.

So, what might be your seasoning rituals?

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