Many Words about English

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As any recent graduate with a degree in English knows, a lot of articles are been written about the plight of the Humanities. I am frequently given articles by friends, relatives, my parents, and even my current boss, about how Humanities education is: failing, a necessity, makes people smarter, obsolete, or beautiful but tragically useless in the current economy. The mixed messages are a bit exhausting to wade through.

Some authors, such as Peter Berkowitz for the Wall Street Journal, are blaming the current educational system for being too narrow in scope and therefore irrelevant to the larger society. Berkowitz suggests that universities have strayed from a classically liberal education in favor of increasingly obscure topical studies that are designed for the specific interests of the professors rather than for the greatest benefit to the students. He believes the decline of the Humanities degree is due to narrow fields of scholarship that “contribute little to students’ grasp of the broad sweep of Western civilization and its literary, philosophical and religious masterpieces.”

Having just completed a degree in English at a state university, I can sympathize with Berkowitz’ argument to some degree. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree, yet I feel I am still lacking a mastery of the “broad sweep of Western civilization.” My undergraduate program for a major in English with a Literature concentration and a minor in Art History consisted of the following:

17 courses in English, both writing and literature

7 courses in Art History

4 courses in Studio Art

3 courses in French

2 courses in Science

1 course each in: Math, Public Speaking, Music Appreciation, Psychology, World Religion, Geography, History.

The average college student is required to take one semester of history. As a humanities major, I have had constant exposure to additional historical education through the literature I read and the study of art history, but what about non-humanities majors? A student of computer science takes one course in history, one course in composition, and one course in literature. I’m not sure what Berkowitz’ ideal curriculum for covering the greater picture of Western civilization would include, but I doubt it would fit within the constraints of the current 4-year university program.

So is this a problem? Are humanities majors unemployable simply because we don’t study enough history or read the right books? Will I never find work because my professors assigned Louise Erdrich instead of Herman Melville? Am I forever doomed for choosing Women Writers instead of World Masterpieces II in my junior year?

To answer that, I’ll introduce another article. This week, Nell Greenfieldboyce reported on the merits of studying literature. Greenfieldboyce writes for NPR about a scientific study published on the quantifiable skills gained from reading literary fiction. Apparently, readers of literary fiction have measurable improvement in their ability to detect social cues such as how others are feeling. The study compared fiction considered “literary” due to the focus on the internal complexity of the characters as opposed to “popular fiction” which is externally plot-driven, or non-fiction reading. Readers of literary fiction improve their skills at detecting the thoughts and feelings of others, presumably because reading literature is an intense focus on understanding the actions and internal life of another individual. When one undertakes an analytical study of literature, the reader is striving to understand not only the fictional character, but also the author.

Now, while today’s economy might not have a high demand for experts on William Faulkner, I believe there is a huge demand for workers who possess superior skills for understanding others. Marketing, communication, and customer service are fields that are built on understanding what other people are thinking and feeling, whether or not they are communicating it clearly. The skills one gains in a literature program are not a catalog of facts. Perhaps the classical education Mr. Berkowitz refers to is one of the memorization of Plato’s theories, dates of great world events and an ability to quote Chaucer. That type of education may be wonderful, but memorization has become an increasingly devalued commodity in an age of instant access digital storage. I don’t need to memorize great poems when I can reference them from my phone at a moment’s notice.

At the same time, I do mourn the loss of classical studies. I find it appalling that my American Literature professor said his favorite novel is Moby Dick but even though I took every course available in American literature, I was never required to read a Melville novel in college. Some of the more modern novels I read, I didn’t like, and I don’t think Housekeeping will ever be as culturally impacting as The Great Gatsby; however, modern education is about developing lasting skills, not merely exposure to greatness. I could read 100 great novels and be exposed to brilliant works without ever developing the skills to continue my studies beyond the course.

Though my education may have  skipped some of the better known classics and dived into obscure niches and unconventional course material at times, in the end I don’t think that matters. What I learned was how to read analytically, how to look for the details, how to connect disparate ideas and form new theories, and how to work towards understanding other people and the context in which they lived and wrote, whether they are fictional characters or real authors, in both past and present. Most importantly, my education makes me aware of all that I do not know. Perhaps Mr. Berkowitz longs for a world where humanities graduates walk out, diploma in hand, and proudly declare, “I have mastered Western civilization! Bring me your troubled society and let me fix it with my great wisdom of all that has come before me!” That would be convenient. For now, the world will have to work with what humanities graduates really are: meekly shuffling out of universities with our shiny new degrees, quietly writing, “I’m ready to learn more. The world is too vast to be mastered, but I’m doing all that I can to understand society so I can work to improve at least one corner of the world.”

I’m still looking for work as a writer and still waiting to attend grad school, but I’m always in pursuit of understanding the world. I may not be enrolled in a class right now, but I’m still doing the work I’ve been trained to do. I’m reading, I’m analyzing, I’m trying to learn more, and I’m writing. I’m also finally reading Moby Dick.

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Applications

Applications

Applying for jobs feels far too much like handing out Valentines cards to your fourth grade class. You fall in love with the idea of someone, picture your future together, think you could be the best of friends, and then they never give you a card in return. Your lovingly crafted cover letter/handmade Valentine with extra sparkles, glitter, doilies and kitten stickers goes ignored, or maybe gets the response of a form email/store bought cartoon character card with cheesy “B-mine” slogan and no signature from the sender.

All this rejection makes job searching emotionally exhausting. Picturing your future with employer after employer and communicating that through cover letter after letter really depletes your supply of verbal glitter.

However, just like sending Valentines is mandatory in fourth grade, sending out job applications is the only way to get a job. I just might have to start buying my glitter in bulk at Costco.

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Communication with Customers

Something that never fails to shock me is how so many people are terrible at communication. Many frustrating customer service situations originate in a lack of communication or listening abilities on one or both sides. The customer feels the employee isn’t listening to them and the employee can’t understand what question the customer is trying to ask. Sometimes one party simply isn’t listening to the other person at all and in the end everyone is upset and thinks the other person was a rude idiot. These situations can make excellent stories for employees, laughing about how ridiculous customers can be, but while amusing, sometimes it’s just sad to realize that some people must go through life very angry at the people around them because they aren’t getting what they want simply because they aren’t communicating those desires clearly enough to be understood.

A few nights ago, a woman came into the diner where I work and tried to order ice cream. She was asking her waitress about the ice cream and the waitress explained it was one or two scoops on a cone. “What’s a scoop?” the woman asked. The waitress was surprised by the question, since people generally know what a scoop of ice cream is. She tried to explain that we use an ice cream scoop, like you might have at home, to dish out a rounded portion of ice cream and put it on the cone. “So what’s a scoop?” the woman replied. The waitress tried to explain again. “You’re not answering my question” the woman replied, but she ordered a scoop of butter pecan on a cone anyway. When the waitress returned with the cone, she said “It’s not in the cone?” Once again perplexed, the waitress replied “It’s in the cone. The ice cream is on top of the cone.” The woman looked annoyed, paid her bill, and left.

So what was going on here? Did we somehow encounter the only American woman in her early 30s who did not appear to be from any kind of disadvantaged educational or economic background who has never before encountered ice cream that comes in scoops, ice cream cones or the spacial relationship between those two objects? No, I don’t think so. While this woman came across as irritable and confused, I don’t think her problem was that she didn’t know what an ice cream cone is; I think she wasn’t asking the questions she wanted to have answered and when the waitress answered the questions she actually asked, she was angry about it because she wasn’t getting the answers she wanted.

When my coworker told me this story, we both though it was strange and tried to figure out what the woman really wanted to know. Our best guess was that when she repeatedly asked, “what’s a scoop” she was trying to ask “how large is a scoop”? I don’t think she needed the dictionary definition:

Scoop, noun. 3.a hemispherical portion of food as dished out by such a utensil: two scoops of chocolate ice cream.

If she had asked “how large is a scoop” the waitress could have demonstrated with her hands, explained that it is about a 1/2 cup portion, or pointed to a customer at another table holding a cone with one scoop. Unfortunately, the woman just kept repeating the same question and getting different variations of the dictionary definition.

When she received her cone and asked “It’s not in the cone,” was she really unaware that the object containing her ice cream was a cone? No. I think she meant to ask, “Isn’t the cone bigger so it wraps around the ice cream?” She probably expected a large waffle cone, but she ordered a small sugar cone. If she had explained her dissatisfaction, the waitress could have take the cone back and put her ice cream in a large waffle cone, but she just asked if the ice cream was in the cone, and yes, it was, because it was a cone with ice cream in it.

This woman could have been a satisfied customer if she had asked the proper questions, or if the waitress had been able to figure out in the moment what questions the woman meant to ask. Sometimes working in a customer service position, you have to be a bit of a mind-reader and try to guess what the customer really wants to know, even if that is not the question they are asking.

I once worked in a Jamba Juice smoothie shop in California. One day a woman walked up to the counter and said “I want an Orange Julius.” Now, Orange Julius is the name of a competing smoothie shop. This is like walking into your local independent coffee shop and saying “I want a Starbucks.” I was aware that the Orange Julius drink was a concoction of orange juice and vanilla ice cream, so I explained to the woman “We don’t have Orange Julius, they just have that at the Orange Julius over at the mall across the street, but we do have the Orange Dream which is basically the same ingredients, OJ and vanilla. Would you like that?” “NO! I want an Orange Julius or whatever it’s called. It’s what my dad gets.” Not being personally acquainted with this woman or her father who was not present, that information didn’t help me much. “Well, can you tell me what was in the drink your dad gets? Orange juice, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas? If you know some of the ingredients I can tell you which drinks have those and maybe we can find it on the menu?” She replied that she didn’t know what was in it so she had no idea. I suggested every different drink that had anything orange in it and she said it was none of them. Finally she gave up and ordered a strawberry-banana drink. After she got it, she returned to the counter a few minutes later, told my boss that she remembered it was called Orchard Oasis and would we make her that. My boss said no, because we had already tried to help her for ten minutes and we made her the drink she ordered. The drink she in fact wanted was peach and blueberry and the only thing similar to what she had asked for was the letter O in the name. She walked out unhappy because I was unable to decipher the code that I should focus on the letters in the incorrect name she gave me rather than the ingredients. Why she would ask for “orange” when she knew the drink she wanted had nothing orange in it is still a mystery to me, but this kind of experience has taught me to go far beyond the obvious questions when trying to assist a customer, because they may be very far from the target they are trying to hit.

And then, there are some customers who seem to believe that those in the service industry are conspiring against them and they will not be appeased. This type of person is rare, but fascinating. Several months ago, we encountered one of these personalities at the diner, and he apparently felt we were all in a conspiracy to withhold barbecue sauce. Our diner serves Carolina style barbecue pork sandwiches. Carolina style barbecue is pulled pork in vinegar and spices with coleslaw on top of the sandwich. This is very different from tomato-based barbecue sauces, but it is quite delicious. Carolina style barbecue is the standard for North Eastern North Carolina and South Eastern Virginia, which is where our diner is located. Our menu explains that our barbecue is Carolina style and when customers order it, if they do not seem to be locals/regulars, we often explain that to them.

One night, a family came in and ordered barbecue sandwiches. My co-worker served them, and after they started eating they called her over and asked for barbecue sauce. She explained that we don’t have barbecue sauce for that style of barbecue, but that we make homemade hot sauce to go with it if desired, or we have extra vinegar if they find the sandwich too dry. The man looked incredulous and asked “So you have barbecue but no barbecue sauce?” “Yes sir, we have no barbecue sauce because it’s Carolina style barbecue. The only condiments we have in the restaurant are ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and hot sauce.” A few minutes later, the man got up from his table and approached me to ask for barbecue sauce. Unaware that he had already made this request from my coworker, I told him exactly what she had told him: We don’t have barbecue sauce for Carolina style barbecue, but I can get you some hot sauce or vinegar if you like.” He just turned and walked away without a word. A few minutes later, he calls my coworker back to the table to point to the menu, saying “You menu says right here, ‘cones and barbecue sauce, 1904′” The waitress froze for a moment, unsure about how to tactfully respond… “Sir, the menu actually says, ‘cones and barbecue since 1904.’ There’s no barbecue sauce. I’m sorry.” The man grunted some kind of reply and insisted that it just isn’t barbecue without barbecue sauce.

What baffled me about that situation was that the man just did not accept the fact that we did not have barbecue sauce. He repeatedly asked multiple people for sauce, as though he suspected we had it but we just didn’t want to give it to him, or perhaps we were crafting an elaborate lie about a fictitious style of barbecue merely to avoid admitting that we ran out of sauce. If this guy is so suspicious of waitresses, I would love to hear what he thinks the government is hiding from him.

My final story is my favorite. Sometimes, when a customer just won’t listen to you, you have to give them what they want and you get to laugh about it while they walk away happy. When I worked at Jamba Juice, there had been a cold snap at the end of the winter, which affected citrus growers and caused a price increase for oranges. To compensate for the extra cost, Jamba Juice decided to add a small sign to the menu, featuring an orange with earmuffs declaring a “Brrrr Charge” of 30 cents extra for drinks with fresh orange juice because of the citrus freeze raising orange prices. When a customer ordered a drink with orange juice, there was a button on the cash register that added the 30 cent “Brrrr Charge” to the drink.

One day, my friend Ben was working the register, and a man came in, ordered a large strawberry-banana smoothie, asked for some additional vitamin supplements to be added to his drink, and then said “and throw in one of those ‘Brrrr Charges’ while you’re at it.” Ben stifled a giggle and explained to the man that the “Brrrr Charge” was not one of the vitamin supplements, but rather an extra fee added to drinks with orange juice, and his drink didn’t have orange juice. “Yeah, yeah, sounds good, I’ll take the Brrrr Charge.” Ben tried to explain again what it was, and asked did the man want to add orange juice to his drink? “No, I just want the Brrrr Charge.” “Sir, the Brrr Charge isn’t a product, it is just extra money that you pay.” “Yeah, ok,  gimme a Brrr Charge.” Ben finally gave up, and added the Brrr Charge fee to the man’s order. When the man’s drink was ready, as Ben handed it to him, he asked “You got my Brrr Charge in there, right?” “Yes sir, we got your Brrr Charge. Enjoy!”

Sometimes, you just have to let the customer be right.

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The Affordable Luxury of Language

Afforadable Language

“Lustrous. Youthful. Poetic.”

So proclaims the text on the back of my bottle of “Rain Kissed Leaves” shower gel.

Every night, as I wash away the scent of cheeseburgers and the layer of air-born french fry grease that has accumulated on my skin during the course of my nightly shift at the diner, I read the back of this bottle.

I like the scent well enough. It’s light and fresh and not overpowering, yet it is very artificial. The bottle makes no claims of being formulated with extract of birch leaves and tropical mountain rain water. I’m pretty sure if I walk outside and sniff some wet leaves, they won’t smell like this product. So what exactly have I bought, and why is it called “Rain Kissed Leaves’? It could just as easily be called “Summer Morning” or “Springtime Romance” or any other number of ideas that Bath & Body Works wants to market. So what market have they hit with this product?

English majors. This is shower gel for English majors. A product that combines “leaves” and “poetic” will instantly take any English major to Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass. This is all our transcendental dreams poured into a bottle with a pretty label and sold at your local mall for $9 (or if you’re a savvy shopper, on sale online for $4).

As an English major, I should be too clever to fall for this gimmick. The product is fairly generic. I know better than to fall for mere marketing alone. I don’t buy clothes with brand names clearly visible. I judge a pair of jeans by their fit, not their label. Yet here I am, having to admit that this one got me. I went for it, because with this product, I am offered my own aspirations through my medium of choice: elegant language.

Beautiful words are among the few luxuries available to the young, educated, and underemployed. I can’t afford to travel, I work too much to visit many museums, and I don’t purchase luxury items like fine wines and gourmet dinners; however, I can pick up a Dostoyevsky at the thrift store for 50 cents. Language remains accessible, regardless of my situation.

When I take a shower at the end of another long night of low-wage labor, I am feeling far from lustrous, youthful, and poetic, and the shower gel doesn’t do much to revive me. The words, however, remind me of my background and my aspirations. I have an English degree, I’ve written some beautiful essays on Walt Whitman of which I am quite proud, and I do aspire to be poetic and lustrous even after I no longer claim youth. Apparently when I bought Rain Kissed Leaves, I was really paying for the words on the bottle more than the soap inside. When it runs out, perhaps I should just refill the bottle with some cheap body wash from the dollar store, because a penny saved on soap is a penny that can be spent on more books.

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The Butter Dish of Possibility

The Butter Dish of Possibility

Wasting time on the Internet is so easy to do. I have plenty of useful things to do online, like continue to search for jobs, read important articles, or keep up with correspondence; however, I often find myself looking at pretty things. In the midst of my job search, I have managed to locate the perfect butter dish. I’ve been considering buying a butter dish for the past 8-10 years. It’s one of those things that I really don’t need, but on the rare occasion I have people over for a real dinner that involves sitting down at a table, I think “it would be nice to have a butter dish.”

I love this butter dish. It’s simple etched glass, and has butter written in French (beurre) across the top. It embodies my aspirations for cooking French cuisine and actually sitting down for meals that would involve bringing out the butter dish to accompany freshly baked bread. I’m not planning to buy the butter dish at the moment, as it seems financially more prudent to keep saving my money for a rent deposit while I’m preparing to move, but somehow it’s reassuring to see that there are objects that embody my aspirations.

Right now, I don’t need this butter dish. I’m camping out in my parent’s garage studio apartment and working every night at a diner, so I’m not hosting any glorious French dinners. I don’t plan to stay here for long though. I hope that soon I’ll be moving on to a professional job, using my degree, getting married to my wonderful fiance and moving into a new home. Once those things fall into line, then maybe I’ll buy this butter dish. Until then, in stands in my mind as The Butter Dish of Possibility.

(butter dish photo credit to anthropologie.com)

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Summer Reading

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My summer memories are of libraries. As a pale, easily sunburned child, the cool, dark, air-conditioned library was the place to while away the summer hours. I loved the children’s book sections, but I also liked to explore. I would walk the perimeter of the library, weaving between rows of shelves, looking at the different sections. I learned parts of the Dewey Decimal system to know where to look for Garfield or Calvin and Hobbes comic books, or books on historic fashion or arts and crafts. In the summer, there was time to wander in the library. During the year, there was a schedule. You came to the library and checked out favorite books or specific authors. In the summer, you can browse, explore, and find something you never heard of before.

This summer, as I packed my bookshelves into boxes to send to my storage unit, I had to choose my summer reading. While dropping off the leftovers of my yard sale, I picked up a copy of Moby Dick at the thrift store, so that is where I am beginning. Apparently the past two years of reading classic literature hasn’t worn me down, it has merely soidified a habit, so I might as well carry on. In addition to Melville, my stack of books consists of Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, The Kite Runner, Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife, a non fiction book about introverts called Quiet, and a book given to me by one of my professors, Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz. My books may be my hour-glass. I need to find a job, move, and unpack my boxes before the summer books run out!

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Goodbye, C7.

Goodbye, C7.

Tomorrow I move out of my apartment. In the best of times, it has been a cozy space to relax and entertain friends, as pictured above at Christmas. In the worst of times, it has been a space to pile countless library books and papers as I toiled into the wee hours researching modern architecture or Victorian literature. It has been home to two cats who have made an impressive effort to completely carpet the hardwood floors in downy cat hair. I love the wood floors, the sunny living room, and the wide cat-sized window sills. I’ll miss it.

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The Drive-In Paradox

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I work in a drive-in diner. It is not a 1950s theme restaurant where the servers sing and dance to the digital juke box. It’s a diner, and it’s been there since 1932 and has had very little renovation since 1949. (Please note: I do not work at Dumser’s, the diner pictured above, though it is a lovely spot in Ocean City, MD. When I first passed Dumser’s, I thought the sign said “Dumpster Dive-In” which would be an excellent name for one of those freegan food scavenging hippie restaurants.) My diner is similar to Dumser’s, in that it serves cheeseburgers, barbeque sandwiches and ice cream, and you can come in to eat or have a car hop bring a tray to your car. The staff is divided by those who work outside (the curb girls) and those of us who work inside. I love air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, so I work inside.

The paradox of the drive-in is found is the strange relationship between nostalgia and progress. The architecture of the 1950s era diner is meant to communicate speed and efficiency and progress. Sharp boomerang angles create the steel supports for the car ports, the glass walls of the diner tilt outward in an attempt to create space-age design, and everything is slick laminate and shiny metal trim. Cars zoom in, waitresses rush out, and quick service brings quick burgers, fries and milkshakes in a flash.

Sixty years passes. A car pulls in. The driver sits, wondering why no one comes to the car. Inside the waitresses see the car, and they discuss whether or not the driver is waiting for car service and doesn’t know he needs to turn on his headlights to signal a request for service, or is he just sitting in the car while texting his friend who he is planning to meet inside for dinner. Finally, a waitress goes out to the car, braving the inconvenience of the light drizzle that began falling five minutes before she clocked in for work this evening. She asks the man in the car if he plans to come inside, or if he would like to eat outside, explaining that the standard procedure is to turn your headlights on for service. 60 years ago, everyone already knew that. The man decides to eat in his car so he can continue listening to the podcast playing on his ipod which is connected to his car stereo. The waitress leaves him a menu and walks back across the parking lot to the diner.

After six or seven minutes, the headlights flash on and the waitress returns to the car, though now the rain has increased to a steady shower. The man says “I’d like a medium Dr. Pepper, onion rings with a side of ranch and a cheeseburger with lettuce, ketchup, mayo and pickles.” The waitress sighs. “We don’t have Dr. Pepper, our drinks only come in small or large, we only have fries, we don’t have ranch and we don’t have pickles, just pickle relish.” The man looks surprised, and rather disappointed. “Oh… ok. You guys really should add onion rings. What do you have to drink?” “We have coke, diet coke, and we make our own fresh lime-aid, root beer, cherry soda and orange soda.” He quickly orders a small coke, because aren’t all old-timey diners supposed to be sponsored by Coca-Cola? After discussing his revulsion to relish, he settles on fries, and a cheeseburger with just lettuce, mayonnaise and ketchup. The waitress, noticing the increasing volume of rain, asks if if would prefer his order to come in a bag rather than on a tray? “Oh, I want the tray. It’s so retro!”

She goes back inside, and as she walks through the door, calls out “An order of fries, cheeseburger delux with ketchup, hold the tomato and a shoot one.” The order is then relayed by another girl behind the counter to the window back to the kitchen. The waitress sets up a tray with napkins and bottles of ketchup and mustard, and picks up the tall glass of coke that has been placed on the counter by the teenager working the soda fountain. She sits down and watches her tray. The cheeseburger comes through the window and is placed on the tray. No fries. She waits. “You got my fries, right?” “Yeah, they’re coming. Inside they got a big table so the kitchen just did ten orders of fries. It’ll take a minute to catch up.” Sigh. Finally, the fries appear. She picks up the tray, just as lightning crackles overhead and the rain shifts into a torrential downpour. Why does everyone have to insist on the tray instead of the bag? It won’t be cute and retro when your coke is watered down and your fries are soggy. She asks for some plastic wrap from behind the counter and tries to wrap it over the food. As she carries the tray out, she steadies the tall goblet of coke with her hand as the wind blows off the plastic wrap. She walks as quickly as she can, and a little coke spills, but the fries don’t get too damp.

Approaching the car, the man has rolled up his window. He rolls it down a crack and says “Can you just hand me the food? I don’t want to do the tray now because I don’t want to keep the window down in this rain.” She passes him the fries and the cheeseburger, but the glass of coke won’t fit in a car cup holder. She walks back through the scenic parking lot waterfall with the tray and the glass of coke, returning moments later with the coke in a paper cup, along with some ketchup packets for the fries. She tells the man to turn on his lights again if wants anything else or when he’s ready to pay. Over the next half hour, the waitress returns to his car three more times, first to explain they don’t do free refills on sodas (as stated on the menu), next to bring him an ice cream cone, which he finds disappointingly lacking in sprinkles, and finally to run his credit card. By this time, she is thoroughly soaked and a bit disheartened by the evening’s prospects, as she has had no other customers due to the rain. As he signs the receipt, the man asks “Do people actually tip you guys? I mean, who tips on fast food?” She awkwardly explains that yes, people usually do tip if they are served by a waitress. The man looks at his bill, which totaled $8.32 and leaves what he considers a generous $1 tip. After the waitress leaves, the man reaches for his iphone and writes a quick Yelp review: “I saw this diner on a Food Network show, but it seems kinda lame. They only have one soda, barely any options for food and slow service. The place was cheap I guess, but they should add onion rings.”

Expectations change. When people visit a drive-in today, they come for the charm. The architecture that once signaled the future, now has the comforting sense of the past; however, people don’t live in the past, and they aren’t sure what to do when confronted with an unfamiliar situation. The drive-in hasn’t changed. The menu hasn’t changed in 50 years, other than ten cent price increases every year or two. The building hasn’t changed, so the kitchen hasn’t gotten any bigger. In 1950, cheeseburgers and fries were enough. People didn’t expect chicken fingers, onion rings, a full line of commercial brand sodas and endless toppings for ice cream. When customers come in today, they find it strange to be faced with such limited options and small portion sizes. The was a time when free refills were not a standard amenity. Some people seem to believe that they are a constitutional right. And yet, people keep coming back. They may wish the burgers were bigger, or that we would start offering side salads and keep up with the times. McDonald’s has kept up with the times, but no one’s grandmother takes them to McDonald’s to reminisce. We love progress, but we also love things that resist it. The drive-in resists change, and that’s why people love it. They may go elsewhere for salads or ice cream in 35 flavors, but they come back to the drive in to have a plain vanilla cone and sit where mom and dad used to sit after school. The world may be full of variety, and people may want to see a thousand options offered to them on a platter, but in the end, the most popular flavor of ice cream is still vanilla.

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Beet salad

Beet salad

Yesterday I brought this lovely salad to a picnic. It’s quinoa, beets, and kale with green onions, lots of garlic, and olive oil and red wine vinegar. I think this is what I’ll be eating for the remainder of the summer.

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The appeal of the coffee shop

The appeal of the coffee shop

I think introverts love coffee shops because they are among the few venues where we can be publicly and socially introverted. It is acceptable to sit quietly for hours among people in companionable silence.

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