Posts tagged ‘Florida’

08/08/2011

Restaurant Rules in General

While living in Florida the past 2½ years, I made the following observations about restaurants.

CROWDS: Pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one. Busy places usually have lower prices, tastier food, and better service. If the parking lot is empty, drive on.

COST: Keep driving if you see valet parking: you can’t afford it.

CHAINS: The problem with chain restaurants is they generally charge more for less.

TABLES: You don’t want to sit outside when the temperature is too hot, the humidity is too high, or the wind is too strong. Go inside. There is nothing appetizing about eating next to road kill.

MUSIC: Chose a place with a relaxed atmosphere and soft background music. Customers should never have to raise their voices over loud or annoying sounds. Clarinet and violin players went out when the Beatles arrived–someone should just tell them.

MENUS: The menu should be no more than 4 pages. Big chains, like Applebees, Chilis, and TGI Fridays, now use massive picture books, instead of old-fashioned menus. The one at Applebees was actually 14 pages, filled with pictures of food one can only dream of eating. Some have even gone to the point of sticking one menu inside another, as if we didn’t already have enough to read. The menu should simply tell us in plain English what they do best.

DRINKS: While restaurant menus should be short, they should never delete the drink prices. Since more and more restaurants are now doing this, consumers need to fight back. One way is to order nothing but water, until they get the message.

CLEAN DISHES: Kitchen helpers just have to get the soap out of the coffee cups, before they put them back in circulation. Cream in coffee is ok, Borax cleanser is not.

SERVERS: Table servers, known as waitresses in the day, can make or break the experience. I do not care for those who ask how is the food is tasting, because I am always this close to giving a serious long-winded answer. I also don’t like it when they come around too often, since I don’t want to be pampered. I do however expect a few things.

ORDERING: I sometimes don’t know what I want to eat, so I ask what they are good at. I am disappointed when the server is dumbfounded. It also troubles me when they direct me to the most expensive item in an attempt at increasing their tip.

COOKING: After ordering, the food should be prepared within a reasonable time. If they are going to microwave everything, the least they could do is not tell us. One place made it painfully obvious by serving everything in microwavable bowls.

DELIVERY: Before delivering the food, the servers should be sure the kitchen prepared what was ordered. If it is supposed to be hot, please don’t serve it cold. If the order is totally screwed up, the server has to take it up with the kitchen. At a Chili’s, I ordered a pita with steak, but received no meat or lettuce, too many onions and peppers, and no sauce at all. When the server failed to even offer to solve the problem, my disappointment turned to despair.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I don’t mind busy places, if the food and service is good, and the prices are reasonable. Just give me a table where I am not subjected to excessive heat, freezing air, or noise. Give me a simple menu that says what the restaurant does best. Post all prices. Clean all dishes. Hire table servers who are interested in their jobs. And most of all—serve what was ordered.

06/28/2011

Florida: Reflections on Sunshine State

After 2½ years in Florida, we are moving back to Wisconsin, where Irene accepted a job in Madison, with the VA. After packing our boxes, I had a chance to reflect on our stay in the Sunshine State.

Climate was the primary reason we moved here in the first place. Although Florida is hot much of the year, humid all the time, and rainy in the summer, we picked it over the low humidity and clear skies of Phoenix, mainly because the southwest lacks water. Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas were also ruled out, because their winters are not warm enough.

Although the temperature in Tampa-St. Pete reached 92 F each day, every year, for five months straight, like winter in Wisconsin, people just stay inside, in their climate-controlled buildings and cars. While northerners question the risk of hurricanes in Florida, not one hit the state in 2½ years. For me, the best part of Florida was the ability to go outside and take a walk nearly every day.

Health care was the second consideration when we moved. The Medicare crowd is a major industry in Florida, due to the number of retirees. On the plus side, I found a primary care physician I liked, and had a reasonably good hospital stay for an appendix operation. On the bad end, five different people at an eye clinic examined me one morning (four too many), because they needed to justify pay-for-service billing practices, on the incorrect assumption I was a Medicare patient; an orthopedic doctor also would have run unneeded X-rays for a shoulder issue one time, until I told him I had no health insurance; and as to the dentist, I could have flown back and forth to Wisconsin and still paid less than what I paid.

The cost of living was a consideration when we left Wisconsin. The foreclosure crisis here actually kept us from buying. The old saying is “you get what you pay for.” Here, we looked at bargain properties and ultimately learned of the reasons they were low-priced. Also, Florida condo dues are uniformly too high, homeowners insurance is too expensive, and real estate taxes are just as bad as they are in Wisconsin. There are a lot of available properties in Tampa-St-Pete, but the financial well-being of condo associations was a major concern.

Transportation was good and bad. The Tampa Airport is convenient, and urban areas are connected by freeways and large streets. The problem was the number of bad drivers in Tampa-Bay. Does Florida mandate driver’s education in high school? If not, why not? While turning, no one uses a simple blinker, except cars driven by Snow Birds from the Upper Midwest. Many just cut in front of others, hoping for the best. It’s almost like Cairo or Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a jungle out there. No wonder auto insurance is more than double what it was in Wisconsin.

In the category of recreation, to be honest, we did not use the Gulf Coast as much as we could have. There are nice beaches, boat cruises, and golf courses, but we always seemed to be doing something else.

In the final analysis, life is about people, not places. A person in the middle of a desert, surrounded by a few friends, can have a better time, than a single person all alone, in the midst of a big city. Since we have family in the north, our decision to return was motivated by that. To the nice people we met while down here, good-bye. Perhaps we will meet again. My blog will be down for a least a week. Once we are resettled again in Wisconsin, I hope to start writing again.

06/22/2011

Redistricting Must Be Done Fairly

Congressional redistricting in Florida is big business, since it will divide 18,801,310 Floridians into 27 districts of roughly 696,345 each. Depending on how the Republican majorities in the state government draw the lines, the GOP could win 24 of 27, even though the number of voters supporting each party was evenly divided in the last presidential and gubernatorial elections.

If theoretically the Republicans could herd 696,345 Democrats into each of three districts from Jacksonville to Orlando, Tampa to St. Pete, and in Miami, they could quarantine off a total of 2,089,035, leaving only 7,311,620 to face 9,400,655 Republicans in the state’s remaining 24 districts.

They could then determine the number of Democrats in the other 24 districts by dividing the remaining 7,311,620 by 24, which comes to 304,650, and could apportion the Republicans per district by dividing 9,400,655 by 24, which comes to 391,693.

Since 391,693 Republicans per district would represent 56% of the vote, and 304,650 Democrats per district would be only 44% of the vote, the Republicans could win 24 districts this way, while losing only three, despite equal statewide votes for each party.

The process of manipulating districts to engineer an outcome is called gerrymandering. To be sure, Republicans will certainly engage in it, while simultaneously denying any intent to do so. Frankly, I would be shocked if each of the Congressional Districts were drawn to have 348,172 Democrats and 348,172 Republicans.

With the help of the U.S. Supreme Court in Easley v Cromartie (2001), the herding of blacks in North Carolina into one oddly-shaped gerrymandered district was approved in a 5-4 vote. Now, blacks do not object to these heavily concentrated districts, as they help their candidates score easy victories.

What they may not realize is they are being used by Karl Rove Republicans to create disproportionately more Republican seats, as explained above. The loss of Democrats in the House also affects state-wide races, like the recent U.S. Senate contest, because it reduces the number of candidates qualified to run for statewide office. In the last race, Democrat Kendrick Meek of Miami, a black man, was beaten badly in a statewide contest. The Democrats could have won that race with a stronger candidate, but their bench was weak due to gerrymandering.

When I moved to the Tampa-Bay area, I was shocked to see the extent of gerrymandering used to create a Democratic district. The blacks of St Petersburg, in Pinellas County, were combined with the non-whites of Tampa, in Hillsborough County, located clear across the Tampa Bay (body of water). This certainly explains why Republicans won most seats in the urban Tampa Bay area. Hopefully, the media will expose gerrymandering this time, and contiguous districts will be fairly drawn.

05/11/2011

Voting: Florida Suppression Started

The Republican-controlled Florida State House and Senate, along with their Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott, just rewrote the state voting laws here to keep thousands from the polls in the 2012 election.

Republican Sen. Mike Bennett and his colleagues made voter registration more difficult. They also suppressed “early voting” by reducing the time in which it can be exercised. The St. Petersburg Times reported Bennett did this, because he thinks voting is too easy. “I want them to fight for it. I want them to walk across town to vote,” said Bennett, a white racist who was obviously talking about “non-whites,” when he used the word “them.”

Even if we gave Bennett the benefit of the doubt, as to the word them, and assume he meant all Democrats, then I guess I too would one of them, even though I am a middle-aged white man. Since Bennett wants me, as one of them, to walk clear across town to vote, I guess I can do that. I can promise him right now, I will walk as far as it takes to vote against every Republican I can.

But there was more from Bennett. He said: “voting is a privilege, so how easy should it be?” I started to ask if this guy was even an American. I mean, with a name like Bennett, I thought maybe he was a closet Englishman, you know, the kind George Washington fought against in the Revolution. I wondered if he had a legitimate birth certificate. I had a hard time imagining he could have passed a Naturalization test, since he didn’t seem to know the Constitution.

If Bennett had looked at the Constitution, he would have learned voting is a right. “The right of citizens…to vote shall not be denied…on account of race or color” (15th Amend). “The right…to vote shall not be denied…on account of sex” (19th Amend). “The right …to vote…shall not be denied…for failure to pay a poll tax” (Amend 24). “The right of citizens…18-years of age to vote, shall not be denied…on account of age” (Amend 26).

The Republicans want us to believe this is all about fraud, but of course, they provide no credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing in previous elections. In the past three years in Florida, only 3 people were charged with voter fraud. One can only assume the Republicans watch Fox, and their arguments are not based on fact.

The Republican voter law is right out of the Karl Rowe playbook. It is all about voter suppression. “Early voting” was reduced from 14 to 8 days. Election supervisors now have the discretion to limit “early voting” to 6 hours a day. Early voting now ends on the Saturday before the election, to ensure no last minute voting drive at churches, or elsewhere, on the Sunday before the election.

Groups that sign up new voters must now be registered with the state. The amount of time to return completed forms was reduced from 10 days, to just 48 hours. Voters who moved outside the county since the last election, like college students, are no longer able to update addresses at the polling place on Election Day.

All of this is sad, because the U.S. was the first nation to create a republic based on a faith in the common man. Florida Republicans are not at all like the founders of our country. They harbor a distain for the little man. In the next election, the common people of Florida should rise up and take these Republicans out.