Can't wait for my $15 hot dog
I paid $13 for a hot dog and fries the other day. That’s probably a record, and I was actually happy about it.
There’s no such thing as cheap eats anymore, including the delicacies that the hip folks refer to as “street food” in Chicago. Some of it is due to food costs, which have already leveled off or started to decline, but mostly it’s a shortage of labor. Suddenly, even lower-level workers are getting a living wage for working 40 hours a week, instead relying on food stamps to compensate for their McJobs. We were paying that price before, of course, but now there are fewer bureaucrats in the middle.
This is gonna take some getting used to, especially for people who are still trying to fill today’s job openings at yesterday’s wages and complaining that nobody wants to work anymore. We had a shortage of eggs over the past year and nobody got mad at the chickens, but everyone seems to be angry with the workers who are suddenly in short supply.
I get it. I really do. For small business owners, every extra expense is truly coming out of their pockets. It’s not like a public company, where the shareholders lose some earnings per share when benefits go up for employees. In most small businesses, there’s only one shareholder, and that shareholder needs every dime to pay his own mortgage.
Even if a guy has mortgages on two or three houses and his kids are going to Harvard on his dime, he still resents the clerk who’s demanding an extra buck an hour. You can’t complain to your buddies at the golf club that some chicken is picking your pocket, but you can absolutely complain about the fry cook and everyone will nod in agreement.
And it’s not just the greedy capitalists who are upset at the idea of paying workers a living wage. One of the newer trends in the service economy is tip baiting, a practice of entering a substantial tip online when ordering something and then cutting the tip after the items are delivered. Convenience is worth the extra fees for Uber Eats and Grub Hub and all the other middlemen who add 35% to every food order, but the poor schmuck who delivers the pizza is 100% screwable.
I’m rooting for the pizza guy, though, especially in comparison with the tech bros who developed all the apps that add 25-40% to every bill in a race to make your grocery order cost as much as Taylor Swift tickets. The American Dream has devolved from a house with a two-car garage to the needing only one job to put food on the table.
We’ve seen this play out before, of course. After the Great Depression and World War II, millions of GIs came home and went back to work in one of the few countries that hadn’t seen its factories bombed. Family formations exploded and more than a decade of pent-up demand was suddenly unleashed. Inflation soared as factories shifted from war production to consumer products and workers benefited from higher wages as the economy boomed. It was a once-in-a-millennium event that truly built the Middle Class and made it possible for factory workers to buy homes while working just one, often unionized, job.
Right now, it looks like we’re seeing a small replication of that economy. The pandemic caused major retooling of production, enormous shifts in demand patterns, and all types of shortages, leading to deflation and then inflation and a release of pent-up demand during the recovery period. Inflation rates soared and a labor shortage is driving wage growth for the first time in forever. The federal government added to inflation, absolutely, by throwing $trillions into the economy over the past three years, but it looks like there’s going to be a payoff as U.S. manufacturing starts to recover from more than a half century of neglect.
The politicians will work their hardest to screw it up, of course, and the Fed has already announced its preference for recessions—and unemployment—over inflation, but the invisible hand just might be strong enough to swat away their meddling. One can only hope, because the fundamentals are actually looking better than they have in a long, long, long time. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, no doubt, but it’s actually possible that things are moving in the right direction.
Will we still be this sanguine about inflation when the hot dog and fries hit $15? Find out by clicking here to subscribe.
We're old and we're revolting
When you’re part of a persecuted minority, even the most innocent moments of your day can be transformed into unbearable ridicule and oppression. Trust me, on this, because I am the victim here. Even worse, I became a victim simply by surviving long enough to be old enough to be mocked...simply for being old.
We don't need AARP. We need a Senescence Liberation Front.
Old farts simply can’t get a break, even when we’re doing the exact same thing as Gen Z or X or W. If somebody in her 20s snags a two-for-one deal on an app, it’s a BOGO and everyone applauds. If I do the same thing, but with a coupon I got in the mail, it’s a senior discount and everyone smirks.
If some young adult goes out for a drink at 5:00 p.m., she’s enjoying cocktail hour. If she orders some chicken wings with her drink, she’s enjoying happy hour. And if she has a margarita and nachos, Jimmy Buffett might write a song about her.
Sounds perfectly innocent, but it’s not an experience I can share. If I go to the same place at the same time, I’m absolutely not cool and hip and enjoying happy hour. I’m old and tired and I’m settling in for the Early Bird Special. The mockery is so painful that I am weeping as I type this.
The list of slights can seem endless by now, yet it continues to grow every minute. If I wear leggings under my jeans, it’s long underwear, but if some 30-something does it, it’s a base layer. If I use a device to amplify sound, they’re hearing aids, but if a younger person does it, they’re ear buds or, even cooler, Air Pods.
If someone in his 30s embraces the traditions of his youth, he’s an O.G. If someone in her ’60s does it, she’s an O.F. (Original Gangster versus Old Fart, for anyone requiring translation here.)
Speaking of the traditions from our youth, why is it living in the past when I recall the old days, but it’s cool to hear what happened, “Back in the Day…” from someone who was wearing braces until two years ago?
How can it be retro and hip for some fashionista to wear bell-bottom pants, but I get mocked for continuing to wear the original pair I bought 50 years ago?
Doesn’t that make me the real O.G. here?
If I write a check to charity, I’m taking the easy route of paying instead of doing. But if some TackyTocker dumps ice water on his head and posts a video, he’s being an ally. Even better, he’ll get all kinds of likes even if he never writes a check. Okay, he was never going to write a check because he only uses Venmo, but you get the point.
After a lifetime at the forefront of the Patriarchy, I suddenly know what it’s like to be part of a marginalized minority, and it’s not okay, Boomers. We didn’t survive the greatest economic expansion in world history and take all the good jobs and fast cars and destroy the environment and cultivate the lifestyles that created more than 142 new medical specialties just to be treated like dirt in our senescence.
No way. So we’re putting you all on notice, all you young punks in your 20s and 30s and mid-50s. Don’t ever cross us, don’t even think about it, or we’ll cancel you so fast you’ll cease to exist anywhere. We’ll rain the hell of social media scorn on you so hard that you’ll be afraid to show your face in your own households. We’ll tear you a new one and then tear it out and tear you another one.
Yeah, that’s what we’ll do. As soon as we figure out how to use this internet thing.
We’re also planning to cancel anyone who doesn’t click here to subscribe to Dad Writes, so don’t pretend you weren’t warned…
Strangers on a Tundra
I still don’t know what Sherry thinks about the border wall and I never found out whether Neil favors our current tax treatment for carried interest. I probably should have asked, but the conversation never went in that direction and then the opportunity slipped away.
So I went up to Hudson’s Bay a couple of months ago to take pictures of migrating polar bears and I ended up living with two dozen strangers from four or five countries. None of us could leave our makeshift hotel because polar bears get hungry while they’re waiting for seal-eating season and, fun fact, they run much faster than humans.
I’ve never been more isolated. We had no television, no internet, and almost no cell reception. You had to stand near the window next to the space heater and hold your phone high above your head to get any signal at all and it took six days to download an emoji. It was like being trapped on the Orient Express, but with less snow and fewer murderers. I think.
Anyway, we had nothing to do for three days but ride around the tundra, looking for photogenic polar bears and an occasional arctic fox. At night, we ate dinner at communal tables and spent hours in the “family room,” ‘til boredom overtook us and we began to speak.
And speak we did. We talked about favorite places, travel memories, photo tips and nature. We talked about hobbies and life stories and how we chose to join the tour. We talked about food and restaurants and plays and movies and families.
And in all the conversations over three days together, we didn’t debate politics or celebrities or conspiracies or crises. We didn’t choose sides or tribes or lines that we dared each other to cross. Maybe we were all afraid of getting voted off the island and thrown overboard as polar bear chum, or maybe we were just open to the idea of engaging with new people and enjoying shared experiences.
Remarkably, we figured out how to meet with strangers, engage in conversation, find common ground, and enjoy each other’s company. After three days together, we were all on speaking terms and nobody got fed to the bears. Well, nobody we’ll admit to, anyway.
Best of all, it felt totally organic. I don’t remember our guides issuing a warning about political conversations or any topics that were off limits for our time together. More likely, the hyper-partisan bombardments of our daily lives were generally out of reach and nobody thought them important enough to import into our refuge.
It was all very refreshing and an important reminder of what’s possible when we get together with strangers. Now, if only we could do the same thing with people we already know.
Now that I’ve written a blog post about the trip, it’s deductible as research, right? Follow my future engagements with the IRS by clicking here to subscribe.
Home is where the apex predator is
The girl at the train station loves, loves, loves her town, which is cold and empty and expensive and unreachable by cars. And, as an added bonus, polar bears amble down the street every so often to see the sights and forage for food, which could include incautious locals.
Still, she’s crazy about the place and her decision to move there from a much bigger city with more heat, more creature comforts, lower costs and decidedly fewer apex predators. She’s young, yet, and she might change her mind someday, but right now she loves knowing everyone in town and having everyone know her. She loves the quiet and the crisp winter air. She loves conversing with tourists and then sending them on their way.
It’s easy to lose track when you travel by air, especially if you’re spoiled like I am with O’Hare airport 12 miles from home and a non-stop flight going anywhere. Take a close look, though, and you realize that the world is a gigantic canvas of empty space with a few human settlements to break up the monotony. Some of
the settlements have obvious appeal, but others require a footnote or two.
Whenever I head out to some isolated stretch of land, I wonder about the people who choose to live there. What made them decide that this cold stretch of barren wasteland would be a great spot to settle down, maybe raise a family, maybe build a life?
I talk to the locals whenever I travel and they all have their reasons for coming, or for staying, in a town that wouldn’t make my top 1,000 list of home towns. Unlike Mr. Rogers, they don’t want to be my neighbor, either. They like where they’re at just fine and there’s no way to convince them that big-city life is worth a spin.
We’re all the same, at least in theory. We all have the same hierarchy of needs and pretty much identical genetics. Hair and eyes and skin and height and weight will vary all over the place, but the fundamentals are the same at birth. Our vision is shaped by our experiences, though, and the girl in the train station cannot help but see the world much differently than I do, and vice versa.
In a very real sense, we live in different worlds. Both of us need to survive and thrive in the environment we’ve chosen, which can lead to markedly different interpretations of the same developments, sharply different views of normal and safe and sane.
No matter how hard we try, we all end up in some form of echo chamber, relishing the reassurance that comes from familiar voices. We engage mostly with people who live near us, look like us, and share our educational/economic/religious/cultural histories. We mock the people who take a deep dive down the rabbit hole, but pretty much all of us slide into our own circles of trust, unintentionally and unaware.
I have no idea if the girl in the train station is trapped in an echo chamber, or which chamber it might be. As I listened to her story though, she helped to lift me out of mine.
There's another trip or two on the agenda and we'll be meeting some strange ducks, or other waterfowl, along the way. Be sure to read all about it by clicking here to subscribe.
If you have no idea what kind of bird is pictured here, join the club. But don’t try to join a birdwatcher’s club, because they will mock you relentlessly before kicking you out as the world’s biggest nincompoop.
Our photography group was taking pictures at the bird sanctuary when all the birders were asking each other, “Did you see it?”, “Is it still there?”, and “Have you ever seen one here before?” Etcetera. Turns out, there was a purple sandpiper hanging out on the concrete near the lake and it was a holy day for the cognoscenti in Birdland.
While it looked like just another bird to me—not as ugly as a pigeon, but not exactly a peacock, either—this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the folks who bring binoculars and notepads to the park. Turns out, these are Arctic birds more likely to cross the Atlantic than Lake Michigan, so seeing one this far south this early in the year was almost transcending for the lucky few at Montrose Beach.
I asked one guy why this was a big deal for them and he rebuked me for the question. “This isn’t a big deal,” he said. “This is a huge deal, a really huge deal.” I stand corrected.
While the prayerful gaped in awe at the rare visitor near the harbor beacon, the shutterbugs took our obligatory photos and moved on to the rest of our outing. We’d stepped into their world for a few minutes, tried to see what they saw when their checklists gained a major new entry, and then we returned to our own reality behind the camera.
Still, we were different people after our small detour. On any other day, we would have mingled briefly with the birders on the trail, taken a few photos of the avian beasts above us, and moved on to the boats in the harbor or the volleyball players on the beach. Instead, we got caught up in their excitement and shared, at a very, very basic level, their worldview.
I don’t think any of us is going to put down the camera and pick up a pair of binoculars in the near future, but all of us will be just a bit more curious and appreciative the next time we see a bunch of people gawking at a tree branch. Instead of asking what they were looking at, we asked them why they were excited about it, which made all the difference.
That’s the thing about connecting with strangers. Even the briefest conversation can make us smarter, wiser, more insightful about things we never considered previously. We don’t have to share their interests in order to see what’s driving them, and vice versa. When we make the connection, we change their perceptions, too. They won’t look at us the same way they did before, which is always a plus.
Perhaps all of us should join the birders in carrying a checklist throughout our lives. We could mark a box every time we add a bit of insight, even if it’s a small speck in the universe. There’s no way to complete a checklist of our ignorance, of course, but we can gain a bit of satisfaction from the smallest of starts.
BTW, we’ll be happy to alert you the next time we see a rare bird along Lake Michigan, but only if you click here to subscribe to Dad Writes.
Still my kind of town
I’ve never been a big fan of cruises and the reasons are many, but one particular issue is looming large in my mind these days.
In most of the world, it’s tough to get through a week without some form of wind and rain, or both, and this is absolutely true on the ocean. As a result, anyone on a seven-day cruise is going to experience a 52-magnitude earthquake at least once. It’s a thrill ride on steroids and a great reminder that even the largest vessel is a drop in the ocean. Shockingly, this little bit of excitement is never mentioned by the cruise lines in any of their ads.
Now that we’re deep into hurricane season, I think about the people who choose to experience this kind of torture, including those who live in places that are prone to natural calamities. Florida is in hurricane alley, more than half of New Orleans is below sea level, California is perpetually on fire and, sometimes, earthquakes, a huge swath of the country is always in drought, and there’s undoubtedly a hundred chronic disaster zones that have slipped my mind already.
Frankly, I feel a lot safer in Chicago. It’s not that we don’t have our challenges with rain and cold and sleet and hail, but let’s get real here. We have crime, absolutely, and it makes for nearly orgasmic coverage on cable news. But there are no sharks swimming in our streets, the water is clean, and we haven’t had an Armageddon Fire since 1871.
Regarding crime, by the way, let’s take a look at the stats from the past few years:
The five cities with the highest murder rates this year are St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland. By state, the top five states to be murdered in during 2020 were Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas. Broaden the topic to include all violent crime and the top five are Monroe, Louisiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Detroit, Michigan; Saginaw, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri. The sources and specifics vary from year to year, but it’s rare to find Chicago on the top five list per capita, or the top ten, for that matter.
Yes, there is crime, and, yes, I am certain to become a victim a minute after I post this, but the reality is not even close to the myth. We’re safer walking down the street in Chicago than in more than a dozen other major cities that never seem to make the evening news.
Besides, there are steps I can take to reduce my risk when it comes to crime. I avoid walking down unlit streets at night with $100 bills sticking out of my pocket, for example, and I avoid picking fights with tattooed beasts when the bar is about to close. When it comes to natural disasters, though, my defensive strategies might not succeed as well.
Every so often, usually during the bleakness of winter, I’ll think about moving to a sunnier clime, a location where my bicycle tires would fail from overuse instead of dry rot. When I scroll through the listings, though, the pickings get very slim very fast. Of course, the competition with Chicago is already slanted in our favor.
We have the most vibrant live theater community in the country, a ton of great restaurants, world-class museums, incredibly convenient airport connections, clean water, and more than four million craft beer breweries. Yes, our taxes are high and some of our political leaders are legendary idiots, but we don’t have to worry about weekly hurricanes, forest fires or drought.
The next time a storm brings Lake Michigan into my living room, maybe I’ll rethink this whole thing. Until then, though, I’m staying put.
Regular readers know we just hype the crime statistics for Chicago to keep the town from getting overcrowded in summer. For more inside info on The City That (sometimes) Works, just click here to subscribe.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.