Archive for July, 2014

July 23, 2014

#82) Book review: “Islands Apart” by Ken McAlpine

“Islands Apart”, Ken McAlpine’s memoir of the Channel Islands of California, came dangerously close to being the second consecutive book from which I jumped ship.  Fortunately, there was enough about the book that worked to keep me going, although it did take me about 6 weeks to get through the 256-page volume.

If you don’t know what to expect from this book, you won’t get past the first five pages.  Even people such as myself who are die-hard fans of the Channel Islands National Park might find their interest tested.  However, McAlpine’s story ultimately pays off.

If you know anything about the Channel Islands, you know that a memoir of time spent on them will not be a wild, whacky, fun summer read.  The Channel Islands National Park’s prime offering is isolation; despite being only a few dozen air miles from civilization, the five islands in the park all are remarkably primitive.  Hikers, canoeists, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts who prepare for trip to the islands usually love it; those who don’t are miserable.  McAlpine understands this; he makes it clear to his readers that this book will be leisurely paced.  He doesn’t promise surprise plot twists or sex drugs and rock and roll.  He positions his book as a modern-day “Walden” and his story sees him spend a week on each of the five Channel Islands in the park – Santa Rosa, Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.  In between the chapters on each island are episodes on the main land, in which he “would continue to look deeply at our world…explore experiences that spoke of our current world and times past too…”

I don’t envy McAlpine’s task of bringing the Channel Islands to life.  I love visiting them and count them among my favorite hiking destinations, but the only thing I could imagine that’s more difficult than spending a week each of them is finding things to say about the week spent on each of them.  While McAlpine ably recreates the desolate, wind-swept environment of the islands and also sees the beauty in the life that’s managed to thrive despite the barren and inhospitable climate, he also sometimes seems to be simply trying to show off his writing ability.  I for one got pretty tired of reading about how the sun “ladled the softest pink light” over the horizon and of homilies that are meant to be profound and inspirational but ultimately come off a little preachy: “We lay claim to the things we come across in our lives, as if it’s possible to own them, but you can no more own an island…than you can possess the fleeting moments that accumulate into a lifetime.”

On a bigger level, the book as a whole suffers from an irony.  While McAlpine purports to use his pilgrimages on the islands and mainland to better understand his fellow man and his world, his writing often has a Bill Bryson-esque sense of superiority.  This is apparent in the stock verbiage he uses to critique modern life: “In a world of freeways bordered by Subway sandwich shops and Walmarts…”  One is left feeling that despite the noble intentions of his journeys, McAlpine’s quest ultimately was about making himself look good.

Yet while he may have some of Bryson’s elitism, he also possesses some of his humor.  In describing his stay at a monastery, McAlpine notes, “conflicts [between the monks] were hard to envision….Father Luke super-glued my robe to the pew, or maybe Father Matthew spoke rudely to me in Latin.”  On San Miguel Island he states, “Researchers have shown that…ravens and crows can count and use rudimentary tools, placing them one evolutionary rung above entertainment reporters and contestants on American Idol.”

To his credit, McAlpine tells a story that might well have otherwise gone untold.  It’s a story that could have been told better; it’s a story that will likely connect with a limited audience.  Some of that audience may find themselves continuing on to “Off Season”, “Fog” or any of McAlpine’s other books.  Though I may be wrong, I predict that the next book reviewed on this site will be by a different author.

 

 

July 23, 2014

#81) An open letter to the restaurant customers mentioned in post #80

Dear restaurant customers mentioned in post #80,

Recently you collectively have come under fire for complaining about slow service when surveillance footage indicated that your behavior–mainly cell phone related–increased your length of stay by an average of 50 minutes.  In addition to being asked by the restaurant itself to “be more considerate”, you’ve also received your share of finger-wagging from those ranting about how rude today’s kids are, accompanied by cries for the banishment of electronics from restaurants.

I’m not here to add to that; I’m here to make a suggestion.  I’ll get to it later.

First of all, I support your right to take selfies at the restaurant; to take pictures of the food; to use the establishment’s Wifi connection.  (I get it; your data plan doesn’t grow on a tree.)  When you eat at a restaurant, you’re paying not just for food and convenience but also for atmosphere; you are entitled to include your cell phone as part of the atmosphere, at least if you aren’t gabbing away too loudly on it.  As I mentioned in post #80, if restaurants aren’t willing to cater to the cell-phone related needs of paying customers, they can’t cry foul when said customers head to more tech-friendly spots.

I also understand why you take selfies and pictures of the food.  It’s not about ego (okay, it’s a little bit about ego, but despite what they might tell you, baby boomers and Gen-X’ers have egos too; if the Kodachrome had been able to take good selfies, you can bet your entire library of Ellie Goulding downloads that the children of the ’70s would have taken tons of them).  It’s about keeping a memory alive.  Why do people spend money to go to Cancun?  The vacation itself is fun, but it’s really the memory. It’s perfectly understandable to take many pictures to keep the memory of a vacation alive, so why can’t one do the same at a restaurant?

As promised, here’s my suggestion.  While vacations come along once a year if you’re lucky, most people eat out at least once a month or perhaps more so.  Just enjoy the moment.  You may be bummed if the pictures from your once-in-a-lifetime safari or Greek isles cruise didn’t come out, but odds are you’ll be at another restaurant before too long.  You may enjoy the taste of your food more if you aren’t worrying about which filter to use when photographing it.

Yes, some meals are truly special occasions.  There are some restaurants you may only visit once in a lifetime.  I’m not telling you not to take pictures. I’m suggesting that the memories shouldn’t come at the expense of the actual experience.  It’s not your job to adjust your habits to make a restaurant staff’s job easier.  Don’t do it for them.  Do it for you.

 

July 14, 2014

#80) The restaurant time forgot (and what musicians can learn from it)

Note: this is a simulblog, posted on both D-Theory and Positive Music Place.

The story sounds familiar: a restaurant consistently received bad reviews, so they looked over surveillance videos to see what was going on.  The plot twist came when management looked over the film.  The results were surprising–not because they were shocking, but just the opposite.  There were no bodily functions performed on the prime rib; no one playing Words with Friends as a grease fire broke out; no managers putting the make on waitresses in the office; none of the employee hijinks that might be expected.  In fact, when they compared the recent footage to tapes from ten years earlier, the employee behavior was pretty much the same.  It was the customers that were different.

According the article about this restaurant’s findings, seven out of the 45 customers observed on the recent video asked their servers for the Wifi password.  Twenty-seven of the 45 requested that their waiter take a picture of their group; 14 of those 27 asked for a second picture.  Long story short: the restaurant’s conclusion was that customer behavior increased the average length of stay by 50 minutes compared to ten years ago.

Here’s where the restaurant missed the mark.  “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there.  But you please be a little more considerate?” they implore at the end of the article.

The problem is, the restaurant doesn’t accept the fact that–whether or not they agree with it–for many customers, the cell phone is as important a part of the meal as the locally sourced vegetables and the craft beers.  The restaurant customer of 2014 expects to be able to take photos of their food and themselves enjoying it.  Savvy restauranteurs embrace the free advertising and integrate cell phones into the dining experience they provide;  proprietors stuck in the past complain about how kids today have no manners instead of trying to figure out how to better cater to them, thus resulting in poor online reviews.

So far you’ve read over 300 of my words (which I appreciate, thank you!); none of which is “music.”  What does this restaurant and their grievances with cell phones have to do with music?

Musicians face a similar dilemma in terms of getting their product out to new audiences.  Yes, we all want to do it our way, but trends, buying habits and tastes change.  Many consumers expect to be able to get music for free.  Music fans often see Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as ways of connecting with their favorite bands.  (Check out this post on CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog for more thoughts on the subject.)  The musician who evolves to fit the needs of  2014’s audience will likely have more gigs than the one who shakes his fist and rants about how no one appreciates AC/DC, Zeppelin or Sabbath anymore (the fact that I am writing this blog instead of playing a show might give a hint about the category in which I belong).

Elitism can have its place.  Fattburger’s slogan is “We’re not for everyone”; the Stone Brewing Company Arrogant Bastard’s bottle reads, “You’re not worthy.”  Businesses sometimes have funny have signs mocking Wifi obsessiveness.  Similarly, the independent musician who doggedly sticks to their guns and refuses to cave in to any trends, technological or otherwise, sometimes succeeds.  Let’s be honest though; these are usually the exception, not the rule.

I don’t claim to have much experience in the food service business (unless you count the lemonade stand my brother and I had as kids) but I do know this: the restaurant’s choices are to either to brand themselves as a cell-phone free zone (a move which may make their following smaller but more loyal) or adapt to changing times and train waiters to accept taking pictures of drunken customers as part of their job description.

Today’s consumer typically has more options for night life, dining and entertainment than they do time or money; as a band, restaurant or other purveyor of goods and services, you have a lot of competition for customers/fans.  If you look down on Wifi use at your restaurant, customers will likely go to the place down the block where it’s embraced.

Let’s face it, time can be a harsh mistress.  Yesterday’s rock star is today’s grumpy old man telling kids to get off their lawn.  Today’s rock stars–culinary, musical or otherwise–are often ones that let people on their lawn, but charge extra for Wifi.

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