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Publisher’s Notebook:

I had a peculiar experience the other day. For the past couple of years I have been stopping for a morning latte (especially at Christmastime when they made an eggnog version) at Groundwork Coffee on Main Street. It is a small cubbyhole where you basically get your coffee to go. They have a few counter chairs, but I don’t recall anyone using them. Last week I stopped in and got behind a few people in line. Normally I just go up to the counter or maybe have one person in front of me. I was chatting with my buddy Don regarding the moving of his raspberry patches on his farm in Oregon. We were discussing varieties and growing seasons and in particular a late variety raspberry that allows his season to go longer. Of course he was a thousand miles away on the farm, and I was talking on my cell phone (with an earpiece).

When it was my turn to order I asked the coffee guy for a medium latte, please. To my surprise, he completely ignored me and pointed to the gal behind me. Oh well, I figured she just wanted to pay for a coffee she had poured for herself, no problem, happy to be cooperative. But then he did it again. After that there was nobody left in line and he went back to his work. I asked again for a medium latte, please, and that is when the peculiarity started. He told me he would not serve me if I were on my cell phone. I wasn’t sure why and I was caught by surprise, so I told my friend I would have to call him back. Then I ordered again. “Are you off the phone?” “Yep, can I have a medium latte now, please?” “Okay,” he answered.  “We don’t serve people who are using cell phones in here.” Then he pointed me to a handwritten sign I had missed, to make the point. “Those are the rules,” he said. I asked him what is the difference if I am talking to my friend a thousand miles away or someone right next to me? I wasn’t loud, belligerent, mean, discourteous or, as he later told me, “rude” because I was on my cell phone. For those of you who know me, I am a soft speaker and very considerate of others. As far as I could tell, no one was bothered by my conversation. Except him, as he once again said I was rude to be on the cell phone and those are the rules.

This is peculiar because I always liked this place. I want to support locally-owned businesses and organic enterprises that are conscious about where their product comes from. But I just didn’t feel I was rude. The phone wasn’t ringing a loud, special tune, and I wasn’t shouting or making obnoxious deals on the phone. I was just waiting in line to get coffee. I asked why was it so rude? He said I should ask his boss, and he will really give me an earful. Oh great, I will get right on that. Can’t wait to talk to that guy.

I suppose if he hadn’t ignored me, called me rude and said those are the rules I would not have felt him to be inconsiderate. Maybe if he had told me they would appreciate people not bringing their phones in, I would have been okay. What bothered me was how angry he was because I did not obey their rules and, even though he ignored me, I was the utterly rude one. No explanation of why the rule exists by the way, just that it was a rule. Of course at that point I couldn’t help but compare him to President Bush, our great “decider,” and told him I would hope we could be more considerate to one another.

And then of course there is the whole question of customer service. Maybe his customers want to talk on the cell phone. Does that really rock their boat to the point they won’t even acknowledge someone’s presence and ignore a direct request for a medium latte, please? I was taught early in my business career that the single attribute that distinguishes great companies from all others is a commitment to good manners. People who say please, thank you and are considerate of their clients’ needs are the companies that rise to the top. I saw none of that, of course, especially when I was the only person left in the place and he still wouldn’t help me. I will say that I agree with the rules on banning cell phone use in restaurants, movie houses, theaters, etc., but in a coffee place where everyone is just waiting to get something to go…I am not so sure about that rule.

For the record, I will still get my coffee from this company because I like what they do and what they are offering – free trade organic coffee. Good for them. Now I know the “rules” and will make sure never to be on a cell phone in their establishment again. Especially if I REALLY need my coffee that morning. My raspberry conversation will just have to wait.

What really annoyed me about the President’s State of the Union Speech was his stated fact that our health system requires insurance companies. This is a basic fact that has to be dealt with. Insurance companies take nearly 30 percent of all health care dollars while our Medicare system administration is less then three percent. Where does that 27 percent, or hundreds of billions of dollars, go? To profit for the people that do absolutely nothing to improve our health care.

I recall when Blue Cross was a not-for-profit entity and accumulated $3 billion. Did they lower premiums or offer better service or provide more coverage for more people. Nope, they kept it and went for-profit. Do I mind premium policies for the super wealthy? Not at all, go for it. Do I favor a single payer system or an expansion of Medicare? YEP, I sure do. I also favor more Venice Family-type clinics that get government support. And state-run health care systems that provide automatic coverage for everyone. If you need to pay for it, take it in payroll taxes, or as my father suggests, make people pay at the pump, and get auto insurance included while you are at it. Bush’s current plan to monkey with the tax code and jeopardize good plans so at the most three million of the 47 million uninsured get covered is ridiculous to the point of being comical. This guy does not have a clue. And let’s please provide eye and dental while we are at it. Ask the Japanese or the Germans or the French or the Canadians how to get it done.

Can you believe the federal government is once again harassing herbal farmacies in West Hollywood? Sure enough, they decided to raid a dozen of them recently, shut them down for a few days and made them incur unnecessary legal expenses. For what? California is a state that has legally authorized their existence, where the public has chosen to support them, where the cities they operate in are tolerant and where the County Sheriff’s Department keeps an eye on them so they are safe. Bush and his ignorant cronies just have to keep sticking their noses where they don’t belong and aren’t welcome. I am looking forward to more farmacies opening in Venice and West LA where L.A. Councilman Bill Rosendahl is a supporter of legal distribution according to the laws of the State of California. It is also about time Santa Monica had a few herbal farmacies as well, but people are afraid of our “progressive” city to start some up. If and when they do, I trust there will be support instead of harassment, similar to how West Hollywood and parts of LA are conducting themselves.

Michael Rosenthal


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