Monday, March 03, 2008


Part of the joy of blogging is reading and commenting on other blogs. Often a quick comment I leave makes me ponder a topic that I sometimes later expand into a full blogpost. Today I take three smaller ones and give you a trifecta of what are extended blog comments.

Mooselet has a great exegesis on the practice of following shoppers through a parking lot to their car in order to take their parking space. She calls it “stalking”. I call it “vulturing”. Either way, it involves driving very slowly behind people laden with shopping bags hoping their car is in the aisle they are actually in rather than some adjacent row that would make the exercise pointless. Parking lot technique is one of the many areas in which I am inferior to my wife. She knows which aisle to go down and how fast. She can spot potential victims across the parking lot and maneuver herself so that other cars are cut off.

I take the typically male tactic of snapping up the first available space regardless of proximity to any nearby entrance. My obviously deficient parking theory is that by getting out of the car as fast as possible, the extra time spent walking is less than the time spent stalking, resulting in getting into the store faster. I’m still not sure how this is wrong, but it clearly is.

When I do park near a department store door, it somehow tends to be the one to the lingerie department. Most of the time, I can humor my wife and accede to her directing from the shotgun position. However, after Halloween, the crush of holiday shoppers frays my nerves so much that I voluntarily relinquish my masculine birthright to drive and let my wife drive to the mall. Where she vultures with the skill of California condor.

2fs rants on his pet peeve of occasionally and randomly getting charged full price for drink refills at dining establishments. In the relentless effort of businesses to make customers perform the duties previously performed by employees (think of self-serve check out lines), many fast food restaurants now let patrons pour their own drinks. In those places it never makes sense to buy a cup size larger than small (which was easily the jumbo a decade or two ago) since more soda is free. Some sharp industrial engineer has performed the calculus and decided that the labor saved on the minimum wage counter help outweighs the value of the soda taken by surreptitious seconds and thirds and the walking-out-the-door top-off.

In the places that still meter liquids I will sometimes pay the extra dime for the bigger cup so I just don’t have to go back to the counter and jump the line for a refill. The one place I commonly get the biggest size available is ChainChickenPlaceClosedOnSunday where I have developed a taste for diet lemonade. I think they do offer free or low cost refills, but I just want as much as possible.

Free refills is a symptom of the high-fructose corn syrup gluttonous society that is peculiarly American. One of the many pieces of travel advice visitors to Europe get is that not only are drink portions small and expensive, the concept of free refills is up there with voluntary tips as an inexplicably yankee practice. Still, I agree that if the market is going to free refills, the few places that rip you off for a new cup don’t deserve our collective business. Name names, so I can organize the boycott.

Finally, Her Royal Highness, Queen of Everything Courtney has seen the specter of single gender schools get raised again. This is one of those evergreen educational “reforms” that become the rage on a regular basis. At least since all the elite male-only public high schools were turned co-ed decades ago. Here in Baltimore, old timers will mist up nostalgically for the old days when Baltimore Polytechnic was a bastion of testosterone. And they see some weird slight that adjacent Western High is still all-girls.

Same sex schools seem to be similar to school uniforms: solutions in search of a problem. One decade they are the answer to meek girls getting overshadowed by guys, particularly in math and science. The next year, they are the way to engage rambunctious young men. There are always studies “proving” (and don’t get me going on the educational industrial complexes complete abuse of statistical methods) the advantages of them, but the results can usually be dismissed as the result of the Hawthorne Effect.

There is a certain civilizing influence in having to attend classes with members of the opposite gender. If anything it humanizes the objects of your teenage lusts and teaches some social self-control. My parents threatened to send me to Jesuit High, the local all-boys Catholic school. I was given a reprieve when it turns out that they didn’t offer German or Calculus. I breathed a sigh of relief. From the days of my Model United Nations geek-festing, I came to notice that when outside the hearing range of their chaperones, the Jesuit teams, despite being impeccably well-dressed and conservatively groomed were just social animals. They practically bayed at the moon. Controlling for tuition payment, the co-ed private schools never seemed to be as out of control.

Of course, my opinions are prejudiced since I met my wife in high school, which would never have happened at Jesuit. What other doors that would have opened, I don’t know, but I’m happy where the traditional co-ed system took me.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Tackle any topic or go for all three.


courtney said...

I should be a better parking lot stalker, but I just get frustrated (like you) and park in the first available space. Inevitably though, I walking past someone still stalking.

Free drink refills are necessary only with salty food. The concept of requiring patrons to bus their own tables, get their own drinks, bag their own groceries, though--a side effect of increasingly selfish and self-centered societies, a casualty of big business? Who knows? I just need the self-checkout line to accept the fact that I bring my own bag these days.

And, well, I've already talked about the other issue. ;)

2fs said...

My own parking habits are conditioned by living in a climate that's cold for half the year, rainy for another third, and obnoxiously humid for the remainder (someone else can do the math there - a sixth, I think...). I will look around for a while for the spot closest to wherever I'm going, to reduce my time spent walking in the hideous elements. On the few nice days, I often forget the irrelevance of this strategy and waste time looking for a closer space. My wife, on the other hand, will point out open spaces as soon as we get within walking range of the location - whereas I will almost never - unless I know parking's at a premium - park until we pass the destination to see if there's not a place right smack in front of it.

On the drink thing: I've found that most places that still charge for refills aren't chains but smaller, independent places (that was the case with the restaurant I wrote about). I'd rather write them a letter on the issue than boycott them, since I'd rather they stay in business than Chili's or McDonald's.

On the school uniform thing: I think you wrote about just to have an excuse to post the image...

yellojkt said...

That was the most work-safe image I could find on Google Images. Trust me on that.

Mooselet said...

Thanks for the shout out! I no longer let the Hermit drive in the garages of shopping centres after he caused $1500 in damage to our car some years ago by becoming flustered in the Christmas Chaos and backed up into a post at speed.

I can only think of two places in Brisbane that have free refills - one is a fast food chain and the other is a buffet style restaurant. And I'm guilty of topping up before I go out the door when I visit the fast food place - I needs my Diet Coke. Definitely an American thing.

There are a fair few single gender schools here in Brisbane, all private of course and I'd agree that the behaviour from the kids out of those places is worse, on average, than the kids who go to the state schools. We have to work with folks of the opposite gender our entire lives, may as well start to figure it out in school. As for the uniforms, we'll have to continue to agree to disagree.