Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tip of the day

Americans have gone tip crazy.

I recently walked into a Tutti-Frutti frozen yoghurt store close to my apartment in North Hollywood.  At these stores, you serve yourself.  After picking up a container, you pull one of the many handles (each one serving a different flavor) and dispense as much yoghurt as you want.  Then you walk yourself over to a selection of toppings (most of which are decidedly NOT fat-free) and add as many calories as you can handle.  Then you place your container on a weigh scale and the person behind the counter tells you how much you have to pay.  Then you take the money (or debit card or credit card) out of your wallet and hand it over.  For all the work that YOU do, is it really appropriate to put a jar next to the register with a little sign that says, “Tips appreciated!”? 

For what?  Good looks and a smile because a lot of times I don’t even get that when I get my yoghurt. 

The last time I was there, my total came out to $4.99.  I paid cash and the high school student handed me back a penny.  At that point, I had a mini-meltdown.  Do I take the penny and look like a cheap-ass bastard who can’t even make the effort to throw a penny in the tip jar or do I look like a cheap-ass bastard who is just throwing a penny into the tip jar?  I chose to take the damn penny and muttered, “have a good day” which I thought was at least an attempt at being polite and appreciative.   

And if you think that they deserve to have a tip jar at a Tutti-Fruttis, then why don’t they have a tip jar at McDonalds?  Wendy’s?  Burger King?  Subway? 

Oh wait, they DO have a tip jar at Subway.  For making a sandwich.  Now if they were able to read my mind and know which type of sandwich I wanted and brought it to my table and wished me a great day, there is no question that I would sweeten the pot with a buck or two.   

The same beef goes for Starbucks.  I realize that they make my coffee with the utmost care and I do appreciate that most of the time the employees are very nice but I don’t think they deserve to be compensated for making a cup of coffee which they don’t even bring to the table.  For those people who say that the tips help their income, I say, “Why is it up to me to help your income?”  Talk to your boss about that kinda stuff and if your boss doesn’t want to listen, then maybe it’s time to find another job. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I do tip at Starbucks but I do it mainly out of fear.  You see, I have this irrational idea that if I don’t tip, then there is a secret word that is passed onto the barrista indicating that I’m a non-tipper and they will secretly poison my coffee or worse, spit in it.  There is another place where I tip out of fear:  The McCarran Las Vegas airport.  If you have ever been to this airport, you know that you can check your baggage in at the curbside with some handlers.  Yes, they are very nice and very efficient and they can make your trip a lot easier IF YOU TIP THEM.  But one time, I didn’t have any money for a tip and suddenly the nice smile turned into a look that said, “your luggage is fucked”.  During the whole trip, I was sure that my bags had been raped in the security screening room and were ticketed for a trip to Bangalore.  As it turned out, my luggage was quite fine when I arrived at my destination but I realized that travelling without $2 for the Las Vegas baggage handlers was just not worth the added stress.   

There are plenty of situations where a generous tip is appropriate.  For example, fine dining or any kind of dining for that matter.  There is no question that the wait staff deserve to be compensated for their hospitality but only if they are good.  I refuse to tip 20% if the service was mediocre or less.  And I will tip 20% when it is deserved which is better than my father who will still tip 10% on the subtotal even if the waitress has been serving him beer and chicken wings continuously for 6 hours. 

I like the way tipping is done in Cambodia.  It isn’t expected and when you give a couple of bucks, the wait staff are sincerely thankful.  In the states, tipping is expected and there are many times when a couple of bucks doesn’t even get me a “thank you”.

Isn't it time we lay some ground rules here?  Okay, here they are.  You have to work for your tip.  And you have to provide a service which deserves a tip.  And the better service you provide, the better tip you will get.

Doesn’t that make sense? 

And if it does, tips are always appreciated.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old Photo Pro

The apps on an iPhone continue to get better and better.

I recently found another great photo editing app and as the name suggests, it turns regular pictures into old decrepit ones.

And the results are pretty amazing.  Take a look.

From Savannah, Georgia ...

From Siem Reap, Cambodia ...

From Lake Belwood, Canada ...

All my favorite places from around the world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Night at the Russian Opera

Last night I had the chance to do something a little different.

I had been invited by a friend to see a Russian artist named Vitas.  I had never heard of him before so I inquired about what type of music he played and I was told that it was euro-pop opera

Hmmmm, interesting ….

I told my friend that I would go see Vitas without even listening to his music.  I figured that this was just too weird of an opportunity to pass up even if the ticket was a fairly hefty $80.  I was assured that it was a good seat, however, and I wouldn’t be disappointed. 

Around 7pm, a group of us drove down to the Wilshire Ebell theater which is located in the mid-city area of Los Angeles.  Thankfully there was available parking (often times a challenge in the congested areas of LA) and we followed the other concert goers to the entrance.  I was wearing some nice jeans and a t-shirt which, believe it or not, is generally considered formal wear in this very casual city.  As it turned out, I felt very underdressed in this crowd; I was definitely NOT aware that this was a very ethnic event and apparently, Russians really dress up when they are going out.  The guys were wearing suits, the women were wearing dresses and I felt a little like the grubby kid at the dinner table.  I was given the ticket (which was in Russian) and a little old lady who looked suspiciously like Dr. Ruth ripped it in half and I was ushered into the Ebell. 

The Ebell is one of those beautiful old theaters that has been lovingly restored.  Although it doesn’t have the breathtaking intricacy of the Pantages in Hollywood, it has a lot of classic lines which you might see in a European arthouse.  With this kind of audience, I felt like I had been transported to St. Petersburg to see a revival of Uncle Vanya.  I didn’t understand any of the conversation around me so I waited patiently for the magic to start. 

Vitas deserves every bit of acclaim that has been heaped upon him.  His trademark is his falsetto and when he hits those high notes (and I mean HIGH notes), it no longer sounds like a voice but a perfectly pitched instrument.  He really is quite amazing.  I’ve never heard anything like him before and I was hypnotized.  He’s also quite the showman and (this is where it gets a little bizarre), he sang Ave Maria dressed up in a glittery Egyptian Pharoah costume.  I have no idea why a Russian singer would want to emulate a Vegas-style King Tut but I guess when you have a voice like that, you’re allowed to wear whatever you damn well please.  The other suprising thing about his concert was that he covered a lot of music territory.  Yes, he did opera but there was plenty of euro-style pop music, a few Russian folk songs, a little bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber and at one point, he broke into a Michael Jackson impersonation complete with the moonwalking and the hat.  There was not one word of English spoken so I’m not sure if Vitas can even speak English.  The crowd sure seemed to love him and towards the end, there was a steady stream of people lining up to give him flowers.  In return, he handed out a large number of long stemmed roses as he kissed and hugged audience members while strolling around the theater. Clearly, a smooth operator.  

His final encore is probably his most well known song:  Opera No. 2.  I have included the video of it below and I hope you check it out to really get an idea of this guy’s unique style.  The song itself is over 10 years old but apparently it has aged well; Vitas sang it with incredibly fresh beauty, power and heart.  I hope he comes back to LA again.   Seeing him on Youtube is one thing but seeing him in person with the whole theater experience is quite another.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cambodian traffic jam

This is how you get across a busy intersection in Cambodia.

I like the dog who was trying to use the cross walk.  He looks so casual with all the craziness around him.