Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Business Segregation by Economics

A few months ago, East Bay merchants raised a hissy fit over the increase in parking toll prices due to the fact that they would discourage business.  Today, it was announced that the Bay Bridge and other bridges would see a toll hike – one that would raise the commuter toll price of the Bay Bridge to $6 from $4.  Upon hearing this news, people are not happy today.  See here.

I’m normally discouraged to travel to the East Bay or anywhere out of San Francisco for much of anything, but sometimes I do make the effort because there are worthwhile places to go (such as my commute to my day job).  I have quite a few East Bay friends who often react similarly when it comes to visiting the city, but they manage to do so once in a while to enjoy a meal or a night in the city.  At first, this toll hike issue may surface as a common daily commuter problem, but if we apply the very basic idea of trickle down economics – everyone pays, including a fragile restaurant/hospitality industry.

I’m not sure if I need to remind people about how ominously quiet San Francisco happened to be when the Bay Bridge shutdown for a week.  With a jobless rate at 12-13%, gas prices hovering $3 and parking tolls at $.25 per 5 minutes, I wouldn’t blame anyone living as close as Emeryville to seek other dinner and entertainment options away from this city. 

As for the East Bay, a good chunk of the Bay Area’s disposable income resides within the wealthier confines of San Francisco and the Peninsula.  People who used to plan on saving some money by carpooling to eat and buy goods in the East Bay, (e.g. Ikea or WalMart to name a couple) will now have to fork over $2.50 for carpool travel.  If you couple that with the additional amount of gas spent on sitting idle in your car to pay this new toll, you will have a whole new group of pissed off people who swear never to venture out again. 

But, you’re probably questioning if those situations are equalizers for each other – meaning are SF residents more likely to fill the blank spaces in SF and East Bay residents likely to do the same?  There may be some sort of cancellation factor there, but I’m pretty sure of three things.  The first is that there is an uneven amount of people going across one side of the bridge versus the other.  So I’m not sure who ultimately suffers more, but someone comes out worse off.  The second is that the services in SF that are desirable for people in the East Bay are not the same as the ones that SF residents travel to the East Bay for.  This means that the merchants that lose customers due to toll hikes are not the same people that may see a boost from them.  Third and finally, everyone will end up paying for this because this is eventually going to cost the food truckers more money in the near future – adding another tiny deficit to the already delicate profit margins and fragile operating revenues.  And, we all know that when you add costs to supplies, those costs will likely transfer to the diner’s check. 

On top of all these good feelings, if you can believe it, the contrast between Oakland and San Francisco might end up worse than it already is.  I'm not implying that there are a lot of people in San Francisco who are out of touch with reality, I’m just trying to say that there’s a good contingent who happen to seem out of touch with other people’s realities. 

What can you do about this grave injustice?  Hope you’ve got a good cushion for someone else’s pushing “and everybody hurts…some time.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Have Coffee? Will Travel.

Disclaimer: Dear coffee nerds, I am not super knowledgeable about the crazy machines, all the crazy roasts, all the crazy regions and all the crazy farms.  Please do not kill me for writing this post.  I like what I like.  Thank you and enjoy.

Basically, I’m a sucker for tasty coffee.  Am I connoisseur or expert?  No, but I am an enthusiast.  The true specialist in my family is my cousin Peter who happens to have an  obscene coffee shop setup back at his place in Cambridge, MA.  We’re talking pricey shiny grinders, big ass espresso machine and siphon percolators.  It’s part ridiculous and part totally awesome.  I’m still working with my single cup cone dripper and a Bodium press.

During my holiday visits to Boston, I end up making a trip to a little coffee shop called Simon’s in Porter Square.  Peter and I happen to share the same affinity for the coffee that they serve there – which so happens to be the fantastic George Howell Terroir Coffee.  And so, on the last day of every Boston visit, it’s now part tradition that I go to Simon’s Coffee Shop to buy a few bags of beans for my return trip to San Francisco.  At first, this happened in only one city, but then there was another and another and another. 

As odd as it may be, coffee seems to have found a way to become a fixture in my travel plans and I’ve started frequenting different specialty coffee houses in different cities.  In fact, I’ve started to regard coffee as one of the key components of any successful trip.  I know coffee may sound like a mere footnote to a grand vacation, but you’d be surprised at how satisfying and fun it is to include it as a notable destination.  The best part about travelling for coffee is that it will never be touristy (except for Seattle’s original Starbucks) and rarely disappointing. 


I thought it’d be fun to highlight some of the places that I’ve enjoyed in the recent past, so that you may find it in your travels as well.  I’m not saying they are the best, but they are very enjoyable:

Favorite Places:

Boston/Cambridge: Simon’s Coffee Shop serving George Howell Terroir Coffee

New York: Mud Truck Coffee; La Colombe (also in Philly); Sweatleaf (LIC) serving Stumptown

Washington DC: Murky Coffee (RIP recently, d’oh)

Portland: Barista; Stumptown

Chicago/LA: Intelligentsia

Seattle: Caffe Vita (perfect w/ Paseo sandwich from next door, hmm…)

And, of course, if you happen to be in San Francisco:

Coffeebar; Blue Bottle; Four Barrel; Ritual; Sightglass; Trouble Coffee (because its a fun destination)


Personally, I’m a mid to dark roast drip/press kinda guy.  I enjoy lattes with a touch of raw sugar.  I like fuller bodied, little smoke, nuttiness, bittersweet chocolate, earthy flavors, citrus and even some lighter berry flavors.

Some of my favorite roasts:

Terroir Daterra South Italian

Stumptown Panama Carmen Estate and Mind Bender

Intelligentsia Agua Preta

Coffeebar Riserva Del Diablo & Bolivia Cenaproc

Blue Bottle Three Africans & Ethiopian Yirgacheffe