Category Archives: social responsibilities
A deep respect and appreciation for the men and women of our armed services is something I’ve always had, even before the war on terror, when it became largely fashionable to praise the troops. It is clear to me that almost my entire existence, as I know it, was provided by the sacrifice and dedication of our military, along with the founding documents of our government. When you know this, and your father served as a Captain in the Army, appreciation comes easy. However, these weren’t the only reasons for my admiration. Mainly, it is a soldier’s ability to put themselves last, for a greater good, that humbled me.
You see, although I still hope to out grow it eventually, I was born seemingly incapable of obeying authority (I fled corporate America and bought a bar, for crying out loud!). If you were not my father, or mother, there was just no way that you were going to tell me what to do or how to do it. Defiance comes as natural to me as breathing in many ways. So, were I ever to join the military, I’d end up in the brig and dishonorably discharged, therefore weakening our forces and being counterproductive to the task at hand, namely protecting our freedoms. I’m just glad I’m smart enough to both know this weakness and to praise those who don’t have it and are brave enough to wear a uniform.
Every June, Portland hosts the Rose Festival. Part of the pageantry is the Rose Festival Fleet, a group of navy ships with sailors and marines who partake in the fun and spend a few days in our fine city. In my establishment, it isn’t uncommon to see a group in uniform come in for some dinner and a drink or two. Hopefully three or four. I say that without profit in mind. Quite the opposite. My staff has been instructed that anyone who is active duty military gets their tab comped, within reason, or course, and that a sincere “thank you for your service” should be stated when delivering the free food or spirits.
When giving these instructions, some of the newer members of my staff have looked at me as if I were a fool. That is an opportunity for an education, in my opinion. It’s easy to explain to them that the men and women who serve our country have done more to provide us with our own existence than any other group who isn’t our parents. I explain how hundreds and hundred of thousands have died to allow us to vote or not, get a job or not, and live in a country were we can reach for the highest of successes, or not. While doing this, they spend many months, and sometimes years away from friends and loved ones. And I illustrate how these people essentially work 24 hours a day, and don’t often get to go to the clubs or a neighborhood party. This seems to make sense to my staff.
So with all this to consider, is it really that big of a deal for a grateful, average Joe who is in a position to do so, to give up a free burger and beer to member of the military and deliver it with a pat on the back? No, not in the least bit.
Thank you to everyone serving in the American armed forces.
Being that I own a bar and restaurant, food and drink are always all around me. Being that my establishment is in Northwest Portland, homeless people are also all around me. Though it’s never enough, I have made a pointed effort to offer a meal to those that cross my path who look like they need it. Sometimes with surprising results.
A few years ago, I was coming back to work in the late evening. I parked my car in our neighbor’s parking lot as I often do after hours. There is a large dumpster in this parking lot and I noticed a young man of 20 something standing in it, foraging around. As I walked past, I stopped and asked him if he had lost something. He stopped, stood up, and curtly said, “I’m looking for something to eat.” I nodded and proceeded inside.
But the walk in was long enough to regret my insensitivity. I went directly into the kitchen and ordered my staff to make me a cheeseburger and fries to go. I thought that would be a nice gesture towards the guy. He obviously needed a meal. Now somewhat excited at the opportunity to give the guy a break, I headed back outside to the dumpster. He was still there, digging around. I said, “Hey man, I didn’t mean to piss you off earlier. I own that establishment right there and I just ordered you some food. I’ll be back with a cheeseburger for you as soon as it’s done.”
He looked at me with somewhat of a smirk. Then, in one of the more condescending tones I had heard in a while, said, “I can’t eat that. I’m a vegan.”
At first I thought he was kidding. It was obvious he wasn’t as he stood there in the dumpster looking down on me. I’m usually not at a loss for words, especially when I perceive wrong, but I simply turned around and went back inside, dumbfounded.
I tell this story somewhat frequently because I feel it’s one of the best representations of the attitude of Portland. Even our would-be beggars feel entitled and aren’t likely to stray from their own “enlightened” principals, which of course are modernly liberal in nature. The possibility of starvation isn’t even enough to make a vegan take a free cheeseburger from a stranger trying to lend a hand. Portland is indeed a weird town, and I don’t think it represents the United States very well at all. And if it ever should, then God help us.
American conservatism is by nature more compassionate than it’s political counterpart, despite propaganda to the contrary. Businesses, big and small, and neighbors of every community can better identify the needs of those around them and match them up with private resources to apply relief, with great satisfaction, with snowball effect, and without the aid of the government monstrosity.
In this current age of American politics,” social justice” is high on the priority list of our national government. Many of those
currently in the highest positions of power believe that government should be used to provide to the less affluent or less fortunate as a way to “level the playing field” or, to right perceived wrongs that lead to the existence of the less fortunate in the first place. It is “justice” they want.
As a conservative American, I reject this thinking. But one doesn’t have to be a conservative to know that a government as vast as ours is wrought with bureaucracy, inefficiency, waste, and at least the possibility of corruption. It’s also easy to note a government’s lack of a truly human quality.
I am a small business owner who cares deeply for his employees and many of the customers I’ve gotten to know over the years. These relationships have become personal, and not business, in nature. So that being said, is it not possible that businesses, big and small, and surrounding neighbors, can identify the needs of those around them and match them up with unused or inexpensive resources to apply the relief that the government monstrosity is attempting to do, only cheaper and with more sincerity, and less political agenda? I believe the answer is an emphatic yes, and that we can call this thinking compassionate conservatism.
Examples of this happening are endless. But three come to mind. One employee of ours, who was on the schedule to close the bar four nights a week, had no transportation of her own. Buses are next to impossible to find at 3am and cab fare is a good way to blow a significant chunk of a day’s pay. Safety concerns, and Oregon weather, made walking home a bad idea. However, by simple discussion of the matter, we as her employer found someone who had an old Honda scooter just sitting in their garage, taking up space. Hadn’t been used in years. With a little simple negotiation and an advance of her pay to cover a tune up, this valued employee became mobile and free from the quagmire of paying $30 in cab fare on a night she made maybe $90 in tips. Problem solved.
Yet another employee got married and was going to have a baby. (It should be noted that this traditional route to parenthood is indeed a rarity in this particular universe. Therefore, positive reinforcement was certainly on our minds.) As the baby’s due date approached, it became known that since neither half of this young couple had any family on the west coast, hand-me-down baby clothes were not an option. Disposable income, especially in the hospitality industry circa 2008, to spend on such things was hard to come by. Again, by talking and learning it wasn’t long before we found another young couple who had recently had a baby girl of their own, and they had too much family in the area. No one else was waiting for their child’s hand-me-downs. An introduction was made, a soon to be new born got a wardrobe, and the problem was solved.
Ours is a highly residential, urban area. One of our regulars, whom all the staff loved despite his ornery nature, was an old man of 80 something who was rapidly losing his mobility, and as a result his entire social regiment. He needed an electric wheelchair and had been waiting for one from the government agency he applied to forever. Waiting was something he couldn’t really do. Being that he lived solely on Social Security, a lump sum expenditure to buy it himself wasn’t an option, either. However, should he find a used chair at a decent price, he could make payments each month. He just needed someone to front him a few hundred dollars. This is an amount that our establishment could afford to loan to a long time patron who would be missed if he weren’t around. So it came to be. A chair was found, and on the 5th of every month I could expect Dean to hand me his $30 payment, sitting in his chair.
In each of these instances, there was no government involvement. The public’s money wasn’t spent. There were no inflated prices due to endless middlemen. We needed no authorizations. There was no waiting list. No applications. Rather, there was only friendship, recognition, a little effort, and significantly less money, all of which was paid back to it’s originator. There was also a lot of humanity.
There are many businesses doing many things in this country. There are many neighbors who see many things in this country. There are lots of things in many garages. When pooled together and not stolen by tax obligation, there can me significant money in this country. Imagine if this kind of thinking were applied to more social ills, all over. Hmmmm.
Writing, in whatever capacity, is spawned by many things. With me it was personal discourse. You know when you catch yourself in mid-dialogue in your own head, and realize that the back and forth has actually made perfect sense? (Janet Conner clearly did, before she wrote Writing Down Your Soul.) If so, you probably also know that such a moment is often fleeting. One’s own personal truth is sometimes a real slippery thing to try and capture. Especially the kind that is sparked by complex or confused issues. I live and work in the underworld, which is to say that I own and operate a bar, (used to be two, but I dummied up) so issues and instances that provide confusion are as abundant as Oregon rain. There have been many, many times in these moments of clarity when I’ve asked myself, “should I be writing this down?”. The very existence of this blog means the answer turned out to be yes.
By any measure, I’m a very lucky man. I was born in a great country, to a loving, traditional family who taught me well. I’m able bodied, educated, was never abused, and have no significant emotional issues. I appreciate my good health, because I learned first hand about poor health. And all of these things, along with many others, make me an extreme minority in this underworld. The majority is made up of staff and many, many patrons who simply aren’t as lucky as I. There are broken homes, abuse, drug use, unfamiliarity with common decency. There’s ignorance and misplaced anger. Bars tend to attract those that need answers. Sadly, they’re likely to find numbness and more questions.
Along with my business partner, I am the boss. I am also the face of the establishment. In the almost 13 years I’ve been there, my story has become known. This tenure, and my fair dealings, have reinforced my leadership qualifications and allowed me to gain the trust of many. I also keep my eyes open, always, because this existence is about as far from boring as any.
So I’m involved. In the business, of course, but also in much of the personal chaotic goings on of employees and customers. Some of this involvement is of my choosing. Some certainly is not. But either way, I am charged with providing advice, direction, support, discipline, and a kind of shelter to those who are experiencing a myriad of personal dramas that I was only able to dodge by blind luck.
I can’t avoid this. I wouldn’t if I could. It comes with the territory. But the toll it takes is real. It’s exhausting. And it brings forth many questions of my own. Often, that question is “how is this possible?” or “what should I do this time?”. As I talk to myself in search of the answers to these questions I know will never come, I decided I better write some of that discussion down.
What follows in this space will be this discussion, and more.