A Hackney Cab Ride through The Corporation of The City of Baltimore: 1834

Battle Monument1

Battle Monument: site of Barnum’s hotel, hackney stands, Reverdy Johnson’s mansion, and the 1835 Bank Riot.

With free blacks and slaves sharing the streets alongside merchant bankers, shopkeepers, artisans, seaman, and an influx of immigrant labor, antebellum Baltimore City in the early 1830s was growing fast. Irish and German emigrants often booked passage with Baltimore as their destination because it was cheaper to land in the mid-Atlantic City than any other city on the east coast. The result was a burgeoning population of 80,000, greater than Philadelphia and second in size only to New York.

In terms of economic development, however, Baltimore leaders feared falling behind. While other east coast cities and states were in a race to create the most efficient routes west to Ohio and develop western resources, be those baskets of grain or buckets of gold, until 1827, Baltimore lacked a solid long distance connection to the untapped west. Already, the Hudson River and Erie Canal were carrying goods to and from New York City; Pennsylvania was developing its Main Line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh; and the U.S. Government had gotten into the act, joining a group of public and private investors that included the State of Maryland and building the C&O Canal from Washington D.C. to Cumberland.

From Cumberland, the Federal government wanted to keep things moving, sponsoring a National Road. The road would seem to have been a potential boon for Maryland, as it would provide a way for state commerce and travelers to reach the country’s interior by coach. But the National Road gave little advantage to Baltimore’s all-important port, and the City’s mercantile class understood that filling in the gap between Cumberland and their City might not ensure prosperity either. Developing the B&O railroad promised a quick and smooth-riding connection.

So with a strong focus on building the B&O and capturing western markets, Baltimore’s leaders had little time to address anything on the small scale of public transportation services for the City. These were the days of bumpy City street rides over cobblestones, and providing for short distance transport was left to small market forces. While the merchant class might rely on private carriages and drivers to get about Baltimore City, shopkeepers, artisans, and laborers of more modest means walked. The one form of public transport available was a horse or hired hackney carriage, but in an era when employers paid workers an average of $3.50 a week, workers wouldn’t be wise to negotiate a hackney coach ride averaging about a dollar.

Ominus ordinances

“The Corporation of The City of Baltimore” was chartered in 1796, similar to the City Corporations of Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. Like those other corporations, Baltimore City’s primary focus was to provide transport for goods to and from the American west.

Within “The Corporation of The City of Baltimore” during these years, there were hackney cab businesses offering local services to those who could afford them. One hackney proprietor mentioned in the Baltimore Sun newspapers was an emigrant and native of Ireland named Patrick Reilly. Reilly’s obituary of 1847 describes him as a “defender of our city in 1814,” who “had been long and favorably known as one of our oldest and most enterprising hack owners.” Reilly began a livery stable business about 1818, eventually expanding it to include not only hackney coach rentals but sleigh and funeral hearse rentals as well. One Sun newspaper advertisement describes him and his son George operating “The Old Stand” at the corner of Frederick and Water Streets, an important transportation hub in the heart of the City’s financial district.

In his day, this Irish-American patriot would have required about $750 to outfit a full hackney coach: carriage, harnesses, and two draft horses. It’s likely that he would have purchased the most durable and practical equipment available: nothing as sporting as a fleet of quick two-wheeled Hansom cabs but more likely a stable of sturdy horses and four-wheeled, six-seater coaches. The number of coaches or horses he kept is unclear, but he seemed able to make a living, passing his legacy along to his son George, and establishing himself as one “brave and generous to a fault, honest in all his intercourse with his fellow men.”

Alongside maintenance of his horses and carriages, sleighs, funeral carriages, and one four-wheeled family barouche, Reilly would have also needed to employ hack drivers. In one of his posted Sun advertisements, he made sure to emphasize that he set standards for his employees, describing “[our] driver’s sober.” Customers of the day would seem to have been very concerned that their hackney drivers possess this singular personal trait.

Other mentions of hack drivers in the Sun generally describe the profession in unflattering terms. Rowdy, untrustworthy, profane, and irresponsible drunkards would appear to be among the tamer descriptions. Such characterizations probably reflect the prejudices of the Sun’s editors and readers, not to mention the general anti-immigrant sentiment of the day. Hackney drivers did tend to be emigrants, often Irishmen looking to establish a foothold in their adopted country. They could also be free African Americans attempting to earn a living in a border state.

Reilly and Runaway Ad 1842

A Baltimore Sun newspaper advertisement for P. & G. Reilly hackney carriage proprietors appears above an ad that was not uncommon for its day.

From the modern perspective, a few of these African-American hackney drivers might be considered heroic men. For instance, many free African-American hack drivers could have played important roles as links in the nation’s Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape north. In 1840, the Sun newspaper reported that a free black man named William Adams paid a free colored hack driver, James Wilson, who had a stand on Calvert Street, $25 to drive two slaves, Lloyd Howard and Nicholas Howard, into Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

Regrettably, Wilson and his passengers got caught, but the Sun most certainly reveals its bias when describing Wilson’s testimony during the Adam’s trial. The newspaper’s editors make no attempt to appear neutral in the case but characterize Wilson as a man possessive of “natural stupidity,” overlooking the fact that Wilson was gainfully employed and the more likely scenario that while testifying in the case, he could have been in fear for his freedom. Playing dumb would have been the best way for Wilson to preserve not only his freedom but possibly his life.


Frederick Douglas in about 1840, not long after receiving the aid of a hack driver and escaping north.

More successful was the case of Frederick Douglass. On September 3rd of 1838, Douglass, planning his escape north, called upon the services of a friend and hack driver named Isaac Roles to carry his bags to the Philadelphia, Wilmington, & Baltimore train depot. Douglass didn’t wish to carry the bags himself because he hoped not to appear suspicious, believing that carrying bags and walking the streets of the City would surely rouse the attentions of whites. When Roles met Douglass at the train station, he handed the bags off just before Douglass hopped his train and embarked on the first leg of his journey to freedom.

In short, from the perspective of the powers that be, Baltimore hacks living in the antebellum south were an especially suspicious lot, often stereotyped as tricksters and “spungers,” not to be trusted. Another revealing article from the Sun papers describes these men as challenging the patience and pocketbooks of many a customer. With the price of a ride requiring a negotiated settlement at the point of departure, many hacks were known to size up their passengers and adjust rates on the fly. Under such circumstances, travelers who might have been able to afford a hackney ride through Baltimore complained that they were charged outrageous sums.

“One gentleman,—a friend of ours,” the Sun relates, on a journey from Washington D.C. to New York, needed to catch a Philadelphia steamship. To make his connection, the man and his wife required a cab ride from where they’d spent the night, the Barnum Hotel on Battle Monument Square, to the harbor, a distance of about ten blocks. When inquiring of a hack driver about the rates of a cab ride, the man was told that the trip would cost two dollars. Outraged, the gentleman asked other hacks working the same stand their rates but none would make the trip for less, “and the gentleman found himself obliged to assent to the hackman’s exorbitant demand.”

Museum City Hotel and Monument square looking north from Baltimroe Street whiter

From Baltimore Street looking north to the Battle Monument past the Barnum City Hotel.

After arriving at the harbor, the wayfarer and his wife were even more put out when the driver asked an additional 50 cents for the transport of three bags rather than the usual single bag. But “The lady was somewhat unwell…,” the Sun tells us, and “Not a moment was to be lost—the boat would be off in five or ten minutes, and the gentleman had to submit to the imposition, or remain in Baltimore another day. Business rendered his arrival in New York on the following day indispensable [sic], and he was from sheer necessity, compelled to submit to an imposition but little better than highway robbery.”

While out-of-town travelers like the aforesaid gentleman were feeling the sting of the City’s local transportation charges, their professional peers, those natives of Baltimore who conducted Baltimore City business—merchant bankers, railroad directors, lawyers, and political leaders—were starting to worry about their over-speculation in the nation’s systems of long distance travel, the overzealous push for canal and railroad infrastructure.

On March 24, 1834, those worries were realized when the Bank of Maryland, heavily invested in interstate transportation projects, failed. Of the $2.5 million lost in this crisis, $1.6 million was lost by small creditors. Those of means might be able to weather such a storm and wait out the coming depression; however, creditors of lesser means didn’t have that luxury. Their life savings had vanished.

In the months ahead, small-time creditors who had lost their fortunes waited for some remedy or compensation from bank directors but with no result, and by August of 1835, they felt they’d waited long enough. Riots broke out on Baltimore’s cobblestone streets, rioters targeting the home of  Reverdy Johnson, a prominent lawyer and one of the bank directors. Other bank directors and City leaders also became riot victims, and the City was thrown into turmoil.

When Baltimore’s Mayor, Jesse Hunt failed to summon a force adequate to put down the rioters, he resigned his office. Veteran U.S. General and Baltimore native Samuel Smith stepped in, asking for and receiving approval to do so from the Federal government. Smith appointed himself Mayor of Baltimore and, much to the relief of many an abashed bank director, took charge of the City. This action essentially placed Baltimore under martial law and restored the peace.

In the coming two years, between 1836 and 1838, while other banks in the U.S. fell like dominoes, the result of feverish investment on both a national and global scale, the City and State underwent large scale reforms. In a curious twist, the main purpose of these reforms seemed not designed to curb the City’s speculative and risky investment in westward expansion, as might have been warranted following the local bank crisis, but to curb the potential of future riots.

Such reforms generally had a larger effect on the poor and the middle class than they did on Baltimore’s merchant speculators. During this “reform” period, the City increased property taxes and instituted additional licensing requirements and fees. The size of the police force was doubled from around 36 officers in 1835 to around 72, and under Maryland’s Whig Governor, James Thomas, a permanent and more reliable militia was formed.

From the modern perspective, a few of these African-American hackney drivers might be considered heroic men.

As part of these government reforms, Mayor Smith appointed a commission of prominent Maryland citizens to study Baltimore’s local transportation issue. Commissioners included George Winchester, later President of the Susquehanna Railroad Company; William H. Conkling, soon to be Director of the Savings Bank of Baltimore and a corporate partner in the National Fire Insurance Company; and John Thomas, a lawyer and recent member of Maryland’s House of Delegates.

A democrat and supporter of Jacksonian policies in Whig-dominated Maryland, Thomas’s appearance on the commission might have made the panel appear more balanced. In 1836, he had gained notoriety as one of nineteen minority members of the Maryland House of Delegates who attempted to obstruct measures that would have allowed for increased political representation of Maryland’s more populous counties. But Thomas later changed his mind about challenging Whig reform, and no doubt earned the approval of Mayor Smith. Thomas was also likely an associate of Reverdy Johnson, as newspaper advertisements of the day put their names together as having benefited from language instruction from a Mr. Lehmenowski, teacher of French and German. One thing however is clear regarding the hackney cab commission. Neither hack drivers nor hack business proprietors received representation.

Until the commission stepped in to take a close look at the business of hackney carriages, regulation of the industry had been largely a matter of addressing safety concerns: preventing accidents, holding drivers accountable when accidents occurred, preventing public nuisances, and maintaining order in the streets. Hacks were instructed never to abandon their horses and to hold onto their reigns at all times. Speed limits were set at no faster than a walk, drivers had to pass on the right side of the street between curbs and tracks, and parking on a City street had to be done in a specific orientation. Cabs also had to have license plates so they might be tracked in the case of hit and run accidents. And owners who equipped their vehicles with fatter wheels were given breaks on licensing charges as the wider tires were less destructive to the cobblestone roads. The only law that didn’t seem to concern safety regarded religion. Hacks were prohibited from working on Sundays.

But new types of prohibitions came to the hack business when the commission’s report appeared in 1837. When signed into law, hackney business owners like Patrick Reilly could look forward to new property taxes, those placed not only on their stables but now on their carriages. There would also be special commercial licensing fees required for their hack drivers and a set of fixed fare prices to charge their customers. A hack company might charge less than the new fixed amounts, but not more.

Limits of Hack Rides in Baltimore on a Map of 1836

Defined limits of hackney carriage rides and prices in the City of Baltimore, 1838.

These set fees essentially transformed what had been a free-market system of negotiated transportation fares into a public transit system. Within a designated range of City streets, the standard fare for a single passenger would now be 37 and 1/2 cents, about a day’s wages for an unskilled worker. Numerous stipulations were added concerning additional fares for more than one passenger, children passengers, journeys beyond designated City streets, journeys of an hour, charges after 8 PM, and charges between specific times of year.

Hack Cab Rates shade

Here’s what the 1838 hackney carriage charges would have looked like fully printed on a card in “long primer” style font—

Special charges were also designated for trips beginning at steamboat landings or railway depots and continuing to hotels or private residences. Another set price specified the rate for a ride between the City’s center of commerce, the Merchant’s Exchange on Gay Street, to any point along Washington Street in Fells Point. Charges for the hack driver lifting single bags and added bags were also figured: And according to the new ordinance, all of this information was to be “[kept] in at least two conspicuous positions in the interior of such carriage…printed on a white paper card with black ink, by types of a size not less than long primer, so that the same may be conveniently seen and read in the daytime by any person capable of reading.”

merchant's exchange baltimore blue

The center of Baltimore commerce was the Merchant’s Exchange on Gay Street, only a few blocks southeast of Battle Monument Square.

From a historical perspective, setting fixed fares on transportation services was not unheard of. The City of Paris, France, had long ago fixed fares for hackney cab rides, and in London, England, the government had set fees for hackney rides as far back as 1762, even limiting the number of hack coaches that could travel the streets. Following such English and European precedents was nothing new to state governments in the U.S. For example, even while Maryland eliminated monarchical rule from its Constitution in 1776, the State had adapted all other British governing, parliamentary, and judicial institutions, transferring monarchical powers to “the people.” Nonetheless, a cursory reading of the term “people” in the Maryland Constitution reveals that women, Jews, and slaves were not included in the definition of “people,” only white men of property.

Like their British counterparts, the Maryland State Legislature also gave themselves the power to fix prices where such a practice would appear to be in the best interest of the State. Article XII of Maryland’s 1776 Constitution explains “That no aid, charge, tax, fee, or fees, ought to be set, rated, or levied, under any pretense, without consent of the Legislature.” In other words, a businessman could set any price he wanted, but the Legislature had the right to adjust it. Similar language would, of course, later be placed in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) when the Federal Government granted itself power to regulate interstate and foreign trade.

So price fixing was not new to national or state governments, just new to hackney cab businesses in Baltimore. In Washington D.C., hack fares had been set as early as 1806, and in Detroit, Michigan, hack prices were fixed in 1833. Most state governments also had a history of setting fees for ferriage and for bridge tolls. “The Corporation of The City of Baltimore” had followed suit in most all of those areas. Perhaps chief among them as regards land travel, the Mayor and City Council had used its jurisdiction over price setting a few years earlier to build its three primary farm-to-market turnpike roads—Reisterstown Road, York Road, and Bel Air Road. While the City contracted private companies to build the roads and collect the tolls, the rates were not left to market forces but written into law.

But for all of the examples mentioned, the question remains, why should government be the one to set the fare when the business owner, the hackney cab proprietor, might establish his own fares based on known expenses? Why shouldn’t businesses be able to negotiate with customers in a free market system? Isn’t fixed pricing an example of government overreaching?

Certainly, fixing fare prices in an industry otherwise ruled by capitalist forces would be unsettling. Under a fixed pricing system, hackney carriage proprietors like Patrick Reilly had to operate within stricter limits, adjusting to government influence. This changed the hack industry, as any industry would have been changed when competition is removed. From 1838 on, whenever a cab owner saw rising prices for items required to run his business—the cost for horses, vets, cabs, cab repairs, oats, hay, stable rent, licensing, and taxes etc.—he could not simply raise his fares accordingly. Now he was forced to petition his local politician to keep cab ride fares in line with his other costs. Otherwise, the cab company owner would have to trust that his government overseers keep tabs on the economic situation and determine the appropriate time for increasing his rates.

For hackney carriage proprietors like Patrick Reilly, the regulations obviously made doing business more complex. It’s possible, however, that the inconvenience of negotiating a fare could have been handled differently, maintaining a more flexible and competitive cost structure. What if, for instance, instead of fixing the price of cab fares, the government had directed cabbies to line up at their stands and advertise their estimated prices on their cabs—much as gas stations advertise fluctuating gas prices today? Under such a system, the customer could walk along the stand, compare prices, and decide which hackney cab to hire.

Captain William Glazier Pecularities of American Cities

The Port and center of The Corporation of the City of Baltimore

But in an era that would soon witness an expansion of technology used to gather and disseminate information—the electric telegraph, Morse code, and quicker methods of printing—there seemed little desire to maintain transparency in pricing information. While publishers would soon produce pamphlets that listed the costs for hackney cab travel in major cities, Boston (25 cents), New York (25 cents), Philadelphia (37 and 1/2 cents), such publications had yet to appear in the 1830s. A government regulation requiring cab owners to post daily prices might sound reasonable, and such a system had been used in  New Haven, Connecticut, for a time, but price fixing sounds extreme. Going a step further and posting those prices only in the interior of the cab might even strike some consumers as a form of entrapment.

Why not allow the free market to decide and post the results on the outside of the cab for everyone to see? Chalk and blackboards were widely available during these years. Perhaps there remained a fear that the untrusted cabbies at one stand would form a cartel and conspire with one another to set prices that did not reflect the true economic situation. The newly expanded police force developed under the reforms might have kept tabs on such collusion, but it’s clear that the constables and watchmen during this period were not organized for the purpose of striking a balance between the interests of the working class hack driver and the interests of the upper-middle class or wealthy hackney cab passengers. More often, law enforcement was tasked with arresting those who disturbed the peace or who were unable to pay their debts.

As regards the City’s emphasis on collecting debts and the wisdom of enacting the 1838 economic reforms in the midst of an economic depression, one year after the reforms, Baltimore’s new mayor, Mayor Leakin, reported that over 28% of all prisoners in the City jail were debtors, 489 out of a total 1754, 10% more than before reform measures were in place. When only 58 of these 489 debtors found means to pay their debts, the trend of throwing too many debtors in jail threatened to cost the City more money in prisoner housing than in recouped debts. In his 1839 communication to the City Council, Mayor Leakin reasoned that abandoning this “inhumane” system of imprisoning debtors ought to be considered, because “so many persons should not be prevented from labouring for the support of themselves.”

When it came to overseeing the hack industry, it wouldn’t seem to make much sense to require a policeman to maintain constant knowledge of the economic forces related to fluctuating cab prices. However by 1865 this was exactly the case when the Baltimore Board of Police Commissioners was given direct authority to set cab fares. But would it be inconceivable that a hack driver or hack business owner might have offered one or two policemen compensation to look the other way when he had a desire to stretch his rates?

Policemen of this time, referred to by their various responsibilities as constables, watchmen, or bailiffs, were not quite the force of authority that we know them as today. Armed with Bowie knives and charged with keeping the peace, watchmen were known to be unreliable and frequently overwhelmed by disgruntled City mobs. One Baltimore Sun article, referring to the watchmen of Baltimore’s neighbor to the north, Philadelphia, makes clear that watchmen were not immune to bribery either. To curb such potential corruption, watchmen would no doubt have had to be overseen by other watchmen and those overseen by still others. To avoid such overly complex systems of checks and balances, a simpler solution than the 1838 rate fixes might have been to get on board with the spirit of the approaching information age, insisting that hack drivers and their proprietors develop a more transparent pricing system. Then market forces could go to work, settling on the most reasonable rates for a ride.


As a side note to this story of hack drivers and hack company proprietors, in total, the taxpayers of Maryland eventually relieved the debts of the Bank of Maryland to the tune of 2 to 3 million dollars. While the bank creditors of modest means, having lost $1.6 million, shared a pot of $100,000 in compensation, several Bank of Maryland officials, considered victims of the rioters, were compensated for loss of property to the amount of $60,000. This did not include the singular $40,000 settlement given to former Bank of Maryland Director Reverdy Johnson for damages that rioters caused to his mansion on Battle Monument Square.


Reverdy Johnson, esteemed legal mind and Director of the Bank of Maryland.

A noted lawyer and professed opponent of slavery, Johnson recovered from the riots well. He later defended Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Mary Surratt, the slave-owning defendant in the case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford, and the Klu Klux Klan. He enjoyed a long career in Maryland business, politics, and jurisprudence, and in 1868 was even appointed Minister to England under the administration of President Andrew Johnson.

In England during the years of Minister Johnson’s appointment, a hackney cab ride of one mile would have cost about 1 shilling, the equivalent of 25 U.S. cents. In Baltimore during that time, a similar hackney ride would have been 75 cents, double the City’s original 1838 rate. However, because of a new technological innovation, horse drawn trolleys that ran on rails and carried a dozen or more passengers at a time, the bulk of the City’s 260,000 residents could now afford a trolley ride at five cents, that figure having been fixed by Baltimore’s Mayor and City Council.

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An Appalachian almost in Paris

IMG_2539My wife tells me she has booked a flight for four to visit Paris, France, not Texas, although I understand that France is Texas-sized. She’s looking to make family memories before our two girls go off to college, and she hopes that those memories will occur during a two-week Parisian summer vacation. For some reason, I had a different set of memories on the dock. I’d always dreamed of renting an RV and taking the all-American Tour de West, exploring the unspoiled wilds of America, checking out our great North American National Parks system, and sampling some Americana.

It’s true. I’ve never stepped around Old Faithful at Yellowstone, the Four Corners, the four famous presidents on Mount Rushmore, or the harrowing cliffs of El Capitan at Yosemite. Nor have I kicked up dust at the edge of the Grand Canyon or winded myself chasing a mountain goat across the icecaps of Glacier National Park. And I would like to, should this morning’s gas prices hold steady, bathe in the mineral hot springs at Olympic National Park, drive through a giant sequoia on the road to Kings Canyon, and explore the Pueblo dwellings at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Oft have I dreamed that along the way, in our rented motorhome, my family might drop in on a few famous American cities and sites too. I’ve been hankering to scale the Saarinen arch in St. Louis since my days of architecture school, ride the public transportation in Portland since the rest of the country started flocking to Portland, and the natives had to start working hard to keep the place weird. I’ve also been winding up to thread Seattle’s Space Needle. My dad visited there on a business trip when I was a boy and brought home a pen with a floating needle inside. I lost the pen but believe it’s time to replace it.

I also don’t want to miss out on the real America either: a hot day in Texas at the Cadillac Ranch, a steamboat cruise along Twain’s Mississippi, or a bowl-full of gumbo in the French quarter. But it appears I have to settle for the Arch de Triomphe, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and a bowl of French Onion Soup at Le Saint-Germain on la rue Cambon.

There were long days, even years, in the 1990s when I did not have a family or even a girlfriend, when I pictured myself living hungry and lean in the City of Lights. I had a newly minted architecture degree, I’d heard the trains of Europe were excellent, and my wanderlust was easily excited by the crinkle of unfolding maps. One afternoon, a pair of college friends phoned from Montmartre and suggested I fly over for a visit. I might have taken the expatriate plunge, gone for a week, stayed for a twenty-year stretch. If not a job in an architecture firm, I pictured myself working as a waiter, eating baguettes and brie, living in a sleeping bag somewhere along the Seine, and writing my first collection of sensitive and obtuse poems.

But I have always been slow on the uptake, unable to make decisions or take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. I missed both the airliner and freighter of those years and turned down my chance to break bread with my bohemian architecture brethren. I kept rooms in Baltimore, where it seemed essential to share my disenchantment about post-modern architecture with my apartment walls and keep tabs on the evolution of Batman movies and grunge rock. I did, however, manage to catch Edie Brickell and her New Bohemians at Hammerjacks one weekend between hose downs at a wet t-shirt contest.

A few weeks from now, I will be strolling the boulevards and wandering the arrondissements of Paris. The ghosts of my long-dead artistic heroes will populate my imagination, and I’ll be bumping elbows with a boho-mania that’s long past. Haussmann and his grand plan may guide me; Le Corbusier may alert me to the purities and impurities of the cubist galleries; and Hemingway, Pound, and Fitzgerald will probably burp in the shadows, sharing cocktails and exchanging sucker punches. But most likely there will be the ghosts of those stuffy Impressionist painters who have been a smudge in my subconscious since boyhood when my eyes crossed Monet’s Japanese Footbridge at the National Gallery in Washington D.C..

In the midst of my indoor Parisian museum sneezing and inexpert tourist rubbernecking, I’m sure to see some American millennial wearing a white long-sleeved button down beneath a threadbare black blazer. His grandfather’s frayed hat band may still hold a red feather. I will envy him the time he has to spend propping himself up on a bridge abutment, envy the time he has to hold his sketchbook and fountain pen before him and converse with reedy Parisian girls as they peer over his elbow and declare, “Vous devez être un artiste!” Oh, how I would like to dilly dally there, spend all day with an eye to the proportions of Notre Dame, nibbling bread, and offering my chardonnay to Juliette Binoche’s niece!

By touring France instead of the American west, our family will miss out on one of our country’s many natural wonders: The Colorado River about 50 miles from where it empties into the Gulf of California.

By touring France instead of the American west, our family will miss out on one of our country’s many natural wonders: The Colorado River about 50 miles from where it empties into the Gulf of California.

“Daaaad,” my daughters will say, interrupting my reverie, “why did you wear that threadbare black blazer? And is that great grandpa’s hat with the red feather or did you buy that at the Value Village back in Baltimore? We’re bored. Can we stop walking through these seedy neighborhoods? What are you looking for anyhow? We should see Versailles. According to our map, Paris Disney is only a few subway stops in the same direction.”

Don’t get me wrong. My girls are not insensitive to their father’s interests and addictions. They know me. They know I’m a regular off-beat, late-boomer, coffee junky. They sympathize, and I imagine that during their engagement with Frommer’s online, they will have come across the names of a few famous cafes, and they will insist that we sit down for some café au lait.

And there I will sit, legs crossed at the knees, exhaling smoke from my phantom Gauloises Brune, hoping like mad that adjacent to our table, this generation’s Simone de Beauvoir will vigorously debate existentialism with her companion, Jean-Paul Sartre. And I will scoff at the American tourists in the more touristy parts of town as they rush to complete their checklists: Eiffel Tower, check; Musée d’Orsay, check; Moulin Rouge, check. Never mind how irked I am that my café au lait costs three times its value in any Baltimore Starbucks, albeit a Starbucks with no literary names attached, just stenciled illustrations of the Lost Generation on wallpaper.

But I must ask, is this the memory I want to leave my girls? Dad, the detached American in Paris, living out an imitation of his poodle-eaten bohemian fantasy?  Dad, struggling hard to find the offbeat, the authentic, the free-thinking Paris while his wife and daughters wonder, “what’s up?” No, why deny what lingers on the precipice, why hold back my inner Appalachian? Why not admit to my obvious displacement?

Then it will be time. It will be time to dispense with my secondhand bohemianism, toss away my keffiyeh, and get on with expressing my redneck. I’ll pull on my cargo shorts, pull over my Virginia Tech Hokie t-shirt, strap on my Under Armour trainers, and do what any USAnian in France would do: Get to seeing the real tourist sights. Because what is a vacation good for if you’re unable to return home, stand around a water cooler, and converse about the common attractions, as you would about last night’s television event?

“It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest,” Andre the Giant once said, perhaps expressing the sentiments of so many American tourists in France, “I don’t even exercise!”

After some internet research, I see that the McRent Station in Paris offers a 9-day campervan rental for around $1000. Thankfully, because I have already overcome my inhibitions about revealing an inner hillbilly while still here at home, I will have arrived in France with two flags stashed in my suitcase: one star spangled, one Marylander. Upon acquiring our campervan, I will rivet one flag to each side, softening the impressionistic French light that shines into our RV’s interior breakfast nook. Once done, we’ll trek over to Carrefore, France’s own Wal-Mart-like superstore, and stock up on bulk croissants and cheese blocks before hitting the autoroute.

Although known as “l’ hexagone,” and home country to grid masters like Rene Descartes and Washington D.C. planner, Pierre L’Enfant, France, as I’ve observed on many a map, suffers from a lack of highway or “autoroute” system efficiency. While we Americans enjoy a highway system replete with north-south, east-west, cross-country routes—not to mention big city bypasses and beltways—the French seem to prefer an archaic system of urban nodes that taper into the provinces on radial spokes. It’s a system design that we Americans abandoned once the era of cooperative and profitable train travel ended. But leave it to the old-fashioned, laid back, and dare I say socialistic, French, to retain this model for their superhighways.

Given these transportation limitations, and the prevalence of expensive toll roads everywhere, I’ve consulted the Michelin guide and have attempted to design an itinerary that allows our family to take in as much of the country as we can. Aided by pushpins, I’ve done my best to map out a round trip that sets out from Charles De Gaulle Airport and touches on a few of the nation’s 20-some regions, sampling not only Paris but the West Coast Atlantic, South Pyrenees, Riviera, and Eastern Alps. Along the way, we’ll also be giving the nod to the French provincials and envisaging the country’s natural beauty.

After a few hours driving Paris, I’m thinking we make a brief run at Paris Disney, if not to brunch with Cinderella, then at least to see what was in 1992 the largest parking lot in Europe! From there we’ll pick things up and head northeast of the city on A1, l’autoroute du Nord, to Parc Astérix where my favorite Celtic cartoon characters, Asterix and Obelix, fend off the invading Romans alongside roller coasters and log flumes. Time then for a rendezvous with WWII, cruising along the A13, l’autoroute de Normandie, and landing our campervan on Omaha Beach before dining on moule et frites at D-Day House.

Back on the road, we’ll journey south on autoroute A10, L’Aquitaine, to Parc de Futuroscope near Poitiers, strapping on 3D glasses and making time in a time machine. The Futurescope park hosts Quebec’s own Cirque du Soleil, and their show “La Forge aux étoiles” is said to be “fabuleux!” If we miss the Cirque, we can drop in at adjacent Puy du Fou, a park where vacationers stare agog as King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable hover above an enchanted lake and discuss “la quête.”

Should the Renaissance be more to our tastes, du Fou allows us to tour a Renaissance château guided by costumed kings and queens. Or we might opt for more recent history, completing our time travel adventure by taking in “Lovers of Verdun,” a show featuring WWI trench life that has been awarded, “Best Original Creation.”

From Puy du Fou, it’ll be time to ramble south towards the Pyrenees. National Park-starved Americans, like I’m sure to be in France, should know that the Franks count 10 national parks, 49 regional natural parks, and 7 marine natural parks, the more popular parks of which seem to be spaced across the southern and eastern regions of the Pyrenees, Mediterranean, and alps. More so, Americans will be pleased to hear that for no more than $10 to $15 per night, a campervan can get a hook up, which sure beats heck out of apartment rentals or the cost for a one night bed and breakfast.

As we head toward the Pyrenees, we’ll also be sure to stop at the replica of the Lascaux Cave near Dordogne. Whether or not the attraction offers, I am hoping to witness a demonstration of Paleolithic men, or women, blowing iron and manganese-compound pigments from their cheeks, through tubes, and onto an overhead rock that’s already decorated with frolicking horses, deer, and oxen.

With our journey half over, we’ll probably have to skip stops in Provence, the French Riviera, and the casinos of Monte Carlo. But I’ve seen most of Grace Kelly’s better films, and the RV comes with a DVD player if the girls want to catch up to me on Kelly. Also, should I get the itch to gamble, I know that here in the states, bargain bus trips to Atlantic City are only a few New Jersey Turnpike exits away. And considering the potential cultural shock to our daughter’s psyches, it’s probably best to leave the topless beaches of the Côte d’Azur to the continentals. We’ll sober ourselves instead with some Gothic cathedral gawking. We Appalachian USAnians can tolerate only so much “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

Outside of Paris, in Poissy, we might stop at Mirče Mladenov’s re-envisioned renovation of Le Corbusier’s modestly modern Villa Savoy.

Outside of Paris, in Poissy, we might stop at Mirče Mladenov’s re-envisioned renovation of Le Corbusier’s modestly modern Villa Savoy.

Returning north, we’ll be ready for more urban adventures and a stop in Grenoble, a city set against the alps, and site of the Xth Olympiad. While our comprehensive journey through the French countryside should take us past a few of France’s 64 nuclear reactors, Grenoble boasts examples of the French nation’s more traditional industries. Here we can take comfort in familiar brand names like Hewlett Packard, Becton Dickinson, Caterpillar, Carrefour (sort of), and the semiconductor multinational, STMicroelectronics. There might even be time for a factory tour! And Grenoble, as most WWF fans know, is also birthplace of the legendary Andre the Giant. “It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest,” Andre once said, perhaps expressing the sentiments of so many American tourists in France, “I don’t even exercise!”

Further up the A6, or “Autoroute du Soleil,” we might drop in at Dijon to pick up some condiments, but it’s likely that we can purchase most gastronomic delicacies duty free at the De Gaulle Airport terminal, so we’ll pass. Besides, we don’t want to miss the opportunity to cap off our RV excursion by easing up on the pedal and taking one last dip into the City of Lights. After a quick internet search, I’m thinking we’ll call on a physician, request a physical, and take advantage of those discount rates that the French offer Americans for healthcare.

To wind up, what would a trip to France be without sampling a few of the country’s most notable beverages? It’s well-known that France lies in a direct line between the hoppy lands of Belgium and the Czech Republic. Within a short RV drive from the Arch de Triomphe, I have pushed my pushpins into a number of landmark microbreweries. This emergent market in libation is said to be gaining a solid following among the more progressive Parisians, French beers claiming their own unique flavors distinctive from brews in Belgium and Germany. Even as I blog, I can Futurescope a cold French bock lifted to my lips and savor hints of Alsatian peat-smoke and citrus.

While the wife and I quaff our drafts and contemplate a stop at Mickey D’s to pick up one last Royale with Cheese, I’ll ask our girls to de-rivet the American and Maryland flags from either side of our campervan. Then reverently, patriotically, winsomely, the girls will stretch and fold “les couleurs,” tucking them away into our suitcases, at which time Joan and I will finally be able to cozy up together, imagining how each girl will keep one flag as a souvenir, Corinne the Marylander, Cecilia the USAnian. And one day, each girl will hang her respective banner on her respective college dorm room wall, recalling our autoroutes, our amusements, our Carrefours, and our physicals.

“Trop belle,” Joan will observe, breathless after a second or third quaff of her French IPA. “Trop belle.”

“Oui.” I will add. “Oui.”

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Tipping Towards a Living Wage

Arm Band Tip MeI phone an order into my favorite neighborhood pizza joint and stop on my way home to pick up the pies. At the counter where I pay, I’m greeted by a chipper young woman, high voice, curly hair, and a smile that could knock the rust off a Winnebago’s chrome bumper. As I offer my debit card, she returns the receipt with a pen, asking me to sign. That’s when I spot the tip line above the signature line. Should I tip even when I’m not dining in? Should I tip for takeout?

A similar situation happens when I go to the market for a loaf of fresh bread. The cashier prints out my receipt and there again is the line for adding a gratuity: apparently, a programmable feature on all credit and debit card machines. On other occasions, at my favorite specialty coffee shops, I order my $4.56 latte and get shown an app on the iPad screen register. The app offers me “none” and “other” options, but the suggested tip amounts are centered boldly on the screen: $1.00, $2.00. Again I ask, am I required to do all of this cross-counter tipping?

Based on some trusty internet research, there are good reasons to say yes. At the pizza parlor, as I’ve come to understand, the cashier is providing me a number of important cross-counter services. First, she had to take my initial order over the phone. Then, when I arrived, she had to provide me with napkins, and finally, she had to open and close the pizza boxes to show me that I had the correct pies. But that’s not the least of it. The real issue here is the lost wages she will endure while doing these things for a customer-on-the-go when she could have been waiting on dine-in customers, people willing to sit in the restaurant and pony up her deserved 15 to 20% tip. So should I pay up? The answer now, as I should have known earlier, is an unequivocal “Yes!”

Next question. Should I add the 15 to 20% standard gratuity when all I did was pick up takeout? A few comments from an Internet post entitled “Tipping delivery or take out. Do you? How much?” at Chowhound.com  outline the argument. One comment contributor, “Midknight,” suggests that there’s no need for any gratuity at all. “For pickup or take out,” says Midknight, “[I tip] nothing. If I’m doing the work to go get it, why should I be tipping them?” In response, the commentator “Midlife” is more generous. “If it’s a sit down restaurant (not just a takeout place that happens to have some tables),” Midlife explains, “I’ll tip 5-10% if I feel I’m taking someone away from tip-based work or that they’ve taken my order and made sure it’s correct and packed properly.”

My takeaway from these posts and comments is that most takeout customers err on the side of 5 to 10%, and that includes star New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Several years ago, Brees was wrongly excoriated in the press for leaving a $3 tip on a $74.41 Chinese food ticket. Brees cleared matters up when he Tweeted out that his bill had been for takeout, and he later gained public support for using proper takeout tip etiquette. When I do the math, Brees left a 4% tip, and when I add at least one percent for the publicity that the restaurant earned for serving a one percenter, Brees’s tip appears to be perfectly aligned with the 5-10% takeout-tipping standard.

Tip Me

On September 27, 2014, Makenzie and Steven Schultz of Cedar Rapids, IA, did their part to bridge the income gap of one struggling non-living wage earner.

A few cross-counter customers, nonetheless, don’t bother to calculate any percentage at all. For them, regardless of the total bill, a dollar or two added to the tip line suffices. This is much how I treat my bartender when I go out for a drink. Bartenders, unless someone wants to correct me, will settle for a dollar tip for a beer, and we tip them mainly so they will return to sell us our next round. If you don’t tip, then they are within their rights to ignore you and spend more time at the other end of the bar where the heavy tippers congregate.

The argument for tipping our nation’s servers, and what I once called a cashier, becomes even more formidable when you realize that many of them don’t make a living wage. In fact, a decent tip for those in the restaurant industry can mean the difference between living in a group home with friends or living at mom and dad’s home with mom and dad’s cat posse. This seems especially true where the standard hourly rate is $2.13 for waiters and waitresses and has been that since 1991. These servers rely on tips to live, and as they are lucky to earn an average $11.82 an hour with tips—still short of the $15 per hour living wage—I don’t see how such servers can be doing much living.

And yet, $11.82 per hour ranks waiters and waitresses among the better compensated non-living wage workers, considering that many US citizens are forced to reckon with the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In fact, despite my initial questions about ponying up for cross-counter tipping, in retrospect, my resistance is most embarrassing and marks me as a real skinflint, a whopping cheapskate. Considering the 35-million Americans that don’t even earn a living wage, I can’t help but admit that not only do I not tip a high enough percentage of my bill, I don’t tip a high enough percentage of those in the service industry.

As a refresher, readers should know that there are many people other than waiters, waitresses, cashiers, and bartenders with jobs that don’t earn a living wage, and these people should be tipped. Have you been good to your hairdresser, your barber, concierge, golf caddy, valet, taxicab driver, hotel housekeeper, game dealer, and the usher who wipes down your seat at Oriole Park at Camden Yards? We all know it’s customary to tip these people, don’t we?

Considering how many Americans don’t even earn a living wage, I can’t help but admit that not only do I not tip a high enough percentage of my bill, I don’t tip a high enough percentage of those in the service industry.

And in case you were wondering, the website Thrillist.com suggests that you should also be offering a few dollars to those on the margins of a living wage. Here I’d like to raise your awareness of those who need you to open your wallet a bit wider. The FedEx delivery person who hauled that big box up your front steps, the parking lot worker at the Home Depot who helped you lift your new lawn mower onto the roof of the car, and the appliance delivery guy who pushed your refrigerator around the stair post, all of these people would benefit from your increased generosity. As someone who is often volunteered to lift heavy boxes from one floor or room to another, I can see why.  Late-in-life back surgery and regular visits to the chiropractor can get expensive, and we should all pitch in to fend off high health care costs among this pending population of cripples.

Thrillist.com continues that other than the heavy lifters, I should also tip the Enterprise employee who picks me up, the AAA roadside assistance man who fixes my tire, the Karaoke DJ who brought the funk, the apartment super who came upstairs to snake my drain, the cable satellite installer who climbed onto my slippery roof shingles, the plumber who put his nose closer to my toilet bowl than I’ve ever dared, and the car wash employee who cleaned the sun-dried gum out of my cup holder. I agree, many of these people have thankless jobs that do not earn them a comfortable living wage, and they are all deserving of that little extra.

Added to this list, off the top of my head, I promise not to forget the Wal-Mart employee who helps me find the bottled sodas, the flight attendant who offers me pretzels, the collegiate basketball player who entertains me during March Madness, the Uber driver that uses his own car to drive me home after a drunk, or the elder care worker who adjusts the pillows for my grandmother’s head at the old folk’s home.

At the website Takepart.com, I learn that there are at least an additional fifteen professions aside from those already mentioned not making minimum wage and who should also get tipped. But mostly I’m beginning to think there are so many non-living wage workers, it might be best if, while they are on the job, they be fitted with “Tip Me” arm bands indicating that they are open to receiving tips. This would take the responsibility off the cash-strapped business proprietors who program their credit card machines with that extra line at the bottom of their receipt slips to make sure I pay their low-wage workers. In such a world, I would make sure to constantly keep extra loose dollars in my front pants pockets for my brief but essential encounters with the working indigent.

Ron Sargent of Staples

Shouldn’t diners still tip even when waiters and waitresses have a bad day? When CEO Ron Sargent presided over a 43% drop in Staples’ stock, the company’s board of directors added a $300,000 cash tip to his $5,192 hourly compensation.

I understand that low-wage earners are proud people and might not go for my armband idea. Maybe they’re afraid this would mark them as second class citizens of a sort. In that case, I request they hear me out. In the U.S., there is no shame in asking for, or accepting, a little extra, whether it be help or money, not even among the middle classes.

In the professional world, fine wine, food, or even artworks are not uncommon gifts for gaining and keeping clients. And in many states, primary school teachers, I am told, are free to be given gifts and tips of up to $50, usually around the holidays or at the end of the year. Not a few of our local Baltimore government workers, in fact, are above accepting tips in the form of gift cards.

Tipping or gifting policy also holds true for your neighborhood psychotherapist. Think about it. Is $130 per hour, three times a week, really enough for someone who spends months, even years, listening to you talk about how, when growing up, your mother never cooked your favorite bangers and mash? Seems to me, $130 per hour at three times a week covers only the tip of the iceberg.

No, at all levels of society, there is no shame in accepting a gratuity for a job, well done or not. CEOs of Fortune Five Hundred companies do this all the time, only instead of tips or gifts, they call such gratuities “bonuses.” And when these CEOs are unhappy with their jobs, as Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson must have been after only one day of work, they do what every self-respecting human being would do. They pick up their $44.4 million compensation checks and move on.

Low wage earners would do well to take a tip from these underappreciated barons of industry. When the wages don’t suffice, and the bonuses—or tips—aren’t forthcoming, move on to a place that will pay you a dignified wage. If you can’t find such a place, then the answer is simple, start your own business and create living wage jobs for others.

As a job creator, all that’s required, according to some of the reading I’ve done, is an idea, a few relationships with people who believe in you, a specified skillset where the competition is slim, some capital, a few opportunities, a great deal of perseverance, and an ounce or two of luck. I may have left one or more things out of this list, but there you have it, the secret formula to success. Now that you know what high wage earners have known for so long, aren’t you kicking yourself for waiting tables?

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Of Straight Men and Comics

IMG_2500“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much,” John Wayne famously said, eliminating the “big stick” that Teddy Roosevelt so fondly carried, although Wayne implicitly replaces the stick with a rifle. As a youth I was a Wayne fan, fascinated by and even admiring his infrequent utterances, those of the strong, silent cowboy. Men like Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Henry Fonda seemed to personify the Midwestern and Western sensibility, the aspirational values of rugged individualism.

These movie heroes did not speak so much as saddle up horses and swing into action, but when they did speak, they muttered profound thoughts. Similarly, as a regular church goer, I observed that not only my Catholic Catechism teachers, but the other religious leaders of the world, were people who shared a similar tacit speaking style. While neither Jesus nor Buddha exacted moral justice by shooting bad guys, they did have a tendency to speak in profundities.

Upon close observation, my heroes of communication, both secular and spiritual, might exhibit occasional signs of humor, but more often than not, they were sincere people and shared the opinion that actions spoke louder than words. Not only did Jesus say, “Come and follow me,” he also instructed: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” He must have practiced what he preached for I have yet to find any mention in The New Testament of the style of his house or its furnishings. As to the Buddha, his action comprised giving up a princedom to wander about homeless and contemplate sickness, aging, and death.

What most impressed me about these great communicators was that men like Jesus, Buddha, John Wayne, and Gary Cooper appeared to have answers to life’s big questions: How to handle pain and injustice, what to expect after death, and how to make peace with a guilty conscience. They appeared born with fully developed moral compasses, and while sometimes tempted to stray, they never struggled in knowing right from wrong. Cooper, as Marshall Will Kane in High Noon, heading out to fight Lee Van Cleef and three other unshaven bad guys, knows the law and his probable fate, he just has to accept it.

In my youth, I made a number of attempts to follow the strong and silent example, to study the classic movies and read the Good Books. I memorized profound sayings, and when I noticed that not too many other people knew those sayings, I hoped to remind them, give them instruction, and perhaps earn some notoriety. When the appropriate times came, I imagined using those sayings and setting everyone at ease with my insights, focusing them on the path toward Truth and Justice. Life has a way, however, of never serving up the exact situation for which you might have planned.


The conversational comic duo is not exclusive to males.

Picture me of middle or high school age, acnefied cheeks, forehead, and neck, a lanky body in Boy Scout uniform, folded into the back seat of my Boy Scout master’s car. I am accompanied by a number of other Scouts on a long ride to a Civil War battlefield, one of our monthly campouts. To pass the time, the other boys converse and joke around, discussing how they might earn the next merit badge, ask out a cute schoolgirl, or start a rock band. I listen to them, but as is my strong and silent nature, I cannot talk unless I have a profound message to impart. And as I cannot think of a profound message, the code of the strong and silent suggests that I remain mute.

When I do find an opening and contribute one of my profundities, my captive audience can’t help but listen. They congratulate me on my insight, but after hearing me deliver a succession of such profundities, my fellow Scouts catch on and tire of the routine. They find me a bore, turn away, and engage one another in a volume I can barely discern. When I persist in making my points, they start to laugh. And after one too many of these moments, I am awarded the derogatory nickname, “Deep.”

Like John Wayne or Jesus, I suppose I should not have taken this chiding too personally. I should have kept up the strong and silent facade and learned to be comfortable in my self-imposed solitude, my apparent self-possession. However, I do not always like being called names, nor do I like to be ignored. As do most people, I can’t really help expressing my feelings, and I also like having friends. It’s not much fun when others consider you unsettling, annoying, and boring.

One evening during my Deep period, I had the good fortune to catch The Maltese Falcon on television. These were in the days when public television played classic movies. As the celluloid film tripped by, I was most taken by a scene in which the svelte detective, Sam Spade—played by Humphrey Bogart—goes to visit the rotund Kasper Gutman—played by Sydney Greenstreet—to gain information about a prized statue, the Falcon. As it turns out, the oversized Gutman, filmed from below the knees, his gut overflowing an armchair, is also interested in finding out about the bird. As preamble to learning what Spade knows, Gutman introduces himself as “a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”

Taking a lesson from Gutman, I determined to find new ways to approach conversations on long car rides with fellow Boy Scouts. Wayne’s, Cooper’s, Jesus’s, and Buddha’s methods of delivering profundities began to recede, and I set out to make my way in the art of conversation. But was I “a man who likes talking” or was I “a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk?”

“I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”

Kasper Gutman

Aside from Gutman and Spade in The Maltese Falcon, I found another pair of model conversationalists on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, a show that I watched regularly on Friday nights when I could stay up late because I had no school the next day. For me, Carson represented “the man who liked talking to a man who likes to talk.” And first and foremost among “men who liked talking,” there was his frequent guest, comedian Buddy Hackett.

There are many examples of straight men and comics—Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, even Carson and McMahon—but I consider Hackett and Carson a great, if accidental, pairing. Carson always appeared an ordinary straight man, and Hackett had all the characteristics of a natural comedian: appearance, gesture, and voice. Plus, Hackett could tell a joke in a traditional story form like no other guest who filled The Tonight Show guest chair. He could create characters with a descriptive detail, was not too proud to be physical, could mimic a voice, build suspense, and as his stories progressed, he could get lost in the tale, an ability that Mark Twain considers more important than delivering an actual punchline.

And then there was Carson, the perfect foil and guide through Hackett’s ramblings, the loyal straight man, delivering the set-ups, sacrificing himself so that Hackett might shine. As a result, the audience not only enjoyed Hackett’s punchline, they grew fonder of Hackett. Seated behind his desk with Hackett in the guest chair, or with any other guest in that chair, Carson always asked the right question, or when needed, interjected the perfect quip.

Carson’s quips never diminished his guest’s humor, simply improved the story or helped it along. When the punchline came, Carson could also punctuate that line with a hardy laugh, reassuring guests that they were the focus of attention and that theirs was a masterful joke. Carson’s laughter also signaled for the audience to join along in the fun if they were having trouble recognizing that there was fun to be had.

By my estimation, it’s harder to be a Hackett than a Carson. The Hackett personality requires a good memory for stories and a natural way of delivering them. I have found it easier to be a straight man, a good host to the rare person of true comic ability. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d even say that my straight man-listening skills are well-honed. On numerous occasions, I have been complimented for these skills. After a number of conversations and becoming familiar with my style, not a few interlocutors have mentioned, “My, I have enjoyed our talk. You actually seem to listen.”

I can assure those listeners and you, my current blog reader, that this is because not only do I listen, I also nod, sum up important points, and interject additional information when I have some. While my laugh sounds practiced, it is always supportive, and while I may miss the mark with my quips and zingers, my conversational companions almost always appreciate my attentiveness.


The conversational comic team is not always limited to a duo.

There are, as one might expect, some drawbacks to being a Carson-like conversationalist. For one, the spotlight rarely shines on me. I am content in this, however, because I know how difficult it is to play the comic, and I am willing to have him, or her, enjoy most of the glory. I have made more than one attempt at playing the comic part, at developing my story telling skills, have read and analyzed many a joke and tall tale, and have attempted to deliver. But these attempts never meet with much success. My weaknesses as storyteller, and perhaps straight man for that matter, are that I do not have a naturally comedic face or physique, I rarely have a full studio audience to entertain, and I don’t receive breaks from frequent commercial interruptions.

How often I pray for commercial interruptions during conversation. Such breaks never arrive, and on a four- or six-hour car ride, it’s hard to eliminate the awkward moment, the inevitable pregnant pause. The other troubling aspect of the straight-man/comic model, as just stated, is that most of the conversations I have don’t include a live studio audience. I am restricted to the limited audience of one or two others and often only my companion comic. In a normal conversation, setting your companion up for a joke, then hoping he will also do his own laughing, is more likely to cause confusion. The comic cannot really do both his job and the audiences’s. Still, the Carson-Hackett conversational model generally results in fewer pregnant pauses than the profound utterances of John Wayne or the Buddha.

As an added benefit, no one has ever awarded me a disparaging nickname for an honest attempt at playing the straight man. On rare occasion, my zingers have missed the mark, and I’ve gotten some cold stares, but this has occurred with less frequency than those times when I attempted to deliver profound maxims.

The way I see it, one could do a lot worse than following the Carson-Hackett conversational model. It’s democratic and egalitarian. There’s more give and take and less of a teacher-student or authority-subject relationship. I hate to say it for fear of going to hell or missing out on Nirvana, but Jesus and John Wayne do sort of affect imperious attitudes, freely telling others how they should live and what’s worth believing in. Buddha’s Zen followers, as I understand it, even employ the keisaku, or warning stick, as a way of “awakening” their students. This assumed autocracy might be okay if you share a deep connection with God or the spirit world, but for those of us who have less reliable satellite service, it seems to me that the art of communication is best understood as a civil exchange.

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Spring Break at Virginia Tech

IMG_2492My first spring living in Baltimore, late 80s, I had no friends in town, but I did have a record collection, a television set, and a Mazda 323. In my third-floor walkup near Mount Vernon Square, I’d collected every gourmet spaghetti sauce on the grocery store shelves, but I rarely invited others to share in my bounty. And although my parents lived about an hour away in Virginia, I didn’t have much desire to visit there. It was time, I thought, to get started on a life of my own.

In the mornings, after rolling off my futon and walking one block north to my job, I’d say hello to my employers. They were a middle-aged couple, both with glasses, one with hair, one without, her a rail, him a bell, husband and wife architects, and I was their only employee. We had about two or three projects on the boards: a university gymnasium that had been in the design stage for ten years, a work-release prison for women, and renovations to city government buildings that required accessibility ramps. As was my unfortunate habit, I had strong feelings that my employers, like most people, didn’t like or trust me.

I couldn’t blame them. I was not someone to be trusted. I enjoyed reading and often brought paperback books to work: Black Boy, Madam Bovary, or The Fixer. Throughout the day, as I got bored drawing accessibility ramps, I’d get up from my drafting table, go to the bathroom, and pick a book from my back pocket. Sitting on the john, I’d read three or four pages. When I re-emerged, thankfully, neither employer mentioned my extended bathroom break. Gastrointestinal disorders are not uncommon, and I suppose it’s an area that few people care to discuss openly.

Not only did my architect employers and I never talk much about health issues or books, we rarely talked about accessibility ramps either. Most of their comments to me were in the form of red lines on a drawing. As a result, I considered our shared reticence and their apparent suspiciousness of me as the reasons they refused to give me an office key. I could have used one because they seldom arrived at work at a consistent hour, and I was frequently forced to sit on the marble front stoop of their row house office until they did show.

In keeping with our strained employer-employee relations, that spring, my bosses decided to take a spring break, and about a week before doing so, they told me they were locking up the office. “Don’t you need a break as well?” the male half of the partnership asked me, and although I said, “Not really,” he suggested I take one anyhow, unpaid, of course.

I hadn’t made any plans, didn’t have much money, but that Friday evening, when the office closed, I got in my Mazda and drove west across Maryland on I-70 until I reached the Blue Ridge Mountains. Somewhere around Front Royal, Virginia, it occurred to me that I was about to turn south and drive an additional five hours to visit my alma mater, Virginia Tech.

When I arrived on the Tech campus, around 10 PM, I gave myself a tour of one of my old hang outs, Cowgill Hall, the university’s architecture building. The design studios didn’t look much different from two years before, a few late night designers bending their backs over their drafting boards. The studio had always been an exciting place full of ideas and energy. Models on desks and drawings pinned on walls featured visions of dystopias and utopias. I had penciled and inked similar drawings in my student days.

IMG_2468 labs

The architecture studios at Cowgill Hall are an excellent environment in which to study comparative literature, but it should be noted that the architecture program offers no degree in literature.

When I finished touring the building, I could think of nothing better than to go downtown to Gillie’s ice cream store and order a cone. I liked hanging out there when I lived in an apartment above the store. I’d often descend from the apartment that I shared with my roommate, get a cone or a coffee, and sit reading the newspaper. Many times I’d meet other students and gossip or talk about architecture or philosophy or the philosophy of architecture. Mine was a serious crowd, or at least I thought so. Those friends had moved on, to Richmond, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Boston.

On the night of my spring break, I didn’t take up a chair at Gillie’s but ordered an ice cream cone and walked back out into the night. On a grassy hill across the street and behind a wrought iron and brick fence, I had a favorite spot where I used to sit and watch people. As I sat in the damp grass to eat my cone, barely tasting the vanilla, I wondered if the students who passed on the sidewalk knew that these were their glory days. If not, I wanted to jump up and shout it out to them.

I couldn’t do it though, because I wasn’t sure if these were their glory days or not. Maybe the days I was longing for really hadn’t been my best days either. I had liked architecture in the first couple of years at school, but after my third, it became clear that I didn’t want to learn how to design and build, but I did want to learn how to write. I’d been spending way too much time in the library reading literature instead of spending time in the studio designing buildings. Writing hadn’t sounded like a very promising future though, so I didn’t have the courage to transfer from the architecture to the English program.

After finishing my ice cream cone, I laid back on the hill. Blacksburg had always had Creamsicle sunsets and starry nights. I’d missed the day’s sunset but the stars were flickering overhead. The air was getting chilled too, and when I considered my next move, as usual, I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I spend the night on the hill? If so it wasn’t going to be a comfortable rest. It did not escape me that my every decision required major effort, and a waterworks between my facial skin and bones verged on erupting. I managed to keep things dammed up.

Maybe the days I was longing for really hadn’t been my best days…

Back in my car, I drove up the highway and searched for a hotel room. Maybe I could spend the night, wake up the next day and look around town some more. As I stopped here and there to check for rooms, it turned out that all the hotels were booked. The college students, I learned, were most definitely not on spring break. “You aren’t going to find anything tonight,” the hotel managers kept saying. “All the schools up and down I-81 are having parent weekends, not just Virginia Tech but also Roanoke College and The Virginia Military Institute.”

“Hollins University and Washington and Lee University too,” I might have added after another hour in my car.

Several times I considered pulling over into a rest area and sleeping in the car, but I have difficulty sleeping anywhere other than my bed. I kept driving and soon it was four in the morning, By then I was so far up I-81, it didn’t make any sense to stop until I got home. Arriving at my third-floor walkup near Mount Vernon Square at about 8 AM, I fell onto my futon and don’t remember anything until my spring break ended and I was back to sitting on the stoop of my employer’s row house ten days later.

More than 25 years have passed since that spring break. Sometime after I got back to Baltimore, I switched jobs to a different firm and moved from one apartment to another. I also started flirting with writing classes. But the best thing that happened was that I met someone. One Christmas she bought me a poetry anthology and encouraged me to stick with writing, so I went back to school and earned a master’s degree on our shared Master’s Card. We also got a house, got married, and had two girls.

Despite having a degree in writing and doing some teaching at Towson University, I continue thinking of myself primarily as a Virginia Tech Hokie. I never earned an undergraduate writing or English degree from Tech, but the architecture school was a great place to study world literature. The professors never told me what to read so I read widely, nor did they require me to write any papers, so I never got discouraged about my lack of writing talent. I maintained a true love for literature until I had completely backed myself into a corner and had no other choice but to return to school.

Since the night of my spring break vacation, I’d been avoiding a return trip to Virginia Tech, but it so happens that such a trip is not difficult for me. My wife has a sister who lives about an hour and a half from the Tech campus, across the border in North Carolina. We visit her and her family several times a year, and whenever we do, there is always a moment when I see signs for Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. One right turn and a 30-minute drive, and I could be on campus, my heart swelling once more with that old combination of regret and nostalgia.

A week ago I finally did take that turn. Both my daughters had spring break and as my oldest, CiCi, is about two years from attending college, she’s been expressing an interest in studying architecture: I don’t judge and I don’t dissuade. She’s much smarter than either her mother or me, draws better, and could probably breeze through the structures courses that I always found an inconvenience. Having architecture on her short list of possible careers seems a good fit, and my alma mater is on her list of potential colleges. Virginia Tech, according to DesignIntelligence, is currently rated number four in architecture for undergraduates behind Cornell University; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and Rice.

Once on campus, I took CiCi to Cowgill Hall, the architecture building. Except for the addition of laptop computers on this or that desk and additional studio spaces, not much had changed. Inside the studios, I spied the familiar creative drawings and models and many serious student faces. CiCi and I talked with one bright male student from Baton Rouge who had designed a fishing retreat with huts hovering over a swamp. Then a gray bearded professor happened by and offered us a tour of the pottery and print making studios. CiCi was impressed, and I found myself having a good time.

Wood Table

The wood tables at Gillie’s have always been a highlight of the Virginia Tech college experience.

Beforehand, I have to admit to being worried, remembering my last spring break visit. I didn’t know if this one would make me bitter, nostalgic, or split between those feelings like I was on that night those many years ago. Obviously I was in a much better place. I wasn’t rich and successful, didn’t have a bookshelf with my titles on it, but I was clearly more emotionally stable.

After the professor’s tour, our family walked downtown. I wanted to take everyone to Gillie’s, the ice cream store. Skirting by the breezy green campus, we arrived in the town of Blacksburg where I was slightly upset to see that the university had built a theater on the hill where I used to sit and watch people. When we got to Gillie’s, I was also somewhat shocked to note that the store didn’t sell ice cream anymore, just fish, vegetarian, and vegan meals. Okay, that’s too bad, I said to myself, but my emotions weren’t overwhelmed.

Instead of ice cream, we stayed to order lunch: a salmon burger for my wife, a tofu burrito for CiCi, a bean burger with Swiss for Corinne, and a bean burger with provolone for me. We waited for our food at the same thick round oak tables at which I once sat drinking coffee, and with my cell phone, I shot pictures of my three favorite girls silently reading their social media posts.

Mostly I was pleased not to feel nostalgic for another time, not to carry the emotional weight that I felt on my last spring break in Blacksburg. I was much less inclined to want to escape to another place and another me. And in some ways, it even occurred to me that I had been less interested in showing my daughter the campus, than I had been in showing myself how far I had traveled.

Posted in Baltimore, Food and Drink, Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How I Rate on ratemyprofessors.com

IMG_2433I teach writing to college students, and I’m always searching for ways to improve my teaching technique. I go out of my way to read articles about pedagogy, watch movies about good and bad teachers, and listen to my fellow professors talk about what makes a great teacher. When I’m giving instruction, I also keep tabs on the facial expressions and body language of my students to see if they are paying attention. When students lean forward over their desks, pens in hand to take notes, I assume that my lessons are engaging. When students fling their heads back, close their eyes, and snore, I assume that it’s time to switch things up.

Occasionally I pause during lessons and ask students if the instruction is getting through, then I listen to what they have to say. Students are not always forthcoming about their true thoughts and feelings. They avert their eyes when I ask questions about my teaching effectiveness, but I don’t know why. They are paying good money to sit in their chairs, but they appear to be fearful of providing input. Thankfully, I recently taught one student who was willing to take me aside and inform me about the website ratemyprofessors.com and how it offers professors input on their teaching styles and effectiveness.

What a great idea. No doubt the computer programming geniuses who came up with this site are now kicking back in Boca Raton drinking Mai Tais beneath a shady veranda. Good for them. I wish I could do the same, but without the required computer programming skills or creative ideas, I can only stick to my teaching gig and hope to take advantage of the information on their site. To do so, I figure that all that’s required is to read through the tabulated data, digest it, and recalibrate my methods. No longer will I need to spend time trying to interpret student body language and facial expressions, the site will give me the feedback I need to make the necessary teaching adjustments.

As I’ve been teaching for six years, and I’ve engaged maybe 1400 students over that time, I expected that a visit to the site would contain a wealth of data to draw from. And sure, the students might be critical of me, but I determined that if I went to the site and considered the feedback carefully, I couldn’t help but learn and improve. So, despite possessing what I would consider a healthy attitude toward criticism, I cannot tell a lie. I was disappointed when I visited ratemyprofessors.com, and instead of the happy avatar that so many professors receive next to their names, my name was accompanied by a sarcastic smirk. Appropriate I guess, considering my personality, but not the desired outcome for a professor who hopes to provide useful instruction in writing and composition. Next to my sarcastic smirk was my rating, 2.6, an average of the two qualities that ratemyprofessor.com and students find essential in a good teacher: “helpfulness,” for which I earned a 2.9, and “clarity,” for which I gained a lowly 2.4.

As I see it, on a scale of 4.0, this 2.6 would be a slightly respectable C plus or B minus, but ratemyprofessor.com ranks professors on a scale of 0 to 5. By my calculations, this would give me the grade of a solid C or C minus at best. A C minus, according to my university’s grading system is not even passing. Should a student earn a C minus or lower in one of my courses, they would have to repeat the class. As my grade was a C minus, I wondered if I should be offering students a second attempt at my course on my own time and my own dime.

John Swapceinski, founder of ratemyprofessor.com, is a creative entrepreneur but for some reason has yet to found a ratemycomputerprogrammer.com site.

John Swapceinski, founder of ratemyprofessor.com, is a creative entrepreneur but for some reason has yet to found a ratemycomputerprogrammer.com site.

“Okay fine,” I said to myself after seeing the site and my score. I did not visit ratemyprofessor.com just to find out my grade. I am not much of a believer in grades anyhow. I enjoy learning and grades simply indicate that there is room for improvement. My enthusiasm for the site began to return when I saw that some of my former students had left comments, and this is exactly the kind of information I was hoping for. In the comment section, I anticipated finding suggestions on how to bring up my low scores. And so I read. A few of the words that stood out included the descriptors “monotone,” “boring,” “disorganized,” and “Nice man but don’t take this professor!”

How disappointed I was once again to discover more negative information but to gain no advice on how to improve my instruction. Why not? Wasn’t that what the site was for? Isn’t that what evaluations are all about? Not just to provide a score to measure achievement but to offer suggestions on how to improve. I didn’t feel like the comments were offering me much help, so I stepped away from the site for a while and began to take an inventory of both myself and how my students perceive me. After some reflection, I settled on a few ways that the site and its student contributors could be of more aid, not only to me, but to the thousands of other professors who come searching for ways to advance their teaching.

To begin with, if I were on the staff of ratemyprofessor.com, I would ask student contributors to make their comments more specific. It’s difficult to know what to do with a comment like “boring.” Could my students please recount the circumstances of their boredom? Maybe students could tell me what I was talking about during these dull moments. I am often amazed that an entire classroom of students prefers to subject themselves to a boring lecture rather than rise up and revolt or at least demonstrate that they already understand the material and then request that more advanced topics be addressed.

As regards the comment that I am “monotone,” if students are suggesting I take a drama course to become more animated, I wish they would just come out and say so. They might even recommend one or two drama courses that they think would be useful. As to the comment “disorganized,” if they would like me to enroll in a management course or even work toward an MBA, I wish they would say that. Students should know, however, that I am an adjunct professor on a low salary and my university does not offer stipends for adjunct career enrichment.

Considering my circumstances, students would help me more if they could use their experience with successful professors, describe the techniques of those professors, compare those techniques to mine, and make suggestions on how I should revise my methods. As I spend many hours in class asking students to sharpen their persuasive skills, why couldn’t students jot down a few notes, schedule conferences after class, and use our conferences to persuade me to not only become a more effective teacher but show me how this might be accomplished.

As it stands, it’s difficult to tell from the ratemyprofessor.com comments what students believe makes a good professor. I agree that the goal of every teacher should be to get a 5 rating, so I took a look at a few teachers who won this coveted score. As I read through their reviews, I notice that those teachers with scores of 5 are often said to be interesting storytellers and easy graders. They don’t assign homework, rarely take role, and let students turn papers in at any time they please.

Already I am at a disadvantage here. Maybe I’m just making excuses, but I’m a slow grader, and if I didn’t give deadlines, I don’t think I could survive the rush of papers sure to come all at once at the end of a semester. I also don’t think there’s much advantage to students never attending class. What if they don’t know the material before they write the papers? This would make writing the papers very hard.

On the matter of homework, I have to assign it on occasion. Otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to talk about in the next class session. Consistently planning classes and doing all the talking is hard. Assigning homework gives me something to fall back on. If requiring students to come to class and assigning homework are the things preventing me from getting a high score on ratemyprofessor.com, I’m afraid that I’ll never be much more than a C professor.

“amazing class,” reads a review for one top-rated professor, “i dont think there was 1 class that he didnt let us out early. he cancelled the last 8 classes or so of the year. in total he probably cancelled about 14 classes, including individual meeting times. there are 4 papers which he clearly outlines the criteria for. best teacher at towson.”

Should the ratemyprofessor.com site deign to take any suggestions to help me improve as a teacher, one suggestion that I believe could raise the quality of student comments would be requiring students to provide a name and email address when they make their ratings. This way, if I don’t understand their comments, I could prepare follow-up questions about how I failed in my teaching and email the student. The student could then provide additional feedback and much-appreciated insight on how I should teach.

In my experience as a grader, whenever I know that I might have to face a student who will ask follow-up questions, I tend to be more thorough in my initial comments. Rather than making snap judgments like telling students that a paper “sucks” or “stinks,” I will often attempt to point out how a problem might be fixed. If the problems in the paper are too many, I might even ask a student to rewrite the paper or come and talk with me. As the student knows my name and how to get in touch, gaining clarification to make the necessary adjustments is much easier.

Aside from the advantages of providing contact info and allowing me to be on a first name basis with my student raters, another area where ratemyprofessor.com could be more helpful is in offering some rigorous statistical information. As it stands, all the statistics for the various courses I teach are compiled into a single score. Since I usually teach two courses, Business Writing and Freshman English Composition, why should this be?

I’m certain that I teach one of these courses better than the other, but the site does not make any distinction. Instead, ratings for both of my courses are lumped together. It would be far more useful to know which course I should be working harder at. For professors who teach up to four different courses, I don’t see how an aggregate rating for all four could be helpful.

Another instructive statistic would be an average rating for all teachers at my university who teach the same course as I do. While I understand that we all share the 0 to 5 rating scale, it’s still hard to know how I stack up to other professors teaching the same course. Having an average or mean score would more accurately tell me where I fit in among my colleagues.

Let’s say the mean for the Freshman English Composition course at my university is 2.5 and I rate a 2.6, then I would know that I don’t need to work on that course as much as my Business Writing course where the mean is 4.2 but my score is 2.9. And should the ratemyprofessor.com programmers decide to calculate these means, it would also be helpful to have mean scores for the categories of “helpfulness,” “clarity,” and “hotness.”

In its current incarnation, ratemyprofessor.com does contain a lot of raw data, but it doesn’t offer many useful ways of looking at it. Unless I take time to import all of the site’s numbers into my own Excel spreadsheet—not only my personal numbers but the numbers for all professors teaching the same courses as me—the benefits of the site are minimal. And yet, compiling and differentiating numbers in just this manner, I should think, is the sought after thrill of every computer programmer. And isn’t compiling big data the main advantage of sites such as this? Why can’t the exacting scientific researchers at mtvU, who own ratemyprofessor.com, employ a couple of computer science majors to expand their code and do higher education a solid?

Speaking of how much effort goes into the site, why does ratemyprofessor.com include no category for a teacher’s effort? Effort could be added to each of the categories: for instance, effort in clarity, effort in helpfulness, and effort in attempting to be hot. Or effort might even comprise a separate category. If a teacher is not very good or very hot, which sometimes happens, but he does put in a lot of effort, why shouldn’t he get credit for trying?

“All I can say,” says one 5-point professor review, “is SMOKIN'!”

“All I can say,” says one 5-point professor review, “is SMOKIN’!”

I can understand a low rating for teachers who never come to class or who sit at their desks for fifty minutes checking their cell phones or who even fall asleep during lessons. But teachers who seem to have made an attempt to comprehend the material they are teaching, who attempt to relay that material, clearly or otherwise, and who sweat over student questions even though they are unable to answer, shouldn’t those teachers get some special consideration?

Which brings me to the all-important “hotness” category. I understand that I am not hot and that I rate no chili peppers on ratemyprofessors.com, but I do what I can. I have been told by my wife that I do look good in a certain purple pullover, so I wear my purple pullover to class as much as I can. Students don’t seem to notice, or if they do, I still don’t rate. Other items I have less control over. Sadly, I am not cut, and my features are not very symmetrical, one side of my face drooping more than the other. And who could not fail to notice, and be somewhat put off by, my baldness. Okay, no excuses. But some baldies have been considered hot: for instance, Samuel L. Jackson, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Larry David, Bernie Sanders, Ben Bernanke, Roscoe Orman, Charlie Brown, Sinead O’Conner, and Shrek. If only I looked more like Shrek.

Setting aside the issue of hotness, mostly it would help to have a larger sample size of students reviewing me. Out of the 1400 students I estimate having taught over these last six years, I have gained only a paltry 14 ratings on ratemyprofessors.com. A low number to say the least, but on this site, a low number is not unusual. Observe, if you will, the rating for the head of my department, a PhD with almost 45 years of experience. His ratings top out at only 111 or about 2.5 ratings per year. Better than my 2.33 ratings per year, but I should remind you that he gets to teach English majors English courses that they enjoy taking. As an adjunct, I teach non-English majors courses that they don’t enjoy taking. How do I know? This is one topic upon which my students freely offer information. In any case, assuming that ratemyprofessors.com has been around for half of his career, it seems that my department chair should have accumulated more than 111 reviews.

Perhaps the students that didn’t enjoy my class didn’t post their ratings because they don’t want to embarrass or irritate me with more low ratings, or maybe the ones that liked my class didn’t know that ratemyprofessor.com even existed, so they didn’t take the time to contribute to the site. For this reason, I’ve decided to share my knowledge of the website with my future classes. It could be that there are many students who would complete an evaluation if they knew the site existed and if they knew how helpful it could be for me and my colleagues.

That’s why from now on, I will be having all of my students log onto ratemyprofessor.com in class, either on their cell phones or computers. Providing me with a detailed evaluation will be part of their class participation grade, and as with all such in-class assignments, I will be checking over their shoulders and marking down this participation in my grade book. The more students I am able to enlist in giving me ratings, the greater the raw data I will have to draw from. As I place this data in my Excel spreadsheet and crunch the numbers, I will better identify ways to improve my methods, and my future students will be well served.

Posted in Business Communication, Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Manipulation of Man

rubics cubeShe approaches with a shy smile, a tender heart, and requests that her feelings be reciprocated. For whatever reason, you can’t do this, but you do enjoy the control that you have over her, and you worry that acknowledging her feelings will relinquish your power, maybe even lower you in her estimation.

As you don’t want to present any of the real reasons why she should quit you, maybe because you have none, your pleasure is not in submitting to her affection, rolling about in the mud of real human relations, but in frustrating and controlling her.

The first step you can take toward fully manipulating her is pretending that her declaration of love is ridiculous. If she’s undaunted and convinces you otherwise, then you need to assert that you are not as handsome or as smart as she claims, that your future is not as bright as she believes, and that you are not a person of generosity or kindness.

Forget that you gave money to the Save the Polar Bear Foundation. Tell her that you only did it for the tax write off. Admit to owning the opposite qualities that she suggests you have and fabricate stories that defend your assertions. “There are too many people on the planet,” snap with contempt, “and if some starve to death, so what?”

If she still doesn’t give up on you, you can enjoy more exquisite tortures. For instance, you might just want to pretend that her initial declaration of love never took place, or you might start explaining the advantages of steam heat over water. Jump from one topic to another until her eyes glaze over or spin like pinwheels.

As she persists in her love, you might have to further up your game. Forget her shows of affection and attack her person by remarking on the small size of her breasts, the emotion in her voice, the tear in her eye, or the paleness of her complexion. Make fun of her for being too smart, too stupid, or too plain. Here it would help to add a chuckle to your ridicule and then deny any accusation that your laughter is directed at her.

If she withstands all of your abuses and still requires reciprocated feelings, put her off longer by asking for time to think about things. Make it hard for her to get in touch, and when she does, blame your delayed response on issues of apparent miscommunication.

Holding a woman’s attention hostage can be fun and make you feel like a god. So take advantage. When you’ve got the upper hand, you are well placed to be worshipped, and if you enjoy being worshipped more than being loved, there’s no reason to submit to love. That is unless she becomes so frustrated that she walks away and you don’t hear from her again.

…if you enjoy being worshipped more than being loved, there’s no reason to submit to love.

Should this happen, you will probably miss those old feelings of supremacy. Not to worry. There will be other women, women who compliment your looks, admire your brilliance, and praise your generosity. There will be women willing to step in and take her place. You’ll just have to be patient until they show up.

Conversely, maybe you did develop a soft spot for this woman, and having her leave causes you sorrow. You thought you had no feelings for her, but now you recognize, there are feelings, compassionate feelings. You want her back. If this is the case, then get in touch, but plan your approach carefully.

Signal that she may indeed have a chance at winning your love. String her along. Admit that you might have feelings, you’re just not sure. Thank her for some kindnesses but criticize her for others. Follow her conversations up to a point, then allow for interruptions and occasionally claim that you don’t know what she’s talking about. This will confuse matters and likely keep her coming back. It will also fertilize your inflated ego.

One technique that will keep her hanging on is to never give her the last word. No matter what she says, say something else, even if it’s just “yeah, okay,” or “I hear you,” or “sure, whatever you say.” If she tries to pull away, follow her and keep talking, even if what you say is nonsense. Whatever the conversation, don’t “drop it.” Having the last word will help you maintain your superiority, drive her nuts, and signal that you don’t ever want to let her go.

Posted in Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments