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Evaluating Environment 

Ponder this: What's the difference between a 'joint' and a 'restaurant'?

I received some interesting mail last week, all the more so since it was delivered via the Net, a vehicle I have come to dislike almost as much as I admire its potential.

Physical mail is mostly discardable, even if opened, consisting as it mostly does of bills and unsought solicitations. To be sure, there is the occasional check or postcard, and I do get my Netflix fix regularly, but the most valuable arrivals have come to be the unending supply of magazines I receive, courtesy of a bankrupt relationship, that I take from mailbox to cardboard box to Bookman's for trade-in. I've calculated that in approximately 273 years, I will--from that source alone--recover a good part of what that relationship cost, financially speaking.

E-mail is generally off-putting to me. I mean, the concept is great, but it's been so abused as to make it irritating. I don't mean the spam ads for penile enlargements, free money, share-the-wealth schemes with nephews of deposed dictators, or breathless advisories that I MUST claim my Homedepotsearspotterybarnbarnes&noblesony $100 gift certificate. Those are easy to delete.

What pains me is e-mail from people I respect, even love sometimes in real life, who type without thinking, or reflecting, or taking care to correctly spell what they so quickly spill forth. I'm not being prissy about this--we all make mistakes when we rush. But e-mail has brought about a dearth of critical thinking and expression. Our race to respond immediately, or to ask whatever pops into our mind at any given moment we have access to the Net, reduces rather than adds to the value of this amazing technology.

So, I've been thinking about the recent e-mail from GT, in which he posed the question: "Are the food establishments in Tucson better characterized by the term 'restaurant' or 'joint'(?)" GT answered his own question to his dissatisfaction at the end of his note, which I'll get to momentarily, but his basis for asking the question is as follows.

His brother came to town to help celebrate his birthday, and together and with some friends, they went to a number of restaurants in the course of three days. The main venue for his birthday was a lunch at India Oven that, by all accounts, was delightful. India Oven, he said, is not a joint but a restaurant. Not so for several other places they went. GT's unhappiness with them, as he expressed it to me, was that he and his party were consistently addressed as "you guys" by their servers, rather than something less informal, although, he added, when he brought the matter up at one of the places, the server substituted "you gentlemen" for the duration of their meal, slipping up only once at the end of it. GT also mentioned that this "you guys" issue at one high-end Tucson establishment several years ago has resulted in his refusal to patronize any of the restaurants in that chain.

Indeed, wrote GT, the "you guys" language lets him know that a place is a "joint" and not a "restaurant." His further conclusions: "customers in Tucson don't give a hoot;" "owners and management don't care at all for the atmosphere" being created; and "this is just another example of social entropy."

Yowza.

OK ... so maybe I don't have enough on my mind these days, but for whatever reason, I have given this some consideration. I asked my friends Patch and Claudia at FioRito's what they thought. "I HOPE we're a joint," said Patch, as he looked around his smallish dining room filled with a lot of familiar faces. A few nights later, having dinner at the bar at Feast!, I brought the subject up with owner Doug Levy. "I just want the people who eat here to enjoy their food, have a good time and come back," he said. Is his place a "joint" or a "restaurant"? "It's what people want it to be," Doug said. I raised the question with some fellow customers at Shari's as we shared a table ("This is a GREAT joint with dynamite burgers!"), and with a friend who owned a high-end, very successful restaurant for many, many years, who was ponderously silent for a few seconds as he considered it. "Isn't it about the food?" he asked.

Yeah, it is.

I tend to return to places at which I like the food and in which I feel comfortable. "You guys" works for me as a welcoming expression. Hell, so do hugs! If I don't give a hoot about a place, I don't go back, but it's going to be because of repeatedly slow service, bad food or too much noise. Restaurant owners and managers--at least those I know, and I seem to know a lot of 'em--care hugely about their environments. If they don't, they go broke.

As for GT's social entropy opinion ... well, there are weightier issues on which to pin that label: reactions to Iraq, Darfur, immigration, economic inequities, etc.

Oh, and e-mail, too.

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