Local Business News Flash

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Cedar Market, exclusive dealer of Ipto s Tea, has reopened after about five months of closed doors. Or “grand opened,” if the banners outside the front door are to be taken at their word. I’m not convinced the “grand” is deserved. The store looks pretty bare right now. I talked to one of the owners. He says he doesn’t know what happened to the last crew. The best-stocked part of the store tonight is the beer refrigerator. To paraphrase the Lillian Gish character in “The Night of the Hunter,” it’s a hard world for little businesses.

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Forced to Drink Beer

From my continued researches in The New York Times archives, this little snippet from October 23, 1900 (to put the item in context just a little, the country’s male voters were getting ready to re-elect William McKinley; who was running against … William Jennings Bryan, a son of Salem, Illinois, I believe; how many elections have pitted major candidates with the same first name?).

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Tomales Point

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Sunday’s family outing (posted Monday the 17th but dated the 16th, when it happened), was up to Point Reyes. A favorite destination: The Tomales Point trail, which rambles and rolls for nearly 5 miles miles from a place called Pierce Point Ranch up to the very northern tip of Point Reyes. The trail is in the middle of some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere on the West Coast. And as a bonus you’ll likely get to see the herd of tule elk that have been reintroduced up at that northern end of the point.

In attendance yesterday: the visiting contingent of Chicago Brekkes; Eamon and Sakura, who drove up from Mountain View; and the Berkeleyites. (The picture above: looking northeast across poppies and rocks to Mount St. Helena).

Guest Weather

It’s a rule of thumb, for me anyway, that whatever benign weather we might be having here, in the world capital of benign weather, will take a turn for the worse if you have guests visit. On one famous occasion in the early ’90s, most of my family came out from Chicago for Christmas. They were thinking: what a lovely break from the onset of winter. When they landed in San Francisco though, we were at the start of a historic cold snap. The temperature was in the low 20s, and puddles on the roof of the parking garage outside the terminals had frozen solid enough that you could slide across them (and at least one of us did). The disembarking Chicagoans found they had come to a California that was colder than their hometown; at least for that week, anyway.

We have guests arriving tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law and their two kids. Since our January-early February, when we got about a foot of rain in a month, it’s been mostly dry here. And warm. Last weekend it got close to 70. Now, of course, the weather has changed. Over the last day or so, we’ve had our first real rain in weeks; this morning was the hardest rain of the winter, maybe, though the really heavy part lasted for just a few minutes. Ann and Dan and Soren and Ingrid will be here for five days; I’m hoping we get to see the sun before they get back on the plane to go back to Chicago.

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Undergraduate Notes

A couple of things I see in class that I didn’t see the last time I was in school (I think our president then was a cardigan-wearing Georgian):

Students who spend entire lecture hours on Facebook: Not to be anachronistic. There was no such thing as Facebook when I was at Cal in 1980. There was no such thing as a laptop. There was no such thing as a wireless network. But all that stuff is here today, and I frequently find myself seated behind students who sit through lecture checking on Facebook, or maybe toggling back and forth between some online entertainment and the notes they are taking. I’ve seen one student repeatedly spend an entire 90-minute session designing some sort of graphics. One young woman spent an entire class period texting on her cellphone; in fact, I wish I could have shot video of her because she was so fast. At least I think she was texting; she might have been playing a game.

Back in the olden days, you could be in class without being there, too: you brought a book or magazine or newspaper to read, or you wrote or doodled or daydreamed or snoozed (I’ve also been impressed by how ostentatiously some of my fellow students are about sleeping in class. Maybe all the instructors understand they are overworked).

Classroom meals: One of my classes has an hourlong discussion section at 1 p.m. every Thursday afternoon. There are about 15 of us in there. One student usually brings in a big takeout meal to tuck into while we ponder the subject of the day. The graduate student instructor who leads the section has never said anything, so I guess it’s an accepted part of the culture.

Classroom swilling: In another class, there’s a very fit-looking guy who sits in the front of the room. He will punctuate the professors lectures by bringing out a plastic gallon jug of water and taking a few good long pulls on it. I’m impressed at his commitment to slake his personal drought; a gallon of water weights 8 pounds, and that’s on top of whatever else he’s bringing to class. He’s obviously serious about his thirst.

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Stand Up Woman

Just wondering: The New York Times turned up quite a story on the governor out there. It was solid enough that the governor, a former lawman who prosecuted his way into high office, came out and all but confirmed it in a meeting with reporters. That’s all swell, and if one were to bet on the outcome, the governor will resign, and soon.

But there’s one thing I don’t get. When he went before the cameras, his wife went with him. She looked sad and somber but not shattered, which meant she was putting on a good show. But still: How does a guy who’s admitting to hiring a call girl persuade his wife to stand up with him for the rite of public exposure?

Maybe she’s demonstrating a love and commitment that is ready to endure the worst as well as the best of her marriage. That’s what we who have married all vow in some form; though a vow of facing up to a theoretical future trial is one thing and dealing with an ugly fact in the here and now is another. Maybe something else is at work: the wife having the responsibility to fulfill the public role to the end.

Either way, standing up with someone who had wounded me so deeply is more than I think I could do. I’d be tempted to say, hey, you didn’t need me when you were setting up your dates; you’re going to have to deal with this one by yourself.

(I will add, though, that the governor in question does score a point by not subjecting the electorate to an “I did not have sex with that woman” drama.)

Ben Stein, on the Money

Ben Stein and I go way back. Yeah. There was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And once I won some (but not all) of his money. On the studio lot where that happened, I saw his car. It was a pearl-finish Cadillac with the vanity license plate CLER EYZ (or some variation); the plate referred to the fact Stein was a spokesman for Clear Eyes and had made a bundle from the gig.

Anyway. Ben’s quite the conservative Republican. Much more conservative Republican than anyone else in my little circle of acquaintances. But having said that, he is not of the stripe of Republican conservatism that hands you a cow pie and tries to sell it to you as filet mignon. He seems oddly reality-based. Today, he wrote a great column in The New York Times: “What McCain Could Do About Taxes.”

His message to the nominee presumptive of the GOP is that Republicans have “for the last 30 years or so been operating under a demonstrably false and misleading premise: that tax cuts pay for themselves by generating so much economic growth that they replace the sums lost by tax cutting.” In an open letter to McCain, he argues that that course is ruinous. The Bush tax cuts, and the Reagan cuts before them, have shifted the tax burden “from us to our progeny and add immense amounts of interest expense to the federal budget. At this point, taxpayers shell out about $1 billion a day just for that item.” He continues:

“Moreover, immense federal deficits in modern life are financed largely by foreign buyers of our debt. This means that the American taxpayer must work a good chunk of the year to send money to China, Japan, the petro-states and other buyers of United States debt. In effect, we become their peons.

“By flooding the world with debt, we in effect beg foreigners to take our dollars, and this leads to a lower value of the dollar and a higher cost of imports, including oil. If you feel pain filling up the tank, you can partly thank those tax cuts. If you feel the sting of inflation, you can partly thank the supply siders. Deficits matter.”

What’s to be done? Stein urges a decisive tax increase for the wealthy. His reasoning? “The government — which is us — needs the money to keep old people alive, to pay for their dialysis, to build fighter jets and to pay our troops and pay interest on the debt. We can get it by indenturing our children, selling ourselves into peonage to foreigners, making ourselves a colony again, generating inflation — or we can have some integrity and levy taxes equal to what we spend.”

Note that he says taxes ought to be equal to what we spend. That could be a veiled call for draconian budget cutting, but Stein does seem to have his feet on the ground: He concedes what a lot of the Republicans deny: That the people want a lot from the government, and that what they want costs money.

I hope McCain or maybe even some Democrat is listening to this.

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Ipto s: Two Views

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Cedar Market, the little corner store near us, has been closed for the last few months. Until two or three years ago, it was run by a Chinese couple who seemed to do all right but clearly had modest ambitions for the business. There was nothing fancy in the place, though they always stocked a few bins of tired looking produce and even had a meat counter. But the store was mostly dark and a little bare, and the only thing I’d buy there with any regularity was an It’s It, a local product that is a species of the ice cream novelty genus of dessert items. It consists of vanilla, chocolate, mint or coffee ice cream pressed between two round graham crackers and the whole thing covered with a thin layer of chocolate. I could go for one right now.

Then the Chinese couple sold. The new owners were Indian or Pakistani — a guess based on reading the names in the liquor license record. In the first year they were in business, they put a lot of money into the place. New freezers and refrigerators, new racks, and a much upgraded product line including a full if haphazard wine and beer selection. They started selling lottery tickets, and they hung a sign out front announcing they were selling fresh sushi daily. I think it’s when I saw the Newman’s Own cookies in the store that it hit me they were really trying to cater to the fancy, upscale, organic tastes of some in the neighborhood. It was mid-October, within a couple of weeks of spotting, but not buying, the Newman’s Own cookies, that I walked over one weekday around noon and the place was closed. The next day, too. And the day after that.

They put a sign up announcing that they were remodeling and would reopen on Halloween. But unless they intended to knock the building down and start over, it looked like they had already done all the remodeling the store could take. There was never any sign of any work going on, though all the racks had been removed and the refrigerators were empty.

Halloween came and went. No remodeling, and no reopening. Soon, whoever ran the store posted a big notice from the state alcohol control agency saying their liquor license had been suspended for two weeks; checking around, I found the store had been caught in a Berkeley police sting and was busted for selling alcohol to a minor last April. Another sign appeared in the window: Reopening November 25. I looked at that, calculated that the 25th was a Sunday, and figured the store would stay closed. It did. Then in December, someone moved some racks back in, and they were filled with candy and chips. But the store stayed closed.

Two weeks ago, a new notice was hung in the window: new owners are applying to take over the store’s liquor license. On odd nights, the lights have been on inside; when someone’s there, they tape a sign on the door saying, “Sorry, closed for remodeling”; when they’re gone, they take that sign with them. Peering in the front door, it looks like there might be beer in the refrigerators. The floor racks are still filled with candy and chips, and it looks like the same stuff that showed up last fall (when’s the last time you checked the “best if consumed by” date on your M&Ms or Doritos, though?).

So our minor neighborhood institution remains on hiatus. For me, the most profound change since the owners took a powder is the disappearance of another letter on the old Lipton’s Tea sign on the window. It may have been 50 or 60 years since that sign was put up; I can’t precisely identify the era in which Lipton’s was a major magnet for corner-store shoppers. Ten years or so ago, the sign lost its “N.” Sometime later, the apostrophe absconded. Now the “L.”

I can’t say I care that much about whether the store ever opens again. But that sign; I’d like to know the Lipton’s sign is still up there, marking time.

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