Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Log 303 April 28 2012

Oh, yes, those were the days, all right, when you could buy an ice cream scoop, and a big one, for 25 cents

For many years I used to irritate my wife when, as I was adding a tip of  $10, $15 and sometimes even more to a restaurant bill, I would say, “Do you remember when we could buy a five-course meal in Montreal for $1.75?”
The fact that it was true, that the meal was cooked by a well-known French chef who previously had run a restaurant in Paris, and that my wife remembered it just as well as I did, did not absolve me from being tabbed a tiresome complainer. This was one of those complaints that one could classify under the sub-heading,  “those were the days”, the sort of complaint that old-timers like me are somewhat prone to indulge themselves in.
I still have such a tendency, and was reminded of it this week when some visiting friends, having taken for out for dinner, decided to finish their evening by going into a new-fangled ice cream shop. I looked over the board of offerings, and almost collapsed. The basic ice cream, than which nothing cheaper was on sale, came in at $4.95. Four dollars and ninety five cents for an ice cream scoop? Was I dreaming? In fact, not only was I not dreaming, but I was at the end of a lineup of mostly young people who were buying up these ice creams with abandon. Many of them were buying  special cones (another 99 cents); additional toppings (they actually called them by the invented name “mixins” whose lack of a final g also irritated me); and various other additional elements which could have taken the price up to $10 and possibly even more.
To the sales methods one had become accustomed to in Baskin-Robbins, Tom and Jerry’s or Haagen-Daz shops, this one had added a new twist: each scoop was taken to the back counter and weighed, as if it were a slab of meat or  fish. Talk about useless technology!
It made me think of the days when we would travel each weekend from Montreal to a cottage we had on a small lake 40 miles north of Montreal, not far from Shawbridge. On the way through the small city of St. Jerome, it became a ritual for us to stop at a local ice cream shop, that made its own product, and buy everyone a delicious and gigantic ice cream for 25 cents each. As we stood in the queue the other night I told one of my friends this, and he looked slightly askance at me, and said, “Of course, that was quite a time ago, I suppose.”
Well, not so long, it was in the early 1970s, although come to think of it, that was  40 years ago. Forty years may be four decades, getting on for half a century, and yet, I can’t really think of 1971 as being that long ago:  it was the year I quit my job as a staff journalist on a daily paper (after doing such work for 26 years), a change in my life that feels like it occurred the day before yesterday.  That was the year the Quebec government launched its James Bay hydro scheme in the hunting grounds of the Cree people, and the unjust  and harsh way they went about it still sticks in my craw; it was the year I got into making documentary films, more or less by accident. That came about as a result of a gesture of remarkable generosity by Tony Ianzelo and Colin Low, two employees of the National Film Board, and the thought of it still warms my heart, as if it happened yesterday. All these things are all still so lively in my mind that I am constantly surprised to find people believe 40 years is a long time ago.
Of course, I understand that the value of money changes, but still, $4.95 cents for a scoop of ice cream is a discombobulating increase. But then, how about weekend hotel specials for the unimaginably special low rate of  $350 a night? I noticed the other day a special price of $150 a night in a Montreal hotel whose cheapest room, when it opened was $9 a night. (I was on the hotel beat, and knew about these things, but I never dreamed a moment that any hotel room would cost $100). 
This is an industry that seems to make its own rules. I remember staying in a posh New York hotel once for $140 a night, a price that, said the accountant back in the home office, would have choked him. (I also remember moving into a $26 a night room in a waterfront hotel in Vancouver, and thinking, “My God, this is expensive. The office will never go for this. I better get a cheaper room,” so I went down and changed to a cheaper room.)
One of my sons argues when I complain about being ripped off by certain expensive restaurants. “Remember, they have to pay the rent for their premises, they have had to equip their whole restaurant with extremely expensive stuff, they have to maintain a large staff, they have to buy a great deal of food of the best quality, much of which, if they have a slow evening, will go to waste. They are providing you with excellent value.”
Still, admitting all that, I have never heard a convincing rationale for the recent sharp increase in the cost of restaurant meals, which allows some restaurants to charge $16 and sometimes even more for a hamburger. It is not long since we could buy a gourmet dish in a good restaurant for $10.
My wife and I used to enjoy going out for lunch, and we always managed it for something around $30 or $35 for both of us, which provided us with plenty of good food and drink. That same meal today would cost us $50 or $60. And I am only now getting used to going into a pub and being confronted with their usually poorly cooked food for prices like $15 to $22 a dish, A damned cheek they’ve got, if you ask me.
What’s wrong with me? It’s just that the monetary system seems to be deliberately skewed in such a way as to squeeze the average guy for the benefit of the monied classes. I defy anybody to prove otherwise.

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