Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trying to Empty the File Folder

A week ago, I began digging through my file of follow-up thoughts and links about earlier blog posts.  The effort will continue today.  Maybe I’ll even empty my file folder.

Vehicle Mileage Tax: I recently wrote about a vehicle mileage tax (VMT) as an alternative or a supplement to the gas tax.  Eric Jaffe of Atlantic Cities writes about the difficulties of selling gas tax alternatives to the public.  He notes the VMT as one alternative, although one that is subject to the privacy concerns that I also noted.  He then identifies congestion pricing, a fee for entering city centers during peak times, as a strategy that works fairly well and becomes more acceptable to the public as they begin to understand it.

Also, a co-founder of a Sonoma County organization dedicated to the improved maintenance of rural roads contacted me to schedule a time to discuss the vehicle mileage tax.  He provided a link to a Wall Street Journal article about the flaws in the gasoline tax as currently instituted.   The article does a comprehensive job of reviewing the alternatives, such as an inflation-indexed gasoline tax, a VMT, toll roads, and increased vehicle registration fees, perhaps including a federal registration fee. 

Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds: My blog post about the future of the Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds elicited more response than almost any other post I’ve written.  I had long, thoughtful email exchanges with people who had personal interests in the fairgrounds.  And the president of the Fair Board invited me to lunch.  He and I shared a commitment to the future of Petaluma and a perspective on how communities could prosper in the future.  We disagreed on the some aspects of how the fairgrounds might evolve, but we found a basis for good conversations which I hope will continue.

Diners: I’ve written in the past about favorite urban diners in the North Bay, including the Butter Cream Bakery and Diner in Napa and Bab’s Delta Diner in Suisun City.  The recent holiday season offered opportunities to revisit both.  After my earlier visits, I was fond of both.  After my later visits, I was in love with both.

The food at Butter Cream remains solidly competent.  Perhaps not trendy or cutting edge, but good hearty diner fare.  I’d enjoy the diner for the food alone.  And the bakery aroma of warm sugariness is compelling on chilly mornings.  But the real star at Butter Cream is the sense of history and community.

When I visited in early December, I ate at the counter next to two couples who were enjoying breakfast before heading to San Francisco for a day of shopping and theatre.  It seemed to be an annual holiday outing, which all had been eagerly awaiting.  And having Butter Cream as the established starting point for their day says much about their long-term affection for diner.

When I returned to Butter Cream in early January, I had to step aside to allow a multi-generation family to work their way toward the front door.  Between the grandmother using a walker, a babe in arms, and the waitress bidding them personal farewells, it said much about the role of Butter Cream in the family and in the community.  Even if the food wasn’t as good, I’d return to Butter Cream to watch scenes like these.

Despite the fine experiences at Butter Cream, my favorite diner breakfast of the holidays was at Bab’s Delta Diner.  When I wrote before about the diner, I noted the high energy of the waitstaff.  During that visit, the staff was engaged in end-of-shift hijinks that I enjoyed watching, although I feared that others might not be as tolerant.

My December visit was in the middle of the shift, with a line of folks out the front door awaiting tables.  The high energy of the waitstaff was again evident, but this time the focus was on serving the customers.  There was still kidding among the youthful waiters, but it was all focused on good service.

A story illustrates the level of service.  I was in the final days of a cold, the time when hot tea with honey tastes particular good.  But I forgot to ask for honey when I ordered my tea.  Moments later, I softly opined to my companion that I should have asked for the honey, but that the place was busy and I wouldn’t inconvenience the staff.

At that moment, our eighteen-year-old waiter had his back to us and was entering our order into a computer perhaps eight feet from our table.  When he brought our breakfast, he also brought honey, noting that he’d heard me ask about it.  Which makes two points.  One, my sotto voce isn’t very sotto.  Two, he was a great waiter because he could have easily pretended that he hadn’t heard me.  We tipped well.

But even better than the service was the food.  I ordered the seafood omelet.  I know that ordering a seafood omelet in Suisun City in December smacks of foolhardiness.  And the omelet filling was mostly surimi with a few tiny shrimp.  But with the smooth texture of well-melted Swiss cheese, it was an excellent omelet.  And Bab’s offers fried rice as an alternative to breakfast potatoes.  That omelet paired beautifully with the rice.  Six weeks later, my mouth still waters when I think about that meal.  I’ll soon return.

That’s enough for today.  Nope, the file folder still isn’t empty.  I didn’t even come close.  Perhaps I’ll dive in again next week.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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