Friday, October 28, 2011

Cafe 180. A fresh angle on going out for lunch.

Imagine a restaurant that has a creative, healthy and totally tasty menu, a lovely atmosphere and a friendly group of workers that truly wants to be there. Considering the cost of virtually everything has gone through the roof during these troubled times, one would only expect to pay top dollar to dine at a restaurant that boasts the triad of good food, pleasant ambiance and a helpful, happy staff.

But as I found today when I took myself to lunch at Cafe 180, I could have paid whatever I wanted, no questions asked.

Because Cafe 180 functions on the "eat what you want, pay what you can" concept.

And it seems to be working just fine.

I arrived at Cafe 180 around 11:30 am. The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and to be honest, I didn't want to arrive right when they opened, because I didn't want to be the first and only person in the place.

What I found was a flurry of activity. A very inclusive, community feeling. Everyone seemed to feel good about where they'd picked to have lunch.

And why not? It's a crazy-simple, trusting, genuine concept, and that intention spreads among the restaurant's patrons. According to the website (, the restaurant's mission is "dedicated to eliminating hunger and social barriers associated with food by feeding all people regardless of their ability to pay, in a dignified and respectful manner."

Just like you may have just done, I'd visited the Cafe 180 website, and frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I walked in the door. Part of my brain thought the place would be crawling with fringy, radical hippie types who'd try to sell me on something more than lunch.

So not so.

There's a chef who's essentially in charge of the cooking, and he's surrounded by an amalgam of volunteers who are busily preparing lunch.

Today's kitchen help ran the demographic from teen to senior. Everyone took such care with what they were doing, and they looked like they were having a great time.

And they weren't making a dime, because they were all volunteers.

The open kitchen was operating in high gear when I ordered my lunch. I chose three items from four categories, and within a few minutes, I was presented with an apple walnut feta salad, a bowl of creamy tomato basil soup and a turkey bacon spinach wrap.

It was so good. And I could have paid anything I wanted.

Despite what some might assume when presented with this concept, it's an idea that works as well in practice as is does theoretically. Naysayers may think that the pay-what-you-can theory would have slackers and takers coming out of the woodwork to take full advantage, but that's obviously not the case. Because people are essentially good.

And these community-based restaurants that cater to peoples' essential goodness prove that serving the greater good isn't just a lofty theory. It's been tested with success at SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe, located downtown at 2023 E. Colfax, as well as Cafe 180. Neither of these restaurants are links in a corporate chain;  they're simply the outcome of out-of-the-box thinking put into action.

Contributing, as a volunteer or as a patron, makes going to these restaurants so much more than just going out to lunch.

And these local, independent restaurants aren't alone. Panera, a multi-million dollar publicly held chain of restaurants, has had great success with its test store in Missouri which operates with the same pay-what-you-can sensibility (

When I left Cafe 180 today, I wondered how the world would be different if this gentle form of bartering and volunteerism  were expanded into the realm of goods and services. The possibilities seem limitless.

So this entry is as much a review of a fine restaurant as it is a recognition of a fresh concept that's as refreshing as the menu. I'd heartily suggest stopping by Cafe 180 for lunch (3315 S. Broadway), and while you're there, you can sign up to volunteer. Or visit the website. You'll find a link to the menu, the philosophy, and suggestions of other ways you can give.

In a world that seems focused on how tenuous our economic thread has become, how life is about attaining and retaining, it's refreshing and satisfying to see an other-based, giving, caring, community-centered retail model flourish.

Cafe 180 and its counterparts prove that there are many ways to serve the greater good, and whether by volunteering or just stopping in for lunch, supporting the concept and witnessing its success makes a difference.

And making a difference is a delicious thing to do.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cutting the cord. A few words on life without a television.

We used to have a TV in the kitchen. After the kitchen was repainted this summer, I decided to put the TV in the garage.

Unplugged, on a shelf.

I cancelled cable, too. Why have cable if there's no TV, I say?

Life without a television hasn't been that difficult. It's actually been quite pleasant. I feel like I bought some time.

Considering what I've read lately, it might be a good thing to rethink watching television. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American spends over four hours each day watching television (that's 28 hours a week, two months non-stop for a year).

If the average American lives to be 65, s/he will have spent a total of nine years watching television.

Time (which I'll get into in a future entry) is just too important to me the older I get.

And what can be accomplished in nine years? Children can be conceived and can grow well into elementary school in nine years. A person could graduate from high school, go to college to become a doctor and open their own practice over the course of nine years. Relationships can begin, end and begin again. A seed can grow into a sapling and become a tree that produces shade over the course of nine years.

Do I really want to spend that span of time in front of the television?


Despite this lack of a conventional mechanism with which to watch my favorite shows, I don't go without.

And I do keep informed. Despite my lack of television, I know what's going on in the world.

Because now I watch everything I like on my computer. The difference between life with a TV and life without is that I decide when I'm going to watch. It takes a conscious effort. Television isn't an easy companion; it's not background noise.

And the internet as a media delivery system is a growing trend.

According to a recent New York Times article, watching television in the conventional manner, commercials and all, is going by way of the newspaper. "More viewers than ever are using their laptops ... to watch shows they once saw on a TV screen. The problem is that even legal online services only generate a fraction of the revenue that cable does. ... And if more viewers begin 'cord-cutting' - canceling their cable subscriptions in favor of online options - it's hard to see how television producers could avoid the same kinds of cost reductions that are killing newspapers. That would mean fewer 'Mad Men' and more 'Real Housewives'."

So we have a few choices when we cut the cord. Maybe even more than we think.

Everything old is new again. Case in point: podcasts.

Podcasts are the modernized version of the golden days of radio, and they're filling a lovely audio niche. Best of all, the podcasting world is completely unregulated.

Podcasts can be found from many sources, but anyone with a smart phone is just an app away from Stitcher (my favorite). Stitcher automatically streams without synching or downloading.

Stitcher lets me know how much I've been listening. I have my own queue of favorites. Radiolab. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. The Onion. So many more.

Since last April, while I've been driving, cleaning my house, working in the yard, working at my job, I've listened to 1,034 hours of content.

Because podcasts are unregulated, the content podcasts have to offer is like a beautiful playground no one but you and your friends know about. Anything goes.

So, in short, there are options to Life After Television. There's the Hulu, the Netflix, the scores of other internet options. Life without a screen opens wide with podcast possibility, thanks to Stitcher, Itunes and other services, which are, in large part, free.

In my experience, there was very little static when the Television cord was cut. I feel like I gained some time, some money, and some silence.

I think I have a bit more remote control.

It's been good to cut the cord.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The best job in the world, revisited.

Like watching a rerun on tee vee, I'm reconstituting a blog I wrote last summer. I really liked this entry. Plus it has a bit of a tie-in (with a less serious tenor) with what I last wrote about, and it also dials into what I'll be blogging about next. So relax, enjoy, and reflect on my Vanna White envy. And stay tuned for the next bloggy entry!

The kids are in Mexico, and I have a few days off. So after watching the news yesterday, before the cool of the evening made it comfortable to work in the yard, it was time to play Jeopardy.

Alex Trebek is such a smarty pants; so cool, so calm, so capable, so willing to solicit interesting and usually embarassingly geeky Important Moments from his brainiac contestants, so chameleon-like in his ability to accurately pronounce obscure words and dialects.

Ironically, right after Jeopardy, it's time for Wheel of Fortune - arguably one of the most insipid shows on tee vee. Usually, I race to turn off the television when Wheel of Fortune comes on.

But yesterday, I wasn't so quick on the draw. Wheel of Fortune had its moment in my house before the show was summarily dismissed with a quick "no freaking way" muttered under my breath. But the show was on long enough for me to get a glimpse of Vanna White flipping over letters. And I had a twinge of jealousy.

Here are the facts, as I see them.

Vanna's job requires virtually no measurable skills, save for dressing up in a series of flowing evening gowns and knowing the difference between a consonant and a vowel. Her job requires no re-training or job description re-tooling, because as I see it, our alphabet isn't going to change much in the foreseeable future.

Vanna doesn't have to worry about anyone snatching her job away from her, because frankly, I think the audience Wheel of Fortune attracts would form some kind of awkward, walker-driven uprising if she were ever to be replaced.

She's the Teller to Pat Sajak's Penn. She can sashay through her job saying nothing, projecting nothing but a glam smile and a rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet, and her job is done. 

Vanna gets to play dress-up five times a week, and The Wheel often goes on location. She gets to flip letters all over the world.

Best of all, she gets paid a rumored $5,000 per episode, not counting special appearances, residuals, board game income, et cetera.

In short, she's currently on my Very Short List of women who have The Best Job in the World.

I was just a little bit jealous as I defiantly flipped my television off yesterday at the sound and sight of Wheel of Fortune.

I attempted to assuage my jealousy by comforting myself with the knowledge that I'm attempting to craft ideas by actually stringing words together, as opposed to simply getting all fancy-looking while flipping lit vowels to the freaky glee of excited contestants.

I'm running as fast as I can on my personal wheel that involves over-thinking things, underemployment,  and a complete love of everything casual.

No high heels for me - I have bunions.

But no matter how hard I tried, my heart was a bit tipped in the 'I wish I could do so little and get paid so much' direction yesterday.

I have to admit it. I wish I had her job.

Okay, I said it. What's a 4-letter word for what I'm feeling? The word has an N and a V.

I'd like to buy a vowel.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy yourself.


  [awl-tur-nuh-tiv, al-]  Show IPA
a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility: You have the alternative of riding or walking.
one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen: The alternative to riding is walking.
a possible or remaining course or choice: There was no alternative but to walk.

affording a choice of two or more things, propositions, or courses of action.
(of two things, propositions, or courses) mutually exclusive so that if one is chosen the other must be rejected: The alternative possibilities are neutrality and war.
employing or following nontraditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment: an alternative newspaper; alternative lifestyles.
Logic (of a proposition) asserting two or more choices, at least one of which is true.

I was driving home from work the other day, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of disconnection.

So. About my job.

What began as a place that, when I started there 13 years ago, was so organic, so interesting and interested, so fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, has changed.

My job has become somewhat sterile.

It seems that things have taken a turn where I work, and it's a party to which I'm not invited.

And I willingly decline the invitation.

Because I'm not data- or protocol-driven, which is the direction things have turned. And I prefer to see my world in blasts of interesting color as opposed to black and white.

Unfortunately, black and white is what my job has become.

So I've accepted that I'm not cut out for what I perceive the corporate environment has become: a quiet, sterile, unnatural, uncomfortable place.

But let's be clear. I don't devalue sterility completely. I see the value in tracking data, in compelling people to comply.

But the process of collecting that data has created a monster, I'm thinking. The chase has devalued the beauty of individuality. And the absence of individuality has proven to create something I don't like.

As I was driving home the other day, I realized even more profoundly the importance of accepting who we are, and who we're not; of who I am and who I'm not.

To put it a bit more personally. I understand I'm not the corporate type.

And I'm really not that old.

Because I come from an age that wasn't monitored with every step I took. I wasn't photographed at every intersection and at every monetary transaction, I wasn't tracked by what I buy at the grocery store, I wasn't available in any form once I got in my car, because the only way anyone could communicate with me back then was hanging on the wall.

But that was back then.

The world has become a different place. Very slowly, we've all come to willingly accept that what was once just ours belongs to everyone. Our data. Our personal lives. Our freedom of movement. Virtually everything has become accessible to virtually everyone. Very virtually.

So there are people, all over the world, who are recognizing that the organic, collective, personal expression of the uncomfortability with How Things Are has some value.


Occupy yourself, I say.

Become comfortable with however you define your alternative.

I prefer # 4, #6 or #7. Refer to the definition that started this entry.

I completely agree with the lovely, messy, loud, world-wide mess that started as Occupy Wall Street and has gone global.

I hope that, in the long run, this becomes a movement that compels people to occupy themselves a bit more consciously.

Because everyone is alternative, depending on your definition.