How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry

The best sandwich I ever had was from Paseo. In fact, every sandwich I ever had from Paseo was the best sandwich I ever had (the fact of it being the sandwich I was eating now giving it the winning edge over sandwiches I had already eaten and could therefore only remember with wistful fondness). I may or may not ever have a sandwich that good again, and I mourn for all the people in the world who will now never get to eat one, or eat one again. If you ever ate at either location, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it (or, you know, read one of the many valedictions and cris de coeur posted in the last couple of days since the company shuttered both their Fremont and Ballard locations, apparently without even notifying their employees).

It was hard to find, even if you knew where it was, unless you went there at lunchtime, when you could spot it from blocks away thanks to the line out the door, rain or shine. It was not uncommon for the place to close before dinner because they had run out of food.

But man oh man, when your wait was done and the plate with your name on it came up, what heaven awaited: tender, slow-roasted pork on the most perfect sandwich bread (crusty enough to hold together, mostly, but doughy enough to sop up all that juicy flavor) topped with just enough cilantro, peppers, and onions to give it a slight vegetal crunch. It was enough to send your umami circuits into sustained platform orgasm, the flavor lingering on your palate like the taste of a lover’s sweat.

Now it’s gone, I regret not eating there more often in recent years (I worked as a bartender in Fremont for six years; since I’ve moved (and moved on), I don’t get down to Fremont much). Given those lines out the door (and the $1.5-2 million a year in sales), I figured it would be there forever, and was as surprised and dismayed as anyone by the news of its sudden closing.

I was not surprised (though I was dismayed) to read about the lawsuit by four former employees alleging discrimination and wage theft.

*Before continuing, a disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and even if I was, the trial has yet to begin (it’s scheduled for next October). I did, for what it’s worth, spend twenty-six years working in bars and restaurants.* Continue reading “How Good Does a Sandwich Have to Be? Wage Theft, Paseo, and the Industry”

Things I Learned on the Internet This Week 8/8/14

Another week gone, and the internet (and the world it reflects, or possibly refracts) continues to fascinate. So, in my continuing efforts to excuse to myself the embarrassing amount of time I spend surfing the internet, here is a selection of highlights from my procrastinations this week:

Warren Layre, 61, told The Inquirer in an interview last year that the officers beat him with a steel bar and kicked in his teeth during a warrantless raid on his machine shop on West Sedgwick Street in June 2011. Speaking to a reporter two years later, he pulled back his lip to show the gaps in his teeth that remained.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, Liciardello reported less than $7,000 of the $41,158 they seized from Layre’s shop.

Truth really is stranger than fiction, as this story of six corrupt cops up on racketeering charges in Philadelphia attests. For ten years, these guys ran rampant through the city, shaking people down and sending people to jail on trumped-up charges and basically running a standover operation, and the only thing that stopped them was that one of them finally got caught and turned stool pigeon. If this was on TV, it’d be a huge hit, and I expect some day it will be. In fact, I think these guys are a natural extension of the portrayal of law enforcement in our entertainment culture, which I think has a lot of similarities to what happened (and continues to happen) between Hollywood and the Mafia.

Moving on to American law enforcement at the institutional level, we learn from the Washington Post that

Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.

For years, even decades, a team in the FBI crime lab misrepresented its results in order to secure convictions. Not unlike the situation in Philadelphia, the problem was known but institutional inertia prevented it from being attended to until outed by investigative reporter Spencer Hsu.

The review comes after The Washington Post reported in April that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases. In addition, prosecutors did not notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Worst of all, innocent people may have been executed. The first article in the series sums it all up pretty well, I think.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

And, just in case you weren’t yet fully convinced of the dysfunction in US law enforcement culture, here’s one more slug to the guts.

“I felt so vulnerable being laid out on a table, with all my clothes off and in a bag and all the swabs and brushes and combs,” she recalled. But at least, she figured, the police would use the swabs and hair samples to help catch the rapist.

They did not. Like hundreds of thousands of other rape kits across the country containing evidence gathered from victims, that of Ms. Ybos lay untested for years on a storeroom shelf.

(hat tip to Charles P. Pierce, one of my favorite writers, period, for this post, where I found most of the above)

Having gotten through all that, I think we could all use a break. Here’s a picture of the sunset at Second Beach, where I went camping with my girl and just the loveliest bunch of people you could ever want to hang out with last weekend. Continue reading “Things I Learned on the Internet This Week 8/8/14”

When You Say ‘My Owner’

I don’t know if this is just a Seattle thing, or if people do it other places. Maybe it’s just something that comes up in the kinds of joints I worked in back when I was still bartending. It’s a dumb little thing, but it always bothered me, and in light of a few months outside the Industry, I find it bothers me more and more.

It’s not uncommon, in my experience, to hear Industry folk use the term ‘my owner’ in casual conversation.

Point it out, and you get this moment of exasperation and incredulity. “You know what I mean.” And I do. It’s an easy shorthand, and ‘my boss’ usually refers to your manager. And in most non-corporate houses ‘owner’ is basically a job description, even if that job is mostly to loom over the proceedings, present or not, and express approval or disapproval to keep everyone on their toes. And hey, lots of them are right there in the trenches with you, pulling their weight and more, and I have lots of respect for anyone crazy enough to open a restaurant or a bar as a way to make a living. That takes a kind of dedication and perseverance of which very few people are capable.

But it still bugs me to hear people say that. Because how you say things matters. It matters on a psychological, even a neurological level. To say the words ‘my owner’ makes a physical connection in your brain. You hear yourself say the words, you experience yourself thinking the thought, and it strengthens that physical connection in your brain. Strengthening that connection makes the concept more real. It reifies it, makes it a thing that exists in your world, in however small a way.

Think about the implications for a moment. To concede the possibility of ‘my owner’ concedes the possibility of the loss of personal agency inherent in being someone’s property. Yes, we do this every time we clock in, to a certain extent. Such is the nature of working for other people. But to frame one’s employment in those terms concedes much more than trading your labor and skill-set for negotiated compensation for a set period of time. Continue reading “When You Say ‘My Owner’”

The Resilience of Tipping

Tipping is “confusing, arbitrary, discriminatory, and basically anti-democratic.” So says Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn, in a post on Esquire’s food blog that’s been popping up in my facebook feed since it went up on Friday. The article is basically a dual interview with Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas, two prominent opponents of Seattle’s newly-passed minimum wage increase. The gist is they have no choice but to move to a more European service model, where what’s now a voluntary gratuity is added to the bill and then distributed by the house. Their front of house staff, it’s implied, are going to have to take one for the team.

Dunn suggests, perhaps hyperbolically, that such a move might signal (or cause) a sea change in the way restaurants work in the US.

Dunn is against the institution of tipping, and has many good reasons. Having worked for tips most of my adult life, I’m sympathetic with her arguments. Maybe I’m being sentimental, but I am convinced that tipping will survive Seattle’s wage increase just fine. Because for all its downsides, there are good reasons tipping has evolved its niche in the American economic and cultural landscape, and I think they’ll continue to apply as Seattle’s economy evolves in the coming years.

Let’s start with why we tip. Continue reading “The Resilience of Tipping”