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Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

February 26, 2013 at 3:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Missus recently met with a woman (I’ll call her Gertie) to discuss a variety of topics. Gertie is a young, wealthy, career-minded woman with her eyes set on attaining positions of power and influence. She is a bright woman, but like all of us she has her share of knowledge gaps. Consider this conversation:

Gertie: Why did you get involved with foster care?
The Missus: These kids and their families need help. I feel like I’ve been called to support them.
Gertie: That’s nice. I’m glad we don’t have foster kids here in Whoville.
The Missus: What?
Gertie: Whoville is a wealthy community. There’s no poverty here so there aren’t any kids in foster care.

The Missus is more polite than I so she didn’t pursue the matter further. I wouldn’t have been able to let the woman’s ignorance go unchecked. She was blind to at least two facts. First, there most certainly is poverty in Whoville (name changed). In fact, the poverty rate in Whoville is about 50% higher than in the state as a whole! Not to mention the fact that The Missus saw homeless people panhandling on the streets while Gertie drove her around town. Second, there are children in foster care in Whoville, just as there are in every community of reasonable size all across America. A quick Googling confirms it, not that I had any doubts.

So what’s going on here? Is Gertie a fool? Not at all. What she is, simply put, is ignorant. She’s ignorant of the community around her even while she’s intimately familiar with complex topics in her area of expertise. She is quite literally incapable of “seeing” things like the foster care system. Maybe it’s because it’s not immediately relevant to her. Maybe Whoville tries to sweep its problems under the rug. Maybe Gertie deliberately refuses to come to terms with the truth. I don’t know her well enough to say.

Enough picking on Gertie. The truth is that we are all guilty of ignorance about our community even as we spend our lives immersed in it. That’s not inherently bad. After all, we can only focus on so many things at once. One can hardly be faulted for not understanding the ins and outs of every problem facing the residents of a city like Lincoln. Nevertheless, we oughtn’t be willfully ignorant. Don’t deny yourself the responsibility of learning about your community when the opportunity arises. Better yet, push yourself to find opportunities to explore your own areas of ignorance so that you may deal with them appropriately.

As The Missus told me about Gertie I first got angry that anybody could be so blind to the state of her own surroundings. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how guilty we all are of the very same thing. Certainly I am. I plan to do something about it. Lincolnites face extreme hardships. Poverty. Disability. Illness. Abuse. Neglect. Our community has internationally-renowned businesses, home-grown success stories, and fantastic centers of learning. Lincoln features beautiful, feature-filled parks and playgrounds, and dilapidated, worn-out, embarrassing parks and playgrounds. We have, in other words, a little bit of everything. I can’t know everything about Lincoln, of course, and I don’t plan to try. What I can do is stretch myself a little bit. Go exploring, so to speak. There’s so much about Lincoln I haven’t uncovered. Addressing the problem doesn’t even require much of a lifestyle change. It’s choosing a new restaurant rather than an old stand-by; taking a different route home; volunteering for a new organization; attending a free concert; more carefully following the evening news.

My question for you is this: What are your areas of ignorance about Lincoln, this place in which you live? And what can you do about that?

New Food around Indian Village

February 26, 2013 at 2:50pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Zach sent along two bits of restaurant news from the Indian Village neighborhood newsletter.

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First up is Bunners, a brand new restaurant going in to the former El Sitio location at 17th and Van Dorn. (El Sitio, you may recall, is now in College View at 47th and Pioneers.) The bar and grill will feature “bunners”, dinner rolls stuffed with a variety of ingredients. They sound a bit Runza-ish so I’m eager to try one. Heck, maybe they’ll give us the breakfast Runzas we’ve been asking for all these years. Bunners plans $5.00 lunch specials. That’ll probably be a tough price for them to keep up for long, but if they can do it they should have no trouble getting folks in the door. They plan to be open 10:30am until midnight Monday through Thursday, and until 2:00am on Friday and Saturday.

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Then there’s Pepe’s Bistro. Pepe’s dishes up a variety of vegetarian and vegan food, and it emphasizes local ingredients as much as possible. Many of you will recognize the name because it has been a Havelock resident for a few years, but I doubt many of you have been there because of its somewhat off-the-grid location on the second floor. Pepe’s has moved to Indian Village Shopping Center (3227 S. 13th Street) to improve its visibility and gain access to a nice big parking lot.

Thanks, Zach, for sending along the info!

Where in Lincoln is this?

February 25, 2013 at 2:20pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Unsolved.

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...You Filthy Animal

February 19, 2013 at 2:24pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Sometimes I’m entertained by the smallest things.

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Yesterday, Jordan Pascale tweeted that he was working on a story about Lincoln’s new parking meters. Knowing that the new meters offer a credit card payment option, I asked if Pascale was going to headline his article “Keep The Change”. Sure enough, he went for it. I assume my royalty check is in the mail.

The story is actually a bit bigger than that. Along with the new parking meters come new parking fees. The hourly rate doubles—from $0.50 to $1.00. Although a 100% increase in any fee is generally a bad thing, in this case the increase is long overdue. Parking meter rates haven’t increased in 18 years, yet demand for on-street parking in Downtown Lincoln is higher than ever. Simple economics suggests it’s worth the City’s while to charge more. In addition, the first hour is free in City-owned parking garages. Downtown offers more and better parking options—not to mention reasons to bother going there in the first place—than ever before.

The new meters can also have their time limits adjusted on the fly. That means that, in theory at least, the meters could offer longer parking options on Husker football game days or for other special events. That’s all well and good, although it makes me wonder why the rate can’t be adjusted as well. $2.50 per hour parking on Husker game days, particularly north of O Street, sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Baby steps, I suppose. For now, simply adding a plastic payment option is a great step.

Oh, and for those of you who need an explanation of this post’s title:

Where in Lincoln is this?

February 18, 2013 at 3:39pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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The White Album

February 18, 2013 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Current weather models for this week are either crazyawesome or horribly depressing, depending on your taste for snow. I’ll let this image speak for itself (click to enlarge):

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Now these models aren’t perfect so who knows how much moisture we’ll get. Sometimes they’re dead on while other times they’re laughably inaccurate. Time will tell.

Regardless, you’re better off preparing yourself now. And a special request, if I may: please check up on your special needs neighbors now so you know how you can help them should we actually wind up with a foot of snow on Thursday. Helping clear sidewalks and driveways is great, of course. There are other matters you may be able to help with as well. Does the storm interfere with their weekly shopping trip? Do they need special help if power should go out? Many of you probably already know the answers to those questions from winters past. It doesn’t hurt to double check.

You folks know me by now. I would love to see a foot (or more!) of snow this week. My shovel is ready and waiting—no sissy snowblowers for this guy. I feel bad for The Missus, though; she’s supposed to fly out of Omaha on Friday to go visit her sister. We may not be able to get out of our neighborhood by then. Oh well. At least Nature is throwing a fluffy blanket at us rather than a giant flaming space rock.

I’m Getting Old

February 14, 2013 at 3:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

You know you’re getting old when you manage to throw out your back while you’re sleeping. Not while getting out of bed. Not while, ahem, “sleeping”. Nope, I somehow screwed up my back while entirely unconscious. I have no idea how that even happens.

On the plus side, it’s Valentine’s Day. This is the day that I remind myself how much of a dork I used to be by recalling how I broke into The Missus’s locker sixteen years ago and decorated it with flowers, streamers, candy, and who knows what else. Cheesy? Yeah, but most young love is.

I’m not the only hopeless romantic around here. Our beloved Fletch has his own take on love. The man has a way with words.

I’m going to go find some ice now.

Well, Well, Well

February 12, 2013 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but Lincoln and Nebraska have a water problem. True, much of Nebraska sits atop a fantastic source of underground water. But the Ogallala Aquifer is shrinking and we can’t assume it’s an infinite resource. Speaking locally, Lincoln doesn’t draw its water directly from that source. Instead, we rely on the inconsistent flows of the Platte River.

Lincoln is about to add a new horizontal well out near Ashland. A second horizontal well could be added soon after, depending on need. But it’ll cost us, to the tune of just shy of $14 million.

The City of Lincoln is reviewing its water management policies. Good, as long as “reviewing” actually turns into near-term action. The sooner we start making substantial changes, the more prepared we’ll be over the long haul. Changes may include modifications to the City’s lawn watering policies, increased water usage rates, and so forth. I have a couple suggestions for the sorts of updates I would put on the table.

First, I would strongly consider making the “odd day / even day” watering policy permanent. There is no practical reason why lawns need to be watered more frequently than three days per week. The same holds true for most plants you’ll find in an urban yard. This sort of watering plan sacrifices neither lawn health nor appearance. Enforcement can be a problem (as we’ve discovered in the past), so we would need to work on that. The first place I’d go is to neighborhood associations. They could provide substantial assistance with education and gentle reminders. Ticketing authority could remain with LPD, or a team of individuals could be “deputized” to warn and ticket repeat offenders. I actually prefer the latter, though I’m not sure of the associated legalities.

I remain a strong supporter of increasing water rates for “heavy” residential and commercial users. Under an ideal system, homeowners would pay a low base rate for a quantity of water based on the number of residents; water rates would increase substantially above that base level. Realistically I’m not sure how you implement such a plan. Setting up a reasonable fee schedule would be relatively easy, if politically charged. But niggling matters like tracking the number of residents in a home, accounting for multi-family units, and other such details would likely drag the entire effort down. So-called “smart” water meters might help address some of those concerns, but they come with their own downsides.

It’s apparent that we the City’s plan to drill a new well is the right one for now. We can do more, though. What else would you suggest?

Where in Lincoln is this?

February 11, 2013 at 5:40pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Unsolved.

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I Don’t Think He Likes It

February 8, 2013 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I don’t think Jeff Korbelik likes Tilted Kilt.

The piece—I don’t generally consider Korbelik’s articles to be reviews—is worth a read. It’s an interesting tale about a dining experience gone very wrong. Most of us have lived through a comparable night out at some point. If you haven’t, just imagine Kitchen Nightmares but with fewer F-bombs. It’s not a pleasant thing to be a part of, except to the extent that at some point it all becomes very humorous.

Despite the schadenfreude I felt while reading about a tacky “breastaurant” falling flat on its ... er ... face, Korbelik’s piece struck me as unfair. I have no problem with a reviewer shredding a restaurant that deserves it. But lots of restaurants in Lincoln deserve to be ripped apart. Korbelik generally does what he can to soften the blow as much as he can. And that’s fine for the sort of articles Korbelik writes. Why, then, didn’t Tilted Kilt receive the same treatment?

I can’t help but feel like Korbelik wanted TK to fail. He’s not the only Lincolnite to feel that way, of course. I take a more neutral stance in that I can’t be bothered to care enough either way. I don’t typically root against restaurants, but by no means has TK earned my backing. For me it’s in the same category as a place like Taco John’s. A solid “meh”.

I suspect Korbelik’s piece was hamstrung somewhat by the tiny space he’s allotted. I wish the LJS would publish longer versions of his articles online, where article length is moot. I want to know, for example, if Korbelik spoke with the management in the same way that he typically does for his other reviewees. It would be fantastic to compare the pre-visit “Tell me about your restaurant” interview with the post-visit “What the hell was that?!” interview. I would also like to know more about the food. He gives the food a D+ because he didn’t like the one dish he tried; his wife, on the other hand “enjoyed” her meal. Had the dishes been reversed would he have given the food a B+ instead? Did he sample appetizers or dessert, as he so often does (and should do)? Can anybody really grade a restaurant’s food based on a single dish?

In the end, Jeff Korbelik’s article highlights why, in an ideal world, a restaurant review should be based on two separate visits. He makes the argument himself: other diners received their food in a timely manner, and nobody else seemed to be having a problem with their dining experience. He had a crappy experience and Tilted Kilt should certainly be held accountable. The approach he chose, however, feels petty and whiny. He implies that his tale is representative of the Tilted Kilt experience. It may be, but I doubt it. I suspect the overall experience is remarkably average. That’s hardly worth crowing about, but let’s remember the sort of restaurant we’re talking about here.

Let me be clear. Tilted Kilt doesn’t get off the hook. They treated two customers like crap and Korbelik was right to call them out. They’re big enough that they don’t need me to defend them. As a review, however, the piece seemed off. Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of Korbelik’s review style in general. (Again, I think he’d do better if he had more space.) Or maybe it’s because I woke up in a remarkably sour mood this morning—true story, my family will verify it—and I was looking to grouse about something. Now that I think about it, that’s probably it. I feel sorry for my co-workers today.

The worst thing about all of this is now I’m tempted to actually go to the joint so I can either point out how it’s not so terrible, or hop aboard Korbelik’s bandwagon. I really hope I don’t succumb to that temptation. There’s too much good food in Lincoln to waste a meal at a mall joint run by a bunch of boobs.

Downtown Lincoln Gets a Grocery Store

February 7, 2013 at 4:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mayor Chris Beutler just announced that Hoppe Brothers has been chosen to lead the redevelopment project as 21st and N. Their proposal includes retail, a grocery store, and low income housing. The Mayor is making the announcement right now, so more details will come out soon.

EDIT: Here is the City’s press release.

You Won’t Get a Charge Out of Me

February 7, 2013 at 2:52pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Our good buddy Fletch is hot and bothered over local businesses that charge a fee for using debit and/or credit cards. He thinks those businesses should be shamed for the practice, and perhaps many of you agree. His assertion as I understand it—although I hope he’ll correct me in the comments if I’m wrong—is that credit card fees are simply a cost of doing business and that they should therefore be rolled into the cost of the goods or services being offered for sale. By adding a surcharge, the businesses risk presenting a dishonest picture of their prices. And besides, everybody (give or take a few) uses debit/credit cards these days. Get with the times, folks!

I take a different perspective. I won’t go so far as to say that I like the practice of adding a “plastic fee”, but I do fully appreciate why businesses do it and I support their actions. Credit card fees are a substantial expense for many businesses, and in particular for small businesses and businesses that deal in low-price items. The cost of each transaction to the vendor varies, but it is typically comprised of a set fee plus a percentage of the total sale. Those costs add up. Some local businesses have opted out of the costs altogether. Ivanna Cone comes to mind as one example. They’re a strict cash-only business in part because they don’t want to pass on the extra costs to customers. (Their ice cream is pricey enough as it is!)

As long as the practice of charging extra for credit card users is transparent, I don’t see a problem. Plastic fees are merely an extension of the age-old practice popularized by gas stations of offering a separate cash price and credit price. Customers have a clear and informed choice. That sounds like a good thing to me.

Retailers could certainly abuse the practice, of course. They could charge more than they’re permitted for example, tacking on extra fees in a sort of punitive swipe at card users. That’s not kosher and customers are right to turn away from those businesses that engage in the practice. It’s also possible for businesses to make their fee structure opaque, hiding their fee notice on a sign hidden in some back corner of the store. Again, that’s dirty.

Credit and debit cards are great for consumers for a lot of reasons. Convenience is the primary reason I carry them. I’m ok with that convenience coming with a cost, particularly when that extra cost is openly presented to me. It kills me that the owner of Taj Mahal had to pay three extra transaction fees last night because I stupidly handed him an expired debit card instead of the correct one. (That’s right, he was charged a fee even though the transaction was declined!) The extra transparency forces consumers to think about the true costs of our decisions. That’s a good thing. Hopefully it leads to lower fees and/or better credit card services over time.

In the end, I can’t join Fletch (et alia) in his quest to shame local businesses for a practice that I find to be more good than evil. Perhaps I’ll change my mind if big boys like Hy-Vee and McDonald’s join in. For now I think it’s a reasonable reaction by some small businesses to try to recoup their costs from those who create them. That sounds fair to me.

(Almost) No Vacancy

February 6, 2013 at 2:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you probably feel like businesses are popping up all over Lincoln at a pace much faster than they’re leaving. There’s data to support your instincts. According to NAI FMA Realty, local retail vacancy rates are down to 5.9%. Contrast that with 7.2% and 8.3% at the end of the previous two years. Sandwich shops are booming Downtown; burrito joints are popping up on O Street; Gateway is refilling; Fallbrook got itself a grocery store; and heck, even Williamsburg got a new tenant recently.

Lots of good things are happening around town and I hope Lincolnites appreciate what that means for the community. I’m often not confident that folks around here are willing to say thanks for how good we’ve got it. Spend too long following the #LNK hashtag on Twitter and you’ll think our morning commute is Washingtonian and our taxes are bankrolling the high-flying lifestyles of a small group of privileged elites; turn instead to the Journal Star comment section and the only logical conclusion will be that you’re surrounded by the sourest and least grammatically competent people in the Western world.

I suppose the flip side of that perspective is that Lincolnites hold themselves and their city to a high standard. There’s value in that. It’s a type of community pride, though a somewhat perverse and self-deprecating one. We need to be careful that the high standard doesn’t become an impossibly high standard, though. That sort of cynicism exacerbates the very things we complain about.

But let’s not deal too long on the whiners among us. The fact of the matter is things are going pretty darn well right now in Lincoln. Life is right, you might say. No Vacancy signs are popping up all over town and that’s a wonderful thing. It means opportunity and enthusiasm and vigor. Let’s go take part in it.

It’s Worth it For the Free Parking

February 5, 2013 at 3:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Journal Star ran a piece yesterday about the perks of being on the City Council. The short version: you get $24,000, a parking pass, and some cookies. And getting there will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $100,000 and all your free time.

This sort of article catches my eye. I’ve been interested in politics and governance ever since Mr. Bougger’s Civics class back in 9th grade at Pound Junior High; my interest grew stronger under Dr. Larson at Southeast. I even went so far as to major in Political Science at UNL, where I received both a BA and an MA in the field. I came darn close to pursuing my Ph.D. as well. The goal of all that wasn’t necessarily to run for office some day, but it was a possibility in the back of my mind.

In fact, one of the reasons I’ve run Lincolnite all these years—it’s been active in one form or another for 15 years!—is to test my own interest in local goings-on. Clearly my interest hasn’t faded. I love Lincoln and I love being a part of the community. I often wish I would take the next step and become more involved, whatever that might mean.

What really blows my mind is that other people are interested in what I have to say. I have met a ton of Lincolnites via this website, some in person and others merely “virtually”. Several of you have recognized my interest in Lincoln and have asked if I will ever run for City Council. My response is usually to say with a laugh, “Maybe some day”. That remains my answer for now.

But I look at an article like this and I think, “Am I willing to put up with all of that?” I think I am. In fact, I think the whole adventure would be a lot of fun. Two things are holding me up right now. The first is that I’m unwilling to leave The Missus home alone with the kids and the housework while I run for the position. I can’t ditch her like that. Nor do I want to be away from the kids that much. I’m already absent quite a bit because of my soccer reffing. The second thing is that I’m a total outsider. I lack the connections, infrastructure and, let’s face it, the know-how to run an effective campaign. Most of that could be built up with a little hard work, but it also represents the part of the gig I’m least interested in. I want to be me, not a campaigner. Perhaps there are some opportunities there to redefine what it means to be a candidate, but that implies a huge commitment all on its own.

Even if I were to solve those two matters I’m not sure that I would run. Maybe.

I have been asked in generic terms if I would ever be afraid to run for office because of negative campaign strategies. That doesn’t bother me. I know my good qualities, my weaknesses, and the quantity and nature of the skeletons in my closet. I don’t have anything to fear there. I’ve written some cringe-worthy blog posts and, like everybody, I’ve had some embarrassing moments I’d prefer not to highlight. But that’s about it.

I wonder if any of you have ever run (or pondered running) for public office. What made you do it or not do it?

Where in Lincoln is this?

February 4, 2013 at 1:45pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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