Saturday, July 26, 2014

Whoa Mama! The Mystery of Going Viral...

Let me start with:  No, Mama Roberto’s did not pay me to defend them.  As a matter of fact, I stated quite clearly that the behavior of the cashier was inexcusable.  That was one person.  That is not the whole restaurant.  Do I think she should get a free pass?  Absolutely not.  Do I think that the amount of negative publicity vastly exceeds the crime?  Yes I do.
Was my blog an attack on Mrs. Basiger?  No it was not.  Was she partially to blame for the situation?  Yes she was.  She failed to read her own Groupon rules.  She ignored or was distracted from reading prominently displayed signs.  Is this a capital offense?  No.  Did she deserve a beat down from the cashier?  No.  Does she deserve an apology?  Yes she does.
Am I as “heartless as that cashier?”  No, I am not.  I don’t pick on sick people.  However, I think everyone should be treated the same, and everyone has to take responsibility for their actions, or inactions, whether they are sick or not.  The cashier was acting irrationally.  Anyone ever think that perhaps that might be the symptom of a medical condition as well?  Not all medical conditions have outward signs.  None of us know what lies behind that irrational behavior.  Everyone needs to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before they condemn.

I am sorry that Mrs. Basiger was subjected to that behavior.  I am sorry that she was upset and embarrassed.  I would have been, too.  Being upset and embarrassed by someone else in a public situation is something I’ve experienced many times in my life…people can be thoughtless and cruel, or they can have some other reason for their behavior…who knows.  But I have always been a believer in not sinking to the level of the perpetrator.  I say nothing and walk away.  I’m not saying I was not horribly upset by those situations, I was.  But even if I blog about it, I always attempt to present both sides.  No one-sided story is a complete one.
For those who feel the need to attack me personally, I say only this.  You don’t know me.  You don’t know who I am, or what I do.  You don’t know my thoughts or my motivations.  I can’t stop you from misinterpreting my writing as an attack on your friend.  Defending your friend is an admirable thing to do.  But think about what that cashier said to your friend, then think about what your comments on my blog were and ask yourself, do I really want to sound as vitriolic and irrational as that cashier?

In my writers group last week, we were discussing what makes a post, a book, a video go viral.  I hate to think that only negative things are shared and discussed.  So I’ll post this one more time.  This is how I really pick on sick people.  The Interview.  Somehow, I don’t think I’ll get the 5000 page views I had yesterday!   

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Furor over Mama Roberto's...

Why are we so eager to believe and share the most destructive of stories on-line?  I am talking about all the negative publicity surrounding an incident at Mama Roberto’s Restaurant in Mentor.

I’m not even close to absolving the cashier for her treatment of the customer.  The customer is always right, even when he or she is wrong, and heaping such a tirade on a customer is inexcusable.  But I am going to put forth a few observations, highlighting what I have seen and heard on Facebook and on TV, and what I have experienced as a customer of Mama Roberto’s.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no way to not see the sign that says how coupons are to be presented, with no exceptions.  It is the first thing you see when you walk in the outer door.  The sign is large and obvious and pretty much in your face.  The last time I visited the restaurant, I immediately stopped and read it, because it was not there previously.  I didn’t have a Groupon, so it did not apply to me, but if I had one, I knew exactly what to do with it when I walked through the interior door.  And if I didn’t know by then, there was an equally obvious sign immediately inside the interior door prominently displayed on the cashier’s counter.

Second, Mrs. Basiger graciously stated that “the meal was terrific as was the service, and the waitress was nice.”  So I fail to understand all the horrific comments I’ve been seeing on Facebook about the awful food and horrible service.  As a matter of fact, Cleveland Hot List 2014 named Mama Roberto’s one of the top 20 best Italian restaurants in Cleveland…by public vote.
Third, the cashier did not say anything about Mrs. Basiger’s disability, physical condition, or oxygen tank until after Mrs. Basiger used it as an excuse for not reading the signs and not reading her Groupon (which stated that it should be given to the staff prior to ordering).  I quote here, "Tracy said she was so embarrassed, she just handed the woman the extra money for the check and apologized, saying that perhaps, between negotiating the tables with an oxygen tank and feeling weak, combined with being seated instantly when they arrived, they'd missed the signs."  Rather than just pay, admit the faux pas, apologize and leave, she tried to justify herself using her illness in what some might see as an attempt to garner pity or simply to mollify a cashier who was obviously already out of control.  That was like pouring gasoline on a fire, exacerbating the situation.

It is evident to me that neither party handled the situation appropriately or intelligently.

I believe the cashier's reaction to the Groupon thing was way beyond normal, but I believe that it had nothing to do with Mrs. Basiger's illness.  I think the cashier would have had the same melt-down no matter who walked up and handed a Groupon to her at the end of the meal.  Irrational behavior does not discriminate. 

"I don't draw attention to myself," said Mrs. Basiger in her TV interview.  "It's hard enough to go out with an oxygen machine and everybody's looking at you."  If this is true, why in the world did this woman grant a TV interview?  If she didn't want attention, she would have said "no comment" and refused to allow the cameras into her home.  This just added more fuel to the fire already raging on social media.

There are those out there who want to put Mama Roberto's out of business.  The vile and nasty comments on-line have already forced the restaurant to take down their Facebook page.  This has not stopped the absolute torrent of hate on many restaurant review sites and by phone.  Rick Rhein has spent years building a wonderful business, helping the community and paying taxes into the local economy.  One admittedly bad incident by a single person, and the propagation of the on-line hate, threaten to ruin a perfectly wonderful establishment and a family's years of dedication and hard work.

Here is what I can tell you with certainty from my own personal experience with Mama Roberto's.  I've been a customer for several years.  I have never had a bad meal or lousy service.  The waitresses are top notch, always quick with orders, drinks and refills.  I used to take my mother there for lunch on Saturdays.  She was elderly and forgetful, but she was always treated with deference and kindness.  Everyone on the staff went out of their way to talk to her and make her feel at home.  She loved the Italian Wedding Soup, and ordered it every time we were there.  When she became ill and was placed in rehab, she couldn't keep any food down, and she lost about 20 pounds.  Desperate to get her to eat and retain some form of nourishment, I would stop at Mama's and pick up wedding soup to go.  It turned out to be the only thing my mother could keep on her stomach for weeks.  Without that soup, she never would have survived her rehab stay.

When Mom passed away last October, we were scrambling to get arrangements made so the out-of-town relatives could get back to their homes and jobs.  There was another funeral scheduled at the church, so they could hold Mom’s funeral service, but the church hall was unavailable for a gathering and meal afterward.  My brother and I ran down the street to Mama Roberto’s and asked if they could make their event room available on short notice and cater the meal.  Rick and Renee were unbelievably accommodating.  They had everything ready, the room was beautifully decorated, the food was hot and delicious.  The servers were quiet and efficient.  The Rhein’s went out of their way to take the burden off of me and my siblings at a very difficult time.  These are good people who work hard and don’t deserve the character assassination to which they are being subjected.
This is a free country.  Everyone needs to make up their own mind as to whether they will become or remain customers of Mama Roberto’s.  To those who wish to boycott the place, that is your choice.  Just remember that what goes around comes around, so be prepared when someone does something similar to you someday.  To those who wish to support the restaurant, knowing one incident does not make the owner or employees undeserving of having a customer base and a successful business, congratulations for not attempting to be judge, jury and executioner.

Seems like a good time to try to look at the situation from all angles.  Also seems like a good time to stop defaming, especially if you were not there to see the incident, or have never had the pleasure of eating there.  And it’s always good to remember that things are not always as they seem, or as they are presented in the media.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Interview with Leon Bibb...the Movie!

I finally received a video clip to post.  This is my July 2nd interview with Leon Bibb on Channel 5 News at Noon.  I only babbled like an idiot a little bit of the time!  As predicted, Leon did a terrific job!  Enjoy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Southern Comfort...Part Two

Four hours after leaving Perry GA, I was pulling into the parking lot of the ChattanoogaChoo-Choo.  Joe, Elizabeth and Beth Ann were waiting, as I squeezed into a parking space, and we grabbed all my things and made a hasty retreat into Hotel 1.  About 40 seconds after we walked in the door, the rain came down in torrent.  After catching up for a while and discussing our options, we headed to the Libertycon convention headquarters where I went through the registration process.  We decided on a new restaurant for within walking distance of the hotel, Alleia.  It was quite good, with wood fired baking and terrific Italian food choices.  

Everyone was pretty tired from the commute to Chattanooga, so we all turned in early with a plan to head off base to breakfast at yet another untried restaurant called the Bluegrass Grill.  Everything was homemade, even the bread.  Breakfast was delightful and much more reasonable than the breakfast buffet offered at the Choo-Choo.  We were so impressed that we made reservations for Sunday brunch. 

Of course, we attended the annual Baen Slide Show on Saturday and made our pilgrimage to the Dealer’s Room to see if there were any items for sale that we just couldn’t live without.  Saturday’s dinner choice was Ichibana, a Japanese Steak House.  The food was excellent, and the entertainment was great.  I took a doggie bag of filet mignon, veggies and fried rice, and threw Elizabeth’s filet in for good measure.  

Everyone slept in on Sunday, then we repacked our vehicles, checked out of the Choo-Choo, and headed back to the Bluegrass Grill for our brunch reservation. As usual, a long weekend with Joe, Elizabeth, Beth Ann and Pete seemed inadequate.  We made the most of brunch:  ate, talked, laughed, and wished we could do it again before another year passed.  Then we once again parted ways, knowing e-mail and facebook chat would have to suffice for the months to come.

The drive North, then East, then North again through Tennessee was arduous.  Before I had gone three exits up I75, the rain began to come down in sheets.  Determined to make Ohio before dark, I kept driving.  I only had to actually pull off the road twice, but lost precious driving time to those stops.  The rain let up as I neared the Kentucky state line.  After that, I only had to deal with two accidents and road construction.  I managed to stop for the night just before the evening twilight.  

I was too tired to head out for dinner, but I had a huge doggie back of filet mignon, veggies and fried rice.  I also had a bottle pomegranate zinfandel.  I nuked my prize, filled a plastic cup with ice and wine and savored a tasty dinner compliments of Ichiban and Elizabeth.  I ate what was left the next morning for breakfast and once again headed North on 75/71.  

Four hours later I pulled into the parking lot of Bahama Breeze in Beachwood for a pre-arranged lunch with my friend Monica.  We hadn’t seen each other since before Christmas, so we spent two hours eating coconut shrimp and swapping stories of the previous 6 months.  We parted with hugs, and I avoided rush hour up 271 and 90 by taking Chagrin East to Som Center and skirting the freeway all the way to Chardon.  I was home by dinner time.  But my week’s excitement didn’t end with the trip. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Southern Comfort...Part One

The sojourn South went well.  The weather was warm and dry for the most part.  I snaked my way southward through Ohio and into Kentucky on Tuesday, landing in Richmond for the night.  I arrived at the dinner hour, dragged my luggage into the room and went searching for a place to eat.  I had several choices, and eventually paired it down to Olive Garden or Logan’s Roadhouse.  Deciding on adventure, I picked Logan’s, where I had a very tender steak and a skewer of grilled mushrooms.  The wine choices were not to my liking (not a Riesling in sight), so I had iced tea.  The waitress was cute and perky and asked where I lived.  Of course, when I told her I lived up in Ohio near the lake, I heard all about Sandusky and CedarPoint and how much she loved it there.

I slept a full 8 hours, having not had much slumber success the previous night.  I drove another 7 hours South, through Tennessee and into Georgia on Wednesday.  Atlanta traffic was a mess, even at 2:30 in the afternoon, but I decided that the longer I sat in traffic, the more I would hear of the book I was listening to, so the delay didn’t sully my mood.  I arrived in Perry, Georgia around 4:30, and exited I-75 almost directly into the driveway of the brand new Holiday InnExpress.  It was a very nicely appointed hotel, extremely clean and modern.  Once more I dragged my stuff to a room, called my friends Jim and David to let them know I had arrived, and then called home to let my Jim (who is home manning the fort) that I had arrived at my Southern-most destination of the itinerary in one piece.

The guys swung by the hotel and picked me up on their way home.  Their rustic cabin was nicely decorated, complete with many beautiful quilts, made by Jim’s mother, hanging artfully on display.  Zeus and Xena were happy to see me (I’m still showing strange bruising on my arm where Xena tried to crawl up it), and I met Jim’s mother Charlotte, a beautiful, spunky, 87-year-old.  She reminded me very much of my mother before her downward slide.
Charlotte declined our dinner invitation, so the three of us headed out to Rusty’s Downtown Grill and Bar, a terrific local hangout with good food and decent wine.  I think we spent about 3 hours there, eating some very tasty Italian food and catching up on the last year’s worth of news.  On Thursday, I grabbed breakfast at the hotel, then headed into town to drop postcards at the post office and to tour the shop “B & B Antiques and Interiors” located in Perry.  The shop was lovely.  The antiques were amazing. 
I got the full tour, and even some of the backroom workshop area.  Jim was fixing and retying springs on a set of antique chairs, and I watched and listened as he showed me what he was doing.  I might try my own upholstery project now that I’m inspired.  We lunched at a local BBQ place.  The pulled pork was incredibly tender.  In the afternoon, David sold a gorgeous urn complete with a huge floral arrangement to a woman who had just arrived from Alabama.  Then he sold her a copy of A Mystery in the Mailbox!
Charlotte stopped by after running her errands (yes, 87 and fully capable of driving) and I talked her into joining us for dinner at a really sweet Mexican restaurant (I think it was this one) that I was told she liked.   She tried to beg off, but once I told her that my mother would go to dinner with me and the guys when they lived in Ohio, she relented and came along.  We swapped quilting stories, had some delicious Mexican food and killer Sangria.  It was a wonderful evening with a lot of laughter…the kind you remember for a long time.

I was sad to say goodbye on Friday morning.  I stopped by the shop for an hour or two before heading North to Chattanooga for Part 2 of the great vacation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shameless Self Promotion

For any and all of those who have not yet heard, I will be appearing on Channel 5 noon news hour tomorrow, Wednesday July 2, in a 3-4 minute spot with Leon Bibb.  I'm pretty excited about talking with such a TV legend about the new book, A Mystery in the Mailbox.  Set your DVRs for noon to 1 p.m.  I'm going to sit here and figure out how to use mine!