13 October 2010

I've been reading bumper stickers lately and many proclaim the drivers' apparent desire to change the world. This one was a recent favourite: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickiegirlca/5069659529/in/set-72157624116573092/ I'm also a big fan of wandering around strange cities by foot, taking pictures of graffiti; old, crumbly buildings, and trying out as many little cafes in the area as my budget will allow. It can be a really long walk and disheartening experience to have to go blocks and blocks (on foot remember) for a cup of coffee (maybe breakfast) . Didn't that used to be called a diner? Didn't they use to be in every neighbourhood?

In a recent walk from my cousin's place in Toronto east I found a business called a coffeeshop, there were seats available and the place was small. I noticed everyone had a styrofoam/paper cup in hand and the food in the fridge was fresh but also packaged to go. I asked, but as expected they didn't serve breakfast the way I like. I started thinking after I left to keep looking "why is she is choosing to use the disposable over washing the same set of dishes and replacing a few a year?"

Maybe economic. May be cheaper in her mind to not have to install a small dishwasher for cups and plates or to repair an old, broken one. Maybe cultural. She took over the restaurant and it is the way the business got by then, especially in the neighbourhood which attracts alot of 'undesirables which might do God knows what with actual glassware. Maybe regulatory. To pass the health inspection it is likely easier to get that regular certificate and stay open than have a deeper inspection because you actually prepare food there to some degree.

When I found the diner (and was sipping café latté at the Mercury on their sunny patio) I felt welcomed, part of the community. I read, took pictures, talked to people about life and sometimes asked them questions (mostly directions but some other very interesting discussions too). It struck me that business owners and customers have commonality in the experience they want to have in the restaurant. To feel like you are part of the community and are welcome back.

The 'coffeeshop' I went to earlier in my walk made me feel like getting in and getting out as quickly as possible. So did the woman who stormed out of her house after I picked *two stems* off one of *four bushes* of whatever plant it was beautifully dripping over the fence. Standing there with her probably 12 year old daughter she berated me and asked me why I thought I could take her property. I was initially dumbfounded and then said quietly that I was really sorry I offended her, I just saw the colours fitting into the bouquet I was making along my walk back. I offered it to her as payment for using her property in such a "thoughtless" manner but she refused (not surprisingly I suppose). I wish I had asked her why she grew the bushes, and how my also taking pleasure (but not causing harm to her or the plant) in them offended her.

Arne Naess called this a petty rationality. Where you can justify almost anything to yourself based on empirical evidence alone and leave emotion (or values, ethics) out of the equation. The woman running the coffeeshop in the seedy neighbourhood would be hard to convince that changing her restaurant from disposable to sustainable would be beneficial enough to her. The woman with the bushes couldn't stand the feeling that she was being robbed of her property so she confronted me. What is really at stake is so small and petty in a grander scheme, but becomes the reality because of mostly rationality.

I think I made a good decision in my reactions to both examples of that. And an idea may have been started in one of the people watching or not, and I walked away (somewhat shaken, really about the stems) feeling good about my choice in my reaction that held some awareness. Ultimately that led me to talk to more people, have many more positive experiences and generally contribute to the community spirit that is a special part of what makes Toronto an incredible city to visit.

Just don't get me started about the Uncle Ben's advertising in the subway station.