Sunday, October 21, 2012

Shifters and Flippers

We were coming home from a shopping expedition (given where we live, every trip is an expedition) the other day, taking the scenic route through a small village with stop lights. Now, our county has no real stop lights, just one that blinks yellow going east and west and red going north and south, but that’s it. Stopping, while not optional on the red side, isn’t a lengthy process. If you don’t spend a lot of time in that part of the county, when changes occur you don’t necessarily notice them. But the town we drove through has several stop lights, and this time we hit them all.

Sitting waiting for the last one to turn green, I looked around and noticed that a restaurant on the corner had been redecorated and renamed. It looked much more up-scale than it had, and it occurred to me that over the years that we have been passing through there, it had undergone several changes. When we were first coming to this part of the region it was a simple, home-cooking kind of place. Then it became a more tavern-like venue. There were a couple of other re-dos over the years, and now it is Italian-Rocco and very grand looking. I wondered aloud if the food had been upgraded as well, or if it was simply the same old menu with longer names and higher prices.

As we drove on, my thoughts shifted to Washington, D.C., where we had lived for many years. In my university days, and for some years thereafter, there was a trio of restaurants on a corner near Dupont Circle. One was a coffee shop, one specialized in burgers, and the third was an early version of the "family steak house," decorated with western things like ropes and saddles and such. About two years after I came to the city the three restaurants closed. A few weeks later they re-opened, except that where the coffee shop had been was now the steak house, the coffee shop occupied the former burger joint, and burgers were now where the steaks had been. No change in menu, no change in food, not even much change (but some) in prices. Over the years the same switcheroo was pulled off several times. I realized that it was a marketing ploy, making customers think things had changed, when really, it was the same old kitchen, cooking the same old menu, but making it look a little different. Kind of like the guy at the fair who hides the pea under a walnut shell. If you move them fast enough maybe nobody will see what you’re hiding.

It might be called Putin-Medvedev goulash: same stuff, served on a different plate. You try to figure out what it really is, when all the time, you know.

It’s a political stew that you can find today on almost every street corner in the world.

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