Monday, November 27, 2006

McFailure: during coffee crisis McDonalds failed, socialists prevailed

It was enough to make Milton Friedman bolt upright in the funeral parlor. McDonald’s didn’t serve one cup of coffee to a customer for over three days. From Friday Nov. 17th until early Monday morning, customers stopping at McDonalds for a piping hot coffee felt as though the invisible hand of the market had flipped them a stiff middle finger.

I am talking specifically about the large McDonalds on Main St. at Terminal Ave. in my
Downtown Eastside neighbourhood – but I assume McDonalds head office was issuing the same instructions to all of their restaurants in the Vancouver region. The instructions were on how to proceed after the Health Authority issued an advisory to boil tap water made murky by a rainstorm, or drink bottled water. McDonalds proved unable to adapt to these changing conditions and could come up with only one solution: stop selling coffee. Free enterprise faltered.

Guess who was flexible enough to meet market demand for coffee? The socialists a few blocks down the street.

Carnegie Centre, that hub of socialism at Main & Hastings, shut down coffee services for just three hours before re-emerging to sell coffee with the zeal of a McDonald’s drive-thru. By noon on Friday, Nov. 17th, both the Carnegie cafeteria and the take-out window operated by the Seniors Lounge in the basement were selling coffee, the former selling its usual bad coffee and the latter selling its usual good coffee: 50 cents a cup, 60 cents for a small take-out, $1.15 for a large take-out. The response of Carnegie in this marketplace crisis was, to use a pet phrase of free enterprise champion Bill Vanderzalm, “just fa-a-a-a-ntastic”.

Correction. It’s simplistic to refer to Carnegie as the hub of socialism. It is the hub of the left-wing establishment on the
Downtown Eastside, a receptacle for people positioned across the spectrum of left wing politics. If you don’t believe me, check out the leftie newsletter that the Carnegie Association puts out bi-monthly. Some of the individuals publishing that newsletter advise the City on who to hire at Carnegie. And it shows. Under the new Director, agitprop is being turned out like a Bolshevik second wind.

Ordinarily Carnegie has nothing over McDonalds in terms of efficiency. Top heavy with bureaucrats, Carnegie has been accused of irratic delivery of services to
Downtown Eastside residents. Too often a teacher has sat in the Carnegie Learning Centre behind a locked door, as students peer through the window hoping she will open up. Her excuse? An unpaid volunteer hasn't shown up. And don’t count on the $104,000 a year Director across the hall to show up to unlock the door, or the Assistant Director who reportedly has just bought himself a yacht, or the Education Co-ordinator who reportedly screws him on the yacht, or the Volunteer Co-ordinator, or the Assistant Volunteer Co-ordinator, or anyone else in the Carnegie entourage of CUPE members.

Carnegie reminds me of my time in Cuba, a retired man who had been in the restaurant business, said in a Scottish brogue just last month. He brought this up just minutes after he had objected to a cafeteria cashier “throwing” crackers across the counter at him, only to be told, 'If you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else’. In Cuba, he explained, there’s “no leverage” against the workers so customer service is lax. He hastily added, “I’m for the worker”, code in this building for “Don’t shoot.” With this reputation, is it any wonder people were surprised when Carnegie emerged as a mecca of customer service during the city wide coffee crisis?

As Carnegie’s coffee business operated full tilt, McDonalds had posters on every door announcing how they would be inconveniencing customers during the boil water advisory: “We will not be serving drinks from our drink tower and other beverages such as coffee or orange juice and ice from the ice machine at (sic) the meantime.”

I came across the poster on the door of McDonalds on Friday, the second day of the boil water advisory, when I dropped into the koffee klatch held there by
Downtown Eastsiders -- the free refill policy being the draw. On Monday night the poster was still on the door of McDonalds – even though they had started serving coffee and tea that morning. Go figure.

On Tuesday, the posters were still up. My friend D.J. was surprised when I mentioned, “McDonalds has coffee”. He seemed annoyed; he said he had just been there and left after seeing the poster still on the door. The following day, Wednesday – welfare day, always a big money day for McDonalds – the posters were again on the doors. And yet again on Thursday. McIdiots.

McDonalds may have left the poster up because, although coffee and tea were now available, the in-house soft drinks and orange juice referred to on the poster were not yet available -- although substitutes were available. By Saturday, McDonalds had brought in canned Minute Maid orange juice and canned soft drinks such as Sprite and Coke to substitute for drinks usually sold in McDonalds cups -- but they had nixed their free refill policy. By Saturday afternoon, though, they had run out of diet soft drinks, according to my friend D.J. who guzzles black coffee at McDonalds but would have settled for a diet Coke in a crunch.

While McDonalds coffee business was clinically dead, shudders could still be felt from the invisible hand of the market. A few regular customers imported coffee from elsewhere to their McDonalds koffee klatch. A BYOC policy – Bring Your Own Coffee – was emerging. On Sunday evening, I imported two take-out coffees I had bought at the Carnegie basement window. I imported two more Carnegie coffees on Monday evening. I had just finished drinking them when Tracy, a longtime supervisor at McDonalds, walked by and announced, “There’s coffee, you know.” Many customers by this late date had gone elsewhere. Even the panhandlers had thinned out.

Not only was Carnegie coffee being imported to McDonalds but McDonalds customers were being imported to Carnegie. My friend D.J., the guy who guzzles coffee at McDonalds, is an example. I spotted him at Carnegie on Saturday afternoon at the height of the coffee crisis. He generally avoids Carnegie; he despises the left-wing culture there. D.J. leans towards free enterprise and Stephen Harper and can make a good case for both. The first thing he said to me when he saw me, after saying “Hi” of course, was “McDonald’s still has no coffee.” When he invited me to join him on Carnegie's outdoor patio while he had a smoke, I said, “OK, I’ll just grab a coffee in the basement first.” He looked at me funny. I said, “There’s coffee in the basement.”

He bought one. He filled it to almost overflowing.

D.J. told me that after having no luck getting a coffee or even a diet Coke at McDonalds, he had taken the long hike up to Wendy’s restaurant at Cambie & Broadway, but they too had stopped selling coffee. And the burger he bought at Wendy’s had been stripped of lettuce and tomato because they had nothing to wash them in.

Washing vegetables was another area in which Carnegie beat out the private sector. Just hours into the crisis, Carnegie had resumed serving full salads. At first their salads were a bit simpler than usual, but it wasn't long before they had the full meal deal: green lettuce, grated carrots and red cabbage, strips of kale or chard, and other odds and ends. Carnegie basically maintained their regular menu. They lugged in huge 18.9 litre containers of water for cooking but, at least at the basement coffee concession stand, they were boiling tap water for coffee.

While I sat on the Carnegie outdoor patio as D.J. smoked, I recognized a guy sitting at the table beside us. He is a homeless guy, a regular at McDonald’s for morning coffee. I don’t recall seeing him previously at Carnegie. A volunteer later mentioned that he was seeing many people around who don't usually come to Carnegie.

The thought crossed my mind that Bruce Erikson, the leftist who is considered the founding father of the Carnegie Centre, might enjoy the irony here:
Downtown Eastsiders from the Harperite to the homeless man were turning back to Carnegie after discovering that the corporate sector couldn't be counted on to meet their needs. The left could be counted on by the people; that always seemed to be Erikson's message.

The reason, Erikson came so quickly to mind was that Carnegie never lets people forget him. Last month, Carnegie held a "love-in and tribute" to Erikson in the form of the Tipping Point Cabaret. After Erikson died in 1996, they went as far as to have a life size, cardboard cut-out of him manufactured from a photograph. They prop it up in group photos and if a person didn’t know better, they would think he was still alive.
He’s a socialist icon.

The coffee crisis would have been the time to stand the cardboard cut-out of Erikson up on the front steps of Carnegie, not entirely unlike the way McDonalds displays their icon, Ronald McDonald. As Downtown Eastsiders got turned away from McDonald’s and trudged down Main St., they would have passed Erikson as they made the left turn into Carnegie. A sign could have been erected too alongside Erikson, like the one McDonalds uses to announce the huge number “served”.


Anonymous said...

Geez William, you use the Carnegie computers every day, you use the services, obviously they fit you to a tee, and yet you bitch like some cranky old man about a place you spend your days.

You have created yourself in the image of Job, but because it's self directed, it doesn't elicit pity or sympathy, let alone empathy. It's only, and always, just sad.

Have a small fries on me next time you're at McDonald's, okay?

Monday, November 27, 2006 3:31:22 PM

Anonymous said...

yah Im from the DTES, and Id never walk all the way down to McDicks, just to drink their shitty coffee. You forgot to mention that McDonalds was giving out a can of pop instead of the supersize container Im used to. They usually refill that supersize container as many times as you want for free, but just try askin for another pop. seriously you need to spend more time on the block instead of lockin yourself up in carnegie all day

Thursday, November 30, 2006 4:46:55 PM