Smoke-Free Michigan- Or not

Earlier this week, the Michigan House voted on the Senate version of the SmokeFree Workplace bill. The vote tally was 50 yeas to 49 nays.  However, at least 56 yes votes were required to pass the bill.  Eleven members of the House were absent or abstained from voting. I would like to know where those legislators were. Not so much because this bill is the biggest item on their plate but because its closing in on the end of the fiscal year and the end of this session.

The current version of the law allows for zero exemptions.  No special treatment for casinos, cigar & martini bars or bingo halls.

Both sides of the issue have large vocal proponents.

Against the smoking ban are the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Michigan License Beverage Association. These business groups argue that bar and restaurant owners should get to decide for themselves whether or not to restrict smoking in their businesses. They also state that restricting smoking in bars and restaurants will hurt revenues and we shouldn’t be doing that, considering Michigan’s economy.

On the other side are a number of citizen groups, the American Lung Association and me.

On a personal level, I don’t like to pay for food that I can’t taste properly due to poorly ventilated smoking sections. I don’t like that my clothes and hair reek of smoke after leaving a bar. I am more likely to avoid a restaurant that still has smoking and I am much more likely to frequent someplace that goes smoke-free.

I do respect that business owners should generally be able to make their own decisions about how to run their places. I recognize that conflicts with my stance on the smoking ban. I have given careful consideration to my views on this issue. Its very easy to just turn up one’s nose and declare smoking a disgusting habit that should be heavily regulated and restricted. It is disgusting but one of the freedoms we need to guarantee in this country is the freedom to pursue your own happiness.

I think its important to consider the cost to the community to continue to allow smoking in public places. The health risks associated with chronic exposure to second-hand smoke are real and serious. The increased costs of caring for bartenders and waitstaff who develop diseases due to smoke exposure passes directly to the taxpayers. Whether one of these people has health insurance our not, the cost to provide medical care to smokers is reflected in our taxes (medicare/medicaid) and in our health insurance premiums. I don’t like involuntarily helping to pay the cost for an individual who chooses to smoke as it is. It really doesn’t seem fair to make all of us pay for someone exposed to second hand smoke because of their job. I’ve heard the arguments that if the bartender doesn’t like it, they should work elsewhere. Um yeah, have you seen the unemployment rate in this state? Realistically, someone in need of a job is not going to turn it down just because its smoky.

One of the sticky points has been about exemptions, specifically for casinos, cigar bars and bingo halls. One by one:

Bingo halls – Okay, I’ve never been in one. I remember my mom and grandma going when I was younger. Seemed like most bingo halls were run by churches. What would Jesus do, I guess.

Cigar bars – This one, I totally get. You can’t have a cigar bar without cigars. I don’t like cigars so much. But I don’t like the idea that a ban would put these places out of business. I do think that for places that decide to go cigar-friendly should the ban allow the exception, more power to them. Just no money from me to them. And I suspect that in the end, their customer base would suffer. A lot of people don’t like cigar smoke, many more than are bothered by cigarette smoke in a bar.

Casinos – Been to lots of these both in Michigan and out-state plus the Indian casinos. Some are better than others in terms of smoke control. In fact, the best I’ve been in, of late, was an Indian casino up near Traverse City. It was brand new though so perhaps the haze just hadn’t settled in yet. The thing about the Detroit casinos: I don’t think the regulars there are going to drive a couple of hours to an Indian casino, just to smoke while they gamble. If you had an Indian casino next door, that might be a different story. And the stats comparing Detroit vs. Windsor don’t hold up anymore due to the almost even exchange rate these days. Pretty soon, it could be in the favor of Canadians to come here to gamble.

In the end, I’d be supremely pleased if the legislature passed the ban in any form. I am not opposed to some exemptions but I think they should be very limited in scope. Chris suggested that restaurants and bars should be required to clearly post their smoking policies in lieu of the ban. He theorizes that places will use the requirements to say “sorry, no smoking” rather than post a big sign on the front door. I don’t see it but I do think if there are exemptions, those places exempted should have to post big signs indicating what they do and don’t allow. That way I can walk away before I step inside and have to add $20 to the cost of the meal for post-nosh dry cleaning.

Old Town BluesFest

Last night, Chris and I went to Old Town to check out the music at scene at the Blues Fest. We didn’t go until late- about 9pm so there were just one or two acts left. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so my first priority was the food vendors.

The set-up, for those familiar with Old Town, is a stage at the north end of Turner St and a stage at the south end where Turner intersects with Grand River. The listening areas, free and the $5 section with the adult beverages are sandwiched in between. Grand River is blocked off to traffic for a few blocks to the east and west of Turner. Behind the south stage there was a vendor area with about 10 food kiosks and some people selling assorted stuff, some of it junk (i.e. glow in the dark everything and rip-off sunglasses).

We walked the food court once to see what the options were. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted but knowing that we’d need cash for drinks later, I drifted towards cheap. There were a lot of options including gyros, Jamaican food, Mongolian BBQ, Turkeyman turkey legs and somewhere Vernadine’s Soul Food. I didn’t see a temporary shop for them but since the restaurant is in Old Town maybe you were jsut expected to go there. In the end I chose Maria’s Tacos. And while I didn’t choose poorly, I don’t think I made the best choice either. And I had time to back out and I didn’t. The food was good: fresh, homemade tortillas were top notch. The issue we had was with the group running the show. In addition to two adults hanging towards the back and presumably handling the cooking of the meats, there were 3 kids working the booth, all under the age of 15. Girl #1 was taking orders while Girl #2 was scooping the meat and beans in to the tortillas while Boy was adding the toppings. They weren’t doing anything bad per se but Girl #2 couldn’t keep up with Girl #1’s shouted out orders. This was made all the worse by Girl#1 messing up and saying the wrong stuff and forgetting who ordered what. We kind of saw this happening while we waited in line but it wasn’t until our order and the order for the people in front of us got all confused that it became apparent communication was not a strong point. In the end everyone got the right food and I was able to stop Boy from putting a pound of shredded cheese on my tacos. I would have liked spicier meat but as I said, the tortillas were very good and the salsa was fresh and tomato-y. Oh, and Girl#1 under-charged us by 2 bucks so I really can’t complain.

Today, I found the website for Maria’s Tacos and now I’m really not sure who the people were working the booth. I don’t want to make too many assumptions but no one under the tent looked like an “Espinoza” or a “De Los Rios”, the names of the company founders.

Tacos & burrito in hand, we walked back across Grand River Rd to the stage area. At either stage, there is a seating area with some chairs, or you can bring your own. In between those open areas is a section that serves beer, wine and specialty drinks. Its five dollars per person then you buy tickets for the drinks. Wine was four tickets ($4) per glass. The people working the bar area knew nothing about the wines which was okay, I wasn’t expecting a formal tasting. I was surprised that the first person we went up to didn’t know that Cabernet was a red wine. For the first round, I had a Pinot Noir and Chris had the Cabernet. I don’t recall the winery for the Pinot Noir and my vague recollection is that the Cabernet was 201 or 209 or some number combination that started with a two. After my first glass, I tried the Merlot and found I liked that better. That I do remember was a Penfold’s Rawson Retreat Merlot, vintage unknown. A quick on-line search indicates this is a $8-10 bottle. Pretty decent choice for an event like this- not to strong but with a nice plum-cherry flavor and a hint of oaky spice on the finish.

While enjoying our first glasses and getting some top-notch people watching time in, Chris and I started talking about wines and his likes/dislikes. Really, he doesn’t know what he likes except that he’s not a fan of whites in general. I think he’d like some of the heavier oaky whites like big Chardonnays but anyhow. So we decided he should do a blind sampling of a number of varieties and make notes about the flavors and rate the wines. And I decided this should involve other people because it can’t be smart or healthy for us to open and drink 5 or 6 bottles of wine some night just to taste the varietals. So I guess we are going to maybe host a wine and cheese party sometime soon.

We hung out and listened to the music for awhile, ran in to someone I know through work and continued making observations on our fellow music-listeners. I can be really catty sometimes and one of the things I love about Chris is that he let’s me but he will still maintain a girl is hot even if I think her outfit is ridiculous. Eventually, we met up with some friends and after the music ended, about 11:30, we decided to move our party to a bar. One of our group is a born & raised Lansing-area local so I’m guessing he picked the bar we adjourned to- Stober’s Lounge. Located on Michigan Avenue near Sparrow Hospital, Stober’s is an old-school Lansing bar. Way back in some day before my time, Stober’s was voted “Coolest Bar in Lansing,” not for being hip but for having air conditioning. The exterior wall facing the parking lot is painted with a large mural that echoes the stained glass decor on the inside. The gargoyle dragon thing looking at me from above the bar was a little disconcerting with its glowing red eyes but the Merlin stained-glass centerpiece was very cool.

After closing down the bar, a reduced party of three, including Chris and I decided we were hungry. After vetoing Taco Bell, we ended up at Sawyer’s Pancake House. Since they are now open 24 hours during the weekend, we decided that we should support them and get some good food at the same time. And it was tasty. Last time, I mentioned the fries were a little too crispy? Not this time- they were pretty close to perfect. The place was pretty quiet but there were a couple of take-out orders while we were there. Hopefully they can build a name for themselves with the late-night crowd; Theio’s did it. One plus- they have a guy on site to handle any overly drunk fools that want to cause problems.

In reality, I don’t plan to make a habit out of being out past last call and then eating a big meal at 3 AM. I realized this morning that I am probably getting too old for that, on a regular basis. But we had a good time and I was able to make friendly with some of Chris’s fellow law school students.

Oh yeah, we had a nice time at the Blues Festival but in discussing it this morning, we both agreed that the music itself wasn’t that impressive.