Sunday, November 25, 2007

Today's Special: Smoke-free Dining?

My wife, Ruth, and I got a last minute invite to go to dinner Saturday night, which was a welcome respite from hustle and bustle of the last two weeks and 10 months. It was great to sit and talk with our friend Lois, as our work schedules and parent care-giving responsibilities keep us all hopping with hardly a moment to commiserate about life’s happenings.

Choosing a place to dine is like an NFL quarterback’s check down list of receivers’ pass patterns. Good food? Audible conversations possible? Smokey? We took our chances on Buddie's Bar & Grill at the corner of Grand River and Marsh in Okemos. The restaurant was close and we had not been there in a long while.

The evening was a pleasant one with the company and the conversation. The extra bonus was Buddie's excellent vegetarian nachos. The nachos platter was piled high with lettuce, tomatoes and all other fixings. Of course, once I added my extra order of jalapenos, I had a real good thing going.

As with any restaurant critic – amateur or otherwise – my experience at Buddie's was not perfect. You still have the matter of…smoke.

While we sat on the non-smoking side of Buddie's, we were still situated near the back entrance to the sports bar area. As much as the Buddie's owner may want to wish it away or pretend it doesn’t exist, the smoke from the smoking area – which happens to be a full-sized sports bar complete with billiards and large screen TV – encroached upon us and our dining environment. It was noticeable then and now, this Sunday morn, as I am laundering the now-smoke-filled clothes worn to Buddie's. And my lungs are still feeling the ill affects sitting in the second-hand smoke area. (Working at that venue must be like smoking two packs a day each night.)

From my recent newspaper headline-glancing, I understand the Ingham County Commissioners will be contemplating a smoking ban on all bars and restaurants in the county. This action – if they do what’s right – is long over due. Cleaning up the air quality for the workers and business patrons should be a priority.

The incorrigible smokers – indeed a dying breed – need to read and re-read the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions before they claim their rights will be violated by a smoking ban. Smoking – and act of blowing it in the faces of business employees and patrons – is not a constitutionally protected “right.” Sorry. Neither does it prohibit your pursuit of life, liberty, happiness, or mobile air tank.

Finally, the business owners and their trade group lobbyists should stop claiming their business volume will drop or, as some claim, their business costs will go up. This simply has been proven untrue in other states that have instituted smoking bans.

Some restaurant owners are short-sighted in their entrenched view on smoking. The smart ones – many of whom have switched to 100% smoke free – already understand the clean air environment will attract a large, untapped source of customers. Right now, discriminating groups of families and health-conscious individuals simply steer clear of smoke-filled venues and hang on to their disposable income, which is considerable. And I’m sure the non-smokers as a group are sitting on a lot more disposable income than the smoking crowd.

The City Pulse weekly ran a story about the smoking issue earlier this year. Coincidentally, the same issue announced the appearance of legendary blues guitarist Duke Tumatoe at the Green Door on Michigan Avenue.

Duke has been around a long time and is a recurring presence here in town. He remains one of the must-see bluesmen touring today (with the Power Trio). Today, he is widely known as a radio personality on the Bob & Tom radio program. Historically, however, he will go down in blues history as having produced and performed one of the greatest blues albums of all time, Red Pepper Hot. If you are old enough, you may have seen him perform it live in East Lansing at the Lizards Underground with the All Star Frogs.

Well, I passed on the opportunity to see Duke because the Green Door is way too smoky. It was the same result when Hank Williams III performed earlier this year at the now-defunct Temple Club. Same thing with local appearances by my personal favorite, Frog and the Beeftones. It’s just no fun if, the next day, you cough up a lung.

So my opportunity to relive the Lizards Underground days with Duke (sans the smoke) will have to wait. In the meantime, I will be hanging on to my disposable income, calling my county commissioner to support the smoking ban, and will lend my copy of the Red Pepper Hot CD to my friend Lois. She can enjoy Duke’s music in her smoke-free home. Music to the ears; no damage to the lungs.

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