Life, overall, is pretty sweet. Aging turns out not to be the demon I feared. Largely, I'm happy and healthy and know how to throw the car in reverse for those times when I'm not. But on a recent nasty commute home, I thought of 7 things that would so sincerely improve life for midlifers (at least this midlifer):
1. No more tip jars.
I'm an original member of the Big Tippers Club. I like good service and believe that rewarding it encourages it. I'm less interested in my waiter's name than I am his knowledge of the menu but nevertheless, I believe that competence is worth tipping. I also understand that restaurant owners have convinced us that it's our responsibility to make up the difference when they underpay their staff.
What I don't understand is tip jars. What "service" is being provided exactly? No one is refilling my water glass, replacing my fork when I drop it, asking me if everything is OK. All they are doing is, well, the job they were hired to do at the salary they agreed to do it for.
I encountered a tip jar recently at a taffy shop in Newport Beach, California. When you walk in the store, you take a little basket and fill it with as much taffy as you want. Then you bring it to the one cashier who weighs it and tells you how much you owe. What service did this unsmiling clerk who couldn't muster so much as a "thank you" think I should be tipping her for? Yet there was a tip jar with a little happy face on it and a couple of bills sticking out to shame you into feeding it. What exactly is the difference between tipping Miss Un-smiley Face and tipping the guy in the 7-Eleven when I buy a quart of milk? Same exact principle.
2. An express lane at Starbucks.
I understand that Starbucks is selling you a lifestyle, not a cup of coffee. They basically are charging you rent for parking at a table with your laptop for an hour and sipping your overpriced drink that went cold long ago. I'm actually OK with the overpriced part -- it is what it is -- but I don't ever get to linger.
I catch my coffee on-the-go, usually when I'm running late and didn't have time to make it myself at home. On those days, I would like the barista to actually hustle it up a bit. No need to greet me, ask me how I'm doing, inquire if the sun is out, etc.
Starbucks needs to recognize that not everyone comes in for the community. Some of us are there for the caffeine. An express lane that gets you in and out in under five minutes, please.
3. Free shipping (both ways). This should be the law.
I love Zappos.com for many reasons but chief among them is that they offer free shipping both ways. I order multiple pairs of the same shoes in different sizes and send back the ones that don't fit. I have availed myself of this service so often that my UPS driver claims if I actually knew my shoe size, he'd be out of a job. Why isn't speedy free shipping in both directions the way of the land? We can call it Zapposing.
4. The idea that parking is a right, not a privilege.
Neighborhoods should not be allowed to issue parking permits to residents and then tell the rest of us tough noogies. Unless those residents want to take on the costs of street repairs and street cleaning, I want to be able to park there. They bought a house, not the public street in front of it.
5. Free and accessible beaches.
This is actually a variation on neighborhoods that issue parking permits to residents. Good for you for being able to afford a beachfront house. Please don't assume you own the beach, though. I want to be able to put my blanket down on the sand right next to your deck and if you don't like it, I think what should be moved is your deck not my blanket.
Where the real crime comes in, though, is when storms mess things up for you around the old homestead and then you come crying to the rest of us taxpayers to help you out.
I'll go one better: Why shouldn't everyone just be able to drive up, park and walk out on the beach? I hate paying $12 to park at a California state beach. I pay enough in taxes to maintain the beaches. Charging high fees like that accomplishes just one thing: The families for whom $12 is a lot of money can't come to the beach.
6. Hotels should stop charging those silly resort fees.
A hotel recently charged us $25 a day as a resort fee. The place wasn't actually a resort and the fee, they explained was for "free" WiFi, "free" self-parking and a "free" daily newspaper that we had to go to the front desk to retrieve. Since we were paying $25 a day for it, I'm not sure why they considered it free. And had we said we didn't care about the WiFi, were fine parking in the street, and that they could keep the newspaper, would the fee have been waived? Nuh-uh. My husband says the fee was also for "breathing the air in the room."
If a hotel wants to charge more, just raise the room rate instead of burying an extra bite in the fine print. Tell me the price upfront and let me decide if your hotel is worth it to me.
7. An end to memorials on the road.
I am sorry for the pain survivors experience when a loved one dies in a car accident. But what exactly is accomplished by erecting a makeshift memorial on the side of the road? How is marking the spot of death a way of remembering a life? Isn't a cemetery or scattering ashes along the deceased's favorite lake a more fitting place for a memorial?
I admit that handmade roadside memorials -- crosses, flowers, photos of the deceased in happier times -- kind of creep me out. I don't like to think that I am standing right next to the spot where the angel of death visited. So yeah, this one may just be me, but I don't think these memorials serve as a reminder to slow down or not drink and drive. To me, it feels more like grieving survivors are struggling. And I'm not sure that dealing with that grief in a roadside memorial honors the dead or helps the living.
Top-quality health care services are "very" or "somewhat" important to 96 percent of survey respondents in considering a relocation destination.
Affordable housing ranks second, with nearly 92 percent ranking that as a "very" or "somewhat" important criterion.
A warm, welcoming year-round climate is "very" or "somewhat" important to 85.5 percent of survey respondents. But a strong plurality of this group want their warm summers to be paired with a few cooler months. Photo: Flickr/LeeCoursey
Low local taxes are "very" or "somewhat" important to 81 percent of survey respondents.
Eight in ten survey respondents are seeking affordable recreation opportunities in retirement. Photo: Flickr/MikeBaird
Eight in ten survey respondents said strong local services for elder care were "very" or "somewhat" important.
Three of four survey respondents said access to arts and cultural opportunities are "very" or "somewhat" important in retirement. In addition, about half agreed a community that welcomes diversity is "very" or "somewhat" important. Photo: Flickr/alltrain43
Baby boomers surveyed also said the size of the community is important; seven in 10 prefer a mid-size city or small town. (Boulder, Colorado, pictured here, has about 295,000 residents, on the higher end of "mid-size," but ranks high in surveys for health, well-being, quality of life, education and the arts.) Photo:Flickr/crossbow
Six in 10 survey respondents said having beaches or ocean nearby was "very" or "somewhat" important to them. Photo: Flickr/MikeBaird
For six in ten people surveyed, access to life-long learning is "very" or "somewhat" important. (Duke University, pictured here, has offered classes for adult learners since 1977 as part of The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.) Photo:Flickr/Kobetsai
Follow Ann Brenoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnnBrenoff