20 February 2009

Review: The Melting Pot

We love to eat. We've been known to go for the basic (fresh fruit / veggies), the awful (chips and soda), and the gourmet (my own creative cooking). We also like to eat out. We try to keep it to once a week. This time it was Valentine's Day and it was a Saturday. Outback wasn't going to cut it, so I made reservations for The Melting Pot in Towson (they also have a place in Rockville/Bethesda).
We showed up about a half hour early for our seating, and were guided to the bar where I had a Smithwick's draught and she had something deliciously fruity and alcoholic. It was fairly quite in the bar, and we shared a quiet married moment of being dressed up at a nice bar watching the Food Channel. They were not making fondue.
The Melting Pot, you see, is a fondue restaurant. They guided us to our table 15 minutes early (so it was 8:45 pm), and I promptly noticed the large electric burner with the HOT warnings on either side. The table surface itself was made of a ceramic tile of some sort - definitely more heat resistant that your average lacquered wood table. Something I noticed, that had been itching at me since we got there; it's very steamy inside the restaurant because of all the open pots of broth/oil cooking away at each of the tables.
Our waitress - a friendly, polite, and expert professional whose name escapes me - came over and gave us the rundown for the evening, and that we had a few choices to make even though the menu was set. We went with the garlic cheddar for our appetizer, the brothy goodness for our entree, and the chocolate turtle for dessert. Caesar salads came before the entrees.
Everything was delicious, from the first bite of cheese covered bread to the last morsel of marshmallow soaked in melted chocolate. I had some small issue with some of the seasoning choices for the pork and chicken, but overall everything was fantastic - even the coffee we ordered with dessert. Who knew that fillet Mignon boiled in spiced chicken broth could be so tasty?
My only other mark against - mostly my own fault - was the pacing of the meal. Judging by the table next to us they worked on a set timetable for each party. The other couple was abut 5 minutes behind us all evening. I would have preferred a more variable timing to the whole thing since we eat a little faster than most (especially all those pre-cut bites!) but I think this is God's expensive way of telling me to SLOW DOWN when I'm eating. The atmosphere (though steamy) was nice, the bathrooms are clean, and the staff is very helpful. It's incredibly pricey, but then fondue isn't exactly a nightly cuisine option at most dinner tables.
Though the next time I make some beef, I might consider boiling it in chicken broth.
Don't judge me.

09 February 2009

The Decline and Fall of Downtown Hagerstown

In recent years many towns and cities have undertaken revitilization and gentrification projects for their Central Business Districts, to great success. I think of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Downtown Frederick for two. Shepherdstown, WV enjoys a thriving "downtown" also, thanks to the nature of the College Town. Hagerstown, however, has largely failed to capitalize on what has the potential to be a source of civic pride, cultural enrichment, and revenue (both business and tax). I see this failing as being more than the fault of a misguided council or fickle shoppers. There is a larger problem nestled in the Cumberland Valley.
The Hagerstown area is a great destination for shoppers already, with the Prime Outlets - anecdotally - a favorite destination. The trip up Route 65 into Downtown is one only minutes from the Outlets, and is no deterrent for shoppers. If we built it, they would come. Why aren't we building it?
We aren't building it because we are fretting over what tax breaks to give to developers or what sort of window panes we might force them to install, rather than focusing on the real issue: Goods jobs with Good pay. I, along with my wife, and most of my friends who live in Hagerstown, drive to Frederick or points along I-270 for our work. Why? Because there are no competitively paying jobs in Hagerstown. I have been scoffed at, sometimes with great incredulity, when in the past interviewing with potential employers in Hagerstown, and the question of renumeration arises. Because of this I have driven to Frederick for work for a decade.
"This is excellent!", You might cry; bring those dollars home from Frederick and spend them here! And for a portion of it, I do. However, I spend that money where other visitors spend it - national chains who likely have received tax breaks for building their stores here and whose revenues go into a corporate coffer just the same as if I'd shopped at those same stores in Frederick, Chambersburg, or Salisbury. I do not, you see, spend money downtown. I spend my days in Frederick, and I am therefore much more likely to be in tune with what is gong on in Frederick, much more likely to want to stay here, or even drive back down, to enjoy the downtown and all it has to offer.
Because of this downtown Hagerstown suffers. If there were more high paying, technological jobs in Hagerstown, or even Washington County, I would certainly prefer to not commute 30 minutes one way daily, and be much more likely to want to spend my time downtown. Also, think of the increased tax revenue such businesses would deliver, and then there's the ecological factor, growing in importance every day. Taking all those cars off the highway is certain to help us all breathe a little easier.
This has been bothering me for some time, but when people like "bflodave" make their comments on articles that show how we might be making some progress in Washington County (http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=displaystory&story_id=216321&format=html), it makes me wonder if he is the same person (people) who laments our declining downtown, failing to realize that in the 21st century, if you do not develop intelligently locally, you will not develop at all.
Hagerstown and Washington County, take heed. Bring the high tech jobs home, and pay us what we're worth, because if you don't, we won't just work in Frederick, we'll likely move here, too. But then maybe downtown will be revitalized: Wal-Mart style.

04 February 2009

When I am King

I'm back in classes for the Spring. After this only one more semester until I have my Master's degree. These new classes make me think, and many of my thoughts are not precisely pertinent to the question being asked in the class, so I turn to my web-log and you, my reader.
The question of teamwork was recently raised in classroom discussion, specifically asking after teams in which we have participated. I pointed out that I've been lucky enough to work on teams where we could each finish the other's sentence, reading minds and anticipating needs. Those have been some good times, and definitely rewarding (and award-winning) circumstances. I've also had the displeasure of working for teams that never seemed to really cohere, that worked at cross-purposes or where getting the job done was like pulling teeth. In one of these cases I was the leader of the team.
There is one common thread that makes or breaks a team, I've found: the leadership. This is where we get to the part about "When I am King".
The leader sets the tone, disperses the information, holds the members accountable, and is himself personally responsible to the customer for the work the team produces.
But Rob, tell us about the time your team sucked! Show us your humanity! Okay, okay. It was only for a school project, and we collaborated exclusively over the internet. I could make excuses that there were cultural differences (like socio-geographic, not corporate) that impeded communication, or that the team failed to respect deadlines, or whatever, but the fact remains that we fell short of our goal (Grade A work. Overall I think we had B/C work) and I was the one in charge. My failure was in my giddiness to lead I didn't make my desires clear, and spent a lot of time clarifiying items that I should have given more thought to before broadcasting to the team. My lesson? Clear communication is paramount when you are king. If your subjects (er, staff), don't understand what you're asking of them, your statue will likely end up with you charging forth mounted on a large ass, rather than mounting a charger while striking down an heroically large asp. You get my point.
When I am King, I will be the leader of my team. I will make certain that I make my requests clearly and with full disclosure. Unless my team has been working with me for years, I will not assume that they are mind readers, swamis of software and hardware, PC augurers who can read silicon entrails to divine my will.
I will lead my team by example, working just as hard - if not harder - than the people for whom I am responsible. This is something I have learned by observing everyone I have had the honor of serving under. I will also, however, groom my staff to be proficient in all areas so that I am not working so hard in a reactive mode.
I will be a source of joy and pride, when I am King. My staff will want to come to work each day because they respect me and want to work for me - not just because the company we all work for pays them to be present. I'll work hard to earn that respect, and I'll hopefully generate laughter with my impeccable sense of humor, though I am more likely to generate some behind-my-back unity in my team as they bond in the face of my sense of humor (if you've been reading these web-log posts, you will understand).
Finally, I will maintain the sort of leadership that allows my staff to come to me when I've asked them to do something and haven't been clear enough for them, and I will help them to understand what needs to be done without making them feel dumb, because I know that the people workingwith and for me will be intelligent people who won't have to divine my will, though hopefully we'll enjoy the sort of career together that will make such a thing entirely possible because we'll have grown together.

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