MAD DOG: Enforcing Traditions in the '90s

Nobody's got any sense of tradition anymore. Back in the good old days -- which is defined as any era fondly recalled by being filtered through images from TV, Life magazine, and a very hazy memory -- people revered tradition. They went to Grandma's every Sunday for dinner, had picnics on holidays after watching the parade go down Main Street, and went on vacation to the same place year after year. Nowadays tradition means going out on a date with the same person three Saturday nights in a row, buying another pair of Nikes even though Fila is the cool brand this month, and watching "Friends" every Thursday night, even if it's a rerun.Take the Hemingway Days Festival. Go ahead, it's up for grabs. For the past 16 years this birthday extravaganza has brought over 10,000 people a year to Key West, Florida for ten days in July, ostensibly to honor writer and NRA poster-child gone bad, Ernest Hemingway. This year, in a tug-of-war between the organizers of the festival and members of the Hemingway clan, the festival's been moved to Sanibel Island, a place which Hemingway apparently never even considered visiting.It seems Hemingway's family doesn't like the way the current celebration portrays the famous author: writing contests, arm-wrestling matches, a look-alike contest, and lots and lots of drinking. So where's the problem? This is, after all, the man who wrote books for a living, was into extreme demonstrations of machismo, had the most famous white beard this side of Santa Claus, and wrote the testimonial which still hangs in La Bodeguita del Medio (a bar in Havana, Cuba), "My mojito en La Bodeguita. My daiquiris en el Florida." Geez, it's not like they're releasing bulls into the streets or anything.Moving the festival to Sanibel Island makes about as much sense as relocating the New York Marathon to New Jersey, an idea only someone like Congress could love. What will they think of next, sending New York cab drivers to etiquette school? Hold onto your seatbelts, they're doing exactly that.That's right. In a ploy to upgrade the Big Apple's image, someone -- probably the same people who decided making another Vacation movie with Chevy Chase was a good idea -- started making New York bus and cab drivers attend courtesy school. This is a lot like sending a chicken to computer programming school, except at least the chicken has a chance of learning something.Face it, crabby cabbies are a New York tradition, much like admiring the smog from the top of the Empire State Building, eating water-logged hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard from a street vendor, and being mugged. But I guess it doesn't hurt to try. After all, the cab drivers may not be any more polite after they take the course, but at least they'll know that the little fork on the very left of the place setting isn't there so they can clean their fingernails. Duh! That's what the steak knife is for. But at least the New York cabbies aren't being trained in obstetrics like they are in Bangkok, Thailand. Traffic jams are so bad in that city that between 300 and 400 women a year give birth while stuck in cabs waiting for the guy in front of them to remember that the idea of being in a car is to drive, not call a 900 number on his cell phone. That's what he has a bathroom for.In order to help their customers, and hopefully increase the size of their tips, the cab drivers are learning how to deliver babies. Angry obstetricians are retaliating by learning how to drive cabs. Just kidding. Actually they're just as happy that they don't have to leave their golf cart to deliver another baby. But don't think for a second that this will stop them from phoning the office and having their receptionist send the patient a bill. After all, even Thailand's been Americanized.Luckily there are still people who are trying to maintain a sense of tradition. You know those signs you see in restaurant bathrooms from coast-to-coast? The ones that say "Employees MUST wash hands before returning to work"? Well, a New Jersey company by the name of Net/Tech is not only working hard to make sure we keep seeing these signs, they've come up with a way to enforce it. Hygiene Guard is a system they've developed which monitors whether employees wash or not. A badge they wear triggers a sensor when they enter the rest room. If they don't remain at the sink for at least 15 seconds their badge starts blinking, causing their second grade teacher to pop out of retirement to admonish them for having dirty hands and fingernails. This isn't to say staying in front of a sink for 15 seconds ensures clean hands. After all, I was 6 years-old before I stopped running the water and scraping the toothbrush against the sink every morning trying to fool my mother.Maybe Net/Tech is onto something. Perhaps the way to maintain our traditions is to enforce them more strictly. Joe Dimaggio could call and harass you if you don't have your coffee every morning. You'd get an electric shock if you sit in a movie theater seat without a 55 gallon drum of butter flavored oil-soaked popcorn. And you'll be turned back at the state border if you can't prove that at least one of the kids got car sick on your vacation trip. Traditions -- you'll learn to love them.

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