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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 18, 2010

Every Day Is Special

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Godiva Gems, Free Parking, Grammar

Godiva chocolate bars have always been too much for me -- in the category of fine chocolates on the candy-bar displays, I far preferred "Ghirardelli Squares," especially the caramel-filled ones, or Cadbury's Caramello bar.

But I've also learned that the Ghirardelli squares have a huge drawback: they are delicate enough to get bent and broken, so when you unwrap the package you can find yourself with messy caramel irrevocably glued to the wrapper. The same thing sometimes happens with Caramellos, too, despite their careful packaging with a cardboard stiffener to protect the bar.

Now Godiva, perhaps realizing that their slabby candy bars were just too much at a time, has come out with Godiva Gems, and they are, in a word, perfect.

Each of them is only a little bigger than a Hershey's kiss, and is wrapped in a slightly loose twist of metallic paper. The compact design of the candy makes it less prone to breakage or bendage, and the wrappers serve as additional cushioning.

There are three forms of Godiva Gems.

Solids are UFO-shaped medallions of dark or milk chocolate, thin enough not to have the slabbiness of the bigger chocolate bars.

Truffles are round, with creamy fillings inside milk and dark chocolate shells. They really are as good as many fine filled candies (though I think they still aren't in the league of the truffles at Loco for Coco).

What I absolutely love and am rapidly gaining weight from are the Godiva Gem caramels. These rectangular chocolates -- again in dark or light varieties -- are filled with a caramel every bit as good as -- and maybe a little better than -- the Cadbury or Ghirardelli competition.

Fresh Market usually has a full selection of Godiva Gems not far from the florist section. And Barnes & Noble right now has wedge-shaped sealed bags of the Gems near the cd racks by the checkout line. If you're a chocolate lover, you really owe it to yourself to buy a couple of bags and discover just how good prepackaged, individually wrapped chocolates can be.

*

I always thought of parking meters as a meaningless imposition on the public for the sake of trivial amounts of revenue -- like toll booths on long-paid-for turnpikes, where the only reason to collect tolls now is to fund the never-ending pension funds of retired toll collectors.

But here's a link to a video in which economist Donald Shoup explains why parking meters are all about making sure there's plenty of parking available -- which greatly promotes retail shopping. "Just because you don't pay for parking doesn't mean the cost goes away," he says.

The idea is that you have to charge enough for on-street parking that people have an incentive -- especially for long-term parking -- to choose to park farther away and walk in, or take the bus, or make sure they finish their shopping soon enough to get that car away from the meter.

Naturally, some people won't care about the cost, so the meter merely takes a little money out of their pockets. But because there are people who will refuse to park at a meter (or stay less time if they do), the parking places keep emptying.

That means that when you arrive, looking for close-in parking, you're more likely to find an open parking place. You strike a perfect balance when the on-street parking is always nearly full ... but not quite. If you can usually find a place to park fairly quickly, but the parking places aren't all or even mostly empty, then you've found just the right price for on-street parking.

Ah, yes. The ruthlessness of the free market. But it makes sense. After all, big "free" parking garages or mandated "free" parking lots at every place of business actually cost a lot of money, amounting to vast subsidies that encourage people to drive everywhere.

If the parking lots shrank, businesses would be closer together and you could walk between them. Parking may be the single biggest land use in our cities -- and, in a way, it's all wasted space that could be accomplishing something.

Anyway, don't trust non-expert me. Learn from Donald Shoup how "free" parking is never free.

*

Good grammar and spelling guides are hard to find -- mostly because the "experts" are usually wrong about something, and often about a lot of things.

This is one area where I really am an expert. I used to be a professional copy editor, and besides, language has been my lifelong study. No, I don't use perfect grammar in speech, and no, my writing is never error free. I make as many typographical errors as anyone, and when I talk I usually speak "informal spoken English," which has a very different rule set from formal writing.

Still, when it comes to writing -- memos, reports; even letters, emails, texts, and tweets -- people are going to judge you by how well you observe the rules of grammar and spelling. Not that they are experts about everything -- but they do know some of the rules, and if you break those, they'll judge you negatively, even if they have their own array of habitual mistakes.

So it is with great pleasure that I call your attention to the most reliable, accurate, and usable grammar guide I've yet found. There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd, by Annette Lyon, actually offers you accurate advice. (Well, she's not perfect, but the places where I think she's wrong are generally grey areas or so rare and trivial that it doesn't matter.)

She helps you greatly through the mysteries of commas, dashes, hyphens, and parentheses. She even tells you how to get your computer to produce the esoteric characters that are sometimes needed (the m-dash and n-dash).

When do you capitalize "mom" or "president" and when do you leave them lower-case? This book will tell you.

When is it wrong to write "into" because you need to use two words, "in" and "to"? She knows the rule and explains it quite clearly.

So from now on, when people express that rare thing -- an interest in learning the rules of orthography and grammar -- this is the book I'm recommending to them. And it's the one I'm keeping by my computer for quick lookups when I don't want to mess with the whole Chicago Manual of Style.


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