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17 years ago today

Wendy and I were married 17 years ago yesterday.  Next year our relationships will reach adulthood.

As anniversaries go it was really boring.  I have only had food poisoning a couple of times in my life and both times it has happened on our anniversary so in this case, non-eventful is good.

This morning we got up and got Mark to Bedford Road so he could get ready to play in the Charity Bowl.  Then it was off to Gordie Howe Bowl to watch him play.

Mark has started all of his games at linebacker this season.  Five minutes before the game he was told he would be playing starting defensive half back and then as he went out he was told to play cornerback.  If you have played football, being told to go out and play a position which you have never even practiced for a second is a recipe for disaster but he performed well and had no passes completed against him and had a couple of tackle.  Bedford won in a blowout so it all worked out well.

This year he has played linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.  Again, the body types required to play defensive line and cornerback are generally exclusive to each position but he held his ground and did well so we are proud of him.  Most importantly, Bedford Road just had their parent-teacher interviews and he is doing well academically.  So far that make Grade 9 a success.

Of course the Charity Bowl is a great Saskatoon tradition and all of the money that was raised today goes to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon.

To keep with the football theme today, I gave Wendy a new Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey and got her a new Starbucks mug and some Pineapple tea.  I was nervous about giving her a big thing of pineapple tea since she hates ham and pineapple pizza but as long as she doesn’t pour it on her pizza, she should be okay.  She turned around and got me a Bluetune Bluetooth player which was great.

After meeting Janice Braden for coffee, we had a noisy supper at Alexander’s.  Not sure what was going on but we were the only couple not in suits and without speakers in our ears.  We had planned on going to The Oddcouple but neither of us felt that hungry after a big lunch.

Of course it was about then that my phone started to go off because council had decided to end the transit lockout.  So if I got this right, Saskatoon City Council took 28 days and a failed labour board ruling to get right back to where were a month ago politically after affecting the lives of thousands with no gain.  People lost their jobs, couldn’t get to appointments, businesses were hurt, and families disrupted for absolutely nothing.

Then I was able to watch councillors go on Twitter and say, “We made the right choice”.  Feel free to help me out with this but I can’t find a historical comparison to an elected body that his this clueless.  I want to talk about the Devine governments with Fair Share Saskatchewan and privatizing SaskEnergy but they had an opposition.  Saskatoon City Council did this all by themselves to themselves.  That almost seems like incompetence without precedent.

Winnipeg’s City Council often rivals ours for incompetence but I think Saskatoon has won this contest.  It’s so weird because at least 8 of the 11 of them do their work, show up at meetings, and read their books.  They can ask intelligent questions and for the most part show capable political instincts.  Yet something goes wrong when they go behind closed doors.  

Of course there are all sorts of interesting questions to be asked.  Mainly what is the administrations role in this and who is running the show at City Hall.  Is it the administration or the council.  I have heard several comments from admin and staff who seem to suggest that administration thinks it is running the show in the city and that council is just there to give some advice.  In fact, even the Mayor’s recent comments make me think he thinks that.  So if that is case, this could have happened in a vacuum of a lack of leadership from city council.  Either way, a lot of lives were affected for nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

How our shopping habits cause asthma in California children

Here is the story of how globalization is ruining the health of California children

The community that epitomizes the pollution warehouses can bring is Mira Loma.“Our quality of life is in the tubes,” said Gene Proctor, 73, who has lived in Mira Loma Village for 43 years. “I wish people shopping in Tucson, Arizona, in other places, I wish they could see the little kids around here, their respiratory problems.” His great-granddaughter has asthma, and his 3-year-old great-grandson, he said, “coughs like a smoker.”

Population 21,000, Mira Loma is so small and poor it doesn’t have a movie theater, a community center, or even a moderately upscale restaurant. What it does have are 90 warehouses and a whole lot of big rigs: Trucks rumble through 15,000 times every day. In just half an hour on a recent afternoon, 269 trucks passed by the big plate glass window in the front of the Farmer Boys truck stop on Etiwanda Avenue.

That is more than one every seven seconds.

Avol, the professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, began visiting the town in the early 1990s as part of a study of air pollution and children’s health across Southern California. Back then, he said, researchers chose Mira Loma because it sits at the “end of the tailpipe” of the Los Angeles basin, meaning the prevailing winds off the Pacific Ocean blow L.A.’s infamous smog east until much of it arrives in Mira Loma. So it was rural yet had a lot of ozone and smog. Other places in the study, such as Santa Barbara and Long Beach, were picked because they were thought to boast clean air or because they were in industrial areas.

When the study began, Mira Loma residents complained to researchers about the smell of dairy cows, herds of which clustered on vast pastures and cow yards. But in 1987, Riverside county supervisors revamped the general plan for Mira Loma, clearing the way for massive warehouse development.
“In the course of a few years, the dairies disappeared,” and what had been “open pasture became streets and warehouses, lined with trucks,” Avol said. “Mira Loma turned out to be a very interesting place to study.”

The trucks made the already bad air worse, bringing in diesel particulates, very small particles that can enter the lungs and travel to tissues throughout the body. They are associated with asthma, heart disease, neurological problems, and cancer.

In Mira Loma, children were found to be growing up with stunted lungs compared with children living in places with better air. Their lungs were growing at a rate that was 1 to 1.5% slower, Avol said, so that “after their teen years, they were about 10 to 12% lower in lung function than children who had grown up in cleaner places.”

He added: “We have no information at this point that supports the idea that they ever catch up.”

Studies from other Inland Empire communities are also dire. In a neighborhood near the BNSF rail yard in the city of San Bernardino, Loma Linda University researchers found that adults have more respiratory problems, and children alarmingly high rates of asthma, even when compared with other polluted communities.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The photo below is from Andrea Hill.  Twitter’s ability to show photos has sucked in recent days so I thought I would post it here. (it took 20 minutes for Twitter to load this up)

Sad Saskatoon City Councillors

Those are some sad, sad looking city councillors.  Well Zach Jeffries looks angry but by in large, they look sad.

Homeless in Saskatoon

Homeless in Saskatoon

I just posted this photo Bridge City.  I took it today while walking in Cosmopolitan Park by Saskatchewan Crescent.  I thought it was some stuff that had been stolen out of a vehicle but then I noticed the gentlemen sleeping there.  I was going to chat with him but he was soundly sleeping I snapped the photo and left.

Le Renaissance Apartments and the Radisson Hotel

Radisson Hotel

The Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon is the tower on the right. The hotel was completed in 1983 and at 24 stories is the ninth tallest building in the city and contains 291 rooms. The tower on the left is Le Renaissance Apartments and was also completed in 1983. At 24 stories is the tallest building in the city and contains 96 condominiums.

Wendy and I went for a walk early on Thanksgiving morning.  While dodging joggers and dog walkers along Saskatchewan Crescent, we were able to grab a few shots of downtown Saskatoon.

Progressive Leadership

Atch is showing true leadership on the compost program for the City of Saskatoon.

So the city will run out room at the landfill in 30-40 years if we can’t cut back on the waste going to the landfill.  Most cities in Canada have a composting program like our recycling.  Compost is collected and sold or used for other purposes.  It works well but it would cost to have picked up.  Again, it is what other cities do.  So what does our mayor do?

According to CKOM News, he didn’t do anything.

However, Mayor Don Atchison and councillor Pat Lorje expressed reservations about the implementation of a comprehensive organic waste collection program. Atchison argued that taxpayers may be reluctant to accept another mandatory waste program so soon after the rollout of curbside recycling.

In other word he was worried about the political consequences of taking a long term view of the problem.  That’s leadership Saskatoon style.

Personally it doesn’t matter to me.  Ever since I accidentally built a bio-reactor at home (seriously, it works amazing), we haven’t sent any biological waste to the landfill in two years.  Grass and leaves is cut and mulched, food waste goes in the compost bin/reactor and nothing at all goes to the landfill.  Living in Mayfair, we have very little topsoil and so the idea of sending organics to the landfill when it can help with the garden and lawn makes no sense.  

As a citizen of a city that is running out of space at the landfill, this matters a whole lot to me.  As a father of two boys that may choose to make Saskatoon home, this matters to me.  Choosing short sighted politics instead of a long term solution is… well… typical.

How to fall in love with Saskatoon

Winnipeg columnist Brent Bellamey has written a fantastic column on how people fall in love with a city.  He is talking about Winnipeg but he could be talking about Saskatoon.  

The difficult solution to many of the city’s issues is to increase opportunity and prosperity for its citizens, improving their quality of life, growing the economy and civic revenue.
In business, the greatest success is rarely the result of following trends. Wealth comes from being ahead of the curve, predicting and investing in what’s coming next. A city is no different. Prosperity, particularly in this age of unparalleled mobility, can only be achieved by building a city that inspires and attracts the next generation.

Often called generation Y, 18- to 35-year-olds make up the largest demographic in North America today, with the greatest spending power and highest level of mobility. Their lifestyle choices will have a significant effect on the economy and competitiveness of cities across the continent. Those that are most successful at retaining and attracting a young, creative population will flourish in the future.

Winnipeg loses 3,000 to 5,000 (mostly young) people per year to other provinces, yet we continue to focus on creating the city of our postwar dreams. Our auto-centric urban-design template has taken the city from being a place with unique neighbourhoods and a distinct personality to one filled with low-density, cul-de-sac development, making it indistinguishable from any other.

Cities across North America are beginning to understand the baby boomer, suburban dream is less often the dream of the next generation.

North American young people are showing a clear shift to a mobile and flexible lifestyle supported by a greater level of density and urbanization. They live in smaller spaces than their parents did when they were young, focussing more on the dream neighbourhood than the dream house. For the first time, car ownership is dropping across the continent. In 2009, American youth drove 23 per cent less than they did in 2001. During that same period, bike trips increased by 24 per cent and walking rose by 16 per cent. Canadian transit ridership is growing at twice the rate of the population, and more than 100,000 of us belong to car-share programs.

These statistics show young people are gravitating in larger numbers to a lifestyle that is much more urban than past generations did. Walkable streets, vibrant public spaces and accessible amenities are beginning to replace the two-car garage and sprawling front-yard dream. The cities Winnipeg often loses its young people to, the places we compete with for investment, immigration and tourism are looking to the future, reacting to and investing in these changing trends.

I am surprised how many people who are in their 20s and 30s aspire to leave Saskatoon still.  They want to live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal for the very reasons that Bellamey is mentioning; walkable neighbourhoods, excellent public transit, bike lanes and vibrant public spaces.  None of them mention the phrase “starter home” or time of commute in their discussions.

It seems like Saskatoon is trying to build the dream city of the past rather than the future.  It is a decision that we could really come to regret, especially as cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg (which has a far superior transit service compared to ours) continues to pull ahead.

Let me put it this way, either Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax are correct is striving to build cities that can attract global talent (and therefore become more prosperous) or Saskatoon’s method of building more roads and lowering taxes is.

Here is the City of Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s take on this

Even more important than that, for Canada to survive, we must attract the best talent from around the world. So we need the top graduating engineers in Shanghai or Dubai or Mumbai to say, “I can be at the top of my profession in Canada, and that’s a place I want to live.” We need the financiers to come to Toronto and Calgary as much as they go to Wall Street. And for those people to make those sorts of decisions, we have to have great places to live.

People from Toronto are always shocked when I tell them this, but the oil sands are not located under downtown Calgary. That tower is not, in fact, a derrick. The oil sands are a 2.5- to three-hour flight away. So why are all those great, taxpaying, head-office jobs in Calgary and not a slightly longer flight away, in Houston or Shanghai? It’s because people want to live in Calgary. And what makes people want to live in our city is the fact that the transit is good, the road network is good, we have clean water and all those things that make cities work well.

So he mentioned “road network.  How do you get a functioning road network?

It really is about consistent underinvestment by federal and provincial governments in this kind of infrastructure, and particularly transit. Think about the fact that, in all of Canada, there are two cities that have subways. There are fewer subway lines in Canada than there are in the city of Boston.

The reason the United States has so much transit is because the federal government started playing a very significant role in this in the 1960s and ‘70s. In Calgary, in Vancouver, and especially in the GTA, it’s unconscionable how much we have underinvested in our transit systems. Look, I’ll be a rhetorical politician for a minute: Investments in public transit are among the very best investments any government can make. Think about all the benefits that accrue from that: There are environmental benefits. There are real benefits in congestion savings, which means you’re giving citizens back time that has been stolen from them. Transit is also an investment in social mobility, because if you make it easier to live and work and go to school without needing your own car, suddenly you open up the ability to participate in the economy to far more people. But I think our provincial and federal governments have often seen transit as being at the bottom of the list.

You know what, if we won’t build the kind of infrastructure people want, some other city will.  We have seen people leave before and they will do it again. 

Not only did RFK think the Warren Commission had flaws but Warren had doubts as well

From Politiico

What else did Bobby Kennedy know? Last year, the son and namesake of the late Attorney General Robert Kennedy revealed publicly that his father had considered the Warren Commission’s final report, which largely ruled out the possibility of a conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, to be a “shoddy piece of craftsmanship.” Robert Jr. said his father suspected that the president had been killed in a conspiracy involving Cuba, the Mafia or even rogue agents of the CIA. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a close friend of the Kennedy family, would disclose years later that he was told by Robert Kennedy in December 1963, a month after the president’s murder, that the former attorney general worried that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was “part of a larger plot, whether organized by Castro or by gangsters.” Schlesinger said that in 1966, two years after the Warren Commission report, Kennedy was still so suspicious about a conspiracy that he wondered aloud “how long he could continue to avoid comment on the report—it is evident that he believes it is was poor job.”

Newly disclosed documents from the commission, made public on the 50th anniversary of its final report, suggest that the panel missed a chance to get Robert Kennedy to acknowledge publicly what he would later confess to his closest family and friends: that he believed the commission had overlooked evidence that might have pointed to a conspiracy.

The documents show the commission was prepared to press Kennedy to offer his views, under oath, about the possibility that Oswald had not acted alone. An affidavit, in which Kennedy would have been required to raise his right hand and deny knowledge of a conspiracy under penalty of perjury, was prepared for his signature by the commission’s staff but was never used. Instead, the attorney general became the highest ranking government official, apart from President Lyndon Johnson, who was excused from giving sworn testimony or offering a sworn written statement to the commission.

The decision to scrap the affidavit is another example of the extraordinary deference paid to the attorney general and his family by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the commission’s chairman. In an unsworn August 1964 letter to Warren—already public and long seen by historians as evasive, if not as an effort to mislead the commission outright about what he really knew and suspected—Kennedy said he was aware of “no credible evidence to support the allegations that the assassination of President Kennedy was caused by a domestic or foreign conspiracy.” Kennedy’s private papers, however, suggest he struggled over signing even the unsworn letter to Warren.

There you go, some JFK conspiracy content for you on an early Tuesday morning.

Photobomb

Mark photobombing Wendy

Mark photobombing Wendy as we are about to walk out the door to go to Nuit Blanche.

Autumn in Mayfair

Mayfair Community School

A quick shot of Mayfair Community School as the neighbourhood changes from summer to fall.

Those narrow roads in Saskatoon that everyone hates

Well they are making new neighbourhoods safer

 The classic American residential street has a 12-foot lane that handles traffic in two directions. And many busy streets in my hometown of Washington, D.C., have eight-foot lanes that function wonderfully. These are as safe and efficient as they are illegal in most of the United States, and we New Urbanists have written about them plenty before, and built more than a few. But what concerns us here are downtown streets, suburban arterials and collectors, and those other streets that are expected to handle a good amount of traffic, and are thus subject to the mandate of free flow.

Second, you should know that these streets used to be made up of 10-foot lanes. Many of them still exist, especially in older cities, where there is no room for anything larger. The success of these streets has had little impact on the traffic-engineering establishment, which, over the decades, has pushed the standard upward, almost nationwide, first to 11 feet, and then to 12. Now, in almost every place I work, I find that certain streets are held to a 12-foot standard, if not by the city, then by a state or a county department of transportation.

In some cases, a state or county controls only a small number of downtown streets. In other cases, they control them all. In a typical city, like Cedar Rapids or Fort Lauderdale, the most important street or streets downtown are owned by the state. In Boise, every single downtown street is owned by the Ada County Highway District, an organization that, if it won’t relinquish its streets to the city, should at least feel obliged to change its name. And states and counties almost always apply a 12-foot standard.

Why do they do this? Because they believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong. Or, to be more accurate, they are wrong, and thousands of Americans are dead.

They are wrong because of a fundamental error that underlies the practice of traffic engineering—and many other disciplines—an outright refusal to acknowledge that human behavior is impacted by its environment. This error applies to traffic planning, as state DOTs widen highways to reduce congestion, in complete ignorance of all the data proving that new lanes will be clogged by the new drivers that they invite. And it applies to safety planning, as traffic engineers, designing for the drunk who’s texting at midnight, widen our city streets so that the things that drivers might hit are further away.

The logic is simple enough, and makes reasonable sense when applied to the design of high-speed roads. Think about your behavior when you enter a highway. If you are like me, you take note of the posted speed limit, set your cruise control for 5 m.p.h. above that limit, and you’re good to go. We do this because we know that we will encounter a consistent environment free of impediments to high-speed travel. Traffic engineers know that we will behave this way, and that is why they design highways for speeds well above their posted speed limits.

Unfortunately, trained to expect this sort of behavior, highway engineers apply the same logic to the design of city streets, where people behave in an entirely different way. On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

So yeah, I hear the complaints out of Evergreen, Hampton Village, and other new neighbourhoods that your narrow streets bug you but they are making those streets safer for children, other cars, and yourselves because you have to drive so slow to navigate them.  You know what, that is a good thing.

How the CBC lost Hockey Night in Canada

This is a sad story of how CBC lost it’s cash down and part of it’s soul

Hockey Night in Canada

The victors strode into the CBC’s Toronto headquarters at 250 Front St. West on June 1 in an especially humiliating denouement for what was left of the public network’s sports department and its version of Hockey Night In Canada.

Not only had Rogers Communications Inc. wrenched the Canadian national broadcast rights to NHL games from the CBC’s grasp with a stunning $5.2-billion payout over the next 12 years, but the Visigoths were actually at the gate. Part of the ensuing deal, in which those in charge of the CBC meekly handed over the company’s airwaves for free, was that the Rogers people connected to Hockey Night, along with some people hired from rival TSN, would use the CBC’s studios and take over the show’s office space on the north side of the eighth floor – the plushest in the building thanks to the show’s status as the network’s biggest money spinner.

The cash-strapped national broadcaster may have lost a Canadian institution it held for 62 years because it could not hope to match the money Rogers threw at the NHL, but no one was actually going anywhere. The show’s staff stayed put and the new bosses moved in. Hockey Night will continue to be broadcast on the CBC’s stations across the country – the show makes its season debut Saturday night after Rogers officially unwrapped its new toy this week with Wednesday Night Hockey to cover the NHL’s opening night – but the money all goes to Rogers now.

The only revenue the CBC will get is from renting its studios, offices and some staff to the conquerors.

Not long after the Rogers people moved into the CBC building, a notice went up: The eighth-floor boardroom was now off-limits to CBC staffers. If they wanted to use it, a request had to be made through Rogers.

“I’d say weird is a great way to put it,” one Hockey Night staffer said of the atmosphere in the offices on the eighth floor, adding that another emotion has a greater hold. “I’m angry at the CBC for how they handled this. I think a lot of people are mad. They fired 50 people in sports and those are people with families. This didn’t have to happen.”

It didn’t have to happen, staff at both the CBC and Hockey Night say, because they believe NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his marketing chief John Collins were willing to offer the CBC a compromise that would have saved a scaled-down version of Hockey Night for the network that still would have been a significant source of revenue. Those staffers also believe the CBC executives missed this chance because of their failure to recognize the changed broadcast landscape and to see the threat posed by Rogers and BCE Inc., which owns the TSN and CTV networks. The CBC negotiators insisted throughout an exclusive negotiating period with the NHL that any new deal would see the network stick to a regional and national schedule by carrying all games played by Canadian-based NHL teams on Saturdays.

A humiliating blow to the CBC which will have an impact on Canadian broadcasting for years to come.

What the NBA’s MASSIVE TV deal means for the salary cap

From Zach Lowe at Grantland

Kevin Durant

This is a huge moment for the NBA and Adam Silver — perhaps an even bigger test than the Donald Sterling fiasco, though certainly not as viscerally interesting.
It’s a massive victory, of course. The NBA’s current national TV deal, signed at a relative low point in basketball’s popularity, pays the league about $930 million per season. The league has soared since then. Everyone knew the next deal, which picks up in 2016-17, would trump that figure in a landslide. Two years ago, smart teams began projecting a rising salary cap, and industry experts wondered if the new TV deal might crack $2 billion per year on average.

Ha, ha. The New York Times was the first to report last night that Disney and Turner will pay the NBA nearly $2.7 billion per year, on average, over nine years to retain exclusive broadcasting national broadcast rights. Holy f—ing crap. The sheer size of the number sent shockwaves through the league late on what had been a peaceful Sunday. Executives wondered what the TV cash bonanza might mean for the salary cap, for contract extension talks under way now, for the prospects of a lockout in 2017. The mood was a mix of excitement and, most of all, uncertainty. Planners don’t like uncertainty.

The importance of the league’s cap situation cannot be overstated. It has been the single biggest topic of conversation among team executives for the last year. The salary cap rises and falls hand in hand with league revenues, and this TV contract will be the largest injection of revenues in NBA history. It is a goddamned jolt.

The cap over the last 10 years jumped from $49.5 million to $63.2 million, a 28 percent increase. It stayed flat at around $58 million for a half decade before finally leaping about $5 million this season due to an uptick in revenue. This has been a period of cap tranquillity; an $8 million contract signed in 2007 was worth about the same, proportionally, as an $8 million contract signed in 2012.

The league right now projects a jump to $66.5 million for 2015-16, a modest rise pegged to the final year of that modest $930 million TV deal. If the new TV deal kicks in for the 2016-17 season just shy of $2 billion, the cap could exceed that same $14 million leap, all the way to around $80-plus million, in a single year. If for some reason the new TV deal starts north of $2 billion in the first year — meaning it would include smaller year-over-year jumps — the cap for 2016-17 could leap even higher. If it started at that exact $2.68 billion figure, it would break $90 million, according to my own math and some bleary-eyed late-Sunday projections from cap gurus around the league.

The plans as of now are to start at $2.1 billion in 2016-17, the first year of the deal, and escalate in even year-over-year increments to a peak of $3.1 billion in the final year, per sources who have reviewed a memo the league sent to teams today.

No one knows exactly how the league plans to infuse the money, and the solution could create fissures among the NBA’s 30 teams. Already, teams have started lobbying for scenarios that most benefit them. The league and players union would both seem to have some interest in avoiding any giant one-year leap in the cap number, a mega-jump that would most likely occur ahead of the 2016-17 season — just in time for free agency in July 2016, headlined by Kevin Durant.

This could have total chaos for the league.  Instead of one or two teams vying for Durant, you could have 30 teams with the cap room to sign him.  Heck, the L.A. Lakers would have enough room of three max deals.  This could turn the league upside down in a bad way if done poorly.

So yeah

Roger Federer and Yao Ming

How tall is former NBA star Yao Ming?  Well here is standing beside relatively tall tenner star Roger Federer (who is 6’1” tall).  

America’s underground Chinese restaurant workers.

From the New Yorker

There are more than forty thousand Chinese restaurants across the country—nearly three times the number of McDonald’s outlets. There is one in Pinedale, Wyoming (population 2,043), and one in Old Forge, New York (population 756); Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania (population 1,085), has three. Most are family operations, staffed by immigrants who pass through for a few months at a time, living in houses and apartments that have been converted into makeshift dormitories. The restaurants, connected by Chinese-run bus companies to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, make up an underground network—supported by employment agencies, immigrant hostels, and expensive asylum lawyers—that reaches back to villages and cities in China, which are being abandoned for an ideal of American life that is not quite real.

Rain, who asked that I use his adopted English name to protect his identity, is reedy and slight, with a wide face and sloping cheekbones. He is observant, in no hurry to speak, but he is more cagey than timid. Like his boss, and like everyone else who works at the restaurant, he is primarily concerned with saving as much money as possible. He needs to pay the snakehead that got him to the U.S. and send money to his family in China. He harbors the vague suspicion that everyone around him is angling for more money, less work, or some other benefit at his expense. So, instead of conversation, Rain occupies himself with the math of a transient cook: the time it takes to clean the shrimp, the days before he can visit his girlfriend in New York, and the balance of his debts. At night, he lies on a cot in his boss’s otherwise empty living room, mulling the slow processing of his green card. During the day, if he’s feeling bold, he walks across the strip-mall parking lot to order lunch at Subway, pointing at the menu when he doesn’t know the English word for something.

“I understand why he acts like this,” Rain told me, about his boss. “He’s been working in that restaurant for almost twenty years. He goes back and forth between the restaurant and the dorm where we live. Back and forth, back and forth, every day for years.” The boss’s wife and kids are in China. “You do this kind of work for that long, and you start to lose perspective.” Rain pinched his fingers together. “Your world is this small.”

It can get kind of better

Six mornings a week, the boss picks up Rain and the other workers from their dorm and takes them to the restaurant. Their preparations have a catechistic order: first the rice cooker, then dishes for the buffet, then those for the lunch rush. Twice a week, a Chinese-run company brings supplies, and everyone gathers to butcher meat, hacking it into small pieces for quick cooking. They put on rubber gloves and pour salt and cornstarch over the meat, mix it by hand, then seal it and put it into the freezer. Chinese kitchens in the U.S. have none of the badinage that makes for good reality TV. In Rain’s kitchen, the only person who talks is the boss, complaining. When a buffet tray gets low, a waiter calls through an intercom, set at a startling volume: “We need more pineapple chicken up front!”

When Rain arrived in the U.S., he assumed that he had a fair proficiency with Chinese food. His father had prided himself on his culinary skill, and his mother was a capable cook, too. She taught him when to add spice to a dish, when to temper it with Chinese celery. Rain worked briefly as a fry cook in his village, and found that he had absorbed some of his parents’ knowledge. “Even if I’ve never cooked a dish before, I can think about it and draw from my experience,” he said. Having grown up on his father’s subtly flavored fish soups, he was surprised by American Chinese food. Americans seemed to eat like kids: they love starches and sweet things, and are frightened of meat and fish with bones in it. “Americans eat all that fried stuff,” he told me. “It’s not healthy.” Real Chinese food is more refined: “You have to spend a lot of time studying and really understanding it.”

In Maryland, most of the patrons seem to come for the buffet and eat as much as they can. Still, Rain loves watching people in the dining room. “I like seeing a clean plate,” he said. “I like it when people take the first bite of my food and they start nodding their head.” He spends hours trying to create a perfectly round Chinese omelette. “There’s a lot of kung fu in making egg foo young,” he told me. “If you have time, you’ll make it really perfect. You’ll make it bigger, better-looking, rounder. They’ll think, I spent so little money and I got such good food, and on top of that it’s good-looking. And then maybe they’ll come back.”

Rain viewed the job in Maryland as an opportunity to expand his repertoire. “In a takeout restaurant, people order the same dishes over and over,” he said. At a bigger restaurant, he could learn new dishes. And his salary—twenty-eight hundred dollars a month—was good, but not good enough to arouse concern. “If you come across a job paying three thousand, you think there must be something wrong with that restaurant,” he told me.

Rain lives with five co-workers in a red brick town house that his boss owns, part of a woodsy development near the restaurant. The house is tidy; there are three floors covered with white carpeting, and each worker has been supplied with an identical cot, a desk, a chair, and a lamp. “Some bosses don’t take care of the houses,” Rain said. “If they’re renting the house, especially, they don’t care. The rooms will actually smell.” Every restaurant worker has a story of sleeping in a dank basement or being packed in a room with five other people. Many complain of living in a house that has no washing machine, and being forced to spend their day off scrubbing their grease-spattered T-shirts in a sink.

So this is why he stays

For many restaurant workers, the decision to come to the U.S. is irrevocable. But, as the disappointments of immigrant life accrue, it can be hard not to imagine that things might be better elsewhere. Chinese-Americans, despite a good public image, suffer higher rates of poverty than the general public. Mental-health problems are an increasing concern in New York’s immigrant communities. In parts of China where the growing economy has given people more options, the allure of working in the U.S. has faded. This February, in a hostel in Queens, I met a woman who had just returned from a difficult day of job hunting. “I thought America would be heaven, and all it is is cold!” she complained. She returned to Beijing after four months. In Fuzhou, a taxi-driver told me that he was glad his attempts to emigrate had failed. “My father says that having a son in the United States is like having no son at all,” he said.

Rain tried not to dwell on returning to Maryland, where he was due in a few days. Everyone else who had worked at the restaurant when he started had been driven off by the boss’s temper. “And it’s so far away,” Rain said. If he could find a job somewhere closer, he could see Annie every weekend. As his family’s only son, Rain feels increasing pressure to send money home to his mother. But, he reasoned, everyone who comes to the U.S. should be prepared for hardship. “Everything we do, we do for the next generation,” he said, and added, “No matter what, it beats sitting around in the village.”