Saturday, April 7, 2007

sources of information

So how do I get the information?
At first, I gathered most of it myself. I made hundreds of phone calls, combed through newspapers for restaurant ads, inquired in online newsgroups, asked friends. Wherever I went in my travels, I looked around for smokefree venues.

I was nervous about making cold calls, but almost no one was rude. People in the hospitality business are basically polite. They are, however, busy, often underpaid, and often English is not their first language, especially in restaurants. So I kept calls short and to the point.

Later, people began sending information, and links to their own sites.

It was hard to find venues to list in the beginning. In addition to there being fewer back then, there was an inability to recognize the business or consumer side of things. For example, I would find smokefree restaurants where the manager didn't know that people might really like to know about this. Or I would contact a bureaucrat working on smokefree legislation, or an academic who had spoken at a conference on the subject, and I would ask, do you know of any smokefree restaurants which deserve to be listed on the web site? I would get the e-mail equivalent of a blank stare. There seemed to be no understanding that consumers can exert pressure in their entertainment and dining choices.

ironies

When I started the web site, the reactions were:
-Isn't it smokefree everywhere? (this in California)
-Smokefree bars - never gonna happen, ha ha, silly nonsmokers
-How dare you even ask if our town has any smokefree restaurants

Now the reactions are:
- You nonsmokers have taken over the world, you hate freedom
- Your list is out of date, mine is better
- Whaddya mean you charge for an ad

The occasional hate mails can be interesting:
"I hope to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Buda, the God of Israel, and all lesser deities, that each and every person in your organization contracts cancer and dies, and I hope your family suffers many different ways. THIS IS NOT A THREAT JUST A DREAM OF MINE. "

Then there was the (self-described) fireman who was angry he wasn't allowed to smoke in the firehouse anymore, and reminded me that the death of those poor people in the world trade center in NYC was for my freedom.

long strange trip

In 1999, I started a web site called SmokeFreeWorld.

I was living in California and playing bass in rock bands. The newish smoking ban wasn't much respected. Result: wheezing, smoky hair, smoky clothes.

So, I started a list of venues which respected the ban. This developed into a worldwide directory of smokefree venues - restaurants, bars, hotels, whatever, in any country where they could be found.

I tried to run it as a business, supported by subscriptions and ads. I figured, people who want smokefree venues should put their money where their mouths are. The site would also link to local lists. The more languages the merrier. SmokeFreeWorld failed in that respect - not enough subscriptions, and venues wanted basic listings (free) but not premium listings (paid).

It's been fulfilling in other ways. I've met nice people, and discovered smokefree venues. Meanwhile smoking bans have expanded to places I never would have expected - New York City, Ireland, Buenos Aires. I also received fascinating hate mail. Once I stopped updating the site, I received complaints (mostly from people who didn't subscribe). Such is life.

The web site now points to this blog, to which I will migrate old content as time permits.