Today I was having lunch in the Court Street Venti's restaurant when Dino Venti, the owner, came over to my table and said he'd like to talk with me.
After a conversation that was as tasty as the food I ate, I said "Let's have someone take a photo of us. I'll use it in a blog post and Strange Up Salem posting."
Dino had some gripes regarding some things I've written about him. But that wasn't the most important thing we talked about. Which was...
Our agreement that people in Salem -- which naturally includes Dino and me -- need to do a better job of understanding that while we're often going to disagree with each other on various issues, we can agree to disagree in a pleasant manner.
At one point I told Dino that it'd be nice if Salem, and our country as a whole, could get back to the way things were back in the not-so-old days of Congressional politics. Senate/House Democrats and Republicans would argue vociferously, then go out for drinks together.
Kind of like a marriage, I said. My wife and I disagree all the time about this and that. But we don't get a divorce just because we think differently about a particular subject.
Dino started off our conversation by telling me how much it bothers him to have some customers threatening to boycott his two restaurants because he is publicly opposed to the mass transit payroll tax measure on the November ballot to improve Salem's Cherriots bus system.
I assured Dino that I wouldn't stop eating at his restaurants, because I like his garlic sesame tofu too much. Also, because I agree with him that shunning a business, or a person, usually isn't a productive way of handling a disagreement on some issue.
Dino shared with me his reasons for opposing the payroll tax. I won't go into the specifics of what he said, in part because he was so open about giving me some insights into his restaurant business.
What's important is that our conversation enabled me to better understand and empathize with his point of view, even though I came away still feeling that voters should say YES to the payroll tax. There's no substitute for old-fashioned face-to-face talking, notwithstanding the many positive sides of social media, like blogs, Facebook, and such.
Speaking of blogs... Dino brought up two subjects that I've written about where he felt I talked about him in a misleading manner: parking and food trucks.
When I got home I used the Google search box on this blog to find the posts that included "Dino Venti."
Looking them over, I can see why Dino feels the way he does, while still standing by what I wrote. The way I see things, when someone gets publicly involved in city politics -- like Dino and I do -- he or she should expect that they'll come under public scrutiny in a different fashion than private citizens do.
Dino was one of the leaders of a group of downtown business owners who pushed for a return to parking time limits downtown. I did indeed criticize him and Jim Vu for the way they came up with recommendations of the parking group and presented them at a city council meeting.
Part of my criticism was that I asked Dino and Jim to answer some questions about how those parking recommendations were arrived at. Today Dino explained why he didn't respond to me. I appreciated the explanation. Still, it would have been better to have gotten my questions answered.
On the food truck front, Dino said that he's heard from a number of people who believe he was responsible for the Fusion food truck being kicked out of a downtown alley across from his restaurant. He told me that my blog posts unfairly implied this.
Re-reading what I wrote, again I can understand Dino's point of view. Though I said, "I don't know which downtown restaurants were threatened by Fusion," I did go on to mention the downtown restaurants whose owners testified at a city council meeting that they feared losing business to food trucks.
Today Dino told me that he didn't have anything to do with Fusion leaving downtown, and he liked to eat at the Fusion food truck. Dino also said he wouldn't mind a few food trucks in the downtown area, yet still doesn't think that a downtown pod would be a good idea.
Anyway, I enjoyed talking with Dino. It's easy to view individuals we disagree with on some issue as caricatures, rather than living, breathing people just like us.
Like I said before, social media, and the Internet in general, offer us wonderful new ways of communicating. But we here in Salem, as elsewhere, need to remember that just because people have different views on this or that, what we have in common is more important.
Meaning, we're all doing our best to get through life as best we can.
After talking with Dino I had a much better understanding of how challenging it is to run two restaurants and manage over sixty employees -- treating them well and compensating them fairly, while still making enough money to stay afloat.
Balance. That's the key.
While being passionate and committed to our civic activism, no matter on what side of an issue we stand, it's important to remember that the people on the other side of an issue should be viewed as our friends and neighbors -- even as we disagree with them.
It felt good to stand next to Dino with our arms around each other while one of his employees took our photo. Dino and I will continue to agree on some things, and disagree on other things.
But today we found common ground on the need to agree and disagree with a smile on our faces. (As much as possible, at least.)