Inflated expectations from the quesadilla index
Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about inflation.
My friends look at my taste in movies and say I can’t tell good from awful, but they’re wrong: I know when a movie’s awful and enjoy it anyway. The truth is that I have a hard time distinguishing good from great, and part of the reason for that is that I never get tired of the good.
So from about July 2000 to at least August 2006 you can believe that I went to Anna’s Taqueria at least five times a week for a bean and rice quesadilla with salsa, hot sauce, lettuce and jalapenos. I’m not crazy — I rotated between refried, pinto and black beans to keep things interesting. And if you still think I’m crazy, I’ll point out that in late 2001, New York Times travel writer Alice DuBois hopped on a bus from Manhattan to Boston, met a friend and drove across the river to Porter Square, Cambridge, to my local Anna’s Taqueria, got a super burrito, went back to Boston and got back on a bus to Manhattan. Then she wrote about it for the Times and became a legend.
That’s not actually the point.
The point is that from July 2000 to June 21, 2005, my quesadilla cost only $3.10 a day, with tax, and on that date the cost rose a dime, or 3.2%, which would likely cost me another $36.50 a year (because by that point I had upped my intake to about one a day).
And the price rose again not much more than a year later, in August, to $3.52 with tax, a 10% increase that could have cost me an additional $116.80 a year if I were still doing this quesadilla-a-day thing. But I’m not sure I was at that point — I mean, come on, that would be crazy — and it probably started to seem like real money by that point since, by my way of thinking I was still eating $3.10 worth of food. (In fact, Anna’s was being generous; $3.10 in 2000 was worth $3.63 six years later.)
I can’t remember the last time I had a quesadilla. I lost the habit.
But the same calculations showing the kindness of Anna’s in 2006 hints at something quite different now: $3.10 would be worth $3.96 today, but an Anna’s quesadilla is instead $4.50 without tax, a bargain that has probably fallen victim to the rising cost of dairy and possibly Porter Square’s increasing desirability as real estate, even as Anna’s is surrounded by storefronts left gaping by bankruptcy filings: Blockbuster, Pizzeria Uno, Jennifer Convertibles.
My new fixation is the iced Thai tea at Diesel in Davis Square, Somerville. I probably have at least five a week, and for at least two years they cost $3.01 with tax.
A few days ago the price went up to $3.35 with tax, or an 11.3% hike.
“We are sad to have to do this,” the Diesel staff said in a flier posted around the coffee shop. “We have not increased our prices in two years, during which time the cost of doing business in this economy has increased exponentially. We have absorbed that costs without passing it along to our customers but are no longer in a position where we can continue to do so and stay viable.”
This sudden reminder of the power of inflation does not faze me. I have a job but don’t drive, so I don’t pay for gas, and my spending habits in general are so arbitrary and inconsistent that if it weren’t for Anna’s quesadillas and Diesel’s iced Thai tea I might have no point of comparison at all.
But comparison is not actually the point.
The point is that I can tell good from awful. I’m not tired of the iced Thai tea. That I work and can still afford it is good. My life isn’t awful.