Jewish World Review May 15, 2003 / 13 Iyar, 5763

Lloyd Grove

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Consumer Reports

So Bill Gates and Tom Brokaw walk into a coffee bar . . .; hotel hell; more | WASHINGTON When the world's richest man and the supreme anchor of network news stroll through downtown Watertown, S.D., a teeming metropolis of 20,000, they hardly go unnoticed. But it's a screaming headline when they guzzle down large $3 cappuccinos at the Past Times Cafe and then leave without paying, let alone tipping.

Thus the story of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates's and NBC News Alpha Male Tom Brokaw's visit last Friday -- to tape an interview for "NBC Nightly News" about Gates's $250 million gift of computers to rural America -- spread as far away as The British high-tech journal, the Register.

"When I got to Montana I asked one of the producers, 'Did we pay that woman in Watertown?' and he said, 'I don't think we did,' " South Dakota native Brokaw told us. "Having grown up in one of those small towns, I know the DNA of these places, and I know that when Brokaw and Bill Gates leave without paying, that news will instantly ricochet up and down Main Street."

Past Times owner Corinne Arnold told us the cappuccinos were on the house. But waitress Jackie Harrington, who spent five minutes brewing the steamed-milk treats for her distinguished customers, revealed that Gates and Brokaw abjectly failed our Celebrity Tip Challenge.

"It's all right," the 25-year-old Harrington told us. "A tip is not an obligation."

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spokesman Joe Cerrell told us: "It was an oversight that we didn't leave a tip. The tip is in the mail." Brokaw said he has sent two $20 bills to the Past Times Cafe -- one to cover costs and the other, "with an inscription, for Corinne to hang up on her wall."


Tuesday started out as a bad day for 23 Republican women who flew here from Houston for a week's visit -- only to discover that their prepaid rooms at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va., were occupied and unavailable. But after group leader Pearl Fincher phoned not only us but also her congressman, Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and one of her senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, it ended up a worse day for the Sheraton hotel chain.

First the Sheraton offered the angry women, who had paid $1,035 apiece for transportation and lodging, rooms at a Best Western two hours from Washington. Then an official of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Sheraton's parent company, told us erroneously that the women would be given accommodations at no extra charge at the Marriott Wardman Park in D.C. Finally, they were put on a bus heading toward a hotel an hour away in Prince William County, Va. But as complaints from Capitol Hill escalated, the bus made a U-turn, and the women were returned to the Sheraton -- where, somehow, the promised rooms were suddenly found. In addition, Starwood has offered the women a free night, dinner and breakfast at Houston's deluxe St. Regis Hotel when they get back home.

"These are normally very gracious women," Brady told us. "But when they need to, they stand up for themselves."


  • Around three mornings a week at 7:30 a.m., Vice President Cheney commutes to work from his official residence. But some Washingtonians apparently aren't thrilled with Cheney's "unsubtle, super-fast, over-loud, all-lights-flashing, 10-vehicle procession that includes police on motorcycles waving traffic aside as well as several of the requisite black, shining Secret Service SUVs, followed up again by Metro Police cruisers," Brookings Institution administrator Andrew Burnett e-mailed us this week. "I'm gratified that Dick Cheney is an early riser like me who loves to get to the office early . . . but in all seriousness, is this deafening, intimidating procession really necessary? . . . Memo to the Vice President: Shhhhhhhhhh." Cheney's office responded with total silence.

  • High-risk lecture date? On May 5, reformed slot machine and video poker player Bill Bennett made a solemn public promise: "My gambling days are over." The same day, Bennett appeared at the Oneida Bingo & Casino in Green Bay, Wis., to speak at a Rotary Club dinner. Las Vegas Sun columnist Timothy McDarrah got a no-comment when he asked casino officials if Bennett ventured the 50 yards from the dinner site into their den of vice. When we asked Bennett spokesman Jeff Kwitowski the same question, his answer was a terse "no." But Rotary Club dinner chairwoman Susan Finco elaborated: "I don't think it was ever an issue with anyone. No one was watching to see what he was doing -- except the media."

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate