Sunday, August 31, 2008

Greatest Summer Ever

Place: Souper Salad
Lunch: Buffet (salad, soup, pizza, spaghetti, mac and cheese, loaded baked potato), Coke.

I'm willing to bet I drank twice my own body weight in fountain Pepsi this summer.

The local convenience store chains had a price war. QuikTrip (the greatest convenience store chain in the history of the world) was doing 69 cent 32 oz fountain sodas until Kum & Go came out with their 49 cent "Soda vs Pop" campaign. QuikTrip then went to 39 cents.

And I totally bought into it. I picked one up two or three days per week on the way to the office. It's my morning equivalent to you coffee drinkers.

I should probably quit. Or maybe exercise or something.

It was a summer of soda and driving. My poor car, which I took delivery on less than five months ago, has 22,000 miles on it already. It's been to 13 states, which do NOT include Minnesota or Colorado. Yet. To it's credit, the Rogue has been completely trouble-free, save for a slow tire leak, keeping me from having to take it into Satan's Nissan for anything.

I took a mindset that, in spite of how the year started, I was going to have the greatest summer ever. I didn't exactly manage that, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Any time I found myself questioning my eating habits or some such thing, an angry voice in the back of my head would shout "GREATEST SUMMER EVER!" And that was that.

I attended the Dublin Dr Pepper birthday party. My eight-day Utah sabbatical turned into a trip home to Oregon. I spread my wife's ashes partly in view of the Salt Lake area...and partly under a drive-in screen. I discovered the wonderful burgers at Freddy's. I saw Stephanie Smith live in front of a couple dozen people in a city park. I saw Deborah Fotheringham live at a truly odd benefit concert that I really should have done a blog post on (the three acts included a junior high school dance choir). I made it back to the Nebraska homestead and reunited with the cousins for my uncle's funeral.

But I'm ready for fall. Football is on TV again. Hockey is around the corner. I'm ready for cooler weather and snow storms.

I'm sure I won't completely settle in, but it's time to stay home more.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Power of Choice

Place: Huddle House
Lunch: Chili, strawberry shortcake, Pepsi

Waitress, acting as cashier, says "Yah ate that Strawberry Shortcaike pretty fast."

Me: "Yeah, you have to eat fast around here."

Waitress: "That shore is true."

Busy place.

So as I'm pulling into my driveway, there's a big piece of trash sitting in it. I run it over, park in the garage, and walk out to investigate. It's the big city newspaper, wrapped in plastic. With my tire print on it.

I don't subscribe to the paper. In fact, I once considered suing them. My wife used to subscribe years ago, and let the subscription lapse because we weren't reading it anymore. They continued to deliver anyway. One day, the paper guy shows up at our door asking for payment.

"We don't subscribe anymore," we said.

"Oh, but you didn't call and cancel, so we assume you want to keep the subscription active. Please pay. I have to pay for the papers, so you're really not sticking it to're sticking it to meeeee!"


I blew my top. Absolutely went off on the guy. Told him I was contacting the Attorney General's office.

Which I did. And they questioned the paper about this practice.

The paper ended up reimbursing the guy for the papers. Then they called our answering machine and left a message explaining their right to do this. The message was so long, the answering machine hung up on them and they had to call back to finish it.

The satisfaction for me was that it was clearly written by an attorney, and that meant they had spent far more money on this problem than they EVER made from us in subscription fees.

So anytime a stray paper would show up on our doorstep, we'd either call and complain, or my wife would stop by their office (which neighbored hers) and complain.

They'll be getting a complaining e-mail tonight.

Anyway, the first thing I see in the plastic under the tire tread is "Are we a nation of distractions?"

The subtitle is "Freedom to have unlimited choices in life may not really be a freedom at all".

OOOH. My blood got going right there.

The (Associated Press) article first focused on a shop dedicated to sodas in they had 500 varieties...then went to the dramatic expansion in cable channels. A sidebar called "Too many choices?" laid out other examples, from the number of available books on Amazon, to the number of menu items at Taco Bell.

The ultimate target, of course, was politics. "In a universe of unprecedented static, how can an American leader lead?"

The rest of the article didn't really gave examples of how too much choice makes us "short-circuit" and make no choice at all, and it didn't really draw any conclusion. It kind of collapsed under its own weight. I think the point was "how do our leaders get our attention", or "how do we get everybody involved in politics". My opinion on politics is simple...There's too much of it, and it's far too deeply rooted in our lives. I DO vote, and my vote is made on one simple factor...Who is most likely to butt out of my life?

Nothing has improved my life more over the years than the internet. I have instant access to the world. The expansion of knowledge and creativity is unprecedented. If it weren't for the internet, I probably would have died of boredom years ago.

Twenty years ago, I was working in a radio format known as "AOR", or "Album-Oriented Rock". The concept was to go deeper into rock albums than whatever was deemed the single at the time. A station might be playing two or three tracks from the latest U2 release among their current music rotation, which played alongside what was then considered the classics...the roots of hard rock. And even THEN we had people complaining to us for being to narrow-minded in the music we played.

The format, the last little bastion of creativity on the FM dial itself, died almost universally overnight when a single program director with a lot of clout invented "classic rock". New music was no longer relevant. A simple list of "test-proven" tunes from fewer than fifty artists played over and over again was better for the mindless masses.

And so it has been ever since.

And my love for radio pretty much died.

At the time, there were two mediums for discovering music...Radio, and MTV. New artists had already long since been complaining they couldn't get exposure to their music in the corporate-driven industry. For people who actually liked hearing new things, it was a horribly stifling time.

Today, the music world has turned upside-down. Radio is completely unnecessary anymore. Finding new music is as simple as listening to samples online, searched by genre. And for artists, recording your own album is relatively easy and much less expensive than it used to be

That's just one example of the power of choice.

Let's go back to that soda shop. The guy carries the variety he does NOT because he expects people to come in and sample a lot of it (though there are those who do), he does so because he knows people will come to him for that one specific soda they know only HE will have. And if enough people do so, he will be successful. His empire is built on the fringes. And God bless him for it.

It's wonderful that all these choices are out there.

But the most significant point the writer of the A.P. article doesn't get is that the vast majority of you don't take advantage of any choices at all.

There may be a large variety of sodas out there, but if you go down the aisle of Joe Average supermarket, you'll find them all divided the same way...1/3 Coke products, 1/3 Pepsi produts, 1/4 Dr. Pepper products, and 1/10 everything else. And that little "everything else" section isn't exactly stocking 500 other brands. And you stopped after the Coke section anyway.

You're all STILL blissfully ignorant of any recording artist not broadcast on the local classic rock or "Lite FM" station. (Country fans may be the exception, but the very idea of creativity in Country is absurd anyway).

You may have 150 cable channels, but you're only watching ten of them, if that many.

There may be 22 varieties of Doritos, but I'm thinking about 9 out of 10 of you never even think about buying any flavor but Nacho Cheese.

And you all know there's exactly two real choices in politics...Democrat, or Republican. And it doesn't matter who the face of the party is and what smoke and mirrors they throw up as an agenda (isn't it ironic how often THEY throw the word 'change' around?)...the end result will be exactly the same. Policies will change to benefit the same old agenda of the party in power, and the money that buys them.

THAT is a choice we need to expand upon.