Friday, July 31, 2015

An Open Letter to Open Letter Writers

Dear Open Letter Writers,

I applaud you and your public bravery. That special way you share your public-but-should-be-private finger wagging with celebrities, athletes, politicians, or that guy who cut in front of you at Starbucks serves as a reminder of your work as a positive role model to society.

After all, it takes a lot of chutzpah to share your opinions in public. Other people might call it passive-aggressive. Sort of like the way someone speaks loudly to friends in a restaurant about how noisy children are a sign of bad parenting, in the hopes that the people at the next table will tell their bratty kids to shut up.

I can only imagine how irate and annoyed you must be with someone in particular that you want to publicly shame them for what they've done. I'm guessing you have a special insight into the actual circumstances in that person's life, so why shouldn't you air your opinion?

After all, rulers and religious figures have done it for centuries, so why not you?

When kings and presidents write an open letter, it's called a letters patent, and it's usually in the form of a legal document. Think of it as a legal proclamation, such as appointing someone to a political office. Meanwhile, a letters patent written by the Pope is called a papal bull.

The New Testament's Letters of Paul are also open letters. In them, he writes to a particular church, such as Ephesus, or a single person, like Timothy. But in all his letters, the lessons and ideas are intended for everyone. Which some people think are also bull.

That's what I admire about you, dear open letter writer. You're no religious or political leader, and yet you write your own open letter, sharing your ideas from on high. Just like a king or queen, you place yourself in a position of moral authority, allowing everyone else to purse their lips and clutch their pearls in agreement.

Some people might be encouraged to take a less visible route, and find a way to send a private message to the object of your scorn. They might — incorrectly, I'm sure — believe that the other person would appreciate some privacy and quiet dignity to ponder the error of their ways.

But not you. You share your gripe with everyone, because you're well aware of how much the rest of the world cares what you think about your chosen celebrity, athlete, politician, or Starbucks line cutter.

Of course, we appreciate the way you put yourself out there. Not only do you bravely point the finger of shame at a complete stranger, you also serve as the beacon of goodness and righteousness for the rest of us to follow.

That's a heavy burden indeed.

Don't get me wrong, dear open letter writer, what you do is valuable. You demonstrate what self-righteous indignation should actually look like.

In turn, we can embody your outrage and channel it into other issues, writing our own open letters — in the form of Facebook status updates — about topics that affect us greatly. Like whether two people we have never met can get married. Or how at least half the politicians in this country are idiots. Or whether athletes in a sport we don't actually care about cheated at their sport.

Your example of how right-thinking people should behave serves as an inspiration, and makes us feel free to lecture strangers on what we think is appropriate behavior.

For example, I feel more justified in writing open letters to the parents who let their young children scream and run around at restaurants, and then slipping the letters into the bill holders when they're not looking.

It's definitely safer than standing up and shouting over at them to "shut those blasted kids up!" Plus, my wife doesn't kick me under the table so much. And I don't receive open letters from the manager about how I'm not allowed in the restaurant.

Well, not so much open letters as restraining orders, which I suppose could make them letters patent. Especially since the judge got mad when I kept saying "if it pleases her royal highness."

So thank you, dear open letter writers, for all you do. For guiding us and showing us the proper way to act. For singling out people you've never met and holding them up for shame and ridicule. With chutzpah and audacity like yours, I predict even greater things for you.

Like becoming a newspaper columnist, for example.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon Says Pluto's a Planet

"Kid, let me ask you a question," my friend, Karl, said one day. "Your answer could have a major impact on our relationship."

This sounds serious, I said. What is it?

Karl searched my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and said, "What do you think about Pluto?"

I thought for a minute. The planet or the dog?

"I don't know why I even try!" he said, throwing his hands up and turning back toward the television. We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary bar, watching the footage of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft had been sending back as it flew by. Karl had been there three beers longer than me, and was in one of his moods.

What? What's wrong? I said.

"Well, you did say 'the planet,' so I guess that's okay."

What are you talking about? I said.

"The planet Pluto," Karl said. "The thing named after the Roman god of the underworld."

I thought it wasn't a planet anymore. Karl glared at me. Why are you even upset by this?

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas."


"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. The thing! The thing we learned in school to remember all the planets."

I always thought it was 'my very excellent mother.'

"It doesn't matter!"

Well, she's serving pizzas, so that's pretty excellent.

He banged his fist on the bar. "It doesn't matter! What matters is that we're even debating this idiotic issue."

You're the one who brought it up!

"Not us," Karl hissed, waving his hand between us. "Them!" He waved his arm toward the door to encapsulate the rest of the planet.

Who is 'them,' Karl? I asked carefully. If he started talking about government mind control, we were going to have a problem.

"The IAU. I can't believe their hubris and sheer arrogance at downgrading Pluto to no longer be a planet. As if they're the arbiters of what's a planet and what's not."

Who's the IAU?

"The International Astronomical Union. They're some kind of astronomy club."

They're more than that, I said, finally getting it. They're the professional astronomers association. They've got members all over the world, and they all have Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy.

"Well, you can't spell hubris and arrogance without Ph.D." he plonked his beer down for effect.

Actually, you'd have the P and the D left over.

"It doesn't matter! My point is, who appointed these bozos as the official deciders of what the rest of us have to follow?"

Well, for it to be a point, it should be a statement, not a—Karl was glaring again. Why is it so important for Pluto to be a planet?

"Because it just is. The planet was discovered in 1930, and remained a planet for almost 73 years, until these astronomy bozos took a vote — they voted, can you believe it?! — and decided that Pluto would no longer be a planet. Look, I know Ph.D.s like to puff themselves up with self-importance, but to decide that you were the final say in how the world should view the galaxy? That takes some asteroids."

But what about the dwarf planets? Thanks to the IAU's reclassifications, we have some new planetary bodies we can add to the mix.

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

I looked it up on my phone. Well, there's Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake.

"Make-make? Like it rhymes with bake-bake?"

No, mah-kay-mah-kay. I think it's named after a god on Easter Island. And they're looking at almost a dozen more candidates, which means we could add some more planets to our list.

"So are they all cast out with Pluto to the farthest reaches of our solar system?"

Actually, no. Ceres is between Mars and Jupiter. But, yes, the rest are out with Pluto. So, the complete list of planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. So now, I guess your teacher's saying is 'My very excellent mother—'

"Educated mother."

Fine. '—educated mother, Clarice, just served us nice pizzas (with) ham, mozzarella, and eggs.'

"Bleah! Who puts egg on pizza?"

I have. It's really good. I was at an Italian restaurant in Holland, and I had a pizza with everything including a fried egg.

"What do you expect from the Dutch?"

It was an Italian restaurant. I figured if anyone knew how to make proper pizza, it was the Italians.

"Oh yeah, and who appointed them arbiters of what goes on a pizza and what doesn't?!"

The Italian Gastronomical Union. They even voted on it.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

Not since Charlotte the spider wrote "SOME PIG" about her friend, Wilbur, has such a fuss been made about one farm animal.

But in the town of Vevay, Indiana, Fred the white goat was a town favorite.

Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee; you will be corrected) is nestled along the Ohio River in Switzerland County, in the hills of Southern Indiana. And that's where Fred made his home.

Fred didn't originally start out as Fred. He was Sherman, a 4-H goat that belonged to a young girl. Sherman must have thought he was in Stalag 17, because he frequently escaped from his pen. They would track him down, bring him back, and stick him in the cooler to make him tell the location of the French Resistance secret HQ.

(He never cracked, not once.)

But you can't put Baby in a corner, and you can't put Sherman in a pen, because he kept escaping. Finally, after Sherman had done his little goat-and-pony show at the Switzerland County fair, he escaped for the final time. Someone had left the pen unlocked, which is a little like asking El Chapo to hold your car keys for a minute.

I don't know if they decided to just give up, or if it was an act of mercy by his girl. Or maybe he bribed a guard and hid out in a laundry truck. I just know he lit out of there like a goat who knew he was heading to the meat plant, and no one was able to capture him afterward.

He changed his identity and name, and hid in the hills north of town, there on SR 56, living on whatever he could find. He ate plants and grass, and raided people's gardens. People may have even left food. He slept in an abandoned house on the hill, taking shelter when it was cold or rainy.

Whenever the occasional goat whisperer approached him, he took off, staying well out of reach. Otherwise, everyone pretty much left him alone, especially since Indiana doesn't have an official goat hunting season.

People would report seeing him as they drove into town, standing guard on the hill.

"I saw Fred on the hill," they said.

"Fred's on his tree again," someone else would say a few days later. There was a fallen tree that cantilevered over the hill. It was his favorite spot.

"Fred's standing on his roof," they'd tell my friend, Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism. His house was built on the hill, and Fred could hop onto the roof.

He'd stand on the hill, probably keeping an eye out for anyone who might want to grab him. But I like to think he was guarding the town, like a horned vigilante.

"I'm Goatman," he'd bleat, watching the skies for the Goat Signal, the sign from Sheriff Hughes that trouble was ahoof.

Fred lived up on the hill for a few years, becoming the town mascot, even getting his own Facebook page.

But in Spring 2014, something was wrong. No one had seen Fred for a while. A sheriff's deputy headed up to Fred's house to investigate, and found him in a room, curled up. Dead. Fred had gone to sleep and never woke up. He had gotten sick, or possibly froze during that last bitter winter.

The deputy gathered up the remains and took him to the county coroner for an autopsy. Unfortunately, said the coroner, there wasn't enough material left to do an autopsy. They couldn't taxidermy him either. So the deputy took him to a place near where Fred liked to stand guard, and buried him.

The grave is marked with a couple of small stones, and I'm one of the few people lucky enough to know where it is. Kendal showed me last August, when I visited Vevay to cover this story for VisitIndiana, the state's tourism office.

That's when we saw Fred back on his log, keeping watch again. Except this time, it was a concrete goat someone had painted white and placed on his favorite spot, but no one knows who.

Every few months, the mystery caretakers decorate Concrete Fred to coincide with the season. I was there right before the Swiss Wine Festival, and he was sporting the Swiss flag.

A couple Saturdays ago, Vevay held their first ever Fred the Goat Festival in honor of their fallen friend. I took my two youngest to Vevay to visit Kendal and show them where Fred loved to spend his days.

It was a small festival, but then, Fred was a small goat. But he occupied a big place in the heart of this tiny town, and he guarded it well.

He sure was some goat.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On The Trail of Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

This post originally appeared on the website on August 26, 2014. However, after I left the department, my name was removed from the roster of authors (I don't blame them), so it doesn't show up under my name anymore. I wanted to repost it here, so I could continue to receive author credit.

"Are there snakes here?" I asked Kendal as we tromped through the weeds near an abandoned house along the highway. Kendal is the executive director of Switzerland County Tourism in southeast Indiana, and a good friend. We were on the trail of Fred the white goat of Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee), so I could get some photos of the house in question.

"Oh sure," she said. "I live out in the country, and I see them all the time."

I have a deathly fear of snakes, large or small, poisonous or harmless. "If we see one, you're on your own," I said.


"Because I'll be running the other way."

I visited the small town of Vevay after Kendal had emailed me a story about Fred, Vevay's wild white goat who had died recently. Switzerland County is one of my favorite places to visit in Indiana, and "write a story about a feral white goat" had been on my bucket list 10 seconds after I opened her email. Snakes or not, this was something I wanted to see for myself. It wasn't until the next day that I learned southeast Indiana has its share of poisonous snakes as well. I was only glad I didn't find that out until the trip was over, or I might have let Kendal take all the photos for me while I stayed in the car.

We had just finished lunch at Mo's Steakhouse, west of town, where I had an outstanding pork tenderloin. Mo makes his tenderloins with special spices, flour, and buttermilk. He also doesn't pound the tenderloin out flat, so there's plenty of thickness and juiciness to it, but it was still big enough that I was either going to cut it in half to eat it, or ride it down the Ohio River.

After lunch, Kendal took me up State Road 56 on the north side of town, where Fred had spent many years in the woods.

According to the local story, Fred was an escaped 4-H goat — originally named Sherman — that frequently escaped from his pen, apparently worried about the fate that awaited him. Even a spider web that said "SOME GOAT" on it wasn't enough to quiet him, so he escaped from the Switzerland County 4-H fair one last time and spent several years living in the woods right there on SR 56.

There are two roads that run east out of Vevay, SR 56 and SR 156, which runs right to the Belterra Casino, on the Ohio River. People coming into town on 56 would swing by Kendal's office with another Fred sighting. He soon became the talk of the town, and everyone considered Fred the town mascot, although he wouldn't let anyone near him. (He also has his own Facebook page.)

They figured he must have lived in the abandoned house on the hill, and ate whatever he found there in the woods, or would sometimes raid people's gardens, or eat the hay and grain local farmers were giving to their own animals. Sometimes people would see Fred standing on the hill — or on the roof and porch of the abandoned house — well out of the way of the cars, as if keeping watch. Or taunting the town. If anyone tried to approach him, Fred ran into the woods, so they left him alone. Even the hunters knew better than to go after Fred.

This past spring, people realized they hadn't seen Fred in a while. After the vicious winter we'd just come through, they worried. One of the sheriff's deputies checked out the house to see what he could find, and that's where he found Fred. He had died weeks earlier in one of the rooms.

The deputy gathered up Fred's remains and delivered him to the county coroner for an autopsy. The coroner wasn't able to do a study, not for lack of trying, but because the remains were too far gone. It could have been illness, an injury, or the cold that did him in, but there was no way of knowing. There was some talk of taking Fred to a taxidermist, but that was also ruled out because of the condition he was in.

Fred was buried alongside 56, half a mile north from his house, with a couple small rocks marking the spot. If you don't know what to look for, you won't see it. It's there along the hairpin turn on 56, two small brown stones standing on end to mark Fred's final resting place. Kendal and I parked along the turn and I got close enough to Fred's grave to take a few pictures.

"People have seen a white deer out here several times," Kendal told me. "They see him standing near Fred's grave or in some of his favorite spots."

"Maybe it's Fred reincarnated," I said. "And he's a little confused."

Some weeks later, folks thought they spotted Fred again along 56, standing on the hill. Except it wasn't Fred. Someone had anchored an all-white concrete statue of Fred onto a fallen tree jutting out over the hill. It was his favorite spot. Now, Fred watches over the town, day and night.

Throughout the year, that same someone has added seasonal decorations to Fred to commemorate the time of year. When I was there, Fred's benefactor had placed a Swiss flag on the log to celebrate the upcoming Swiss Wine Festival. In July, it was the U.S. flag for Independence Day. But Fred's benefactor remains a mystery. No one knows who's responsible for any of it.

Well, almost no one. Anita Danner, the woman who runs the Community Arts Center of Switzerland County says she knows who it is, but it's a secret.

"A fun secret," she says, as we follow her into the Arts Center. When you walk into the restored Grisard Building, you realize there are many talented artists in Switzerland County. Sculptures that show off Vevay's rich wine-making heritage; striking oil paintings and water colors hang on walls and displays; pieces made from found and recovered objects, like beer cases, laundry detergent caps, and bottle caps. Even Ann, the woman who works at the front desk of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has a few paintings on display. A few watercolors catch my eye, and I stare at them for several minutes. They're beautiful.

I ask Anita if she ever just locks the door and sits in the building to take it all in. She says she doesn't quite do that, but she does have a lot of time to spend looking at the different art, and says that, depending on her mood, she notices something new or gets a different feeling from a piece.

Anita picks up a rubber mallet and bangs an old helium tank that has been cleaned, ground, and polished, and turned into a bell. The bell produces different tones, depending on where you strike it. She plays a chord with three strikes of the mallet, and we listen for a moment. It's very calming.

After visiting Fred's gravesite, Kendal and I headed back down the road a few hundred yards to the statue. I wanted to get some close shots, but he was about 100 feet up a very steep embankment. I climbed up, using long grass and small trees to pull myself up. Kendal stayed below, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for my wife in case I came tumbling back down the hill, ass over teakettle. I got lucky and found a small trail that led straight up to the statue. Anita tells me later it's actually a deer trail that Fred's friends found and use themselves. They used to traipse through the woods instead, but found the trail and decided it was much easier.

As I climbed the hill, I thought about my travel writing friend, Mark Eveleigh, and how he flies around the world, spending entire weeks in various third-world countries, taking canoe trips down a river or traipsing through a jungle with local guides, just to write a single story. But while Mark has been literally all over the world, he has never done an assignment like this. I lead Mark in stories about feral white goats, 1 – 0.

I also thought about how the wildlife and plant life on his trips are either trying to poison him or eat him. Meanwhile, my biggest concern was whether I was going to get poison ivy or snap my ankle trying to take pictures of this damn goat statue. I also kept my eyes peeled for snakes, not realizing yet that there were possibly poisonous ones nearby. I stomped occasionally, hoping the sound would frighten any snakes off, which seems to have worked. I never saw a single one.

I snapped my pictures — a couple dozen, in fact. It was difficult enough to get up there, so I wasn't going to quit after just a couple photos. After I made it safely back down, ankles intact and snake-bite free — I did get poison ivy — Kendal and I headed back to downtown Vevay.

She told me the white deer hasn't been seen in a while, and that people are worried about where it might have ended up. But a new fawn has been spotted nosing around Fred's gravesite again, and we're all still hopeful the white deer will turn up again.

After visiting some of the new businesses in town, including talking woodworking with Dick Yanikoski at Ferry Street Woodworks, looking at the crafts and artwork at This & That, and checking out K&C's Antique Mall, I head off to the Belterra Casino for the night. I slip back into town a few hours later topick up some Snappy Pizza for dinner, and take it back to the room. It's been a long day, and I'm tired and smell a little after our day's trek in the "wilds" of Vevay, so hanging out in town is not a great idea. Plus, I want to spend some quality time with my hotel room.

I don't know about the rest of the rooms at Belterra, but this room is outstanding. Not only is there a TV and phone in the full-granite bathroom, but if there was a pizza oven in it, I would never leave. As it is, I spend the evening in my room, watching baseball — we're less than an hour from Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I get to watch my Reds — and catching up on some work.

The next morning, I cap off my visit to Switzerland County with Belterra's expansive and decadent breakfast buffet. It's not very busy on a Tuesday morning, and I don't have anywhere to be, so I take my time to eat and read a book. The staff takes great care of me, and I load up on bacon like I'm giving it up for Lent the next morning. It's a warm day, and I'm rested and ready to head home, but first there's one more stop at the Switzerland County Visitors Center.

Last month, during Vevay's First Friday art event, the theme of the month was Fred the White Goat — First Fredday — and people brought in sculptures, drawings, and paintings of the rural ruminant. There's even been talk about a Fred festival in the spring, to balance out the Swiss Wine Festival at the end of the summer, and the Sleepy Hollow festival in the fall. Everything was gone from the art show when I arrived on Monday, except for one water color painting of Fred I would have loved to hang in my office. So I stopped by the office for one last look (which is when I learned about the poisonous snakes. Always leave 'em with mortal terror in their hearts, as Stephen King used to say.)

Afterward, I headed back home, returning to Indianapolis in about two hours. Driving to Vevay takes you through some of the scenic parts of Indiana. It's all scenic when you think about it, because we're surrounded by some of the most beautiful parts of the country. But that route from Indianapolis through Greensburg and down to Vevay is one of my most favorites in the entire state, because I always feel like I'm coming home. And I'm hoping one of the next times I go will be for a new Fred Festival — a Fredstival — sometime in the spring. Maybe you can join me.

UPDATE: I had a chance to visit the Fred the White Goat Festival in Vevay on July 11, and had a good time visiting my favorite little town in Indiana. I took my two youngest kids — pardon the pun — and showed them around Vevay. They've been there before too, and were happy to be back along the Ohio River again.

Friday, July 10, 2015

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

Erik is out of the office this week, but he's doing a humor reading this coming Friday, so we're reprinting a 2004 column about humor writing.

I'm often asked what it's like to be a humor writer. Humor writing is simple. So simple, in fact, that — er, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard work. So hard, in fact, that only highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt it at all.

Humor writers should be placed on pedestals and revered by society. They should be honored with parades, awarded medals, and have deli sandwiches named after them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Actually, that's totally why I'm saying that.

Humor is considered the "lesser" art form in literary circles. Other writers think we're clowns who don't take our craft seriously. Since humor makes people laugh, it must not be as serious as other forms of writing.

We're not considered as high-minded as novelists, even though many novels are just navel-gazing games of "who can make the awards committee cry harder." Meanwhile, newspaper editors respect us only slightly more than the comics and less than Dear Abby.
That's nearly 14 years of newspaper columns.
I've been doing it for over 20 years now.

Even celebrities who take a stab at writing children's books look down on us, which is odd, since they're only writing for children because they can't read the big words in grown-up books.

We don't even get the same respect as clowns in a parade. We're the guy following the horses with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Or, as a fellow humorist said, "we're the opinion writers' bastard children."

What these so-called "real" journalists fail to understand is that no one talks about them. Or if they do, it's in derogatory terms.

When people complain about "the media" and all the negative or biased coverage that goes with it, they're not talking about us.

They're talking about those journalists wearing wrinkled clothes five years out of fashion, notebooks clutched in their sweaty hands, eagerly waiting for the next big scoop. They're talking about those people who said Al Gore won Florida before changing their minds and said it was George Bush. They're talking about reporters who fabricate stories and plagiarize from other writers.

Humor writers are more memorable and fun to talk about. People will stand around the water cooler and say, "Did you read Dave Barry? I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself." They don't say, "Did you see David Broder's column? I furrowed my brow so hard I got a headache."

When someone says "David Broder," other people don't shout, "Ooooh, I love him! Remember his column on Bill Clinton and Whitewater?!"

When someone says "Dave Barry," other people reminisce about their favorite Dave Barry columns, like the one about misunderstood song lyrics, making homebrewed beer, or taking his dog outside to pee.

If anything, humor writers have a harder job than other writers, because not only do we have to come up with 750 words on a certain topic, we also have to make our readers laugh. Sports writers just hope their readers can finish an article before their lips get too tired, while novelists try to make everything depressing and interesting at the same time.

"Mildred sighed and slowly pushed away from the table. Things hadn't been the same since Clive had gone. She had begun serving dinner on their wedding china, something they never used once in the 32 years they had been married. As she cleared the untouched plate at Clive's seat at the table, each clink of their plates reminded her to finish burying him behind the shed."

Despite it all, we're still expected to be entertaining 24 hours a day.

"You're a humor writer?" someone once said to me on the phone. "Say something funny."

"It doesn't work that way. You can't just say something funny out of the blue. I'm not a performing monkey."

"No, really. Say something funny."

I said the first thing that popped into my head: "Doody."

"You're not that funny," he said, and hung up.

I'd like to say I went to his house and put a flaming bag of dog poo on his porch, but I didn't. I wish I could say that I lectured him on the great contributions that humorists have made throughout history, but I didn't. I wish I had called him back and told him the funniest joke in the world, but I didn't even do that.

Instead, I sharpened my writing skills, honed my craft, and studied everything I could on humor writing. And I'm left with one unbreakable truth every aspiring humorist should know.

"Doody" is hilarious.

You can find my books Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Town Slogans Offer Insights Into Their History

Cultural reprobate and filmmaker John Waters ("Hairspray," "Cry-Baby") said that a motto is a success if he can't think of a nasty twist on it.

Which means his hometown's new slogan "Baltimore: Birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner" may be a winner. It's straightforward, not to mention patriotic, which means he can't mess with it.

(Not that he wouldn't try. This is the guy who turned inappropriateness into a competitive sport.)

Baltimore unveiled their new Waters-proof slogan on June 30, just five days before Independence Day, when America's theme song will ring out throughout the country. And now Baltimore wants to rub our noses in their contribution to history.

Their announcement got me to thinking about other slogans and how cities and towns want to capitalize on what they're known for.

Back in 2002, Massachusetts spent $300,000 on a new tourism slogan, "Massachusetts . . . Make it Yours," ellipse and all. Not to be outdone, Rochester, New York spent $400,000 for an ad agency to give them "Rochester. Made for living."

Once the economy tanked in 2008, governments were forced to slightly reduce their needless spending. Only slightly though.

A few weeks ago, Tennessee spent $46,000 on a new logo, which looked like it was created with Microsoft Word and orange construction paper — the letters "TN" centered on an orange square sitting atop a blue bar.

And last year, Indiana spent $100,000 on the tourism slogan, "Honest-to-Goodness Indiana." That works out to either $50,000 or $25,000 per word, depending on whether you count "Honest-to-Goodness" as three or one word.

A lot of people thought it was terribly corny, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense for us. Still, I happen to like the folksy slogan, especially since they turned down my suggestion, "Indiana: America's Canada."

Clearly, I'm in the wrong business. Apparently, all it takes to be a successful tourism slogan writer is a lackluster vocabulary and complete shamelessness in accepting crazy amounts of money for near-zero amounts of work.

Yahoo Travel recently published a list of their "50 favorite" town slogans, and like the mom who won't say which kid's artwork she likes better, they picked one slogan per state. And not even the funny ones. Here were a few of my favorites.

Dumas, Arkansas — whose slogan should be "It's DOO-mis!" — is the "Home of the Ding Dong Daddy," laying claim to being the namesake of the song "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas." Of course, they're in a slapfight with their Texas namesake over who's the real McCoy. Now, now, you're both Dumases.

Berrien Springs, Michigan hails itself as the "Christmas Pickle Capital of the World." A Christmas Pickle is a Christmas tree ornament used in the holiday game of "hide the pickle," a game I can't describe without giggling like a 12-year-old.

Ditto for Hooker, Oklahoma and their "It's a location, not a vocation."

Willow Creek, California calls itself the "Bigfoot Capital of the World," despite a complete lack of sightings of the great North American ape. Personally, I think it's a complete load of BS, which is something Beaver, Oklahoma knows a lot about. They're the "Cow Chip Capital of the World." Hey, someone's got to be, so say it loud, say it proud.

When auto racers in the early 1900s looked for a flat place to drive fast, they headed to Ormond Beach, Florida, giving it the title, "Birthplace of Speed." (This is completely different from Tulsa, Oklahoma being "America's Meth Capital.")

My favorite slogan is Gas, Kansas, which urges us, "Don't pass Gas; stop and enjoy it." Except my wife yells at me whenever I try to visit.

Sometimes it's things that didn't happen in a town that grants it its claim to fame. Gettysburg, South Dakota proudly proclaims itself to be "Where the battle wasn't." In other places, you just need to set your expectations a little lower. Nevada, Iowa recognizes that they're the "26th best small town in America."

A little closer to home, Elkhart, Indiana calls itself the "Band Instrument Capital of the World," which means it sits alone at lunch, thinks it's better than the theatre cities, and Mayor Dick Moore usually starts his speeches with "This one time, at band camp. . ."

Meanwhile, I apparently have a lot in common with Boswell, Indiana in Benton County — we both believe we're the "Hub of the Universe." Except they painted it on a water tower, but I can't even get it on a lousy t-shirt.

You can find my books Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on

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