Sunday, May 28, 2017

Missing Out on the 101st Indianapolis 500

I should be in Indianapolis right now, but I'm not.

I should just be sitting down to an early lunch, on the 3rd floor of the IMS Media Center, but I'm not.

I'm not in Indianapolis this year, for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. I'm in Orlando, Florida, where I moved in 2015. And this year, my road to Indianapolis was filled with too many obstacles to even make it there.

And so, for the first time in eight years, I missed my sunrise shot of the IMS Pagoda. I missed my early breakfast. I missed seeing people already drunk — or maybe still drunk from the night before — in the infield. I'll miss hearing the traditional songs. I'll miss Mari Hulman George giving the all important command. And I'll miss seeing the most exciting motorsports event of the year.

My first year at the 500, back in 2009, was so eye opening. I had never watched the race, only listened to it on the radio. Growing up in Central Indiana, you couldn't see the race on TV, so I had no idea what it looked like. And finally seeing everything live shattered the images I had built in my mind about what it all looked like.

That first year, I was nervous walking around Gasoline Alley, getting interviews with the different drivers and crew members, taking photos. There are certain rules journalists must follow, and I didn't want to run afoul of them and get blacklisted. But I was also a little awestruck by being at the one place that my family recognized and revered for so many years.

My first ever interview was with Justin Wilson, who was racing for Dale Coyne Racing. He was a true gentleman and he answered all my questions. I think he could tell I was nervous, and he was very gracious and understanding, and he put up with my rookie nonsense. He became my favorite driver that day, and I always hoped he would win the 500. I was devastated the day he died. My dream had been to help write his autobiography when he retired.

The Race on the Radio

It was a Memorial Day tradition when I was growing up that we would work outside in the yard on race day. We'd listen to the race — it took three and four hours back then — and work out in the yard, burning our skin to a nice, stinging pink, and imagine what the race track looked like. My mom and stepdad would cheer for Rick Mears, but hope for the best for AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti.

I finally got to meet Rick Mears a few years ago, and told him what he meant to my stepdad, Tom. He thanked me and said he appreciated it.

I also got to meet Howdy Bell several years ago, at a networking event. I heard him before I saw him, and thought, "I recognize that voice!" We always heard him, in Turn Number 3, hollering about one pass or another. Then I saw him every year at the race, and even gave him some advice on running his website. (Howdy is also a wedding officiant, and is available to perform at your special day.)

When I lived in northern Indiana, I could have watched the race on TV, but I didn't. I saw a few minutes of it one time, realized it looked nothing like what I had imagined, and so I shut it off. I went back to doing what I had always done. I sent my family off to church and lunch at my in-laws', and I sat and listened to the race on my radio. Although, I did it indoors, where it's nice and air conditioned.

But this year, I'm going to do something I've never done. I'm going to sit and watch the Indianapolis 500 live on my television.

It won't be the same, and so I'm already making plans to get back there next year.






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, May 26, 2017

I Wish My Sandwich Artists Would Listen Better

Would you just listen to me for a minute? I mean actually focus on what I'm saying. Stop what you're doing, look at my face, and watch my mouth make these words. Process them in your brain, consider what I said, and then respond appropriately.

That's probably something my wife has said to me more than once, I think. But it's also something I want to shout at every sandwich maker I ever engage with.

I go to an unnamed local sandwich shop almost every Thursday night for dinner, because that's when I write this column. I won't say which one, but it rhymes with "Scrubway."

I step up to the counter and place my order: "Footlong spicy Italian on white bread with Provolone. And could you toast that, please?"

Maybe I'm saying it wrong. Maybe I have a funny accent and I'm hard to understand. Or maybe a 14 word request is too complicated, and I should break it into three-word chunks. Because that's invariably what I have to do.

The "sandwich artist" — they call them "sandwich artists" at, uh, Scrubway — pulls out my bread and asks, "Did you say spicy Italian?"

"Yes," I say, and he adds the meat.

"What kind of cheese? Was it Swiss?" asks the guy.

"No, Provolone. And toast it, please."

"Did you want this toasted?" asks my "sandwich artist."

Not a sandwich from either anonymous sub place
Sure, that's a good idea," I say, and the artist beams with pleasure at thinking of this all on his own.

I'll give him credit, he's good on the vegetables. They're all good on the vegetables.

"I'll have lettuce, tomato, onion, black olives, and pickles. Plus a little mayo and Sriracha."

And they nail it every time.

But then we're back to not listening. When everything else is done, I ask for "all the dry stuff" — salt, pepper, oregano, Parmesan cheese, all of it.

Now, these same people have made my sandwich on Thursday night for over a year. They're all veteran sandwichers. And I ask for my sandwich to be made the same way. Every. Single. Time.

But when I say "all the dry stuff," one guy always asks, "So, salt and pepper?"

"Yes," I say.

"And oregano?"

"Yes."

"And Parmesan?"

"Isn't that part of the dry stuff?" I ask.

"Well, yeah."

"Then I want it," I say.

I even explained it to him once. "I know what's in the dry stuff because I order it every time. So when I say 'all the dry stuff,' I mean all of it. Just add it all. Okay?"

"Okay," he agreed, and I felt like we bonded a little bit.

And then I had to explain it to him all over again the following week.

The only place more infuriating — again, not naming names — rhymes with "what the smell is wrong with you, Jimmy John's?!"

Sometimes, the whole family will want subs for dinner, but we're in the mood for this other place. So I order five sandwiches for us, and the sandwichers very carefully set each sandwich on the counter. Then they look at me, all pleased, like a dog that's dropped a dead animal at my feet.

"Can you put those in a bag?" I ask. They stare at me like I've sprouted an extra head, and it's ordering more sandwiches in Latin.

"You know, so I can carry them?" I say. Do they expect me to tuck them under my arms like Paul Bunyan carrying a couple of trees?

"Help yourself, Chief," a sandwicher told me once, no doubt the Employee Of The Month.

Now, a normal Jimmy John's sack is only large enough to hold four regular sandwiches. I know this because that's all I can fit whenever I "help myself." But every time I persuade them to do it for me, they always try to cram in that fifth sandwich.

"It won't fit," I say every time. But they shove and twist, and twist and shove, and either smash the sandwiches or tear the bag.

"Huh. It tore," said one guy, genuinely surprised.

"That's because they only hold four sandwiches." He offered me the torn bag of sandwiches.

"Could you just put them in two bags?" I sighed. He looked at me like my extra head was now wearing a new hat and singing "I Feel Pretty." He handed me my sandwiches in two bags, looking pleased with himself again.

The problem isn't with the people themselves. They're smart and capable, and they're nice kids, they just don't listen. They don't pay attention to what's being said to them, and they don't think about the next step.

While I appreciate people who "live in the moment," I don't think that moment needs to be a three word burst of what I want on my sandwich. I would like it if they could pay attention for 30 seconds and retain an entire 14 word order longer than a couple laps around the ol' goldfish bowl.

So, just listen to me for one whole minute, and we'll both be happier with the experience.

Because I want chips with that.


Photo credit: jeffreyw (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

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, May 19, 2017

Avocado Toast Destroys the American Dream

Man, Millennials sure love their avocado toast.


Like, pry it from their cold dead fingers love it.

It all started when Tim Gurner, a 35-year-old millionaire real estate developer, told Australia's "60 Minutes," "When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each."

You'd have thought the government was requiring a mandatory pruning of all man buns, because social media went on a full-on freakout that someone would insult their love of, well, smashed avocado.

"We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high," said Gurner. "They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year. The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it. . . They saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder."

He does have a point about the coffee though, although I don't drink four lattes in one sitting.

So what's his problem with avocado toast? I've heard of it, but I thought it was one of those made-up dishes you'd see on Portlandia. Except it's a real thing, and it apparently costs 19 damn dollars!

Except it doesn't.

I did a little sleuthing (i.e., I Googled a couple bistro menus) and found that unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, avocado toast is around $9 - $10. But if you're in those hipster meccas, you can find it for as much as $16 – $20.

Which only proves that some people will spend money on the stupidest things. (Looking at you, Skymall!)

It's actually pretty good!
So what's so special about avocado toast? Do they sprinkle edible gold on it? Are the avocados harvested from trees guarded by a bank of Komodo dragons? Is it carried to your table on satin pillows by young men and women who have trained for this since birth?

No, but it does prove that some people have more money than sense, even if they don't have a lot of money.

I made avocado toast at home today. The avocado cost $.69 and two slices of bread cost $.26, which means my avocado toast cost $.95 to make. And if I could sell that to unwitting hipsters for $9, or even $19, I'd be able to buy a new house outright in about three months.

The Sanctum restaurant in Orlando charges $9 for their avocado toast. You can choose from fermented sourdough bread, or sprouted grain Ezekiel toast, which is very carefully prepared slices of nasty death. Then they put on smashed avocado, tomato, watermelon radish, black sesame, and sprouts.

Still, even if I skip a once a week treat of $9 avocado toast, that's not going to get me a house anytime soon.

Here in Orlando, an average 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house is around $250,000. In Indiana, it's $200,000, or even $150,000 out in the country. Of course, you won't find many places serving avocado toast out in the country. Most pretentiousness is confined to the bigger cities.

A 20 percent downpayment on a house in Orlando will be $50,000, or 5,555 avocado toasts, assuming you don't tip. If you skip your once-a-week avocado toast, you can save your downpayment in almost 107 years, give or take a few months.

Of course, this makes a case for moving to Indianapolis, because you can make a $40,000 downpayment in roughly 85.5 years, 22 years sooner.

I don't know how quickly real estate millionaire Tim Gurner amassed his first downpayment, but something tells me not eating avocado toast was not his big secret.

Maybe he worked hard and made smart investments. Maybe he and his wife shared a double income. Maybe he got several million dollars from his dad which, like another real estate mogul we know, he managed to turn into a few million dollars.

Regardless, Tim Gurner insulted a group of people he has nothing in common with about a lifestyle choice he knows nothing about, giving advice to people who don't want it.

And that's my thing!

I don't need some Australian rich guy waltzing in here, telling American hipsters that everything they do, wear, and eat is completely wrong and stupid.

That's also my thing.

The guy's already got enough money that he's being interviewed by Australian "60 Minutes" (which is metric "37.28 Minutes"). Meanwhile I can't even get a pizza delivered in that time.

So check your math, Tim Gurner, because it's faulty and completely unreasonable. And check your attitude as well, because if anyone's going to grouse about how a bunch of man-bun-and-flannel wearing hipsters turned a 69 cent vegetable into a $9 breakfast snack, it's going to be me.

But I still think he's right about the coffee.





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, May 12, 2017

Karl the Curmudgeon is Proud of His Stupid Salt Shaker

"Hey, Kid, check out my new salt shaker," said Karl, beaming with pride.

Where? I looked over the table. We were sitting on his back patio for a Saturday night baseball game — my Reds were taking on his Pirates — and he had laid out a big spread of hot dogs, potato salad, beer, and other ballgame necessities, like more beer. He had installed a flatscreen TV in the porch, and we were going to sit outside and eat and drink ourselves silly.

"That thing," he said, pointing at a black plastic obelisk in the center of his table.

That thing that looks like a space-age thermos?

"Yep. It's a Bluetooth salt shaker."

Ha, that's funny. I thought you said Bluetooth salt shaker.

"I did," he said. "It's called the 'Smalt,' which means 'smart salt.'"

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Sorry, the dultest thing. Who needs a Bluetooth salt shaker? What's it do, tell you how much salt you have left?

"No, no. Check it out!" Karl was excited. I hadn't seen him grin this much since his youngest daughter finally got a job and moved out of the house. "It plays music, it has a light ring, and the light even changes color."
Alright, I admit it. I want one. I even entered a contest to win one.

Why do I need my salt shaker to do that? Why don't we just string some Christmas lights around the porch and use the regular salt like a normal human being.

"Because this is more than just a salt shaker. It's a smart salt shaker."

But it's not a smart salt shaker. It's a speaker with a salt shaker inside it.

"The package called it 'The first multi-sensory device to make the dining experience fun."

Seriously? If you need a salt shaker to make dining fun, you're eating with the wrong people.

"You're here, aren't you?"

Hey, I'm a damn delight, I said. Besides, how much fun can a salt shaker actually be.

"It's not just a salt shaker," said Karl. "It's a multi-sensory smart kitchen device."

What are the multiple sensory things?

"Well, the lights and the sound."

That's it? I said. How is that a multi-sensory device?

"It uses your sense of sight and hearing."

So does my television, but I don't shake it on my scrambled eggs.

"Ah-ha! That's a third sense: your sense of taste," Karl declared.

Oh jeez, try not to look so triumphant about that. It's just sad.

"You have to admit I'm right though."

I admit nothing. Calling something multi-sensory is just puffed up marketing jargon. By that definition, everything is multi-sensory. I can hear and watch my phone. All I need to do is lick it, and I've got the trifecta.

"Ooh, I almost forgot. The Smalt is wired into Amazon's Alexa system, so you can give it voice commands like you do Alexa."

Alexa, schedule a mental competency test for Karl on Monday.

"Knock it off. I'm fine," said Karl.

You know what'd go great out here? A Siri-enabled froyo machine. Maybe a barbecue that streams Netflix. I call it Netflix and Grill.

"You're just jealous because you don't have any cool tech like this back in the 19th century."

Actually I do. I have an Alexa and I have a salt shaker. They're modular, so I can just attach them together with some duct tape. I can even swap it out with the pepper shaker. Bet your Smalt can't do that.

"I don't know. It didn't say anything about pepper in the instructions."

I held my potato salad up to the Smalt. Okay, how's it work? Where's the button?

"Oh, it doesn't have a button," said Karl. "You have to shake it out."

Shake it? How is this a smart salt shaker if I have to shake it like a caveman? Do we have to bang on a log to change the TV channel too?

"No, you preselect the amount of salt you want and then shake it out."

How the hell do you do that?

"You can turn the dial—"

Turn the dial? Do I have to put my stone knife down?

"—Shut up. Or you can ask Alexa to dispense the amount of salt you want."

Why can't I just shake a normal salt shaker and stop when I have enough?

"Because you lack imagination."

I lack imagination? I'm not the one who couldn't imagine life without a $200 musical thermos. If you want music, turn on the giant stereo in your living room and get a $.97 disposable salt shaker from the store.

"But this is voice activated."

So is this: Karl, can you hand me the real salt shaker?




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, May 05, 2017

All this Spinning is Making Me Dizzy

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 10 years ago.

After the new year started, I looked down at my stomach and realized I had broken last year's resolution. And the year before that. And the year before that.

"I'm going to exercise more this year," I vowed yet again, only this time I meant it. Not like all those other times I meant it though.

I had been an avid bicycle racer for more than eight years when I was a teenager, so I was sure I could easily whip myself back into shape if I could hop back on the old horse. So I drove down the street to my local gym to fulfill my new promise.

"I want a gym membership," I said to the guy at the front desk.

"Great," he said. "We've got a one year, five year, and a lifetime membership."

"Hold on there, Sparky. I'm not one to rush into commitment. Do you have anything shorter?"

Sparky gave me a look usually reserved for people who use the sauna to warm up their cinnamon rolls.

"We have a one week trial. Give that a shot, and if you like it, we'll set you up with something longer."

"Sounds great. Do you have any of those pedaling classes?"

"Uh, I think you want the Sales Training Institute."

"Not peddling, Sparky, pedaling. Like a bike."

"Oh, you mean spinning," he said with a sniff.

"Yeah, whatever."

"You're in luck. We've got one starting in 15 minutes. But I have to warn you, Brigitte can be a real taskmaster."

"Not to worry, son. I was riding 40 miles a day when you were still falling off your trikey."

I found the locker room, changed into my old riding gear, and made my way into the spinning room.

A muscular young woman, Brigitte, was pedaling a stationary bike at the front of the room, while a group of men and women of various fitness levels were slowly spinning away.

"Let me guess, you're Erik," said Brigitte.

"Yep, how'd you guess?"

"Geoff said you used to race years ago. I saw your shiny lycra spandex outfit and guessed it was you."

"I wore this in college. It was my lucky racing outfit."

"Uhh, I don't know if lycra is supposed to be stretched that much. Can you breathe alright?"

"Sure," I said, taking a deep breath. I heard a few seams pop, so I let it out quickly. I walked to an empty bike behind a somewhat large woman and prayed she wasn't gassy. As I mounted my bike, I heard another small tearing sound. As snug as my outfit was, I hoped it was my hamstring and not my shorts.

"Okay class, here we go," shouted Brigitte. As we started pedaling away, I flashed back to my college days when we battled fierce headwinds mile after grueling mile.

"Erik, what are you doing?!" Brigitte hollered.

I raised up. "Drafting. Good riders draft to conserve energy. With Gertrude up there, I'll be fresh as a daisy."

Gertrude turned around and glared at me.

"Alright, class, hill time!" Brigitte shouted. "Out of the saddle and attack that hill."

We stood up and cranked hard. I adopted the traditional side-to-side rocking motion that racers use to speed up hills. The guy next to me stared, mouth agape.

"Good riders rock their bikes like this to get up hills faster, Chester," I told him.

"So why are you doing it?"

I ignored his snide comment, and assumed the tuck position and coasted.

"No resting, Erik! Keep pedaling," hollered Brigitte.

"I reached the top first, so I'm coasting down the hill to conserve energy."

"We're not at the top yet."

"Maybe you're not, but I am. You all ride like a bunch of tourists."

"Stand up and pedal."

Chester snickered. I decided to show him how we dealt with troublemakers back in The Day.

"Brigitte, this guy keeps leaning on me," whined Chester.

"I'm showing Chester how to ride in a pack," I said, innocently. "It can get pretty hairy in there, especially in a race. We can't all draft off Gertrude."

Gertrude glared at me again. "One more crack like that and I'll shove your seat-—"

"That's enough. We're here to ride, not to argue. And we're certainly not racing. You need to take this seriously, Erik."

"I am taking it seriously. I'm wearing my helmet and everything."

"Yeah, that's another thing I wanted to talk to you about."


Photo credit: TheReady199 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

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.