and so you shall stay where?

In Season 5 of Mad Men there’s a drawn out sequence where Don and Megan fight horribly over a variety of issues (mainly that they probably should have never married, idiots) while in a Howard Johnson’s restaurant during the height of its iconic days. If you haven’t seen it I won’t bust the plot, but suffice to say this entire episode is a horrific depressing mess that makes you want to cut yourself. It’s wrong even by Mad Men standards which says an awful lot. When this episode is over you need a shot and a shower.

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In any case, what you didn’t know when you were watching this episode years ago is that same feeling should have been also applied to Howard Johnson’s itself. When you watched the episode, you were like, “Oh, I remember Howard Johnson’s. That place was alright.” It may have evoked images of a happy family road trip when you were a kid. The place wasn’t a palace, but it had clean rooms and decent food. It was the consistent oasis that made it successful. But I bet when you had that nostalgic moment you didn’t realize that Howard Johnson’s was already on life support? Did you? I didn’t.

 

For you see, even though you or I hadn’t stayed in a Howard Johnson’s in decades you probably just assumed somewhere in the back of your brain that they were still around. That they were this eternal thing that was out there still, somewhere. They were not. A few weeks ago the one in Bangor, Maine closed. Now Lake George, New York hosts the only remaining restaurant. Essentially Howard Johnson’s is dead. What the hell happened?

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Well when I was a kid plane flights were very expensive. So the family would at times drive say 11 hours to get to our destination. Most of the time we’d do the drive all in one shot with my Ma and Dad rotating the driving duties, but not always. Sometimes we stopped along the way, thus the motel. What’s changed this reality today is that airline flights are just that much cheaper. Southwest can bargain basement you most places within half the country for a hundred bucks a ticket or less. Somebody from AAA will tell me this statement is garbage, but I suspect the percentage of families who drive north of ten hours to go somewhere has mostly tanked in the last two decades. So if you were Howard Johnson’s and you built your business model on long road trips, you were screwed.

 

Also the brief corporate history of Howard Johnson’s is that after Daddy died, the son appears to have made some horrible decisions on brand diversity. He opened a bunch of unrelated restaurant chains (all of which are now gone) and basically lost focus on the core business that made Howard Johnson’s successful. Then as people started to drive less Howard Johnson’s didn’t take the hint. They didn’t diversify or try new things or innovate. They stuck with the same Howard Johnson’s brand, even if they did eventually discard the neon orange roofs. In a culture that today values relatively fresh food, uses airlines when it can, and isn’t so tied to nostalgia? Maybe these guys were always doomed. Fast food joints and extreme discount motels are at the bottom end. Or you can get creepy rich food and burn $156 a night on the high end. What ground was there in the middle for Howard Johnson’s to continue to exist in?

 

Has something been lost though? I mean other than the basic nostalgia? In terms of the restaurant piece, I don’t think so. It’s not 1960 anymore where stop points might have been rarer. Regardless of what highway you’re on at any given time you likely have dozens of different restaurants to choose from in terms of cost and quality. If you don’t, you’re likely driving in an area where Howard Johnson’s never existed anyways. But in terms of the hotel loss, I think there might be.

 

Towards the end, Howard Johnson’s hotel side of the business was bought out by Wyndham. Wyndham also owns 14 other major hotel brands of varying size, style, and price. Marriott recently bought Starwood and thus created a hotel / motel colossus that owns over 30 major hotel brands. Howard Johnson’s might have been all over the place, but never in their wildest dreams were they ever this dominant. It’s part of a growing trend in American business where there are many brands, but only two or three actual owners to choose from. This of course cranks up the price because in a near virtual monopoly environment the customer loses, always. If you don’t think hotel chains collude on price just like the airlines do, you’re kidding yourself.  It makes one yearn for the quaint, family owned reliability of Howard Johnson’s.

 

And so you shall stay where? Without getting gouged? Well I guess first off, thank god for things like Airbnb. I hope the global commons takes the big hotel chains by the balls, I really do. Because there isn’t a global commons for large airliners, so at least we can have competition for hotel rooms. I bet if you look at all the local and state government efforts that are trying to crush Airbnb on missing taxes, that they’re all mostly funded by lobbyists hired by the big hotel chains. Also, no matter what, always consider different means to travel. If you’re like me and you’re almost always traveling on a limited budget, don’t get caught into the same routine every time. Always investigate new websites for new deals. Try different chains. Don’t always be ultra-loyal to a loyalty program without re-verifying it’s still your best deal. Because you never know when a chain’s going to get bought out without you hearing about it. Or that one of their rivals went bust and they jacked up the price on you. Do your research. Stay flexible. In a manner which Howard Johnson’s was not.

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Don explaining to Megan about the paddling Howard Johnson’s is predestined to take.

why can’t this man just die?

It’s generally poor form and not beneficial to your soul and the future of the human race to wish an early expiration date upon your fellow man.  But some people are so far over the line I really don’t have a problem with it.  I thus give you the ongoing saga of how serial child slave trafficker, rapist, lunatic, murderer, Dallas Cowboys fan, and apocalyptic fanatic Abubakar Shekau is somehow still alive?  Why can’t this man just die?

For those of you who believe in conspiracy theories or conspiracy theory movies or that only fifteen families are pulling the levers of planetary power, I give you this guy.  We’re so screwed up we can’t even find and kill one single guy who really, really, really deserves it.  This is how I know that if the CIA ever teamed up with Walmart and the Illuminati to put chips into all our coffee so they could get into our brains, the plot would quickly fall apart after one of the monk bagman rear ended a street cop while texting in the rain to his boss about how he left the evil plans USB drive (unencrypted) in the changing stall at the Sears while he was buying new monk-solid-white-high-top sneakers.

I mean I get it, without credit cards, smartphone chips, a desire to drink quality beer, or any plans for the future you can fall off the grid real fast.  But you’d think that eventually we’d be able to buy off one of his buddies or spot him with a drone while he’s sitting inside his 1974 Buick Skylark outside the elementary school trying to kidnap another busload full of young girls.

You know I’ve said it many times, but there’s still something to be said about solving problems with a sledgehammer up front rather than allowing things to fester.  What if the UN had put 100K troops on the ground for a month to comb Boko Haram’s jungle paradise?  They could have stayed for a month, then left the Nigerian Army (what of it actually exists) in charge once the problem was temporarily solved and hope it somehow all worked out.  Then Abubakar Shekau and all his evil buddies would have been dead, and thus not had the ability to kidnap thousands of young boys and girls to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.  That would have been a decade ago.  He’s still here.  Great.  But hey, at least we’ve got Twitter hashtags, so whatever, we’re good.

In the meantime, I read a few weeks ago that all the fighting has basically triggered a local famine because Boko Haram hasn’t allowed a decent crop harvest in three years.  Awesome.  Check that into the Earth win column, please.  I’m sure this issue came up last night (I kept my word and didn’t watch) as Trump and Clinton traded skilled barbs about which one has an older weathered face under $1247 of television makeup.

Uh, I need to calm down and quietly drink my coffee, I think.  I’m too cynical in my cubicle.  But at least I’m leaving this job soon.  Oh yeah, for those who have been around this degenerate blog for a long time, I’m changing jobs.  Hopefully the new one I won’t hate as much as I do this one.  But either way, in the meantime?  Abubakar Shekau, kind Sir, please just die.

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Seriously, just fucking die.

do not watch this debate

Ponder if you will this typical suburban scenario.  There’s these two folks who live down the road from you, we’ll coincidentally call them Don and Hil.  They’re both running for president of your development’s homeowner’s association.  You kick yourself every time you remember that you were foolish enough to buy property that had an active association.  You got cited last year for the length of your garden bush’s fronds.  You had to look up the word fronds in your dusty dictionary to determine what you were being sited for, yeah that’s right, the freaking dictionary.

Don is retired and used to run the town’s largest real estate firm.  He made a whole truck of money but his company had a reputation of mixed success with questionable business practices.  He lives at home with his much younger trophy wife and he dotes on his kids and grandkids.  Don’s generally a likeable guy who will chat with you while you walk your dogs.  But he only ever talks about himself and tends to yell a lot.  He also randomly picks pointless fights with others in the neighborhood over shit nobody controls, like where the town holds its 4th of July fireworks display.

Hil is vice president at a local insurance firm.  She’s hardly ever home as she travels a whole bunch, and in any case lives alone as her estranged husband is never around.  The rumors say he lives in Thailand.  Folks who know folks who work at her firm say she’s efficient, works hard, and generally does a decent if mostly average job.  She hardly knows anybody in the neighborhood.  When she talks to people it’s generally very brief and reserved, and she’s then on her way to somewhere else.  She’s filed multiple complaints via the current homeowner’s association leadership about how her neighbors keep their homes.  Nobody really knows why, since she’s never around that much.

The campaign kicks off in earnest.

Don walks about the neighborhood accosting folks even when they don’t want to talk.  He’ll lay his hand on their shoulder and speak to them anyways, about three inches from their faces.  He makes disparaging remarks about Hil, other neighbors, The Zoo, and random cereal brands.  He makes no promises on what he’d specifically do as association president other than that he’d “liquidate” the existing association order.  Folks find this appealing as they’re sick of the association being in their faces about what color their damn shed is.  But Don also talks about how he’s going to “demolish” city hall and “kill all those fuckers”.  Folks don’t really like or understand this as the local mayor, Zelda, is an extremely popular and competent grandmother of five.

Hil covertly compiles the demographic details of every member of the neighborhood and then hires a Pilipino based data analysis firm to produce a multi-hundred paged detailed report on an effective campaign strategy.  When the neighbors discover this, they’re naturally concerned that their lives are being looked at in such a matter.  Hil denies everything, but one of Don’s friends later finds a half-burned copy of the report in the neighborhood park dumpster.  Hil’s plans for the association are fairly sensible, but are presented in an arrogant, aloof, and sterile manner.  Folks who speak with Hil on the street get upset because they think she talks down to them when they say they don’t understand her plans, or want to complain about the way she filed complaints against them last year with the association.

They debate at the association contractor office tonight.

You can’t stand either of them.

So, do you get in your car and drive 15 minutes to watch the debate?  Only if you’re an idiot.  Instead, you sensibly decide to stay home and watch the game surrounded by your family and dogs, and some beer.

Do not watch this debate.  Neither of these people should be president.  In fact, none of the four Democrat losers or 37 Republican morons who competed against them in the primaries should either.  God I hate both these political parties, so very much.  It’s a sad and troubling time for our democracy, folks.

But it seems tonight’s debate is set for record viewing numbers.  I think folks are watching it only to see the horror show on display.  Like how if a blimp blew up over your home, you wouldn’t be able to look away.  Both these idiots have negative approval ratings of like 87%, and presidential debates aren’t about substance.  So it can only be voyeur awfulness that draws people.

Well, I’m not going to take part.  I won’t be voting for either of them.  So who cares.  I’m out.

Sigh, why can’t Monday Night Football have a decent game on tonight?  We get the Falcons, a former Super Bowl contender who have apparently faded into irrelevance faster than their host city.  And we’ve got the Saints who are a team on hospice care until Drew Brees’ career dies and Sean Payton has his contract terminated.  And you know what, I’ll still take it.  I’ll watch this garbage game, and not flip the remote.  You bet.

You should too.  Please.

Boston Harbor – Harpoon Brewery

Some things or locations on my bucket list just kind of sit there and fester for years.  For whatever reason, this doesn’t usually bother me.  I’ll get around to it when I get around to it.  You would think I’d be more deliberate and plan things out.  I used to be this way.  But now unless I’m at work I kind of refuse to let my brain work that way, it’s tiresome.

So despite my worship of beer, I’d just never gotten around to visiting a brewery.  And I never really felt the need to force it.  I would think about it from time to time, but never make the effort to schedule it.  Ending up at Harpoon wasn’t some type of strategy either.  My Brother had been there years ago, so we decided to go again while in town for a wedding.  The discussion that led to this quick trip Downtown lasted thirty seconds, and I smirked to myself and them that this would be my first brewery ride.

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He said when he went years ago that they didn’t really have a formal tour.  They just took you straight to the tasting room and asked if anybody had any questions.  From the tasting room you can see the brewery floor.  But now they take you in the front and up some stairs where they have a full bar and waiting area.  You buy your $5 ticket, wait, and drink beer.  They also have custom pretzels.  I know it sounds terrible, but somehow we managed.

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Boston Irish Stout, Scotch Style Ale, & 100 Barrel Series #58 Secret Alloy Ale

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The guide takes you back and she talks you through what I think is a relatively small sized brewery.  I think it took about a half hour.  It’s pallets of beer and monster sized brewing equipment.  I have a general understanding of how beer is made, but don’t really get how it’s done on an industrial scale.  The problem was the tour gal kept talking too fast so that a lot of the time we couldn’t really follow what she was saying.  This was the only downside of what was otherwise a quick, decent look at how these places operate.

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I’d had Harpoon many times before.  I’ve always considered it to be decent, but nothing awesome.  Good stuff, but not great.  I’ve had a bunch more since we visited and my original impressions remain intact.  Although the Scotch and Alloy shown above were awesome.  They need to let some of their rarer varieties ship beyond Massachusetts.  They’re far superior to their regular fare.

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After the tour you get about 15 minutes in the tasting room to have 2 oz after 2 oz from about 20 taps.  It’s a neat wrap up.  The walls are surrounded by beer from everywhere on the planet, a very nice touch.

Overall this was a worthwhile visit.  But I feel I can’t really compare or contrast it with anything.  Without visiting other breweries I can’t put Harpoon into context.  I guess I’ll have to visit more of them to figure it out.  Oh darn.

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100 Barrel Series #56 Thunder Foam – I managed to stumble upon this at one of my local shops.  A dark and spicy stout, it was a fine wrap up to my evening.  Hopefully I can manage to find more of their kind at the same place the next time I shop there.

Boston Harbor – sort of

I’ve developed this weird trend lately where I show up new to a place I’ve never been before, but somehow end up with a schedule that allows me only a few hours to initially see places before I’m on my way again.  It happened recently in Milwaukee and Detroit, and now Boston.  I’m not complaining mind you, because all it means is I have to go back.  Oh darn.

In any case, the family only had a few hours before a wedding west of Boston.  So we went down to Boston Harbor and walked around a pier or two and then toured Harpoon Brewery.  Incidentally, as much as I worship beer, this was my first brewery tour ever.  I’ll probably write about that later.  Maybe.

But whatever, here’s some random shots of Boston Fish Pier, right down the road from Harpoon.

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Boston Fish Pier is still very much operating.  All the boats there are small craft, as in not the massive trawlers that are literally raping the oceans.  You can tell from the material condition of everything that they’re owners not necessarily swimming in gold.  It all felt very classic, except that the pier itself had been renovated from it’s original creation in the early 20th Century.

 

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The Exchange Conference Center – Located at the head of the pier.  If you’ve heard me whine about the awfulness of modern architecture, here is an example of a new building I’d consider a great job of creating something that’s not a faceless glass enclosed wonder.

 

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I have discovered the fattest seagulls I’ve ever seen in all my global travels are located in Massachusetts.

 

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A lightweight anchor casually discarded on the pier.  If you look you can see why.

 

 

we help the uninitiated to help themselves

Let’s face it, life can be complicated. You can’t even get on an airplane anymore with extreme confusion. That’s why we’re here to help. This post is actually written to aid this guy who boarded the plane right in front of me at Chicago Midway a few days ago. I didn’t catch his name, but I’m hoping he happens to be one of the three people who regularly read this blog. Let’s see if it works, because he was mighty confused.

Once upon a time Southwest Airlines sent a team of scientists, archeologists, sexual deviants, and armed horse lords into the darkness of the Eurasian Steppe. Their goal? To find the most obscure, unique, and simultaneously awesome & angering airline boarding process imaginable. Only one man made it back. As he slowly expired with great nobility in the hospital deep under the bowels of Southwest’s Dallas headquarters building, he imparted his hallowed findings which Southwest has implemented to this day.

You either hate this boarding style or you love it. I tend to be mostly on the love side. It’s pell mell style is very American. Everybody gets the same kind of seat regardless of their level of international gold reserves. Everybody rushes to get on the plane, so nobody’s left taking their sweet ass time getting that $14 iced coffee and holding up the rest of us. Contrast that with Delta or American which have eight different boarding groups based upon miles, straight cash, credit card status, blood type, and a list of favorite zoo animals. On my last Delta flight I think they offered to “now board our Unpolished Zirconia Status valued customers.”

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Though Southwest does take some getting used to. It took me a few flights to catch the rhythm of how I remind myself to check-in, where I wanted to board, etc, etc. But you get the hang of it. But on this last flight this guy seemed confused. I was B02. He was B36. Yet he stepped ahead of me and the Southwest guy just checked him in anyways. So now what I’ll do is go ahead and explain in detail how Southwest boards, so that this guy understands that for next time, …, oh, uh, wait. Hmm, maybe, no, no this can’t be true. Did he, did he do that on purpose? Did he cut in line? Did this horrible human being break the rules?! [throws chair]

That’s it! My Guests and I shall summon our good old friend Enforcement Drone Version 2.09 (ED209) as our assistant in resolving this matter.

1) Guilt

Person wrongly cuts in Southwest line. ED209 saunters up and wryly comments to the individual in his stale robot voice.

ED209: ATTENTION SIR, YOU ARE CLEARLY NOT AT YOUR APPROPRIATE PLACE IN LINE. IT IS REASONABLE TO ASSUME YOU HAVE DONE THIS DELIBERATELY. YOU ARE PATHETIC.

2) Shame

ED209 walks up, and demands production of boarding pass, observes man has cut in line. ED209 then activates his video streaming device while addressing the surrounding crowd.

ED209: ATTENTION FELLOW PASSENGERS, THIS MAN HAS CUT IN LINE WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT HE IS BETTER THAN YOU IN THAT YOU MUST FOLLOW THE RULES BUT HE DOES NOT HAVE TO. THIS INDICENT IS NOW BEING POSTED LIVE TO HIS FACEBOOK PAGE. WOULD YOU CARE TO PROVIDE YOUR COMMENTS FOR THE VIEWING ATTENTION OF HIS FRIENDS?

3) Fear

ED209 walks up and shoots the individual in the kneecap.

ED209: DUE TO A RECENT INJURY, YOU ARE NOT MEDICALLY ELIGIBLE TO BOARD TODAY’S FLIGHT. DO YOU REQUIRE INFORMATION ON THE LOCATION OF THE NEAREST MEDICAL TREATMENT FACILITY?

4) Punishment

As the person walks down the jet bridge, ED209 breaks into the luggage compartment, pulls out the guy’s bag, pours jet fuel on it, and burns it on the tarmac so everybody can see it out the windows.

ED209: YOU WILL NOW BE ASSESSED THE VARIOUS DAMAGE, CLEANUP, AND ENVIRONMENTAL FEES FOR VIOLATING ESTABLISHED HAZARDOUS MATERIAL TRANSPORT REQUIREMENTS.

5) Morality

ED209 forces him to sit down for a five hour chat on the various moral considerations involved with cutting in line, making a clear case for the values of a balanced ethical society.

6) Apathy

ED209 slowly trots by the person as they walk down the jet bridge but offers no comment or correction, hoping over time the individual in question establishes some type of internal corrective action guided by conscience.

Which ones of these will work? I’ll let you decide.

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“Great work on the jet bridge today!  Fist bump, my brother.”  [ED209 shatters every bone in my hand]

the courage to insert one’s head into the clouds

I’ve gone on record in multiple forums that I consider Apple as the most overrated business entity since the East India Company.  And yet they continue to mint money faster than the planet’s drunken central bankers.  Just walk by an Apple store at any mall to observe armageddon in progress as perfectly reasonable people assault one another with tied stick bundles in an effort to acquire the next model power adapter for $134 each.

Can this Apple insanity last?  I don’t think so, but what do I know?  I spent last night filling 42 individual sandwich sized plastic bags with dog kibble in preparation for a forthcoming family wedding / vacation / work trip.  Do you have any idea what it takes to label, open, fill, and reclose 42 individual sandwich sized plastic bags?   I have no life.  On the other hand, I have now discovered the fiercest of torture techniques for use in future interrogation procedures when we need the aliens to tell us where they hid the fusion bomb.  (hint: it’s in Brussels, so we’ll laugh and just shrug at them)

So Apple did their product launch thing yesterday.  The weirdo goons of the Internets were so into this event that even reputable (in theory) sites like The Washington Post live streamed the event.  Really?  It’s that important to hear about a minor update to the iPhone?  And then this morning the decision to remove the audio jack from the new phone is more important than, well, a whole bunch of stuff.  It’s way higher on the news banners than NFL opening day, which angers me immensely.

Anyways, these product updates don’t really interest me so much.  What I get more into is what is says about where Apple is headed.  This is important because they’re the world’s largest company and have more money in the bank than all but five nations on Earth.  Tim Cook brushes his teeth with plutonium every morning, and then gets the scientists to remove the radiation immediately afterwards, just because he can, he can afford it.  In a world where the planet’s 0.01% wealthiest want to pay for experience over possessions, nobody beats Tim Cook’s dental care.

So I’ll just focus on this nugget from Apple Lord Protector, Marketer, Hi-Ali Extraordinaire, and Amateur Bridge Player Phil Schiller as he explained what’s what with turning hundreds-of-millions of existing Apple headphones into future landfill:

Some people have asked why would we remove the analog headphone jack in the iPhone. I mean, it’s been with us a really long time. I’m sure you know that the source of this mini-phono jack is over a hundred years old, used to help quickly exchange in switchboards. Well, the reason to move on … really comes down to one word: courage. Courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us. And our team has tremendous courage.

That’s got to be about the most pretentious corporate shill I’ve ever heard.  How far up its own ass does Apple have itself?  So what Schiller is trying to say here is that Apple is taking a big risk by dumping wired headphones.  Most companies wouldn’t have the balls.  He’s right.  But who would have the gall to use the word ‘courage’ to describe it?  Nobody else.  Eh, maybe freaking Goldman Sachs, them too.

How about instead, “Apple is a company not afraid to take risks.  We’re the leading edge of society’s technological curve.  So we’re taking the leap, we’re embracing the future of sound.”  Etc, etc.

No, no, they’re courageous.  Oh, well, good for you all.  [stares wide eyed at blank cubicle wall]

Hey there was this company once upon a time.  It made elite products that it sold at an exponential markup relying on brand loyalty, reliability, and straight hype.  It was blindingly successful, had a bright future, but began to slowly lose market share because all its competitors offered similar capability for 1/5 the cost.  But this company was counting on its reputation and ability to hold the world’s attention and overpower the growing loss of sales, but simply didn’t possess the innovation it once had to capture the imagination of consumers.

That was Apple in oh, say 1995.  What saved them back then was that Steve Jobs dude who came back.  He brought this company back to life.  Who’s going to bring it back to life in 2019?

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Apple displays photograph of it shoving its own head up own ass.  [perfunctory excited clapping]