My First Time (in Europe, that is)

October 14th, 2012

Sitting here on the Eurostar waiting to depart the station at St. Pancras I’m thinking about how surreal this all is. Two days ago I was in my office in New York City, speaking with my friends about all the things to do in London, and now two days later I’m on an early morning train to Paris.

In a little over 2 hours I’ll be at the Eiffel Tower. And hopefully by then I’ll be face deep in a croissant too. I’m so hungry.

My first and so far only day in London was spent doing the VERY touristy things. I’m giving myself a pass because, well, I came here to do exactly that. Be a tourist. I passed Parliament, took a million pictures of Big Ben and Parliament. I took a walk over the Thames and rode the London Eye, again taking a million pictures of everything.

I think what I’m enjoying most about my trip is noticing all the small differences between life in the US and life here. It’s just like John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction said. “They have all the same shit we got here, but it’s just the little things.” For instance, every store prefers, and makes no bones about it, to be paid by cash or debit. They absolutely do not like credit card purchases. TV here sucks. My hotel’s channel selection is really limited. People here know a lot more languages than their own. That is such a good thing. I was surprised to see so many hotdog, hot peanuts, and waffles. Waffles??! They are sold everywhere. It’s insane. Also, in Union Sq. New York there’s a Pret A Manger (they sell wraps, salads, etc.). There’s just a few in NYC. In London, it’s like McDonald’s. There’s a Pret, or two, on every street! English people really like Americans. That’s a relief too, because I thought since George W. Bush they had good to great reasons to hate all of us.

Continuing on the differences, I feel like the fashion is different here too. It’s not as hipster, which is a very nice change, but in all the Esquire and GQ mags I’ve read over the last few years when they write about European style, they always say it’s effortless. I never really knew what that meant until I got here and saw the men and women around London. “Effortless” is a great word. They’re dressed well, but it doesn’t look at all forced. It’s like the mags say, a couple of good pieces, aided by a few pieces that make it comfortable and all their own. Scarves, hats, a cardigan over a t-shirt, under a tweed blazer, good shoes, it’s all in there. I like it.

Last night, my first night in London, I found myself in an Australian bar. I don’t know what drew me to it exactly, but as I walked the West End exploring the different restaurants, bars, stores, and nooks, this place called “The Walkabout Bar” had a live band, a big crowd and the bouncer was kicking a girl out of the place who was screaming and dropping f-bomb after f-bomb about being removed from the bar. She was, of course, an American. Ugh.

Inside the bar I met Jeff, in Irish guy, and Mel, his English girlfriend. I was given an awful tasting beer by the barman, and Jeff/Mel corrected the situation by providing me with “a proper drink”, a Foster’s. Haha, it was hilarious to me that I traveled all the way to London to have my first Foster’s, “Australian for beer.”

Right now I’m on the Eurostar going what feels like 1,000 miles an hour. I just had a delicious on-train breakfast. It’s surprising how good the coffee is here. I had a tea yesterday while around London doing my touristy stuff. Figured, what the heck, I’m here I may as well have a spot of tea. Outside my window I’m passing through the English countryside. It’s exactly what I hoped to see, marshy, green hills, all fog-covered and rolling. There a few farms and a lot of space.

I know I’m all over the place with this post, but as the thoughts come to me I’m spewing them out onto the keyboard and into this post. Was just thinking about the countryside versus the city of London and how it compares to Long Island versus New York City. London is SPRAWLING. There is a city center, kind of, and it’s where I’m staying in Covent Garden but unlike New York the buildings are all low and there doesn’t seem to be any real concentration of high rises creating a financial center like all American cities have.

So far, I really like this little trip I just decided to do on my own. I think I’m going to do this more. I’m a little annoyed with myself, though. I should have done this years ago. Oh well. I’m doing it now and I guess that’s all that matters now.

Paris is 1 hour away. Wow.

I’m actually in France now. I can’t believe this. I flat out LOVE this feeling and I want more of it. It’s a combination of feeling lucky, in awe, happy, and accomplished.

 

Paris

I just spent an afternoon in Paris. Obviously that’s not nearly enough time to say that “I’ve done Paris” but it’s enough time to know that I want to go back and spend more time there. That is for certain.

Today I went to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. I did all that, ate lunch at a brasserie, walked through Rue de Saint Michel and all the little side streets around Notre Dame. I didn’t waste one second. I saw where Napoleon is buried, where France’s government conducts business, AFTER I walked all the steps up the Eiffel Tower. No escalator or elevators for me, nuh-uh.

When I got off the Eurostar I’ll admit that I was nervous about not knowing any French. I saw all these signs written in French and I didn’t hear any familiar voices. I wasn’t scared, but I was nervous. After looking at the signs, though, it really helped that a) I know Spanish b) I have a good memory, and c) I’m not dumb. Turns out there is a lot you can understand about the written French language. Their words share similar roots to Spanish and a lot of English words. My memory also served me well because I was able to say things like “Where is _____?” and “Please”, “thank you”, “Excuse me”, “I am Alex”, “How do you say ____ (insert English word) in French?”. That got me through the day without issue.  Also, I’ve read enough Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast to know the food, so ordering lunch wasn’t an issue either. Yay!

The European lifestyle I’ve been exposed to over the last 40 some odd hours has been so great. I can get used to this and now know that a lot of my future expenses in life are going to be aimed at flights, hotels, and traveling through this continent. Again, I’m upset I didn’t do this sooner, but it truly is better late than never in this case. My next trip back will be in a couple of months, or less. I’m going to try Spain and Portugal next. I know more than enough Spanish to get by and I’ll probably get enough Portuguese by virtue of my Spanish to do just fine there too.

 I think the thing I liked so much about Paris, aside from everything, was that at lunch I saw an older couple at the table next to me order a carafe of white wine and escargots. It was 3pm on an overcast Sunday in the nice little neighborhood to the East of the Eiffel Tower. Nothing special, but in the US that midday snack would be out of place. I loved seeing it.

Like any other country, where there are tourists there are people trying hard to take advantage of them. Even in Mexico, or Times Square, (yes I compared Mexico to Times Sq.) I’ve never seen as many people trying to sell me the same garbage as I did at the foot of the E. Tower. It was insane how many people not only approached me trying to sell me a shitty little plastic tower, but some actually reached toward my head to REMOVE MY HEADPHONES in order to speak to me!!! I was SHOCKED by that. I couldn’t believe the audacity. There had to be 20,000 people at the foot of the tower, waiting in line, taking pictures, walking down or through, whatever. There had to be at least 300+ people all selling the same garbage. Again, I’ve never seen that before.

All in all, Paris is beautiful and I’m saying that having been there today, during an overcast, windy, 45-degree day. I can’t imagine how much nicer a time I’ll have when I go back in the summer.

Trouble With The Writing

February 6th, 2011

I have trouble with the writing. Not so much the words and getting them out. It’s more in the being happy with the output. I read a lot. Like a lot a lot. There are so many good ones out there. Lately, though, I’ve been getting my inspiration, sadly enough, from Hank Moody.

You don’t know who he is? Have you seen Californication?

Californication is some of the best show writing I’ve seen since Coupling. Not the American version of Coupling, even though it was the same script as the BBC’s it just didn’t work. The American version of the show replaced Friends and didn’t change the script at all from the British version. Plus, the American version lost the profanity and had to reduce the show 8 minutes. Bad decisions all around.

The Super Bowl is on right now and I’m not interested in it at all. I watched some other TV, commented on my friend’s twitter and facebook streams about their comments. If you’ve read this, you know I work in advertising so my interest in the Super Bowl had a lot to do with the ads. A few years ago when the Giants won it was about the game.

My nephew emailed me today. He asked if I ever saw the movie Garden State. I have, but just once. So many people talk about that movie being “so great” but I don’t remember getting as into it as a lot of people. The soundtrack, which I’m listening to for the first time in it’s entirety, is really good. And I think that’s because Zach Braff chose the music. He also has a lot to do with the music chosen and played on Scrubs.

While I sit here typing, quite randomly about nothing, my mind is going in so many places. It’s interesting what I’m being reminded of here. I’m sitting on the floor and I hardly ever do that. When I do, I think about Heather. Again, if you know me you know exactly who I’m talking about. In the very unfortunately small number of times she came to my apartment in Boston she used to sit on the floor and said I should “sit on the floor more”. She was strange that way, but in an endearing way. So again, while watching the Super Bowl (it’s 28 to 25, Pack over the Steelers so far in the 4th) I’m typing randomly, sitting on the floor, listening to Iron & Wine from the Garden State soundtrack. Weird how this Sunday night is shaping up.

The score is actually really close. Maybe I should start paying attention. Turns out, this could be a “classic” Super Bowl. Depending on how long this site stays up, I’ll remember this game as the one Michael Douglass compared to Iwo Jima and 9/11. Entertainment, Marketing, and to some degree Advertising, took a step back with that one tonight. It was just embarrassing. But I submit the true crime tonight was the Black Eyed Peas halftime show.

And with that… good night.

2010 Comes To An End

December 28th, 2010

It’s almost done. And what started out as a year full of excitement around creating a Super Bowl spot and great mobile app for one client, turned into a very strange, humbling, surreal, and “full circle” kind of year for me and my career.

The year took me from Los Angeles to New York City, or home as it were.

In between those two points, January 1st celebrating the new year at the Viceroy with Monica in Santa Monica, and today at my desk here on Park Ave. there’s been a lot of turns. I went to Seattle, San Jose, San Francisco, back to Seattle, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff Arizona, Roswell New Mexico, Dallas Texas, Little Rock Arkansas, Memphis Tenn., Nashville Tenn., Miami Florida, Boston MA, Denver Colorado, and Atlanta Georgia.

This year was a wild ride. I solidified a few friendships, made some new ones, met and dated a few new people, and all in all learned a lot about myself in 2010.

What do I want from 2011? I want that travel list to include many places outside the United States. I want to continue meeting new people and making new friends. I want, more than anything, to keep and grow the friends I have made over the years.

It wouldn’t be a 2010/2011 post without a list of some sort, right? So here goes… this is what I want to accomplish in 2011…

  1. At least 3 trips to Europe
  2. At least 2 trips to California (1 to SF and 1 to LA) to see friends and enjoy those two cities
  3. Spend more time with the family, especially my parents
  4. Less beer, more wine
  5. Continue to kill it at work
  6. Give to charity, find a few that I believe in and give to them
  7. Get that movie script started
  8. Invest my time wisely… more relationships and people
  9. Continue doing what I do well, not sweating the small stuff
  10. Connect with my nephew more, he needs my help
  11. Get more out of NYC, culturally, and conversely, get out of NYC more
  12. Read at LEAST 1 book a month
  13. Of course I’ll put the obligatory gym-3-times-a-week-thing in here
  14. Be inspirational
  15. Be less of a cynic (in NYC this actually more difficult than you might think)
  16. Really make an effort to write more often. This blog and my half-assed attempt to make it something interesting needs much more of an effort from me. 2011 will see that effort.
  17. ——–
  18. ——–
  19. ——–
  20. ——–

I’m actually leaving those last few blank for now. I’m sure that there will be stuff to add later. So that’s that. I’ve made my list. Let’s see what I write come December 2011 when I look back at this list. I really hope to write something along the lines of “I had a little more beer than I’d like, but overall, I got it all done.”

How To Be a Real Man

May 19th, 2010

I’m not going to get into the inspiration behind the point of this post simply because it would take too long to write and it would muddy the purpose.

A conversation I was having with a girl friend of mine got me thinking about what it means to be a real man. I’ve been reading GQ and Esquire every month for the better part of the last few years. Esquire more than GQ often cites small examples of what it means to be man, a gentlemen, basically instructions for how to behave in situations ranging from the professional, to the personal, to the intimate.

If I were to distill this overall “man” behavior to one word I’d say that word is respect.

Respect for oneself. Respect for others. Respect for tradition… and to some extent, change.

Respect for oneself can be defined in so many ways. My means to defining respect, in all it’s forms, is not an exhaustive list of rules. No. It’s more a general set of guidelines that provide a little room for interpretation given that every man and every situation he faces has different variables.

  • It can be expressed in the way you dress. Style is subjective and can run the gamut of tastes. But taking care to make sure it’s clean, and that it at least looks like some degree of thought was put into your outfit, that’s a form of self respect.
  • Speaking in public spaces about topics that are better left between friends in a more private setting.
    • Don Draper (of Mad Man fame) has a classic line. He said, “take off your hat.” In a short elevator scene on the way up to Sterling Cooper, Don is in the elevator with an older woman. Two young guys step onto the elevator and continue their off-color conversation. Don shoots a look. They continue. Don then says, sternly, “take off your hat.” Straight-faced, eyes focused and unwavering. The guys knew his statement had zero to do with hats and everything to do with ending their conversation while in the presence of a woman. The woman glanced back over her shoulder and Don did nothing other than stare at her briefly. No knowing head nod or wink to let her know he had taken care of it. For him, it was all in a day’s work of being a man.
  • Try to do it well. Whatever “it” is doesn’t matter. When a man engages in an activity, it is a reflection of his values and his capacity to do. If “it” is his career, the effort he puts into it is a reflection of his work ethic. If “it” is the shelves he is putting up to house his entertainment center, the effort he puts into making sure the wires aren’t visible and that everything is level and clean is a reflection of his character.
  • A gracious loser. A man knows he cannot win every time. Despite his best efforts, which are a reflection of his mettle, there will be losses. Respect yourself and your opponent enough to be gracious about your defeat… just make sure you learned from the loss and obliterate them in the rematch.
  • No man is above apologizing… or crying.
  • I once read a quote that said something like, “A man’s true character lies in how he treats someone who is of no consequence to him.” Basically meaning that a CEO who treats an assistant with respect by offering a “please” and “thank you” rather than a barked order is a man of quality and professionalism. Respect for others.
  • Although this sounds cliche, a man knows the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
    • This probably needs it’s own site the topic can be so vast and confusing, but the truth is simple… when a man is breaking up with a woman, he knows that being direct, honest, and having that conversation as soon as you begin feeling like it’s time to move on is what it takes to remain true to what it means to be a man.
    • Esquire had a great table of how to break up based on how long you’ve known each other. Like one date meant you could call her to let her know you weren’t interested. Three dates or more, in person. Text Msg, never.
  • A man isn’t scared to fight. He doesn’t go looking for one as that is the province of juveniles and the uneducated. Solving differences of opinion with words is the truest form of being a man. Defending oneself when if something should come to blows is another one of manhood’s truest forms. Provoking a fight, is unacceptable.
  • Love in all it’s forms is where a real man has lots of room for interpretation. Writing poetry, buying flowers and candy… sure, for some men that’s fine. It pushes the boundaries of my definition, but those things have their time and place. Holding her pocketbook while she shops, that’s tough, but also semi-acceptable. Reading to his children and acting like child when playing with them, completely acceptable form of expression of love and still being considered a real man.
  • Opening doors, listening, being patient, honest, and complimentary are all the qualities a real man has when he is around women.
  • A real man can mix it up when he is with the boys. Crass remarks, the retelling of ethnic jokes, bathroom humor, also acceptable forms of being man… so long as their done during long car trips, at a camp site, and no women are around to hear the men let loose and unwind.
  • Real men believe in something and would fight for that belief. Political, religious, whatever. A man doesn’t impose his view of the world on others, no, but he will listen, discuss, and debate his points of view with anyone.
  • Gentlemen are well read, traveled, and know a thing or two about other cultures.
  • Men should their way around a woman’s body… although lots of practice is the preferred way of men, paying attention to her movements, subtle gasps, twitches, leans, and words is another way.
  • A man doesn’t use pick-up lines. He uses genuine interest in the woman and conversation.
  • He can spot the clues. A touch of her hand on his shoulder, a lingering stare, the closeness of her body to his when there’s plenty of space to keep a distance.
  • Even if she’s open to it, a man knows to limit the dirty jokes around her (and by limit I do mean RARELY). Sure they can get a laugh, but too many and you’re pervert. One or two and you’re a man who can push a boundary but in a comical way that breaks the tension and shows a lighter side to balance his serious one.
  • A man always expects to pay. For dinner. For drinks. For the cab. If she offers, decline. If she offers again, accept. This changes when there is a relationship there, several months long and a stated commitment. A dating man is a gentlemen and when he does the inviting, he’s is paying.
    • If she invites, still expect to pay. If she’s worth your time, she’ll offer to pay before the bill comes or when she invited you.
  • Men shouldn’t gossip. It’s unbecoming. Sometimes a story needs to be retold, or a rumor needs to get some clarity or confirmation. Things aren’t always so cut and dry. A man can rise above this stuff, and should, but every now and then it’s ok for a man to get a little more information about something. “Did she really do that? Wow.”
    • A man doesn’t start the rumor. He also, when possible, removes himself from the area when certain topics are being discussed. Especially when in the confines of a professional setting. Sure the intern is cute, but that’s something you tell only your closest friends and outside of the office… if at all.
  • Honest with himself and others. He doesn’t tell half truths. He stays silent or doesn’t comment.
  • He faces problems and asks for help if he needs it.
  • He understands that he is not an island and the weight of the world isn’t on his shoulders. He realizes that his actions affect others.

There is a lot a man should be, but is not. All men should aspire to live to these ideals because even if you can’t hit upon all of them, you may achieve many of them. And well, that’s not so bad.

Go forth and be men… ya jag-offs.

Gentlemen, Remove This From The Playbook

May 12th, 2010

Men, I’ve obtained some intel from behind enemy lines. It’s imperative that you listen to what’s been gathered and act immediately to remove this from our playbook.

Tonight on my commute home I had one of the more rare occurences happen. I had an attractive girl sit next to me. And I don’t mean sit in the same block of 3 seats where there was one between. Oh no. She was right next to me. After a near sleepless night I was feeling very tired and didn’t even notice her step onto the train. We hadn’t even finished the boarding process before I began to doze off. I was taken from the brink of sleep as she was making herself comfortable in the seat next to me.

About 20 seconds after she sat down a guy who looked older than me (I’m 35, btw) walked by her and tossed her a folded up napkin. He wasn’t slick about it. He didn’t linger. In fact, it almost looked like he was getting rid of some garbage. He tossed it to her lap, made some quick gesture as if to say “that’s yours” and then walked away quickly to a seat several rows back from us. He may have said something to her, but I had my headphones on I wasn’t about to let this guy break into Sometime Around Midnight from The Airborne Toxic Event. Nuh uh.

So the cute redhead began to unfold the napkin, wondering she told me later if he had “blown his nose into it or something gross.” On it, his name and phone number. Kevin 917-???-????. I laughed a little bit, she laughed, and the woman to her right laughed. Mind you, we weren’t laughing laughing. We were just giving a quick 3 second laugh and that was it.

I began thinking about it. What did he expect to happen? Was he speaking with her before they got on the train? Was this phone number on a napkin the natural progression of conversation? Had he missed his chance to just man up and ask for it when they were chatting? Were they even chatting?! I had to know. It was driving me crazy.

Since I’ve begun commuting on the Long Island Railroad I’ve made sure to arm myself with a pen and pad because there is a lot of, shall we say, inspiration on the train. I wrote the following down on the pad and angled it towards the girl for her to read:

“I don’t know if ‘he’ is close by so I don’t want to ask out loud… were you talking to the guy who dropped his number on you or was that completely out of the blue?”

I still had my headphones on. She motioned with her head “no.” To which I wrote, “Wow. Ballsy.” She began laughing and must have said something I couldn’t hear, so I took my headphones off and wrote on the pad one last time, “No chance of that working on you, eh?” She said “no.”

Gentlemen, remove this from our playbook. Apparently attractive women who you haven’t spoken with in any meaningful way do not respond well to folded up napkins thrown at them on crowded NYC rush hour trains.

I know! I was shocked too.

I had considered asking, “Well what would work?” but it would have been way too transparent. This guy’s “move” ruined it for the guy lucky enough to be sitting next to her (me!).

Gentlemen, remember that unless you’ve put in some work, don’t go c-blocking your bretheren by pulling some ridiculous move like the folded napkin toss. FFS!

I figured at that point the only way to advance on this mission was to tell her that I was going to write this up. It worked insofar as it piqued her curiosity enough for her to ask where I’d write it up.

Towards the end of her time on the train (her stop was several stops before mine) I offered her a chance to read this and provided her with the URL alexflores.net. She mentioned she was looking forward to reading it.

After sharing a too soon “nice to meet you” and spending an awkward 4 more minutes sitting there silently next to each until we reached her stop, she said good bye and walked off the train. I got a good look at her as she walked on the platform past where I was sitting. Just in terms of pure style I can’t see how the dude who pulled the FNT (folded napkin toss) move could have expected anything to come of it. He was a blue collar-looking Long Islander in his mid-to-late 30s  wearing a gray hoodie, white t, and jeans.

This girl of the red-dyed hair and leopard print body suit, rockin’ the 4 rings (2 on each hand), dark skinny jeans, hipster jacket that skewed almost leather bomber in it’s length but not nearly as bulky, or leather, while was she walked by sportin’ the Doc Martens, was definitely way out of his league… stylistically speaking.

Basically she is my polar opposite in terms of style… which makes us perfect for each other!

Email me. You cute red-haired temptress. She who denied a man his dream by throwing away the folded napkin. Email me tonight! Send it to: alex at alexflores dot com

Chat with you soon.

On Wine

May 12th, 2010

At times, I can be that guy at a restaurant. I try hard not to be, but given that I like the stuff so much and actually read the magazines about it, it’s tough to keep from applying what I know.

I’m talking about being the guy who accepts the one ounce (or less) pour of wine, swirls it a bit, pushes his nose into the glass to take in the bouquet, and then says “alright.”

Back in early 2003, when I was 28 years old, I began drinking wine. I had no knowledge of the stuff whatsoever. I thought I liked Cabernet more than Merlot and I knew I liked red more than white. That was the extent of my knowledge. A good bottle, for me, was something in the $12 to $20 range.

My girlfriend at the time wasn’t a beer, or mixed drink, drinker. She liked Merlot. I was coming into my own professionally and emotionally. I had been through a 4 year relationship that taught me a lot about myself and I was feeling more, “adult.” I began reading, and still do to this day, Esquire magazine every month. You know how in their magazine in the MAHB section (Man at His Best) they have “The Rules” at the bottom of the page? There was one rule I read that stated “Know wine, but don’t say you know wine.”

It was then that I began watching Simply Wine, at show on Fine Living hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. In the 30 or so episodes I watched over the course of 6 months I learned SO much about regions, varietals, vintages, blends, and wine making in general. My girlfriend couldn’t stand Andrea. She could come off a little annoying at times, but that Andrea definitely knew her wine.

Simply Wine wasn’t the only thing I used to teach me about wine. I was reading Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast every month too. I began to understand what a vintage report meant and how to use it. I read them so often that after a few months I was able to walk into a wine shop and know without referring to the vintage report cards which region, during which growing season, produced what varietals, best.

The first bottle I bought that cost over $20 was a 1999 Silver Oak. It’s a Napa Valley cabernet aged in 100% new American oak barrels. I bought it on a wine shop on Beacon St. just outside Fenway in Boston. It was close to $70. I remember when we opened it up and had a taste. The difference could be said to have come from my mind as much as it was from the wine itself, but it was SO MUCH better than anything I had before. From that point forward I began buying bottles at an average of $45 to $60 per. Honestly, none quite lived up to that first Silver Oak experience, but the quality of the over $40 bottles was easily distinguishable from those under the $20 price point.

I won’t get into it in this post, but in 2005, about two years into my passion for wine, I wound up moving to San Francisco with my girlfriend. We spent just a smidge under 2 years there and we went to Napa almost every month. My wine education was catapulted, not into snobbery, but into a full-on hobby. I upgraded from a wine rack to a 20-bottle fridge, then to a 35-bottle one, and then onto a 50. Decanters, restaurant-grade corkscrews, Riedel stemware, all these could be found in my home.

Aside from my first sip of Silver Oak, my most memorable wine experience came in September 2005 in Las Vegas. My best friend and I went to Vegas together about a month or two ahead of his wedding. I brought with me a bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour. It was funny because I flew to LV from SF and he came from NYC. The bottle was at my sister’s house on Long Island and I made him pick it up from there to bring to LV for us to have with our big dinner at the top of the needle at the Stratosphere. He was so concerned about how “gay” we looked that every chance he had to put into the conversation with the hostess, the waiter, the sommelier, and even the chef when we met him, that “my best friend and I are in Vegas because I’m getting married to a woman in a couple of months.” It was hilarious.

What I remember about that wine wasn’t so much the wine as the experience. The sommelier came over with the bottle and said, “Wow, we don’t see many of these come through the door. Where’d you get it?” I told him about Wine Commune’s web site and how I bought it at auction. He hadn’t heard of it and so he wrote it down and said he’d def. go there to check out the auctions.

I had learned from my reading wine magazines and web sites that if you offer the sommelier a taste of your wine, they’re more likely to wave the corkage fee. Towards the end of our meal, I asked the waiter to bring the sommelier over. When he arrived I offered him, and the chef, a taste. He was so genuinely happy to accept that he rushed away to get himself and the chef a couple of glasses. They came over, chatted with us for awhile, and asked if we enjoyed everything.

When the bill came, no corkage fee was applied and the desserts were on the house.

What I’ve found in the last 7 years of drinking wine pretty regularly is that what I remember most about the great bottles I’ve had isn’t so much the wine as it has been the occasion… and the people with me during the occasion. There’s the 1997 Groth I had when I left Boston to move to Los Angeles. It was at my going away party and I had several friends there to drink it with me. There was the 97 point 2003 Sea Smoke Ten I drank on New Year’s Eve 2006 in San Francisco at One Market. The vertical of Sea Smoke Tens (2002, 2003, 2004) I had with a special someone on Long Island in March 2008 before I left for LA.

I guess the last thing to say about wine is this… you can buy really good, quality wines for less than $20 (try Cabs from Washington State and South Africa, Malbecs from Argentina, Pinots from Oregon, Chards from Santa Barbara or Long Island, and Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand), and you won’t really taste the difference between those and $50 to $75 bottles. The difference will come from the occasion surrounding the more expensive bottle.

What Does Coffee Make You Think About?

May 11th, 2010

My office recently switched coffee machines. We went from a Keurig pod-based machine to a Flavia single-packet one. It was a change that happened democratically. The office was using Keurig for I don’t know how long, then one day the Flavia machine was installed. After a few days of Flavia an email was sent out asking everyone to vote on which one we’d keep.

Flavia won in a landslide.

I was not happy.

So there’s the background. I am sitting here wondering what to write about. With all that is going on in the world; the oil spill in the Gulf, the Supreme Court nomination of Kagan, the continued story on the attempted Times Sq. car-bombing, the only thing I feel qualified and informed enough to write about is coffee.

How sad is that?

How sad is that when it comes to things I believe I can write about intelligently, coffee, advertising, baseball, and wine are the only things that come to mind?

When I think about coffee and what it means to me there are so many ways to write about it. The first way to write about it begins with my first memories and impressions of the stuff. They lead me to thinking about my father as a younger man. He’s 73 years old now and has been drinking coffee for better than 60 years. Every. Day. He’s told me stories about his mother making him coffee before he’d go out to sell newspapers each morning before school. I remember being a kindergartner, an elementary school kid, a high schooler, and now a 35 year old adult, and to this day, seeing my father drink his coffee and read his newpaper. For me, in this first way to write about coffee, it’s an emotional connection to my past that makes me happy and sad at the same time. Sad that it’s coming to an end in the coming years, happy that I have such great memories of something so seemingly trivial. A man and his coffee.

The second way to think about it is when I became a full-on coffee drinker and addict. I was 26 years old, just turned, and starting a job at Mullen. This was back in October 2000 when Mullen was still located in Wenham, MA. I didn’t own a car for the first 9 months of working there, despite living all the way in Fenway (Boston proper for those who don’t know). I’d take the T to North Station and then the Rockport line to Montserrat where my friend Matt would pick me up on his way to the office.  I began drinking coffee each morning at the Dunkin Donuts in North Station. After only a few weeks of drinking it on the regular, I began finding that on the weekends I’d feel sluggish and all headachy. A cup of coffee on the weekends began to remedy that and I was done. My love (read: addiction/dependency) had begun.

Another way to write about it is still based in my triggered memories, but the third way is focused on how coffee was at the crux of a budding relationship with an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was a Starbucks barista while in college and when she and I met while she was interning at Mullen, she opened my eyes to the world of coffees beyond Dunkin. Not that I like Sbux coffees, but she and her mother really liked all kinds of coffees and turned me on to Gevalia, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Yerge Cheff, Casi Cielo, Kona, and so on. Coffee was a common thing we’d do together before we entered into a relationship. We admitted to each other early in our 4+ years together that we both drank coffee as much as we did just to make excuses to see one another. It was adorable. If you want to take a moment to throw up, that’s cool. Do your thing but admit that it’s a cute story.

Moving on… I think the last way to write about in any meaningful way is to talk about it in terms of how I use it as a point of conversation with new people I meet. I don’t even do it on purpose, but people are so often drinking coffee that it’s almost a natural conversation for me to have. It’s kind of like people talking about the weather, only much more personal because people have strong views on how they like their coffee and how often they drink it.

Think about it. If you’re a coffee drinker you “take it” a certain way. If it deviates from that way you’re unhappy. A “good” cup of coffee makes you feel better. It’s not just the caffeine, it’s the combination of strength, sweetness, temperature, and amount all coming together in the right way to make the experience of drinking coffee quite pleasing. I feel sorry for those people who cannot drink it because they get all jittery.

I guess the last thing to say on the subject of coffee is that it is important to me because of so many reasons other than the taste or the result of feeling more awake (even though it does those things for me). This post got me thinking about other things too. Little rituals all of us have come from somewhere and if you think about where they come from and what memories they inspire, you can take yourself into so many places your mind doesn’t usually end up going. In the last 30+ minutes while writing this I’ve thought about my father, an ex-girlfriend, my first few months working at Mullen and my friend Matt, as well as all the different people I’ve spoken with about their coffee. It’s been a fun journey through my memory.

What to write about next? Hmm…

What Can :30 Seconds Do?

May 10th, 2010

Until recently I used to say “it’s not a matter of life and death” or “it’s only advertising.” 

Those statements are meant to provide perspective; for the person saying it and for the people hearing it. They both do a little bit more than that. Those statements create an excuse. They can also minimize the impact and significance of what we can do.

That’s unfortunate.

Advertising isn’t like treating or curing a disease. Of course it isn’t. And it’s certainly not akin to, or even in the same ballpark, as providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, or sanctuary for abused children or battered women.

No, it’s not like that either.

At it’s very best, advertising can be a lot like art. I’m not saying those infomercials for Oxy Clean, Life Alert, or even the Snuggie, are forms of art. I’m definitely not saying that.

What I’m saying is that advertising can be a lot like art in that while the purpose is to inform a large audience of message or product “X,” a person can take something away from it that’s inherently more personal.

For instance, when my sister got married I wish I had done something like this, which isn’t to say I was chubby bumbling idiot like the brother in that commercial. Well, at least I wasn’t a bumbling idiot.

Tell me you can walk away from this longer-form ad without holding back a tear and I’ll call you on cold-hearted son of a bitch.

And this commercial just rips me up. My father is getting older. He’s moving more slowly, napping more often, and the thought of losing him has been on my mind more and more these last few months. It’s painful the mere thought. This commercial visualizes it. Ugh.

I think that after those three videos I’ve made the point and you’ve understood it. Right? Mass messages, pimping a product or service, can do, if done well, so much more than “sell” and “inform.”

I guess the reason behind my writing about this today is that I’m surrounded by what seems like meaningless, shallow, and sometimes empty opportunities to create an ad for a client. In taking a step back every now and then, I allow myself to think about what can be. And what these opportunities can be are inspirational, life-altering, and moving… but sometimes, they can just be funny. And to be honest, after writing all this gut-wrenching stuff, I can use a laugh.

When Dating & Advertising Become One

May 7th, 2010

I really thought I’d be writing in this blog a lot more.

Anyway, I was chatting with a good friend from OMD today. She and I were catching up and she asked about my office crush. You know what an office crush is, right? It’s that person who even if you’re dating someone, engaged, or married, you just like. She (or he) is just nice, or cute, or sexy, or whatever. There’s just a little chemistry there that you’ll never act upon (at least not without copious amts. of beverage) but you like to use as a fun distraction during the day.

My OMD friend and I were chatting about my new office crush. I gave her some details and left it at the basics. OMD girl said, “I hope it works out.” To which I replied, “No no, this is an office crush. Nothing is ever going to happen. I’m dating someone else.”

OMD girl asked, “Did you know her from before you moved to NY?”

Here’s the story, quickly, we met the weekend after Thanksgiving in NYC. I came back for Christmas, she and I had our first date. I flew back, just to go out on another date with her, in late January. I began interviewing in NYC in early March, was flown out for a face-to-face, and went out with her again. I moved to NY a few weeks ago.

OMD girl said, “you flew across the country for her?”

“Yup. I’ve put in some effort. It’s like 95% me in terms of effort.”

And that’s when I went full-on nerd. You see, being an advertising professional it’s tough to separate work from regular life. Since OMD girl is in media, I thought it was best explained in this way (I’ve bolded all the industry terms)…

The campaign to build positive brand image and awareness in Alex© began slowly because my impression levels were low (i.e. I was only able to see her once a month). My impressions were strong because there was a lot of time spent. We’re talking several hours of time spent per visit! But like most brands, if frequency and recency aren’t there, the brand’s lasting impression and eventual recall metrics begin trending downwards. Having localized my campaign (i.e. my move to NY) the impression levels have increased and there’s a chance we can get this girl to convert. I have no idea if she is into other brands (that would suck) but as she is an attractive consumer I have to acknowledge that other brands are definitely interested in adding her to their loyalty programs.

My campaign has some positive word of mouth going. It’s not paid for either, this is unaided WOM that’s going on. My ex-girlfriend’s good friend is a teacher at this girl’s school and as recently as last week said some very positive things about me. Unsolicited votes of confidence in a product (or brand) usually do well for conversion rates. It’s proven.

I’m not sure how long I’m willing to commit funds to this campaign. The early numbers don’t provide a clean read. Different DMAs, campaign tactics, etc. Now that I’ve ironed out some kinks (3,000 miles of them) the numbers should provide a roadmap that will help me decide whether or not to fund phase II.

I would say that I hope this works out, but David Ogilvy once said, “Hope is not a strategy.”

AOL Is Malware/Spyware/Bloat/Etc.

November 30th, 2009

I’ve spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and the few days after, on Long Island at my parent’s place.

My mother is a typical 60+ year old in that she cannot fully understand the Internet or computers. My sisters and I have bought her computers over the years so she can use “the emails” and go to Marc Anthony’s web site (she’d leave my father and never speak to us again if Marc asked her to).

To make it “easy” for her to use the Internet we set her up with an AOL account. This is years ago when AOL was in version 6 or 7. I’ve been sans work laptop during this trip and have been using my mom’s computer.

One word. Wow.

I cannot believe AOL’s software install isn’t flagged with the Federal govt’s cybercrimes division. I did a bit of a test with it, just for sh*ts and giggles, and here’s some of the results.

First, my mom’s machine’s specs 1GB ram, 2.5Ghz processor.

AOL 9.1. I uninstalled, then re-installed it. Upon the install I answered a million questions and waited for a good 1/2 hour for it to download a bunch of stuff. What the software DID NOT DO was ask me questions about how I want AOL installed. For instance… it put AOL launch icons in:

  1. The systray
  2. The programs menu
  3. The start menu
  4. My desktop
  5. As a right-click option
  6. In the IE browser favorites
  7. AOL added an AOL search bar to IE
  8. The install changed the IE home page to AOL.com
  9. Lastly, AOL has no setting or option/config menu to keep it from running in the background. If it’s on your machine, it’s running. End. Of. Story.

It’s insane how much AOL does to almost completely takeover someone’s experience with their computer.

Oh and the second phase of my test… I did a little alt+cntrl+del and viewed processes. AOL was absorbing, even when it wasn’t running (other than in the systray), 45MB of memory and putting CPU usage at a minimum of 25%!!!! WTF?!?

When I removed AOL and used IE-only, no CPU spikes, no screen drawing, no clicks that took 25 to 30 seconds for a system response.

I want to cancel my mother’s AOL subscription but I don’t have 2 free hours to try to get through their tangled web of customer “service” numbers and prompts.

It’ll be a good day for the Internet when AOL shuts down as a faux ISP and focuses only on the aol.com portal and content.

Until then AOL, expect your business to continue to dwindle. And ffs, can’t you see why?