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My First Time (in Europe, that is)

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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.

Gentlemen, Remove This From The Playbook

Wednesday, 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.

What Does Coffee Make You Think About?

Tuesday, 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?

Monday, 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.