Monday, November 29, 2010

You Will Be Visited

Last month, Jacksonville Magazine recognized my talents and sent me and the girlfriend to an east coast beach town to report about how there was no oil on the beaches and how you should spend your vacation there. OK, she actually works at the magazine and got me the gig, but still.

See, no oil

Basically, the city's chamber of commerce put us and a couple other writers up at a swank condo, fed us about a thousand meals over the weekend and even got us VIP tickets to a wine festival featuring REO Speedwagon. In return, we would write articles in our respective magazines talking the place up.

We totally witnessed a murder in that room across the way.

The New York writers were mystified by our Southern traditions, like grits and hush puppies and were amazed that we had actually heard of cannoli. They were also much tanner than the Floridians. Weird.

So that was the fun part. The crappy part, of course, was actually sitting down and writing a story.

I had never written a travel piece (although I totally want to do more. Sign me up!), so I was a bit apprehensive. Plus, every time I tried to start, I was interrupted by some rather annoying ghosts.

The Ghost of 23 Year Old Me: "So you're really gonna stick it to those PR hacks, right? Expose them to the world?"

Adult Me: "What? No. Everyone was great. I mean, they've got to get the word out, you know? And it's not like I'm lying. It was a lot of fun.Great city. I know you're constantly broke, but you should have planned a trip there at least once."

23: "Sounds like selling out to me."

The Ghost of 17 Year Old Me: "And REO Speedwagon? Did you throw a rock at them or something? Yell at them for being lame and old?"

Me: "No. I - What? Why the hell would I want to do that? I'm not a fan or anything, but they're out there working hard, putting on a show, making people happy, you know?"

REO, making people happy.

17: "23 is right. You sold out, man."

Me: "I know you won't understand this, but I've been trying to sell out for years, just nobody wants to buy in. And besides, things change once you get older."

17: "Jesus, you sound like Dad. So what do you do when you're not watching lame old REO Speedwagon?"

Me: "I dunno, stuff. Work in the yard, I guess. Ride my bike. Go to the gym."

17: "Man, this is just depressing. Do you still skate?"

Me: "No. Remember, we weren't really that good to begin with. But you will start to enjoy all sorts of things you hated, or at least pretend you hate right now. Like country and classic rock, gardening, and football."

17: "Alright, I'm outta here." POOF!

23: "OK, now that the kid's gone, you can tell me. How does it feel to completely abandon all your journalistic principles?"

Me: "Now I remember why I never liked either one of you."

I was able to finish the article even with the interruptions(page 28 of December's issue! On newsstands now!), but about a week after I turned it in I happened to read a travel article in GQ. With my now-experienced eye, I could see what went into the article - Oh, that one motel he mentions must be the one he got put up in. Those 3 restaurants must be the ones they drove him to. Now I know how the sausages are made.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Freedom Fries

Nothing tastes better than free food. Back when I lived in Gainesville, a large number of my friends were employed in the food service industries. This meant that there was always a pretty good chance of walking somewhere and getting a meal on the house.

At one point my roommate, who I probably shouldn't name, as he is now a husband, father and pillar of the community, worked at Burger King. We worked out an pointlessly complicated series of codes for when he worked the drive-thru. I'd be sitting on my bed playing Donkey Kong Country and the phone would ring.

"The rooster crows."*

That was my cue to start the car, drive up and take two or three overflowing bags of food. Even if I wasn't hungry, I took pride in being a good roommate and took the bags anyway. This was the time Burger King was introducing the Western Whopper (basically just a Whopper with Bar-B-Q sauce on it) and we ate those things constantly. He'd also hide garbage bags full of frozen hamburger patties and buns in the trash that I'd pick up later and save for our gin and tonic winter cookouts. Now that I think about it, those cookouts were fueled by burning a bunch of pallets that would always mysteriously show up by the dumpster. Between that and the Burger King patties, there's no telling how many carcinogenics are battling it out in our bodies right now.

But as sweet as that free food was, there were the more elaborate food scams. These involved calling up a restaurant and speaking to the manager with a claim of mild food poisoning. The key to this, as with all lies, is believing your own fiction. While my roommate was amazing at this, he will gladly admit he learned from a true master.

This master, who again, I probably shouldn't name, would get so involved in his lie that he would start believing it himself and get frustrated that these managers wouldn't help him. One night in Atlanta he spoke to two or three Hooters managers in an attempt to get 50 free wings. At one point he put his hand over the phone and said to us, "They want to offer me 25, but we got sick off 50 wings. How do we know which ones we got sick off of?"

The managers caved and we got 50 wings. A lot of times we could tell they didn't believe us, but we got free food, so who cared, right?

We would always tip big, because it wasn't the servers fault we got sick (see, I'm believing it again just thinking about it), and were super polite to everyone we encountered. I guess that sort of made up for the whole "Thou Shall Not Steal" thing.

Now that I'm a grown up and have more money than I know what to do with, thanks to the lucrative field of library science, I look back at our scams with some shame, but still a bit impressed that we were able to pull them off. With today's technology food scams are harder to pull off, but under the current economic picture, every once in a while I think of how I should really sharpen my skills at manager calling, just in case.

*It might have possibly been "The eagle has landed." Something to do with a bird.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Overheard in the Park by Work

One of Our Regulars: "Listen up, listen up, listen up. I hate working. Everytime I get a job I quite it as soon as I can."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Music for Pleasure

I was relaxing in my house Sunday when my thoughts were interrupted by crappy music. My ancient house has no insulation, so noise and the elements are free to seep through the walls and windows.

For about 20 minutes I got to hear a lot of music that the kids love. You know, robot voices, some rapping in there, usually some guy explaining to his intended that he really loves her.

I was wondering if I should go over to the white trash neighbors and say something, but by the time I got up it stopped.

I got to the car and said hi to my neighbor to the left. As I started the car, I wondered, "Did she think I was playing that crap? I mean, she's gotta know I'm a rocker, right? She has to know that I don't listen to music for 14 year old girls, right?"

This bothered me the rest of the day, whether or not my elderly neighbor knew I loved the rock and roll.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Just Observin' at Work

"You look tired."

"No...not tired...just useless."

Later that afternoon I watched a kid execute a series of roundhouse kicks over his baby sibling's head for about five minutes while his mom made a very important text.