Sunday, April 22, 2012

A pilgrim in an unholy land

I had heard of Xfinity live before my visit last night in passing. Considering my penchant for intelligent conversation and good atmosphere while actually having the ability to sit down, I assumed I wouldn't enjoy a carnival-type atmosphere filled with theme bars and drunk, confrontational tourists. However, an acquaintance of my girlfriend happened to be having a birthday there, and I, not one to unabashedly hate something without experiencing it first, reluctantly agreed to tag along. My expectations were low, given that anything with the name Comcast associated with it has a tendency to be excruciating, but I considered it to be an anthropological experiment of sorts.

My initial warning signs arrived during our subway ride to the stadium area. After the Oregon stop, all passengers remaining on the train reeked of cologne and could only express themselves whilst reaching decibel levels that would rival a space shuttle launch, or perhaps having a screaming baby lodged inside your skull. As there were no sporting events that particular evening, I assumed these booming steroid machines would be our compatriots for the evening. No matter, as I'm sure a complex this large attempts to offer something for everyone, and we would have no trouble finding a meathead-free sanctuary. More on that later...

Upon our arrival, we immediately found ourselves at the end of an ever-growing, large line to get inside. As a frequent patron of alcohol-seving establishments, I recognize that there are only two reasons for a large line at a front door; the illusion of exclusivity and poor crowd control, neither of which are high on my list of ingredients for a good night. I, however, gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that there was just a bottleneck during the carding process. I had ruled out the aforementioned illusion of exclusivity at that point, considering it seemed at the time there were few people they WOULDN'T let inside.

Once inside, any anxiety caused by the large line was immediately eclipsed by the sheer unmanageable size of the crowd we had to attempt to maneuver through. A circle pit at a Slayer show, a Beijing subway car during rush hour, a Florida Best Buy during Black Friday: these are all practically a free-form yoga space in comparison to Xfinity Live on a Saturday night. Grown men have passed kidney stones with more ease than I navigated the vast throngs of humans who had flocked to the stadium complex to drink cheap beer and make passes at women they were most definitely NOT going home with.

But this place offers something for everyone, right? Sure, if you're a complete schmuck. As it turns out, although schmucks are many, no two schmucks are alike, much like a fingerprint. An incredibly loud, douchey fingerprint. To that end, Xfinity Live is structured as such: there is a large common area in the middle containing various floating bars. This area is useful if you're a beginner at large groups of brodudes and you'd just like to get the general overview. It's like a college general education class; you're not going to get a fine-tuned view of anything in particular, but the foundations are laid for you to move forward with a more specific subject you might enjoy.

Finished your gen-eds and looking to personalize your fist-pumpingly excruciating experience? You're in luck. Want to eat Chickie and Pete's but are unsatisfied with the low price tier of the original establishment? No worries, their satellite establishment at Xfinity offers the same greasy drunk food at a 150% markup! Do you enjoy Victory's fine craft beers but pale at the suggestion of having to drink with quiet, polite individuals? No problem! Xfinity's Victory bar can give you the beer you love with all the top ten jams and shameless female objectifying you've grown accustomed to!

We, however, found ourselves at an establishment called PBR Bar. While at this point I was nearly certain this evening was quickly becoming a write-off, I assured myself while waiting in yet another line that I would at least be able to dull my increasingly assaulted senses with a barrage of cheap beer. Although I don't enjoy PBR, I welcomed the opportunity to change my social dynamic by drinking myself into a stupor. Perhaps I misinterpreted the name, as once inside, we were greeted with some sort of dumbed-down version of Coyote Ugly. I still hadn't figured out the name, although at this point I was certain it had nothing to do with Pabst. Perhaps the 'BR' stood for 'Bull Riding', as the centerpiece was a large mechanical bull with alternating groups of sorority girls using it to create regrettable (non?)memories. I'm still not sure what the 'P' stands for. Perhaps Prophylactic. Or Proboscis. I tried to get a drink for my girlfriend and I, however the bar was blocked end to end with gelled-up drunks nursing the idea that the cleavaged blonde bartender actually DID have a crush on them, and convinced them to keep buying expensive shots based on the idea that they would be together forever. It's like the nameless thugs who continue to shoot at Superman. They've seen everyone else's bullets bounce right off his chest, but they're somehow still convinced that their bullets are special, and if they're just persistent, they will prevail.

After getting my straight whiskey and my girlfriend's beer for the unreasonable sum of $15+ (don't forget to tip your bartender's tits), I found myself exhausted from the ordeal. Keep in mind, by the time we actually managed to get our first drinks, it had been nearly 40 minutes since we walked in the front door. Also, it was becoming increasingly apparent that there wasn't enough alcohol in the entire building to get me to enjoy myself. I resigned myself to sipping my whiskey on the smoker's patio while doing deep-breathing exercises to keep my blood pressure from skyrocketing. We managed some strained, screamed conversation over the loud (and horribly chosen) music before we decided that were were obviously not the demographic this place was built for before we decided to go home, drink wine and talk about space.

Bottom line: Xfinity live was built as a sensory overload chamber for those who would like to be surrounded by other excessive drinkers and want to watch sports while standing on a sticky floor. If these are the things that enrich your life, you'll have a blast. If you're looking for an iota of culture and atmosphere, I suggest you leave well enough alone. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst establishment I've ever entered in nearly 10 years of living in Philadelphia, which is really saying something, since we've got some gems. If you want the same experience, put on LMFAO at maximum volume and jam a needle filled with air into your aorta. You'll save money and won't have to work out the logistics of a $20 cab ride home once the subway shuts down. I would give this zero stars if given the option. I would give it negative thirty-seven stars if I could. However, since I have to give one star, I'll justify it by at least saying the exits were easy to locate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Ugly American

As I reflect on the death of Osama Bin Laden, I'm reminded of what this nation has gone through collectively over the past decade to get to this point. Countless lives have been lost, families destroyed on both sides, and a veritable myriad of constitutional rights thrown by the wayside. Obviously, these are all casualties of war, from minor inconveniences in our daily lives all the way up to those who have lost their loved ones. No victory, no matter what magnitude, has the power to reverse what's been lost.

I'm aware that this is, fundamentally speaking, a victory for our country for a number of reasons. On the most basic of levels, it accomplishes a goal that was set out in the beginning of this conflict. It provides at least a small amount of closure for families who have lost so much to this war. It is mainly a symbolic victory, as Bin Laden has controlled very little of Al Qaeda since 9/11, acting as more of a spiritual head of the organization, a collective face of evil in American eyes, if you will. The strategic situation in this war will be no different than it was last week, and in fact may prove worse and more dangerous for our soldiers now that he has become a martyr for his cause.

This is also a victory for our president, who's approval ratings will no doubt soar at a crucial time for him. This victory, however, seems bittersweet. The fact that, despite his vast accomplishments since taking office, this will likely be the defining moment of his presidency is a sad fact. Although I would love to think undecided voters would choose him based on the broad scope of impressive changes he's made in our country, this is not the country we live in. While I'm elated that he now has a very good chance at winning a second term, I wish this were not the event that made it possible. I truly hope that he is remembered for the political innovator that he is and continues to be, and not for the murder of one enemy.

Mainly, when I began to learn more about the circumstances of his death, I began to think about what an amazing opportunity our government and military had show our growth and maturity at the highest level. I couldn't be more proud of our soldiers that, despite how much blood was on his hands, treated Bin Laden's body with respect and took the time to give him a proper Islamic burial. Not only was this smart, as the last thing this country needs is to further ideals of Islamaphobia, but it was a beautiful display of humanity as a whole. My largest wish on that night was that this profound display would have a trickle-down effect on all American citizens. An opportunity to show growth as a nation is something we rarely get, and these opportunities should be take advantage of whenever possible. Unfortunately, this has largely not been the case.

The reaction of some members of the the general public thus far has been reprehensible and downright appalling in some cases. The celebration of the murder of one man is not only un-American, it is barbaric. The sheer amount of blood lust displayed even by my own acquaintances has been almost too much for me to bear, and make me feel ashamed of my own country. Some of the reactions I have seen in the last 36 hours exemplify why countless nations hate us. It is, by and large, due to the disgusting hypocrisy shown in our celebration of Bin Laden's death. We look at news organizations showing footage of burning American flags and crowds cheering the death of American soldiers and say to ourselves "this is the enemy, we're better than these people", but the reaction to his death has proven that we have it in ourselves to be no more than a variation of the people we see as our enemies. If we want to show the rest of the world that we're above that kind of behavior, it's time to lead by example. We can not improve the rest of the world's view of us if this is horrendous display we're going to put forth.

Furthermore, this is not a time for celebration. If anything, it is a time for silent reflection of what has brought us to this point, what we have accomplished and what we still need to accomplish. We have lost countless lives to get to this goal, and the death of an enemy does not bring back the loss of a son, father, brother, mother, daughter or sister. This is a somber moment of closure for those who have lost everything, not an excuse to drink to someone's death.

‎"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Texas, 'Merica and Football

Once again, the Super Bowl has come and gone in it's usual fashion. There was a winner, but as it wasn't the one NFL team I remotely care about, the outcome was relatively anti climactic, at least for me. I was rooting for the Packers merely based on the fact that I loathe Eagles fans. Being that the Packers knocked out the Eagles in the playoffs, rooting for them seemed to be the only way for me to at least somewhat attach to the outcome enough to make the game entertaining. Although I could write about what a good game it was (and it really was a halfway decent game to watch), I'd much rather bitch about everything I hated, as it's much more entertaining for me to write about, and I'm sure it is more entertaining to read about.

The sheer scale of this year's pre-game 'Go America' fuckaround was so staggering that halfway through, I nearly forgot what I was waiting to watch. Not even baseball, our actual national pastime, has put forth this much effort to ram red white and blue down my throat with such ferocity. Something about sporting events held in Texas conjures up the need to remind us that we are, in fact, in the United States.

As I began to stir from the righteous nap I was partaking in before the game, I heard the unmistakeable passages of what could only be the Declaration of Independence being read by different groups of people across the country who I can only assume had something to do with football. Being that I participated in my elementary school's production of 'Schoolhouse Rock' when I was a young lad, I was able to recognize these segments with some immediacy despite post sleep discombobulation and my eyes being crusted shut. I sure am glad we read it through and through, though, because in my near dream-like stupor I had begun to think that we had decided to repatriate to the UK. Also, I'm sure it was a welcome wake-up call to the millions of Texans who consistently lobby to secede from the union. I'd be completely for this idea, except for the fact that all my dirt cheap, multi-connecting flights to California inevitably have a layover in Dallas, and I just don't feel like carrying my passport with me every time I board a plane.

After re-visiting the tree of liberty for seemingly no reason aside from the gratingly sarcastic ones noted above, one would think the next logical progression would be to move on to the national anthem. As we've just been reminded that we are still an independent country, it seems prudent to also remind us that we have our own theme song. Unfortunately, the national anthem has no lyrics that specifically mention the beauty of our country, we had to jump right to 'America the Beautiful', as sung by an actress who's name does not matter (I will refer to her as 'Cletus' for the rest of this snippet), save for that it was mentioned that she stars in 'Glee'.

Despite having only seen Glee once, the powerful suckitude of said episode has forced me to hold back powerful nausea when presented with anything reminding me of it. Because of this, I had to pop a tummy and sip on Seltzer water for the entirety of Cletus' performance. Despite 'America the Beautiful' being quite a pleasant song on its own, Cletus' repetitive, relatively tone-deaf rendition of it may have actually re-animated Jefferson's corpse, which I'm quite certain has since armed itself with a pitchfork and slowly meandered to Cletus' current whereabouts to dispose of her in a most violent and distinctively American manner. The constant on-camera appearances of George and Laura Bush only served to further my violent indigestion. As I'm sure Obama couldn't make the game due to being occupied with attempting to bring the country back from the brink of economic disaster, Fox decided that showing the man who almost singlehandedly created said economic disaster was the next best thing.

Although I was very proud of myself that I managed to get to this point in the programming without vomiting on my own shoes, there was no time to give myself a pat on the back, as the National Anthem was about to be sung by none other than Christina Aguilera, and I knew many annoying and completely unnecessary octave shifts were in my very near future. As the last time Christina Aguilera was relevant was at my 8th grade christmas dance in 1998, and her songs only served for me to awkwardly gyrate my hips in front of a girl I was too terrified to talk to, I couldn't imagine why she would be chosen to represent the country in such an important manner. I was initially angered by the fact that she managed to mess up the lyrics to quite possibly one of the first five songs you learn as a child, but as our popular media is filled with uneducated, whorish blondes already, I decided she represented a fairly good cross section of the country and let it slide.

Normally, after having my brain invaded by such a high volume of mind-numbing slop, I usually have to take a nap. Similar to falling asleep in a rocking chair on thanksgiving after consuming 7 pounds of food, the body simply cannot cope with simultaneous digestion and continued consciousness, and needs to shut down and regroup for a few hours in order to resume normal function. Not on this day, as the overly filling meal was to be followed by a football game which I had almost forgotten was the purpose of all the previous mindless crap. The game itself was legitimately entertaining to watch, despite my previous mentioned lack of caring about which team won the game. The commercials, although nothing spectacular, had their moments as they usually do. The only complaint I had was the eye-gougingly long Chrysler commercial featuring Eminem. On any normal day, Chrysler tooting their own horn after taxpayers collectively emptied their pockets to save the company from certain death is enough to make me groan. Doing so while choosing a psychologically unstable jackass with violent tendencies to represent the city of Detroit is like choosing Jeffrey Dahmer to represent Wisconsin in a cheese commercial.

In an effort not to dwell on the negatives of the commercials, I'd like to go ahead and dwell on the negatives of the halftime show (hopefully by now you've noticed a subtle theme forming). I've never enjoyed the halftime show. I make my best effort to go do something else while the halftime show is on. It may be due to the fact that it usually either features artists who I abhor, or it employs classic rock acts who I enjoy, but have become decrepit and arthritic to the point where they disappoint my expectations of them. Most of us can remember last year's performance by The Who, which left most of us wondering why they weren't out buying new golf clubs, spending time with their great great great grandchildren and researching anti-incontinence products. Both types of acts are difficult to watch, but it's much easier to stomach when the group is someone I already couldn't stand in the first place. Enter the Black Eyed Peas. Never mind that most everyone I know has been trying to force-feed them to me for the past 5 years, but for the most part, I strongly dislike rap and R&B, much less a combination of the two. Add that to the fact that live rap is probably the most horrid ear rape I could think of outside of a car alarm under your window at 3 am, and you've got a surefire recipe for something I have absolutely zero interest in seeing.

In light of these facts, my father (who shares my opinions of the halftime show) and I decided that at the end of the first half we would leave our hotel room (we were in vermont at the time) and leave for a pub in which we could watch the second half accompanied by beer and the appropriate artery clogging meat and fried potato medley. In doing so, we were hoping the transit time would allow us to completely miss the halftime show and get to the bar just in time to see nothing but the rest of the game. Unfortunately, we had vastly underestimated the amount of filler that Fox could insert before the halftime show even happened at all, and we arrived just in time to only miss about 30 seconds of the halftime show.

The Black Eyed Peas, who's live performance had about as much sound fidelity as steel wool being rubbed on the side of a trash can, were dressed like some combination of a character from Tron, Devo, and Gary Oldman's character from the 5th Element. Their heavy use of auto tune only served to make them sound like robots who can't sing instead of people who can't sing. When Usher, who's presence in anything usually makes me want to dive on an upright railroad spike, was a breath of fresh air during the show, it should serve as an indication of how crappy the experience really was for everyone involved. They were, are, and probably always will be a crappy version of the Fugees with one more dude, a hotter girl and half the talent.

After performing the requisite medley of back-to-back 30 second segments of 15 songs, I began to wonder what super bowl performers have against playing an entire song. Watching one of these performances is like being stuck in the car with someone on a road trip who won't let a single song play through until the end. Even The Who, who would have done just fine playing Teenage Wasteland all the way through and calling it a day, couldn't resist the urge to run through an ill-tasting smorgasbord of all of their radio hits. If I were a Black Eyed Peas fan, I would much rather hear one of my favorite songs in its entirety instead of a shitstorm mashup of 15 songs in 5 minutes. It's almost like having your radio set on scan.

Obviously, as it has become a staple, abolishing the halftime show altogether is not an option for the future, however it may be time for a change of pace. Who says it has to be a musical act? In fact, musical acts are always going to be dicey because there's always going to be someone who doesn't like them. Why not do a Cirque Du Soleil halftime show? It eliminates the musical like/dislike factor, and everyone can appreciate a 4'11 Bosnian girl with the ability to put the bottom of her foot on the back of her neck. If we're dead set on music, why not try a classic act who we know for sure can perform well without a cortisone shot in their spine? Hell, I saw Tom Petty this year and he can still do everything he ever could, and he's about as American as it gets.

In retrospect, watching the Super Bowl may have been a classic reaffirmation of everything I dislike about mass media and popular culture. Even as someone who rarely watches sports anymore, I thoroughly enjoyed the game itself. It was exciting, fun to watch, and suspenseful despite neither team being my favorite. However, the excessive amount of fluff left a bad taste in my mouth. Until now, I was unable to see a logical argument for DV recorders, but knowing that I could record the game and skip through everything I think is asinine provides the best case I've ever heard for owning one. However, with the last few paragraphs in mind, there's significant risk I could wear out the fast forward button in the first week of ownership ••

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Out of your pocket and straight to the tables: The new GM in a nutshell

As I browsed through the Sunday NY Times this morning, I came across the automobile section, offering a front page dish about "Cadillac’s new CTS Sport Wagon." Naturally curious as to how GM is blowing through our collective tax money with the reckless abandon of Robert Downey Jr. on a coke binge, I read on.

GM, apparently banking on the "Europeanization" of the American car market post-recession, has wagonized their longtime Cadillac offering, the CTS. The idea is, with the face of the American automobile changing, consumers will start to rethink their need for a larger vehicle, and, like the whole of Europe, begin to rationalize the notion of a station wagon. How very quaint and trusting of GM, in a nation where soccer moms in suburban middle America have spent nearly 40 grand buying 8 mpg SUVs to haul their 2.5 children around, to think that the car buying habits of this nation were based on logic and rationale.

No doubt GM has based some of their marketing strategy on the initial success of Chrysler's late Dodge Magnum, a vehicle that achieved its success due to a variety of options, muscular looks, available V8, and relatively manageable base price. The collective conscience of decadent America flocked to a vehicle that could offer them Good Ole' American V8 Power in the vicinity of 20-25 grand. Therein, however, lies the problem for Cadillac and its new offering. Whereas the Magnum had everything from affordability, power, and everyman appeal, the CTS Wagon offers none of this. At over $40,000 MSRP, sheer price alone places it firmly out of the reach of the average American consumer. Furthermore, without a V8 option, it doesn't even appeal to a niche market which, being completely frank, is not a market to put all your chips on. Logical sense and previous buying habits in this country say that the market GM is shooting for would sooner buy a luxury SUV than a redesigned sedan with the dreaded "wagon" label stapled to its stigma.

As for GM's aspirations to compete in the European station wagon market, they too are so dreadfully misplaced, I wonder exactly what they happen to be paying the supposed "marketing specialists" who informed them that this was a good plan. Those in the market in Europe (or the US for that matter) for a $40,000 station wagon would much rather place their money down on companies who have a tried-and-true line of wagons; BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and the like. GM, and Cadillac especially, trying to inspire confidence in their infiltration of the European luxury market after a collective continent watched them blow their money for over 3 decades on low-quality, built in obsolescence is somewhat like asking the liberal community to trust Rush Limbaugh making a Democratic run for president.

GM has been down this road before and has obviously not learned from its monumental mistakes. The Saab 9-2X, a grand finale of GM's nearly 2 decade long bungling of the brand, is a shining example of a lesson unlearned. For those who are unaware, the 9-2X was a Subaru WRX wagon rebadged as a Saab, filled with slightly more accoutrements, and priced nearly $10,000 higher than its Subaru counterpart. Saab buyers, a community nearly as cult-oriented as the late inhabitants of Jonestown, showed GM in abysmal sales over the course of 2 years that they are NOT in the market for a rebadged Japanese sport wagon. Conversely, Subaru buyers, along a similar time frame, informed GM that they would much rather go straight to the source and buy a luxury packaged Subaru than an awkward looking bastard child with a virtually taped on, disproportionate Saab front end.

A market with no cars, and cars with no market. GM is making confident strides in a direction that shows they have no idea how to spend the money that we as a nation so reluctantly gave them barely a year ago. I feel like some sort of loan shark, except unlike a loan shark, I can't (or perhaps shouldn't is a better word) stroll into GM head offices and start cutting off fingers and breaking kneecaps with a baseball bat. After all, we loaned them that money to pay down the mortgage, not to drive right to Vegas and put it all on red ••

Monday, November 23, 2009

The South Philly Mummers: A portrait of embarrassing Americanism

As I walked down to Superfresh in South Philly to get my flu shot (which, by the way, are now apparently more in demand than elephant tusks and flasks of albino blood) I was once again struck by the phenomenon that is the practice sessions of the Mummers in the parking lots under 95.

When every vapid, overweight decaying blob in South Philly, who spends the other 7/8 of their year voting Republican, bitching about gay marriage and enthusiastically buying pickup trucks they will never need gathers to stick peacock feathers up their ass and practice choreographed group dance moves to the smooth tunes of the Village People, the dramatic irony has surely not escaped my grasp. More stunning still, is that the the incidence of obesity, diabetes, and general stench of impending death is not only somehow higher than it was when I passed this crowd last year, but is also impressive by even American standards. Watching a crowd of XXL sweat suit clad percentage points chug bud light (it's ok, it's low carb now!) at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning while talking about their new Camaro is a humbling sight for even the strongest of resolves.

On the bright side, perhaps if other countries viewed tapes of this momentous event, it could be construed as a government funded group exercise program aimed at lowering the constantly embarrassing weight statistics of this great nation.

God Bless America.