First Cornhole… Maybe Featherbowling Is Next?

Back in 2007, I wrote about the game "Cornhole"which I had just heard about.  Since then, it has become an ingrained part of our social life – thanks to my discovery, friends of ours created boards that have been used at numerous parties and traveled to several states.   We even had them at our wedding reception!   In addition, I've seen it show up in a lot of other places, not the least of which was seeing some pre-fab boards in the seasonal aisle of Target and Walmart this past summer.  Clearly I was onto something.

Tonight, I was sitting here watching the "Rust Belt" episode of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations.  During the course of the show, he visited Baltimore, Detroit and Buffalo.  While in Detroit, he visited the Cadieux Cafe, where he participated in a game of Feather Bowling

Could this be the next Cornhole?  It requires a bit more work and isn't as portable as Cornhole, but it looks like a blast.  Let me describe it: there is a what looks like a bowling alley in the floor that isn't flat, but rather is rounded, like a half pipe.  At one end is a feather sticking out of the floor – yes, a feather.  At the other end are people holding "balls" that look like squat rounds of cheese – they are rounded, but flat on each end.   Kinda like an over sized Gouda or mini Parmesan cheese wheel.

The object of the game is a bit like bocce or horseshoes: roll the ball towards the feather, and try to be the closest to the feather after all the balls have been thrown.  Like any great, addictive game, it is incredibly simple, easy to understand, but difficult to master.  I now want to travel to Detroit just to give this game a try.  If anyone has ever played it, please let me know if it is as much fun as it looks!  

Is Sweet Tea the Next Hot New Flavor?

I was never a big tea fan – I just didn't care for the taste of it.  Then several years ago, I had the first of several tea-related revelations. 

First, my girlfriend (who would later become my wife) convinced me to have some tea to help clear out a head cold.  I tried it under protest, but to my chagrin, it worked. So I kept drinking it.  Next thing I knew, I found I liked the taste of hot tea.

Next, I tried Swiss Premium's "Southern Brew" sweet tea (now simply called "Sweet Tea" with a little banner that says "Southern Style) while on a business trip.  I suddenly understood why people practically worshiped this beverage.  I've been hooked since.

Now that I had experienced sweet tea, I was on the look out for it, and on another business trip to Birmingham, Alabama I found myself at a local barbecue joint (surprise, surprise) and had some of their freshly brewed sweet tea.  Now, here I was, in the deep south, eating BBQ and drinking sweet tea.  A light shone upon me and there were small angels around me, blowing their little trumpets, announcing the complete and total conversion of me from tea hater to tea lover.

Since then, a little restaurant chain you may have heard of – I believe they are called McDonald's – has introduced their own "sweet tea" available in 32 ounce cups (they use the word "cup" loosely – more like "vat").   You're also seeing sweet tea crop up in more supermarkets, and Arizona's own Southern Style sweet tea show up in more and more convenience stores.   I've even seen a gallon of Arizona's sweet tea on local (New England) Walmart shelves.

To me, flavors don't start crossing over into the mainstream though until you see other categories pick them up.  Example: the only place you ever saw "Pomegranate" was in POM Wonderful's obscenely expensive juices.  Once people caught wind of the health benefits and started to enjoy the flavor, it cropped up everywhere – you can now get gum, vodka, popsicles and candles all with the taste and/or aroma of Pomegranate. 

So it was with great interest that I've seen the introduction of sweet tea-flavored vodkas in the last year or so.   In my book, when you see a flavor of vodka hitting the shelf of your liquor store, it means that flavor is getting big. 

I can see why people enjoy sweet tea: it is probably the closest thing to a sugary soft drink that you can drink and not feel overly guilty about it.  Yes, it has sugar in it, but it is usually made with real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup) and has the benefits of antioxidants from the tea, and no carbonation.  It is sweet, but light and refreshing as well. 

It would seem to be well within the realm of possibility that it is only a matter of months before sweet tea breaks out into the culinary mainstream, similar to how martinis, cupcakes, and whoopie pies have gotten press at various times over the last few years as the "hot new trend."  Just remember that you read it here first!

Cultural Shifts Among Coffee Shops, Newspapers and Shoppers

A few articles related to our everyday culture caught my eye today:

First, a very short article about the widening generation gap when it comes to "buying American."  I will admit that the idea of "Buy American" is a bit foreign (interesting choice of words) to me.  I didn't grow up in a household that was "always buy American" (we usually had a Honda or something in the family to go along with our GM or Ford), so I didn't have that influence growing up.  I remember when Walmart first started to expand nationally and started to come into the Northeast, their big thing was "American-Made Goods."  As that positioning fell away in favor of "always low prices," it is ironic that Walmart's push for lower cost goods is part of what has driven so many companies to switch to overseas manufacturing.  

However, separate fromthat influence, sales of foreign-made goods have obviously been growing for years, to the point where I think those of "generation y" and younger don't really think twice about buying something made in another country.   We don't remember a time when goods made in an Asian country meant something that would fall apart.  In many cases, we now equate it with a higher level of quality than many American-made products.  And when it isn't, we equate it with being cheap enough to just throw out and get a replacement.  When all of the Star Wars toys you played with growing are stamped with "Made in China" on their little plastic feet, you don't really think twice about buying a radio, TV, or car made in Asia. 

In addition, we live in a more globally connected world, one where you can easily speak with someone in China, India or Japan - not just over the phone, but via video conference, Skype, IM, or email.  Someone who is over 55 may remember when the only way of getting to the Far East involved slow moving ocean liners.  Now we can get there in under 24 hours on high speed jets that fly several times a day.  When you can overcome the geographic distance between people so easily, the thought of holding a physical object in your hand from that same country isn't as bewildering.  You don't question the technology that allows you to communicate or visit with them, so why question the fact that you're using a product made in that country? 

The second article is about the banning of laptop computers in coffee shops.  What struck me most about this article is not about the controversy over whether or not these cafes are doing the right thing for their business, but rather the fact that the articles refers to out-of-work professionals shacking up in these cafes so that they can use the wi-fi connections for the things they need to do: look for a job, pay bills, etc.  We've become so strongly connected to the Internetthat we simply can't operate without it.  What do you do when you do all of your on line "life management" using your work's internet connection, and then you suddenly don't have a job?  You're sitting there in limbo with no connection at home and unable to afford one, and in the meantime you've gone "paperless" with every company you do business with.  Where do you go? 

We may be creating a new type of homeless – those who have someplace to live, but no place to connect.  The "wandering netless" we could call them.  Forget tent cities and a 55-gallon drum filled with scrap wood for warmth under the overpass; we may see former professionals huddling around a router, vying for a sliver of bandwidth.   How long until the stories of widespread "hi-jacked WiFi signals" start to appear?  Perhaps it is just a matter of time until the local soup kitchen offers food, winter coats and free WiFi.  I don't mean to sound flip, but rather pose a serious question – as we become more connected (which most would say is a good thing, unless you want to buy American) how do we survive when we can no longer connect?

Last, but not least, and probably not completely unrelated to the above, is this analysis on what is killing the newspaper industry.  I admit that as net-centric as I am, I still love the traditional newspaper, especially the Sunday paper.  I like the tactile sensory experience of it, and the intellectual nature of paging through, browsing the news and feature articles.  With all the newsletters and web sites I read through during the course of a week, I still find new and interesting information in the newspaper whenever I pick it up. 

So basically, I have a soft spot for the traditional newspaper, and it makes me sad to think of it dying the slow, painful death that it is going through right now.   I agree with the analysis, even if I never thought about it in the way it is described: newspapers weren't in the business of delivering news – they were in the business of delivering ads right to the doorsteps and into the living rooms of their customers. 

As time and technology marched on, far more efficient and specialized ways have replaced that expertise, and in response, newspapers dug in their heels, and shed off some of the thing that made them unique in the first place.   They were able to keep making money by cutting costs and consolidating, but didn't keep their eye on the long game. 

I don't think the analysis offers up a lot of useful advice on turning things around, but I hope that someone out there reads it and figure out a way to save an industry that can be important… especially when you are carrying around your Japanese-manufactured laptop and can't find a place to get on the internet for the latest news!