Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Vox Populi Sucks (Talk about a sucky business model…)

A week or so ago, Hiawatha Bray (over on the Boston Globe’s Beta Boston) had a column on a business called Vox Populi Registry, which has taken advantage of the opening up of all sorts of new Internet web extension, and is trying to make a business out of selling .sucks domain names.

The .sucks domain is for websites that want to launch snarky, savage attacks on a target — stupid politicians, corrupt corporations, or a certain East Coast city. Typing newyork.sucks into your Web browser takes you to the website of [John] Berard’s company, Vox Populi Registry, where you can buy a .sucks address aimed at the victim of your choice. (Source: BetaBoston)

Yep, and if you type boston.sucks in, guess what? You end up on Berard’s virtual doorstep as well.

It’s a clever, creepy scheme that’s got corporations and celebrities scrambling to buy up .sucks addresses to fend off online assaults on their reputations. Some critics have labeled it a form of extortion. Berard, however, sees himself as a public benefactor, promoting the free exchange of ideas.

“Companies have been confronted often with unfounded and unfair criticism, made worse by the advent of the Internet, with all its dark corners,” said Berard.

“There ought to be a place where criticism can be seen in the full light of day,” said Berard, “a clean, well-lighted place.”

All that sounds so very, very high-minded, doesn’t at? Kind of at odds with the ho-ho-ho newyork.sucks and boston.sucks come ons. I really don’t think the world needs yet another place where crude, numbnuts Bostonians and crude, numbnuts New Yorkers can catcall and response each other.

Reserving your sucks domain won’t come cheap. Us nobodies can get in for only $249 a year, which is a lot more than you’d pay for most domain names on GoDaddy. pinkslipmaureen.com doesn’t appear to be available, but pinkslipmaureen.guru is only $27.99, and pinkslipmaureen.rocks would set me back a mere $12.99. Curiously, nopinkslip.com would cost $2,495. Which, curiously, is just about what celebs and corporations are charged to contain theirname.sucks for a year.

Apparently when new domains are introduced, “copyright holders get first crack at buying up addresses, to protect their good names.” Bray mentions Taylor Swift and Microsoft as two that took advantage of this opportunity. When you type taylorswift.sucks you get address not found; when you type microsoft.sucks, you get the general Bing search page for the company. (I want to go on the record here as saying that I am a fan of Swift, and that I’m writing this on a Surface Pro 3, using Microsoft’s free and glorious app LiveWriter.)

It’s estimated that 6,000 .sucks have been purchased, which I guess isn’t a bad annuity stream ($1.5M) for doing nothing but be a nasty, terrible company. Or, in the words of ICANN, the nonprofit that wrangles domain names, Vox Populi Registry is a company with practices which are “predatory, exploitive, and coercive.” (And I never thought I’d find myself agreeing with anything that Congressman Darrell Issa says, but Bray quotes him as calling this scheme “legalized extortion.”)

In addition to the celebrity and company names:

Berard is looking to command a premium for 500 particularly repellent addresses: Christianity.sucks is available at $50.000.

Personally, I don’t see why any celebrity or company would pay $2.5K, let alone $50K to protect themselves from getting sucked. I guess $2.5K looks like chump change, so why not avoid this little bit of unpleasantness. But whether you’ve grabbed the domain or not, if someone wants to claim  that Taylor Swift, Microsoft, or Christianity sucks, there’s just nothing to stop them from ranting and raving online to their little hearts’ delight.

Anyway, I don’t see this as being much of a growth business, unless they start marketing to bullies and mean kids, in which case parents would start shelling out the $249 to keep their kids from being brutalized even more than they are already are by bullies and mean kids. After all, as Taylor Swift has told us, “Hates gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

Meanwhile, I did take a side trip over to Berard’s sucks registry. Let the hifalutin, BS positioning begin:

By building an easy-to-locate, “central town square” available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dotSucks is designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism. Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of every organization’s customer relationship management program.

As a marketer, just own it!

Then there are the taglines:

“Customer led advocacy…Freedom of speech…Focal point for customer service…Foster debate, share opinions…”

Yep. Nothing says “foster debate” and “freedom of speech” like dot.sucks.

And then there’s the video, replete with Martin Luther King voice over, and a guest appearance by Ralph Nader, who says: 

The word ‘sucks’ is now a protest word. And it’s up to people to give it more meaning.

Wonder what Mr. Nader got in return? Perpetual rights to ralphnader.sucks? (Too bad that one wasn’t available in 2000, eh, Al Gore?)

Seriously, how does this guy look himself in the mirror? (Hmmmm. I don’t know whether I’m talking about Ralph Nader or John Berard here. You decide.)

Monday, August 03, 2015

In the village, the Internet village, no lion hunter sleeps tonight

If asked to compose a list of the people I would least like to be marooned with on a desert island, trophy-hunting dentist Walter Palmer would be right up near the top. I’d rather take my chances in shark-infested waters than sit under a palm tree with this a-hole. And as for seeing him as a dentist, well…I suspect that I’d be sitting in the chair in his office wondering when the last time he’d used his cross-bow to kill a magnificent animal, or imagining what his trophy den looks like. (Do the animals show their teeth?) Me, I’ll take my mild-mannered, non-great-white-hunter of a dentist, any old time.

I find the entire idea of these well-to-do trophy hunters, paying big bucks to lure, corner, kill and behead an animal who was doing them no harm at all completely – to quote Daffy Duck – “despicable.”

And yet I find the paroxysms of rage directed towards this guy that have been unleashed across the ‘net to be somewhat disturbing.

First, there’s the unhinged level of venom. In random glances at comments on various articles (some of which quoted tweets), I’ve seen quite a few folks advocating for Walter Palmer’s death, in no uncertain – and often quite lurid – terms. Here’s a not atypical example:

Truly. I'd put a cross bow bolt through Walter Palmer then track him from 40 hrs., shoot him, behead him, skin him and sleep peacefully.

Folks are not only screeching for his death, they want to ruin his business, and have been yelping about him on Yelp. Then Yelp decided that, since the “reviews” that were piling up weren’t actually reviews of Palmer’s professional practice, to took them down.

Here’s what Yelp said:

“…reviews aren't the place for rants about a business's employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don't address the core of the consumer experience."

"Our user support team ultimately removes reviews that violate these guidelines," the statement said.

Well, if that didn’t get the high-dudgeon yelpers yelping, and they’re looking for redress:

Another petition seeks to retain the right to flood a Yelp page for Palmer's dental practice with negative reviews — many of which have focused on outrage over Cecil's killing. The Change.org petition was started after Yelp removed many of the reviews…"Yelp's autocratic censorship of this this historic, unprecedented outpouring of participation in public debate silenced and disempowered their loyal contributors," the petition reads. (Source: NBC News)

Note to “loyal contributors”: there are plenty of other online forums in which to lob your “unprecedented outpouring of participation in public debate.” And while you’re there, let’s try to make it a debate about the malign practice of big game hunting, and not literal calls for Walter Palmer’s odious head. Because, let’s face it, if Palmer hadn’t unlocked into killing Cecil, the beloved mascot with a name, there would be no debate.

There’s also a Whitehouse.gov petition  - signed by over 100,000 folks – calling for the US to extradite Palmer to Zimbabwe. (With respect to this petition, I saw one comment in which someone said that he hoped that Palmer gets gang raped in a Zimbabwe prison. Nice.)

Palmer, in fact, may not have committed any crime. (Which, of course, may not be enough to keep Zimbabwe from giving into pressure to try him.)

Here’s some of what Salon had to say about trophy hunting:

The practice of trophy hunting originated as a way for humans to demonstrate power over large, dangerous animals, but now that modern high-powered weapons can subdue even the largest animals, the trophy hunter’s focus has shifted from animals that are dangerous to those that are rare. Several game preserves in Africa specialize in breeding mutant versions of popular big game animals, such as white lions or the so-called golden wildebeest. Killing a golden wildebeest costs $50,000, 100 times as much as a wildebeest of a typical color. (Source: Salon)

Great. When you think that trophy hunting can’t get any worse, we learn that mutants are being bred for the sole purpose of charging creeps more money to kill them.

Like the “great white hunters” on safaris of the past, today’s trophy hunters are corporate types who may spend tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands to kill a single animal. And the bigger and rarer and more beautiful the animal, the more a trophy hunter wants to kill it: An African lion hunt starts at around $39,000. For $60,000, power brokers can bag a bull elephant.

Which, I believe, was the next animal on Walter Palmer’s kill list.

Trophy-baggers, of course, will argue that they’re helping poor countries attract tourism, and that they’re helping conserve wildlife. So let’s have at the debate that lets them weigh in with their side, and let those actually who know something  about local economies and about wildlife conservation have their say, while also letting those of us whose umbrage exceeds our actual knowledge of the practice articulate what bothers us about it. Which is plenty: there is something pretty depraved and not especially brave about hunting this way, and killing magnificent beasts just because one can. (I’m not talking about “regular” good old American hunting here. It may not be my cup of tea, but if someone wants to hunt deer or duck or whatever, and eat what they kill, have at it. It’s the hunting so that you can taxidermy a head that’s unsettling.)

But why not have the debate without threatening the life and livelihood of Walter Palmer.

He’s nobody I want to know, that’s for sure. But he’s not someone I want to see tortured or killed, either.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Who wears short shorts? Sylva Stoel takes on JCPenney.

I was somewhat amused (and somewhat bemused) by an article I saw earlier this week about a young woman working at short shortsJCPenney in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who was sent home from work for wearing shorts that she was told were “too revealing.”

JCPenney is certainly entitled to have a dress code. And I’m enough of an old geezer to say that an outfit that’s fine for working at a summer camp, or an ice cream shop, or even a store that catered to juniors, may not be the right look for fuddy-duddy retail. Into which category I would toss JCPenney. (Not to mention: wouldn’t you be cold wearing that outfit in an air-conditioned store?)

But I don’t see this getup as “too revealing.” And I can understand Sylva Stoel’s bemusement: she bought the shorts in the JCPenney’s career section.

Stoel said:

…that during her job orientation, her manager had never mentioned shorts, but had said denim, T-shirts and spaghetti straps were prohibited, and skirts could not be “too short.”

Stoel said she had seen co-workers show up in denim and men’s undershirts, but they weren't sent home. (Source: HuffPo)

Ah, whose definition of “too short” are we following here? That of a normal, everyday person, or that of Sister Mary Filter of the Holy Smokes*?

I came of age during the first mini-skirt wave, and, in retrospect, I had plenty of skirts that weren’t much bigger than a loin cloth. I remember quite fondly a purple jersey dress that just about hit my thighs. A blue striped wool skirt that I adored. A green and blue tee-shirt dress (heavy on the tee-shirt, light on the dress.)

I never wore “hot pants” (now there’s a name), but I had any number of pairs of cut-offs. My rule on shorts and skirts – which I believe in to this day, when I’m well beyond being in any danger of violating it – is that, if any part of your ass cheeks show, it’s too damned short. (That said, did I once really have a pair of cut-offs that were so short that the bottom on the pocket dangled out?) 

Anyway, I was never all that outrageous, not by the standards of my day, let alone the far more out-there standards of this day and age. But, I did my part. Hey, I was young, and what better way to bug your parents?

My mother was the prude of all prudes when it came to clothing. Shirts were best buttoned up to the chin. You wouldn’t want to reveal any clavicle, would you? Skirts were best down to the knee. Better yet, below it. Shorts should be Bermuda length. None of this cut-off nonsense.

My sisters and I used to say that Liz’s dress code revolved around three categories: TS (too short), TP (too plunging), and TB (too black: for some reason, she didn’t believe girls – i.e., anyone under the age of fifty – should wear black).

Anyway, by the time I was ready to start violating the TS/TP/TB rules, I was one foot out the door, heading off to college and on my own. Once I got to college, I mostly swapped out one uniform – 12 years worth of parochial school green jumper and white blouse – for another: jeans and a sweater. If I had on a skirt, I was probably wearing a black turtleneck with it. If I had on a skirt, it was probably to wear when I worked retail at Filene’s or Jordan’s (where I mostly remember wearing a corduroy jumper (short), black and black tights. As for dresses, they were quite rare. My father’s wake and funeral; the weddings my friends started having after we graduated.Mostly if I had a dress on during college, it was a white nylon waitress dress.

During my career-career, I went from wearing menswear women’s power suits, to skirts and jackets, to slacks and jackets, to slacks and sweaters. These days, when I meet with a client I’m in a pantsuit for the first meeting, and a skirt or pants, and a decent top, thereafter.

There were no circumstances during my career-career in which shorts of the JCPenney career variety would have been appropriate. Just not done. But I can see that Bermuda-length, dressy shorts might work. (Just not for anyone my age.)

As for Sylva Stoel’s attire. That depends. As I’ve said, I think it would work in the junior section or the kids’ department, maybe not in men’s suits. But it’s hardly over the top or outrageous. I think JCPenney has to firm up their dress code, and, maybe, redefine what gets carried in their career section.

By the way, Sylva Stoel tweets under the handle queen feminist. I have to say that it does my old bra-burning, don’t iron while the strike is hot, Ms. subscriber, Our Bodies, Ourselves reader’s heart good to see a millennial feminist in action.

Unlike Sylva Stoel, I don’t see work-related dress codes as being a major feminist issue.

“Unfair dress codes affect millions of women, and it’s time to speak out against them,” she said.

But, hey, I’m no longer on the barricades.

Do people still say, “You go, girl!”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Here’s looking at you, passenger in seat 23B.

I’m not an especially frequent flyer. In the last six months, I’ve flown to Phoenix, Chicago, and Edinburgh, and my overall annual norm is probably two to four trips. When I do fly, I always spring for the extra: a bit more leg room, an aisle seat, early boarding. Whatever’s on offer, it’s worth the extra $25 bucks or so.

Thanks to my late husband’s aggressive gaming of the free-miles-via-credit-card “system,” and with smaller thanks to the days when I did enough regular business travels to accrue miles naturally, I have flown first or business plenty of times. I have to say it’s great. Forget the little goodie bag and the edible food. What’s really nice about the upper class is that the seating’s a lot more comfortable. That’s the case whether or not you’re in a splosh mini-cabin of your own or just in a comfily padded, leg-stretchable, wide-body plain old seat. Not that I’ve ever been in a splosh mini-cabin. But I have been in those relaxer chairs where you can stretch out fully for the flight. Heaven, actually.

While it’s doubtful that there’ll be much high-end flying in my future, I’m always interested in reading about how first class is getting classier, with private cabins, Michelin-starred grub, ultra high thread count bedding, showers, butlers…

But as the airlines make more room for the elite travelers, they’re – surprise, surprise – doing so at the cost in comfort of the rest of us. All that extra space for the 7 foot long beds has got to come from somewhere.

I recently read that airlines were considering making the bathrooms smaller.  I guess they could put a fold-down sink over the toilet. Or, like Porta-Potties (or at least the best of them), just have some sort of hand sanitizer dispenser that emits a squirt of Purell. They could always get rid of the toilet and just have the hole in the floor with the foot rests on either side. (Hey, I’ve been to France a few times. I know how to use those suckers. Sort of.) Maybe they could design them so you had to back in, and/or replace the according door with a roll-down shade. But there’s not a lot of room to squeeze out of those facilities to begin with.

That leaves the seating arrangements, which are slimming down to make more space for the rich (or just so that more of the great unwashed can get crammed in):

Economy seats are narrower and closer, but they’re also getting less padded. Last year airlines such as Delta, United, American, Southwest, and Spirit swapped out standard cushion seats for slim-line seats. The name may sound stylish, but slim-line is a nice way of saying that perching on these seats can be about as comfortable as sitting on a park bench for a long-haul flight. Less cushioning means the seats take up less space. Less space means the potential to add more seats. More seats, of course, means more money.  (Source: Boston Globe)

Blame it on our steerage passengers’ penny-pinching ways:

“You’re not going to get people in economy to pay more,” said Michael Friedman, senior equity analyst at Delaware Investments. “So the question has become, to what extent are airline passengers willing to accept torture to save a few dollars?”

One of the answers to that question may be coming from Zodiac Seats, which was recently granted a patent for this:

Not only do these space savers look wildly uncomfortable, but the unfortunately monkey in the middle will be full frontal with their row-mates.

I really don’t think that any airline would be equipped to handle the number of passengers who would go berserk sitting in one of these honeys. Would they distribute Quaaludes with the “complimentary beverage”? Are they thinking of more air marshals armed with stun guns? Drop down oxygen masks that drop down anesthesia instead. (“I woke refreshed and don’t remember anything about my journey.”)

What’s next? Offering to ship humans in dog crates?

Me? I’d rather stay home. Unless I win the lottery, in that case, order me up a mini-cabin with a shower and butler.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When it comes to naming their pierogi, Sophie’s makes the wrong choice

Product naming is tough. The process quite deceptively seems as if it should be relatively simple and straightforward – as easy as you can say Campbell’s Soup.  – but coming up with a decent name is actually quite difficult. You want one that doesn’t make you look ridiculous, that doesn’t have a double meaning, that translates without embarrassment, that doesn’t throw off a silly acronym, and that won’t be found offensive by the majority of people (not just the ultra-PC crusaders). Trust someone who once managed a product called AutoBJ, there are plenty of bad names out there, and you should really try to avoid them.

Polish Eats, an Ohio foodery -  Peter’s Market: Home of the King of Kielbasa and Sophie’s Café - apparently didn’t get the memo on product naming.

Thus their Sophie’s Choice Pierogi, which are:

…simply amazing…you can always bet that Sophie’s Choice Pierogi are going to be first to disappear from the dinner table! (Source: Polish Eats)

First to disappear? Say, would that be like the child that the character Sophie, in the classic book/movie Sophie’s Choice, sacrificed to the Nazis in hopes (fruitless ones, of course) of saving her other child?

At least their tagline isn’t ‘you’re shoah going to love them’.

Here’s what Nancy Friedman, an expert on naming and branding, has to say:

I don’t care if your beloved founder is named Sophie. I don’t care if she chose the ingredients, the recipe, and the wacky label art. I will not listen to your argument about “choice” being an adjective meaning “of fine quality.” I don’t care if you call it an homage, and I don’t care how you pronounce “homage.”


I definitely won’t listen to arguments about Polish jokes.

Here’s the thing: Literature renders some names off limits. In this case, William Styron got there first, and thanks to him, “Sophie’s Choice” now stands for something horrific. [Children’s bedroom furniture called Lolita.]

Unless you are truly tasteless—a damning thing to say about a food company—you do not get to name your product “Sophie’s Choice.”  (Source: Frtinancy)

Truly tasteless is certainly one possibility here. For your consideration, I offer a few others.

Obliviousness: Could it be that the folks at Polish Eats weren’t aware of the plot of Sophie’s Choice? Maybe when they went to dub their pierogi, nothing came to mind. Maybe all they could come up with for an association was “wasn’t that the movie where Meryl Streep divorced Dustin Hoffman and tried to keep custody of the cute blond kid?”

Obstinacy: Did they so fall in love with the name that they managed to convince themselves that Sophie is Sophie, and choice is a perfectly fine word, and both Sophie and choice were around long before William Styron started typing, so…Damn anyone who thinks there’s anything wrong with our using a perfectly good word. So, maybe they’re just pig headed.

Slyly “humorous”: In a sick, anti-Semitic kind of way. “Oh, it’s just a clever play on words, and our customers will know it’s all in good fun.” Which may not be the wisest route to take, especially given the long history of anti-Semitism in Poland, the sheer numbers of Polish Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust, and that fact that so much of the overall slaughter of the innocents took place on Polish soil. (Also the scene of much of the action in Sophie’s Choice.)

I was actually going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that they did their naming before Styron wrote his book and Streep acquired her Polish accent. But, no, Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company was founded in 1984, five year’s after the novel was published, and two years after the film (for which Meryl Streep won an Oscar: this was not some under-the-radar indie) was released.

You know, there are a lot of other words that would have worked just fine: Sophie’s Best, Sophie’s Favorite, Sophie’s Special… Why would anyone go with a name that would be offensive to so many, and strike so many as sick jokey?

I like a good pierogi as much as the next guy, but if I’m ever in Garfield, Ohio, I most definitely will not be stopping in at Sophie’s Café. I’d rather eat from a can of Chef Boy-ar-di ravioli mush than take a bite of a “simply amazing” Sophie’s Choice pierogi.

And Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company can put that in their pierogi and stuff it.

Thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this one out to me.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Think I may get myself a pair of Chucks. (Probably not, but it’s fun thinking about it…)

Well, today is going to be a big day for Chuck Taylor fans everywhere.

Converse is releasing the new Chucks and – get this – they’re actually rumored to be comfortable and provide some support. So what if it took them nearly 100 years to come around to it.

The updated sneaker will merge the old shoe’s classic exterior with a more modern, cushioned interior engineered by Converse’s parent company, Nike Inc., according to retailers with knowledge of the product.

Called the Chuck Taylor II, the shoe will feature an insole with Lunarlon technology available in many of Nike’s existing athletic and casual sneakers, the retailers said. The shoe weighs less than the current Chuck Taylor, also known as the All-Star or Chucks, they said. (Source: Boston Globe)

When I was growing up, there weren’t as many sneaker choices as there are today.

Kid wore Keds, P.F. Flyers, or Red Ball Jets. Nobody actually wanted to wear Red Ball Jets, as the logo on the back of their shoes looked like a tiny Japanese flag. This was the 1950’s, and pretty much everyone’s father had been in World War II fighting against the Japanese flag. So there was something suspicious about Red Balls.

Our family wore P.F. Flyers, probably because that was the brand that Mr. McEarchern (pronounced Mc-Geck-rin) sold at his cobbler’s shop. Mr. McEarchern, who wore a navy pin-striped suit, closed collared shirt without tie, and a scally cap, in doors and out, was our cobbler. His shop was in Webster Square, not far from where my grandfather had his saloon. So he and my grandfather would have been merchant contemporaries. I don’t recall him every mentioning my long dead grandfather. Then again, no one did. I’m sure Mr. McEarchern just wanted us to get the damned sneakers (or rubbers, which he also sold) and get the hell out of his shop so he could get back to cobbling.

In addition to Keds, P.F. Flyers, and Red Ball Jets, boys had another option. They could wear Converse All Stars.

Black or white, high top or low cut, the styles went in and out.

But whatever the style, they offered the same lack of support and comfort that sneakers (or tennis shoes, as they were called, although none of us played tennis) provided: none at all. Which was one of the reasons why no one wore sneakers all year round, and which was why your parents always said they were “bad for your feet.” Especially if you had flat feet, like I (and my father) did.

Converse All Stars wecousyre actually
worn by NBA All Stars. Here’s Bob Cousy sporting a pair. Cousy wasn’t originally a Worcester boy, but he’d played his college hoops at Holy Cross, and stayed in Worcester throughout his storied playing career with the Celtics. He lived, in fact, next door to my high school, which one of his daughters attended. For all I know, he still lives there.

Professional athletes are always being compared era-to-era, but imagine what those guys could have done if they weren’t killing themselves pounding around in Chucks?

It’s been a while since any pro ballers wore Converse, but they got a new lease in life when they became a hipster fashion statement.

In recent years, it has become a more mainstream trend seemingly endorsed by everyone except podiatrists.

The current Chuck Taylor offers about as much benefit to the foot as the 5-inch high heel, said Dr. Lloyd S. Smith, a podiatrist in Newton Center who has done consulting work for New Balance, Converse, and Nike.

…Dr. John Giurini, chief of podiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said he wouldn’t recommend the All-Star for patients with any prior foot injuries. He said flat shoes with limited support can exacerbate issues such as achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and posterior tibial tendonitis, among other foot problems.

Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, posterior tibial tendonitis? Oh, my aching feet.

Despite the new Converse tidings of comfort and support, I don’t actually think I’ll be getting myself. Not cool enough, I guess. Too darned old.

But maybe I’ll look into a pair of Converse Jack Purcell’s, named for the famous badminton player. (Name another.) Low cut Jack’s might be more my ticket.

Anyway, Converse Headquarters isn’t far from where I live.

Next time I’m walking that way, maybe I’ll stop into the store there. Check out the Chucks. Check out the Jacks. See what they’ve got for old lady gear…

Monday, July 27, 2015

Baloney Man? Not this guy!

April through October (or thereabouts), there’s an ice cream truck parked at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Street, about 5 minutes walk from my home. It’s soft-serve ice cream, so I’m not exactly running over, but I’ve gotten water and lemonade there a couple of times when I’ve been out for a walk.

Other than Fosty’s, this is, alas, not an ice cream truck kind of ‘hood, so there are no ice cream trucks moseying around the neighborhood playing merry-go-round music. It just sits there quietly selling stuff to (mostly) tourists. (It sits next to the beautiful, peaceful and quiet-ful Public Garden, home of the Swan Boats and Make Way for Ducklings.)

But some places are ice cream truck friendly, and Peabody, Massachusetts, is apparently one of them. Allan Ganz, who plies his trade there, has been going strong for 68 years – since he was 10 years old, working his father’s ice cream truck. His father, Louis, was an ice cream man until he was 86, so Allan still has a few good years left in him. But if Allan retires tomorrow – which he has no intention of doing – he’ll do so as the owner of the Guinness World Record for the “longest career as an ice cream man.’’

Ganz retired from his job with the postal service 13 years ago, devoting his life since then to the ice cream business. His season runs about seven months, starting in April and wrapping up in October. He said he works seven days a week and takes off only one day in that stretch, his birthday in July.

A white and pink flag with ice cream cones on it waves outside his West Peabody home. He keeps his truck out back, as well as three freezers that store the ice cream, which he picks up from a nearby vendor every Thursday at 5 a.m.

He starts his shifts at 11 a.m. and does not stop work until 8:30 or 9 p.m., logging roughly 70 miles a day.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he says while driving his route Friday, gripping the wheel of his truck, which has accumulated more than 148,000 miles. (Source: Boston Globe)

Actually, it doesn’t look easy at all at all. Driving slowly around all day. Dealing with all those kids agonizing over whether to order a blueberry slushie or a Sponge Bob whatever. Deciding how often to go into your own pocket because a weepy-eyed kiddo doesn’t have the scratch for either the blueberry slushie or the Sponge Bob whatever.Worrying about all those throngs of little heads when you’re backing up or heading out.

Nope. Doesn’t look easy to me in the least.

My own personal experience working with ice cream was of the stationary variety.

When I was in college, I worked the evening shift in a snack bar, Twenty Chimneys, at the MIT student center. You could either be assigned the grill, the fryolator, ice cream or the dishwasher. Dishwashing was the very worst, mostly because you got wet, but also because you were in the backroom, isolated from the goofy/funny MIT guys, who were the reason we worked there to begin with. My friends and I seldom got stuck on dishwashing, mostly because the MIT students who worked with us – 99% of who were male – didn’t want their fellow students to see them working the front of the house. They were just as glad to hide out behind the scenes.

Ice cream, one would have thought, was the best station. And most nights it was. What’s not to like about scooping ice cream, pouring on the hot fudge sauce, and topping it off with a shot of Redi-Whip? Unfortunately, we went through so much ice cream, there was always at least one flavor – of the four on offer: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and something else that varied – that came from the storage freezer so solidly frozen that it took a hammer and chisel to get any ice cream out of it, Don’t tell me about running the scoop under hot water first! When ice cream’s in a five gallon tub, and as hardened as cement, that warmed-up scoop will only get you so far.

As for my experience as a consumer of ice cream, I have plenty. But little of it was from an ice cream truck.

There was one that made regular stops on our street when was a kid. And why not? I think the average number of kids per house was four or five. And, since ice cream from the truck guy was only a nickel or a dime, pretty much everyone could afford it.

But the ice cream truck was something my practical parents weren’t wild about.

After all, we already had ice cream – a staple Chez Rogers – in the house. Oh, it might not have been a red-white-and-blue rocket, or something with a gumball at its center, but if you wanted ice cream, with or without Hershey’s chocolate sauce or a banana, you could have at it. Plus whenever we went out for a ride in the summer, which our family did at least once a week, we always stopped for ice cream somewhere.And if you had a nickel on your own, you could go to Sol’s drugstore and buy a Popsicle, Fudgicle, or Creamsicle. 

(One of the other frozen treats of my childhood was jumping on the back of a milk truck and asking the milk man for a chunk of ice. Because we were privileged children – some of my father’s cousins were milk men – we were always able to scrounge a nice big chunk of coated ice. Nothing like licking ice covered with a scrim of black diesel exhaust! Yum!)

As for the ice cream truck, I think my parents just thought there was something trashy and unwholesome about the tricked-out wares for sale from the ice cream truck. That was on top of their general reluctance to spend good money on something you could get at home for free.

Anyway, one time my brother Rick (pre-allowance; he couldn’t have been more than three or four) asked my father for some money for the ice cream truck. My father told him that the ice cream truck was “a bunch of baloney.”

So Rick headed for the wooded hills next to our house, and hollered down to the ice cream guy, “You’re nothing but a baloney man!”

Not so, Allan Ganz!

Sixty-eight years working the truck. We should all be so lucky!