Chicago, Et Al

Most of you know I recently relocated to the Windy City. In just 11 short but exhaustive days, I've learned so many things are that wholly different about this place from the likes of San Francisco that they are worth documenting and sharing in some (amateur) form.

bums (or lack thereof). All right, guys. Where are they? You really expect me to believe there are no bums here? Are you kidding me? None?! Really, it's OK, Chicago. I've seen my fair share. Too many, in fact. So bring them out in droves. It will be fine - I won't leave. I'm in my second week here and I've seen, what, I think just two bums? Two! That's like, let's see, one more than one and a whopping average of one a week! In San Francisco I'd be lucky to encounter less than two bums on the same block; and nine times out of 10 they'd be naked from the waist down and soiling themselves. So what does Chicago do differently? This city has 3 million people for crying out loud! San Francisco has less than 800,000! Be ashamed, Bay Area. Oh, and get this: I encountered the most polite homeless person ever yesterday. He asked if I had change, and after saying I didn't he said, "God bless you! Have a fantastic day, sir! Thanks for the smile and courtesy!" Oh... oh my dear God. Hold it right there while I walk to Washington Mutual and liquidate my entire meager life savings. Into quarters. Straight coin. For you. The change you asked for! Here it is! You are just too freaking sweet. There, I feel better. And you do too!

L. Good grief. First off, my friends' place that I'm crashing at almost gets hit by the damn thing. I'm not too sure how they designed the rail system for this thing, but it's clear that the houses and buildings were here long before they even considered installing any form of public transportation (and understandably so). It runs over and between roofs, and underground as well. If I am awakened at 4 a.m. by what sounds like an out-of-control 18-wheeler headed right for the living room, and in turn my face, I simply turn over on the couch and remind my sleeping self that it's just the L train, which will bend approximately three feet before it can touch the building's foundation. Great planning right there.

Everything is
flat! Oh joy! Most saps do not appreciate this fact, but living and walking in a hilly city for a couple years is, how do you say, bad? Here I can see and walk and bike for miles. I can look at a map and decide where I want to go and how I want to get there and not have to base my route off of weird things you don't commonly think about while looking at a map - things like topography, folks. Or ascent. Or elevation. Or "degree of difficulty." Can't believe I ever did that. I can go forever here! Just watch me.

Attractive people abound! Sweet Moses! I'm sorry, but something must be sullied in the Bay Area's gene pool. I'm genuinely not a superficial person, but honestly - who are these people?! Did I mistakenly walk into a swanky photo shoot? On one hand it's cool because there's a load of saccharine eye candy to boot, but on the other hand it's depressing because I've never felt more unsightly and ogreish. I'm poorly cast, it's plain to see, but I'll keep my chin up and continue to bat lashes at you sexy creatures.

alpha males. Boo! Boo boo boo! But hey, I knew I'd find you douche bags hanging out somewhere around here. Hey, look, it's a pack of late 30-somethings taking over the bar on a Friday night as if it were their freshman years in college... only now receding hairlines and impotence have long since set in, and that's definitely not sexy. Dudes! Sure, I'll get ya another shot of Jager, bro. I'll trade you for that thin silver chain that's furled in your chest hair. I mean, I do sorta like how you had to shave the patch there at the top to stop it from connecting to... to your neck? Is that right? Your beard or neck, connecting to your chest hair? Hmm. Remarkable. I couldn't pull that off if I shaved my head and glued all the hair to my gullet. But you have seemingly achieved this effortlessly! Congrats, bro!

Cheap beer. It's baaack! In fact, it's everywhere! People here are not above or below drinking it. A lot of it. It's all for one and one for all. There are few beer snobs, and those who are, for some reason, just aren't above a good ol' bottle of Cream Dog (Budweiser) or Miller Lite. Sweet! You mean I don't have to order an IPA or something brewed in the hills of Northwest? Huzzah!

Apartment hunting. First off, there's no lines or open houses with people handing over a life's work of information or documentation to some shady landlord just to rent some 300-square-foot closet. There are actually more apartments than people here, so you have what is called a "choice." What's more, since there is a surplus, there actually exist companies to help building owners rent their units and vice versa. For $0, these companies will help you find a place and drive you to them. I know?! No more of the whole I-am-touring-this-shit-hole-because-some-
dude-died-here-and-I-can't-wait-to-get-in thing. Forget it! This is something new and cool and totally better. We have

The seasons. Somehow I unlearned them in San Francisco, and likewise, my wardrobe hath too. Everything is buzzing around here, and it's only getting warmer. No more of intermittent nice-ish days only to be succeeded by a chilly, gray Monday that peaks at 45 degrees at any given time of the year. Nope. Though there are extreme highs and lows here throughout the year, when they're here they're here. It's called consistency. No tomfoolery. If it's that time of year, it's that time of year, no questions asked.

On Social Media and how the B-M New Media Team is, Give or Take, 100 Times Better Than 1999's "Wild Wild West"

I posted this one over at Harold's Kids.

For those of you who don't know, Burson-Marsteller has a New Media Team, which, incidentally, is one of my favorite Burson-Marsteller programs.

Why? Because the current media landscape is changing so feverishly that it’s (sadly) incredibly easy to miss out on the latest and greatest buzz being discussed in various communities. The New Media Team is a step in the right direction for attempting to address this onslaught of change (good change, mind you) that’s happening each and every day.

New Media Team discussions are free-form slices of pie of varying flavors and dimensions, and are great chances for us to share what we’ve each been seeing, hearing and doing out "there."

Let's go into this "there" thing a bit more...

The common analogy to new media is that it’s like the Wild West right now, and, despite how much i dislike corny and overplayed analogies and metaphors, there’s actually quite a bit of truth to this one. Everyone is staking their claims in various communities, but by no means is one single person or institution a bona fide expert. We are all vying.

(A wordy aside: Right image [not included here] should not be confined to the cow"boy" mentality, per se, because, well, we all know cow"girls" did and do exist... They're very real, too. I just didn't have time to photoshop long locks of hair on our hero there. No, this image could/should just be interpreted as a cow"person" who's making a foray into wonderfully uncharted things, be they whatever you wish. A closing remark: the only stipulation I had while searching for this image was that it could in no way, shape or form be from the tragic 1999 film "Wild Wild West," which, as we know all too well, starred Will Smith, Salma Hayek and a metal robot spider. Quite simply, this was a wretched piece of cinematography that cost millions and millions of dollars to make. A proverbial "Waterworld," if you will. The horror.)

No, social media, by its undefined definition, is too viral to have classes, too infantile to be mature or pretentious and far too new for anyone/anything to be an all-knowing source. People, there are no rules here! In fact, that’s really what new media’s all about anyway. Anyone can play. We can all publish. We become our own authors, our own voices, our own little brands heaved with caution or carelessness to the blogosphere and myriad click-of-a-button publishing galaxies in between.

Publications are embracing these tools because, well, honestly, they’re kind of dying on the vine. They have to play nice. They have to start incorporating multimedia and other interactive elements on their sites because that's what people are eating up. For anyone who follows, say, maybe 100 people on Twitter, especially some of the major players who Tweet on average 50 times a day, it takes you little time to realize it’s a goldmine for real-time news. It’s hard for me to recount the number of times I’ve discovered news first on Twitter, only to read about it hours or, gasp, days later in formal publications. They just can’t keep up with their hulking beats, lead-times, editors, advertisers, etc. But Twitter is just one small example. A great, popular example no doubt, but still just one. There's so much more to come.

I really feel like we are at the beginning of what will be, and already is in many ways, a great reformation of the way people create, disseminate and consume news. For sensationalists like me, it’s quite thrilling and empowering being able to engage and share things like we do.

So that was long. But yes. The answer is yes. The Burson-Marsteller New Media Team is very worthwhile and a breath of fresh air. While it’s true that all of these new mediums might not be the best fit for every single client on any agency's roster, it behooves us as PR professionals to be on the bleeding edge of all of this wizardry that’s taking place here. Because someday it will be entirely relevant for just about everybody.

We have too big of a stake in this to not be knowledgeable about it.

My Barber is not Bilingual

Oh, how awkward was this one? My inaugural haircut in San Francisco was at the hand of a man named Bin (yes, like the container, but pronounced "Bean"). Already seated in his chair, it became apparent that Bin did not and still does not speak English. It probably goes without saying, but this small fact made for a rather, uh, interesting haircut experience.

Let's expand upon this. Try conveying what you'd ideally like your hair to look like: what you maybe don't like about your hair; what your do isn't doing for you; where you'd like to leave it long; where you'd like to bring it in a little; how you'd like it styled on the sides, in the back; for the ladies, what color you'd like it to be; the addition or removal of bangs; gents, the length of sideburns... all of these things without using words. Kinda difficult, eh?

Luckily I did not have to explain things like bangs or highlights to Bin. I only wanted the common-man's haircut for crying out loud! All this should require is a fast-food-like order for a No. 1 or something. But not for Bin. I had to physically and spatially diagram this seemingly extraneous request with abstract hand gestures, circling around my cranium, running through my hair, elevating up and around my ears, deploying a streamlined motion in the back (complete with sound effects), all while Bin's eyes followed my hands and arms like he was watching a fly buzzing around the room.

Poor Bin! Poor me!

Then the sheers. Oh, Bin. Bin, Bin, Bin. I don't think Bin had yet mastered the sheers - the trusty blades any sane, employed barber should be more than proficient with. Bin just couldn't get the hang of it. Keep in mind there was absolutely no conversation happening, so one horrible haircut was being wreaked in a silent room, the two of us staring into the mirror with confusion as each snip revealed a different patch of my scalp.

I wanted to cry. I think I almost did actually. It was horrible.

I walked out of there looking like I had been speeding on the highway, and at some point during the joyride had leaned out the window and dragged my skull on the pavement for half a mile. I, my hair and I, we looked injured, and I think Bin knew what he had done. He knew this was certainly not the best cut of his (probably early, probably not blossoming) career, so we sort of parted ways like we were breaking up... without using words.

But Bin and I knew we probably wouldn't be seeing each other ever again.

Indian Food is Free

Something weird just happened. Without me asking, a smiling Indian man handed me free Indian food. And it was delicious.

I visited Mehfil Indian Cuisine on the corner of 2nd and Folsom streets, which must be doing rather well for itself judging by the abundance of customers and lack of interest in my money.

I ordered chicken tikka masala, and quickly realized I only had a $100 bill in my wallet. I asked the cashier if he could break the bill, and he lowered his eyes to stare deeply into the register, shaking his head all the while. Then he shot up and glared into my eyes. It was pretty intense. But a huge smile took over his face and he exploded in laughter and said, "You eat free! Take it! You pay another time!"

OK! I will! Twist my arm, geeze.

A couple things...

One, why does this not happen more often? I'm saving this lucky $100 bill and whipping it out every chance I get. Maybe I'll get some more free stuff? Or maybe I'll be asked to relinquish whatever it is I thought I would be getting? We'll have to see.

Two, was this act truly a selfless one? Or was it an act of bravado that was supposed to speak for the impeccable quality of the food itself? Were they really that confident I would be honest and come back and like it and pay the difference? Even if I did, what would happen if I came back the very next day with the same $100 bill? Could I perpetually relive this experience and dine on succulent
chicken tikka masala for the rest of my natural-born life?! Wow! Can you imagine such a thing?!

Three, is it even possible for a legally operating restaurant to sell plates for less than $5 and reach a point of financial security where they just... don't really care to collect payment for food anymore? Hmm. Perhaps they get a kick out of seeing customers leave as happy as their own cash-register man? Or is there a dark underbelly to this grinning Indian establishment? One that's sullied with illegal curry imports and the street dealing of the substance?