Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Walkout King

by J.S. Holland

You don't have be a new-ager or a transdimensional seer to grasp the basic idea that life's too short to surround yourself with junk that's bringing you down. This of course applies to people, but it also applies to products and businesses. Too many people out there are eating food they don't like and buying stuff they don't need, out of some sort of I-don't-even-WTF-to-call-it that makes them allow the will of others to supersede their own.

I gained something of a reputation back in Louisville as being "that guy" who gets up in the middle of a play and walks out. I don't mean to cause a scene about it, and I try to find a dimly-lit moment to make my exit as inobtrusive as possible, but I've been dragged to too many horrible plays that I politely sat through and then went home in a bad mood and grumbled about how that's two hours of my life I'll never get back. So I don't do that anymore.

Dr. Bill: I never did understand why you walked away.
Nick Nightingale: It's a nice feeling. I do it a lot.

One of Florida's biggest problems is customer service, and I find myself once more becoming "The Walkout King" as I find myself sitting at tables in restaurants that I'm just not feeling. (Much to the weary irritation of my dinner companions.) But you know, why settle for anything less than greatness? If a restaurant can't be bothered to give me their A-game, I can't be bothered to whip out the American Express card.

Today in Jacksonville Beach, we stopped into a place I won't name; one that presents itself as a Tiki Bar (and I suppose it is, in a sort of lowest-common-denominator frat-boy way.) It got bad reviews on the Internet, said one of my dining companions. I don't put stock in Internet reviews, but it must be said the place was completely empty when we walked in. Not a soul except a bored-looking waitress who, 20 seconds into taking our order, started arguing with us about the coupon we tried to use from their website. "Oh, that one doesn't apply to this location," she said, despite having it pointed out to her that the coupon made no such distinction. Then she said there were no frozen drinks. She didn't say why, but I have a suspicion it's because business was so non-existent, they didn't bother firing up the machine today.

All eyes at the table looked over to me, watching my enthusiasm for this place plummet, waiting for the inevitable words.

"We're leaving."

We went across the street to a fantastic place called The Pier Cantina. As it turned out, they had no frozen drinks either this day - their machine was down (protip: always keep a spare, boys.) But the server apologized profusely and did a kick-ass job at his post. The food was delicious. The ambience, overlooking the ocean, was superb. The drinks were excellent. But most importantly, customer service was top-notch. As my pal Grant Cardone has noted, and you better listen good to him:

I once told a salesperson that I wanted to pay cash for the product, at which time he said, “You don’t want to pay cash for it; you should finance it.” His response created a block to my power of decision and lessened my enthusiasm for continuing to do business with him. By disagreeing with me, the salesperson created a barrier to what should have been an easy sale. He could have simply said, “Cash would be great, sir.” Then as he was taking my cash, he could have shown me both the cash price and the alternative if I financed, at which point I would have at least considered the alternative as a choice, not a “make wrong.”

A business that has zero customers had damn well better cheerfully honor all coupons if they want to stay in business, instead of giving a convoluted explanation to the customer why he's wrong and why this coupon "doesn't count for this location." The Pier gets ALL my business now when in this part of Jax Beach, baby.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mad Moments

By J.S. Holland

In no particular order, my top five favorite moments from this season of Mad Men (and don't worry, in case you're living under a rock in Utah and haven't seen this season yet, none of these are plot-relevant spoilers):

1. Roger juggling oranges. How did this even happen? Did he approach the directors and say, "you know, I can juggle, in case you ever wanted to use that"?

2. Cosgrove tap-dancing. Same thing as the juggling act. Surely the scriptwriters didn't write a tapdancing scene only to find out that Aaron Staton really can tapdance with more flair than a roomful of Arthur Duncans? This must have been something they've been looking for an excuse to work in for some time.

3. The whole office takes speed. I can't condone such things, of course, but it was hilarious.

4. The "conquistador" speech. "We are conquistadors, Don. I'm Vasco Da Gama, and you're..... some other Mexican. Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis."

5. Hawaii. Since the Tiki era of the 50s and 60s hadn't really been addressed in the show yet, they made up for lost time by sending Don and Megan to Hawaii. So powerful is Hawaii's sway, just watching the characters be there put me in a transcendental state of rum-soaked bliss. (Not to mention Jessica Pare in a bikini.)

Bonus: Bob Benson. There's no doubt that the appearance of mysterious new character Bob Benson is what really made this season. Every moment he's onscreen, there's a palpable air of unease and paranoia, and yet also something inspiring and restimulating that I cannot yet put my finger on. And, typically for Mad Men, the season ended with us knowing Bob even less than we did going in. Producer Matthew Weiner has stated he's not even 100% sure if Bob Benson returns next season. Say it ain't so!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Paperback Writer

by J.S. Holland

We're not even a full year in since the debut of The Devil and Daniel Boone last July 4, and the world now has four, count 'em, four peculiar little pulp-fiction novellas to contend with. Three more are on the way this year, and I expect to DOUBLE my output in 2014, by which time the JSH Book Club will be in high gear! Here's what's here, and some of what's a-comin':

The Devil and Daniel Boone. Two of the greatest explorers in American history - Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger - join forces to hack their way through Kentucky and blaze the Wilderness Trail for Richard Henderson‘s Transylvania Colony in 1775. But the longer they lurk in what they thought was a previously unexplored spooky part of the region, the more they find that mysterious others have already gotten here first. And as Boone, Bridger and Henderson each pursue their own idealistic goals, the spectre of the approaching Revolutionary War threatens to throw their plans into disarray. (Currently available in paperback and Kindle editions)

The Moleskin Checklist. The Moleskin Checklist is a detective-noir tale of a private investigator named Jack who does more chain-smoking and jazz record collecting than solving crimes. When Jack receives a disturbing package in the mail from criminals whose motives are unclear, he's reluctant to take action. But his mischievous lowlife friend Sappy - who tends to live his life as if he's in the movies - urges him to play this cinematic situation out to the hilt. They soon quickly learn, however, that real life is nothing like the movies and real villains do not behave as predictably as on TV. (Currently available in paperback and Kindle editions)

The Bartender. A man with a lifelong dedication to bartending looks upon his profession as having the elevated status of a religious order, a fraternal organization, or a secret society promoting mankind's betterment. But he finds his good will to humanity is increasingly challenged as he watches American society going in an ill-mannered and amoral direction. And when one of his inebriated customers lets some­thing slip within his earshot - information that could be played to his personal advantage - he finds his own ethics being put to the test. (Currently available in paperback only, but Kindle edition is on the way!)

The Seventeenth Island. A sailing vessel of French pirates search for the buried treasure of their evil arch-enemy, a sadistic buccaneer named Vincenzo. While the crew are out to get rich on the spoils, the Captain's motivations are about revenge over some past grudge that remains a mystery to the crew. Soon the dissonance between the goals of the Captain and the crew begin to form a growing wedge between them, as a series of strange incidents convinces the superstitious men that a curse has been placed on their voyage. (Currently available in paperback and Kindle editions)

Solar Station A. A science fiction epic set in the not-too-distant future when technology just starts to reach the point when individual citizens can get their own spaceship to go zipping around the solar system. But with this new freedom comes the gradual realization that everything we've been told about the true nature of the Universe is a lie. (Coming in late summer in paperback and Kindle editions!)

The Alternation of Night and Day. In a story set in the 1940s, an ambitious Louisville boxing champion immerses himself in the world of Haitian Voodoo in an attempt to gain the ability for his spirit to leave its body. (Coming this winter in paperback and Kindle editions!)

Matilda Heron. An actress for a rag-tag traveling theatre company undergoes some life-changing mystical experiences in the wilderness of 18th century Virginia and Kentucky. (Coming this winter in paperback and Kindle editions!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Aug-mented Reality

By J.S. Holland

I just returned stateside from my latest sojourn amongst the philistines of Interzone - some of you may still call it "Florida" - where I undertook research in America's oldest city, St. Augustine.

If you ever doubted William S. Burroughs' admonition that "America is not a young country", look no further for evidence in this magickal and marvelous city. History books tell us that it was first explored in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, but you know how history books are; there were already people living here before old Poncey's pointed shoes ever hit the beach. The Spanish, the French and the British all trounced and flounced around here for centuries, fighting each other and generally making a dreadful mess of everything, but now the dust has settled and it, like the rest of the Sunshine State, is firmly on our side, Comrade.

And speaking as someone who has lived in New Orleans, I'm here to tell you, the "old district" of St. Augustine with its confusing labyrinth of narrow pedestrian-only streets kicks the French Quarter's booty. Everything you need in life, my friends, is contained within this part of town. Well, everything I need, anyway: cigars, golf, girls, ghosts, pirates, theatre, secret agents, temporal dimensional deviations in the timespace continuum, you know, the basics. Two great islands just off the mainland, Vilano Beach Key and Anastasia Island, kept me enthralled with their beaches and piers.

No road trip south of Georgia would be complete without food and drink at one of the historic Columbia eateries, which I now unofficially nominate as the official restaurant of Interzone. The lovely Nichole tossed our salads and sangrias tableside, and it was there that I had one of the absolute best Cuban steaks of my entire misspent existence. Also had the good fortune to imbibe a couple of positively DNA-altering sazerac-absinthe combos. Life. is. good.

As I've expounded elsewhere, one of Florida's biggest problems is that of customer service. In many FL cities, everyone's a bit grumpy and cranky and jaded from the constant influx of snowbirds, spring-breakers, bikers and retirees. Never mind that Florida is essentially a tourist-driven state and that without these people their little cash cow would dry up quicker than you can say "Wicked Weasel", too many people down there whose job is to greet the public frankly suck at it and need to be removed from their post. Not so in the St. Augustine area. Only once did I get a glimpse of rude customer service, and that was at a restaurant that's a national chain anyway. 99.9% of the people I encountered in St. Aug were overwhelmingly friendly, helpful, and ran rings around themselves to make the customer experience the best. Everyone else in Flo-ville needs to take a tip from them. (And leave them one, too.)

Alas, I was called back to the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky early again this time, and had to omit a planned trip down to my traditional stomping grounds of Clearwater, Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota. Next time. A deep-sea research excursion towards the Atlantic Garbage Patch had to be cut short due to weather, but I was there long enough to see some amazing and inspirational things.

St. Augustine also finds its way, inevitably, in the next two JSH Book Club installments - The Bartender, in which my love of the craft of artisan cocktails dovetails with my devotion for the proto-Beatnik word-hoard of the mighty nutcase Thomas DeQuincey, and The Seventeenth Island, wherein I assay the (ig)noble genre of classic pirate fiction (though applying about the same effort for historical accuracy as The Devil and Daniel Boone, which is to say, very little.)