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August, 2009:

The American Flag or "Your Ad Here?"

NYSE - New York Stock ExchangeYou know that giant American Flag that has covered the front of the New York Stock Exchange since shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks?

Well apparently that particular American flag is not so much a memorial as it is a placeholder for corporate promotion opportunities. Consider it a patriotic version of the ubiquitous “Your ad here” billboards.

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Hopefully the Chinese infant formula company promoted there on August 18th, 2009 produces a safer product than the melamine-tainted Chinese baby formula the FDA warned us about last year.

American Capitalism at its finest.

(Hat tip, Matt N.)

Being an American means you don’t have to sweat (as much)

Riding the Tube in London Taking the subway in the middle of the summer is never going to be an entirely pleasant experience. For starters, the fact you’re taking the subway means you’ve already had to leave your air-conditioned home or office and ventured out into the summer heat.

But at least in America when you finally get on the subway train you’re greeted with a blast of cold, air-conditioned air.

Turns out that is not the case everywhere, though.

A horrifying map posted on The Map Scroll shows just how stiflingly hot it gets in London’s un-air-conditioned Underground trains.

Thankfully New York’s MTA installed the newfangled A/C technology in all of New York’s 5,800 subway cars when the technology became economical, over four decades ago.

The Brits plan on rolling out the first new air-conditioned trains on selected lines sometime in 2010. No need to rush into things, guys.

God Bless A/C and God Bless America!

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

€4. Inadequate air conditioning

Link Roundup—“That’s 1228 calories of delicious” edition

kfc-doubledown8The food industry blog Foodservice-Friends.com takes a close look at the cost of providing free refills in a restaurant. The article has a lot of industry-speak, but the long and short of it is that offering free refills adds about 12 cents to the cost of serving a 20oz soft drink, bringing the total cost to about 32 cents. That means Mc Donald’s is clearing at least 68 cents on each medium coke sold. I’ll take the supersized one, please.

Bryan Caplan at the blog EconLog gives his take on why Americans tend to overrate Europe after traveling there (and why Europeans underrate America). It boils down to the suburbs where most people live. Americans never see European suburbs, which are godforsaken hell holes, and Europeans never see American suburbs, with their ample parking, big cars and Costco outlets.

News of KFC’s new Double Down Sandwich is moving fast—at least faster than you will be moving after you eat the bacon and cheddar sandwich with two deep-fried chicken breasts as the bun. The Vancouver Sun did an analysis and found that the Double Down Sandwich packs a hefty 1228 calorie punch. “[that] compares closely to the fat, salt and calorie totals of three McDonalds Big Macs put together.” Unfortunately you can only get it in Nebraska and Rhode Island as of now.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#13. Costco

#16. Cheap gas

#19. KFC’s Double Down Sandwich


#19. KFC's "Double Down Sandwich"

Just when you though eating in America couldn’t get any better, the great food scientists at KFC go and out do themselves once again.

No, it is not some new larger version of #7 the Chicken & Biscuit Bowl, it is something better.

A bacon and cheddar sandwich with two pieces of fried chicken as the bun!

KFC calls it the Double Down Sandwich.

Consumersit.com said it “is perhaps man’s greatest achievement.” It is certainly one of the great things about America!

I will let the video and pictures speak for themselves.

Hat tip, Foodgeekery.com & Consumerist.com

kfc-doubledown8


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLwEZRf3www&feature=player_embedded]
Dare I say God Bless America?

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#7. KFC’s Chicken & Biscuit Bowl

MINUTEMENT UPDATE: Future finally arrives

Know what sucks? When you’re flipping through a magazine to look at the celebrity pictures and a colorful ad catches your eye—and you’re compelled to read the text to figure out what the ad is selling and how you can buy it.

I know it bums me out.

Thankfully, the great men and women on Madison Avenue have come to the rescue. According to a report in the Financial Times, New York and Los Angeles subscribers of Entertainment Weekly will be spared the need to read print ads from CBS and Pepsi in next month’s issue. Instead, the ads will be displayed as videos on small, ultra-thin screens embedded in the magazine.

Finally, the promise of Back to the Future II has been realized. Now if could finally have those cars that don’t need roads…

God Bless American marketing and innovation!

Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

The Center for an Urban Future has a new study out showing the number of chain restaurants and stores in New York City.  Here are some of the highlights for Manhattan.

(Here is the report for the whole city)

Store———– Outlets in Manhattan————–Outlets/Square Mile

Starbucks                            193                                    8.3

Subway                                153                                     6.6

Dunkin’ Donuts                105                                      4.6

McDonalds                         81                                         3.5

Baskin-Robbins                46                                           2

Burger King                       20                                          .87

Predictably, the hipster and neighborhood association crowds are outraged by the spread of affordable, air-conditioned stores like Dunkin’-Donuts and Mc Donald’s. Apparently when such places fill a vacant storefront or displace a sketchy tattoo parlor, it somehow ruins the character of the city.

I don’t buy it.

What the naysayers don’t understand is that chain restaurants help spread the things that make America great. This is both true overseas—where a Mc Donald’s is a familiar place of refuge—and in our own backyards.

Sure Bob’s Sketchy Super Burrito/Pizza Palace might have “character.” But that so called “character” is often little more than a hot, grimy restaurant with bad service. What’s more, the so-called “character” and “uniqueness” of Bob’s Sketchy Super Burrito/Pizza Palace is undermined by the fact that it is indistinguishable from the countless other “independent,” “neighborhood” burrito/pizza palaces across New York.

Chipotle, on the other hand, succeeds not because it is part of some nefarious chain, but because it embraces the things that make America great: Its restaurants are clean and air-conditioned. The food is goodconsistent and affordableRefills are free. And the sales clerks don’t try to enforce credit card minimums.

I think of the 3.5 Mc Donald’s restaurants and 4.6 Dunkin’ Donuts per square mile in Manhattan not as a saturation point, but as a starting point.

In a city where no one drives things need to be close—and right now, the things we want are often not close enough.

While there is a Mc Donald’s and Starbucks convenient to my apartment, Dunkin’ Donuts is nowhere to be found. And when it comes to Pizza, forget it. The only place on my block serves horrible, greasy pizza and tries to enforce a $20 minimum on credit card purchases.

So if you’re looking to open a pizza franchise, consider this an open invitation. Union Square needs you.

And to all the Mc Donald’s and Starbucks* managers in New York: God Bless You and God Bless America!

*Please just try and keep the bathrooms clean

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€1. Pay toilets

€4. Inadequate air conditioning

5 Things about New York that make America Great

5 Things about New York City that make America Great (and 4 that remind me of Europe)

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A street vendor hawking umbrellas near Union Square.

In some ways, New York is the most American of cities. Its energy, drive and optimism are emblematic of the American spirit. It is also the birthplace of many great American institutions that have yet to disseminate across much of the rest of the country, like taxi cabs that take credit cards. But with its high density, multitude of languages and pedestrian culture, New York is also the most European place in America.

Below is my list of the top 5 things that make New York (and America) great, and the top 4 things about New York that suck (and remind me of Europe).

–Things that make New York (and America) great:

1: 24-HOUR SUBWAY

The London Underground closes at 11 PM. The Paris Metro stops service at 1AM. And thanks to shoddy maintenance, Berlin’s S-Bahn doesn’t run much at all these days. But while European countries are content to shutdown their subways every evening, New York is the city that never sleeps. Thankfully, neither does its subway system. If you either work the graveyard shift or are just part of the bar-and-club crowd, the world’s only 24-hour subway means you’ll never have to pay price cab fares or wait hours for the morning’s first train.

2: ENTERPRIZING STREET VENDORS

Every major city has street vendors selling “Gucci” bags and shoddy watches, but New York has vendors that sell things you actually need. Take umbrellas for example; no matter where you are in Manhattan, the second a raindrop hits the ground vendors appear on every corner selling umbrellas for only $5. Then there are the fruit and vegetable carts located all over town. I’m not sure about the rest of the city, but the one at my corner is open 24/7, rain or shine. Some might call it crazy or suspicious, but I like to think of it as an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit. One thing is certain: you could never buy a tomato at 3:30 AM in France.

3: FREE DELIVERY, EVEN FROM MCDONALDS

You can get any food you can imagine in New York, often at any hour of the day. And because of the high density and cut-throat competition, restaurants have to deliver—for free. This is even true for McDonalds! I’ll have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, please—delivered.

4: TAXIS TAKE CREDIT CARDS

Chalk this one up to Mayor Bloomberg. As of 2007, taxi cabs in New York come equipped with interactive terminals featuring GPS, video programming and credit card machines. Now you never need to worry about having enough cash before hailing a cab: just swipe and ride. If only other cities were so civilized.

5: BARS OPEN UNTIL 4 AM (sometimes)

While not unique to New York strictly speaking, 4 AM bar closing times are nevertheless a great institution. Back in my home state of Michigan, the neo-prohibitionists in the state legislature force bars to shut their doors at 2 AM—which means last call comes at 1:30. In New York, 1:30 is nothing more than the half-way point in a good night out. Unfortunately, increasing neighborhood activism means that precious few new 4 AM liquor licenses are issued by the city. The new norm is trending towards earlier closing times. Damn neighborhood associations!

–Things about NYC that suck (and remind me of Europe):

1: CREDIT CARD MINIMUMS

You would think that a city built on banking and finance—where even taxi cabs and street merchants accept plastic—would be paradise for credit card users. But alas, this is not the case. At restaurants and bars across the city, European-style credit card minimums are the norm. I don’t understand why the New York banks that earn a percentage of every credit card transaction allow their rules to be flouted in their own back yard. This is the birthplace of American Express for crying out loud!

2: LACK OF TOILETS

A city that houses 8.3 million residents, 2 million daily commuters and tens of thousands of tourists produces—to put it bluntly—a lot of shit. Early on, the massive market of human needs was exploited by pay toilet operators, like they have in Europe. But this inhumane practice was banned in the 1970s, thanks to the efforts of the Committee To End Pay Toilets In America. Unfortunately, many merchants in New York today do not live up to the promise of free toilets. They build small restrooms and keep them poorly signed and dirty to discourage use.  The net result is that New York City suffers from a chronic restroom shortage. Often the only place to pee is Starbucks, and the lines for their bathrooms are killer.

3: RESTRICTIVE LIQUOR LAWS

New York City might be home to the Godless East Coast Elite, but that hasn’t stopped the city from embracing puritanical liquor laws straight out of the Bible Belt. Liquor cannot be sold in grocery stores, or any store that also sells beer. The few stores that do sell spirits cannot open before noon on Sundays, and often close by 8 or 9 PM in the evening!

4: HORIBLE SERVICE

There are two kinds of waiters in New York City, the ones who are bad because they are overly smug—typically found at your pricey 3-star restaurants, and the ones who are bad because they are perennially out-of-work actors—who are found everywhere else. The horrible European-style service found across New York City is a real stroke against New York’s otherwise unparalleled restaurant scene. Instead of being a gastronomical nirvana, it is more like the snooty restaurant scene in Paris, but with hotdog carts.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#6. Chargebacks and Credit Cards

€1. Pay toilets

The American Dream is alive and well

Cooler heads previal

Walking down Broadway in 90 degree heat earlier this week, I came to have a deeper appreciation of the American retail tactic of luring customers into shops by blasting air conditioning out of open doors. As it was particularly sticky that day, I was happy when my walk brought me to the boutique-lined blocks of SoHo. It seemed that the high-end clothing shops there competed not on products, styling or price, but on who could blast the coldest air onto the sidewalks.

Sure, flooding the sidewalks with 62 degree chilled air might not be the most efficient thing in the world, but that day—thanks to the valiant efforts of the retailers—the only climate change going on was the transformation of those few blocks of Broadway from a completely miserable climate to a moderately tolerable one.

The pleasure and anticipation with which I walked by each clothing boutique made it all the more startling when I came across one with its doors sealed tight. Surely they weren’t trying to hoard all of their precious cooled air inside for themselves? Such a thing would be un-American.

But as a small, hand-written sign in the window made clear, the store in question was not selfishly keeping its chilled air locked up inside. Rather, they were sparing potential customers from an uncomfortable shopping experience on account of the fact their air conditioner was broken.

You would never see such consideration in the hot, sticky shops of Europe.

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God Bless America.

Previous topics mentioned:

€4. Inadequate air conditioning

Correction: There is one thing good about Pennsylvania after all

Last week I wrote about my drive from Michigan to New York. You can read the previous posts here and here. Last weekend I had to make the drive again. This time I got off the highway and drove some of the more scenic roads of rural Pennsylvania. Turns out, I was a bit hard on the Keystone state. Driving a second time I came across one thing about Pennsylvania that makes America Great: A Drive-Thru beer store.


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Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#2. Drive-Thrus

#16. Cheap gas

Yellow Journalism Watch: New York Times continues its assault on the freedoms of motorists

New york cabsFor a paper based in the most pedestrian-oriented city in the country, the editors at the New York Times sure have it in for America’s motorists.  For the last few weeks, the Times has been running a series called “Driven to Distraction” about the extreme dangers purportedly posed by motorists who chat on their cell phones or hands-free devices while driving.

If you want to recap all the stories in the series, you can find them here. But I’ll save you some time. Every story is heavy on anecdotes, sensationalism and sentimentality, light on statistics and completely devoid of level-headed analysis. Needless to say, there is almost no mention of either the tremendous economic and social benefits the ability of motorists to talk on cell phones brings to society or the fact that our roads today are safer than they have been in decades.

The latest salvo from the Times recaps how New York cabbies have been prohibited from talking on cell phones or using hands-free devices for nearly a decade, but almost universally ignores the ban.

Predictably, the author ledes with emotional anecdotes:

The ambulance arrived at the scene minutes after the cabs collided, one yellow taxi T-boned into another in a busy Manhattan intersection. Shattered glass covered the street as a woman, still in the back seat of one the cabs, clutched her neck in pain.

A cabby paced beside his wrecked car, an earpiece dangling from the side of his head. An emergency worker, Ralph Ortiz, asked him what had happened.

“I was on the phone,” the driver told Mr. Ortiz, who several months later said he was still stunned by the response. “I didn’t see the light turn red.”

What the story doesn’t point out is that despite the “epidemic of gab” that has resulted from the wholesale disregard of the cell phone ban in cabs, traffic fatalities over much of that period have actually declined. That is, even though cell phones have proliferated over the past decade, the roads in the New York are as safe as or safer than they were before the ban. This is not surprising, as it mirrors the national trend: American roads are safer today than at any point since 1960.

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