Hated Things: Whole Foods Market

As we were running out of the probiotic that we use for our greyhound (Jarodophilus brand) I needed to procure some more. When we lived in Arizona, there were several purveyors that I could go to that had it on the shelf.

Not so since we moved to California. The only market that seems to have it consistently is Whole Foods.

Groan. I cringe every time I have to venture a foot into that place. Perhaps it is the pretentiousness, the “we are better” atmosphere? Or perhaps it is the emphasis on organic produce and how much better it is (except it isn’t, and in fact the “approved” pesticides that they use are pretty awful. Or it is the row after row of homeopathy and naturopathy woo that they peddle to the new age fools that shop there. Continue reading →

A Black Hole on Earth

Science tells us that one of the most destructive things is a black hole. Once you pass the event horizon, you can never escape. If you are a fan of Science Fiction, and have read Frederik Pohl’s “Gateway” novel, you are well aware of the hazards of proximity to a black hole.

Trader Joe's Logo

A close second is the parking lot at Almaden Plaza in San José. In this parking lot there are two dynamics that feed off each other.

The first is the notorious nature of a Trader Joe’s grocer. This is a corporation who seems to pride themselves on driving a lot of traffic to their stores, yet never have adequate parking. This leads to the parking lot fostering a full-contact conflict zone that is a competitive sport.

Add to that the second dynamic: A Costco. The membership warehouse store offers great value for large families and small to medium businesses that shop there. Of course, this brings in insane amount of shoppers, anxious to get in the door to obtain the great bargains on offer. I will add that when we lived in Arizona, it was chaotic, but here in California, it is chaos on steroids. Oh, how I miss the relative normalcy of Arizona’s Costco.

Both these dynamics are hazardous on their own. However, when they are in close proximity, it is a recipe for disaster.

Today, I made a Costco run, arriving at about 10:30 AM, a pretty benign time. It was chaos in the parking lot. I had to dodge and weave to avoid being taken out by several manic parkers.

Oh, and I highly recommend reading Gateway, a cracking good classic SciFi novel.

A Lazy Sunday in Tokyo (Shibuya)

Since Saturday night was really late (for this old dog) Sunday started late. Spent the morning lounging, getting some work done, and diving into a really good H Beam Piper novel.

About 1:30, my partner in crime and I headed out. His goals were:

  • Chiyoda Park – where this group of Japanese “Greasers” (as in the movie Grease) dance and perform.
  • See Hachiko – a statue tribute to a loyal dog
  • Buy some Japan only albums
  • And, if possible visit a Cat Cafe

I wanted to eat good Soba.

The weather was a bit dicey, heavy clouds, and threatening rain when we left, but it held off for the walk to Shinjuku station. After recharging my Suica card, we headed out to Harajuku station, where we first walked the grounds at the Meija Temple.

The Meija temple grounds were reserved in 1920 by Emperor Meija, and the grounds are beautiful. Next to a busy shopping district, you can get lost in reflection, and forget about the hurley burley of the day.

Some adjectives that explain this: peaceful, restive, relaxing, well you get the drift.

One thing we noticed is that right off Harajuku station is a street that was absolutely packed to the gills with people. As the goal was to get to Chiyoda park, we snapped a few pictures, and went off. We believed that there was a reason for all these people, and it appears that there was/is a concert or show at Shibuya National Stadium. (Not really a stretch, you could easily hear the noise).

After the stroll around the temple, we ventured into the neighboring park. Water fountains, rose gardens, street musicians, even some people practicing their martial arts were all seen.

Gil was disappointed that the”Greasers” appeared to be not dancing.

However, as we were walking out, trying to decide whether to go to see Hachi, the dancers started up. I will admit that I thought the idea of Japanese men in black jeans, leather jackets, and with coiffed, greased hair dancing was ridiculous, it was indeed an impressive sight. The troop is well rehearsed, and clearly they enjoy their craft.

Apparently they are out every Sunday unless the weather is awful (it was borderline, as the showers were increasing to steady rain).

After Chiyoda park we walked the main shopping street across from Harajuku station. We were outnumbered greatly. Westerners, yes, there were a few other, but apparently this is a district that caters to the whims of teenaged Japanese schoolgirls. We were outnumbered by at least 20-1. Naturally, none of the shops piqued our curiosity, but it was interesting to see the gamut from Pokemon to goth.

The rain was getting quite serious so we ducked into a Starbucks for some caffeinated rejuvenation and respite from the steady rain that was falling.

After that slight repast, we made our way back to the station and headed to Shibuya.

Shibuya is a big shopping district, and this is evident the moment you walk out of the station. Since our goal was to see the statue dedicated to Hachiko, that was our first stop.

HachikoThe story behind this statue is humbling. From Wikipedia:

In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.

Hachikō attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. Initial reactions from the people, especially from those working at the station, were not necessarily friendly. However, after the first appearance of the article about him on October 4, 1932 in Asahi Shimbun, people started to bring Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait.

I will openly admit that the tears flowed freely when I saw the statue. Interestingly, the Futurama episode that has a similar effect on me, “Jurassic Bark” is a tribute to this tale. (Some of my friends will understand the reference)

From there, spying a Tower Records that had 8 floors of music, we figured we would kill two birds with one stone. My colleague could buy his Japan only CD, and we wouldn’t have to mill around Shinjuku.

Fortunately, I escaped with only a single purchase. For being a larger store, I was unimpressed with there selection of what I was interested in. Of course there were some music concert DVD’s that were interesting but they are coded for the wrong region. So I saved a bunch of $$$

As it was getting rather late, and breakfast was a long time earlier, we just ate in Shibuya. Yelp recommended the Ichiran Ramen shop.

Interesting, as the restaurant is a set of stalls. You stand in line, and use a vending machine to make your selections (with or without egg, how firm the noodles, how much of their special spice, add green onions/garlic/seaweed/extra pork, beer or tea?) and then they tell you where to sit when a stall opens up. The stalls are interesting. Walled off, it is you, a water dispenser, with partitions on either side, and a small window for the food to be passed through.

You never actually see who serves your food, you just eat, drink, and then leave. Very efficient, and very popular. We waited about 15 minutes after ordering before stalls opened up, but when we left, the line to get in was snaking out on to the main drag. Popular indeed!

As the day was long, and the weather becoming shittier, we grabbed a train back to Shinjuku, and walked to the Hotel. A couple of drinks to decompress, and it was off to bed. The cat cafe would have to wait for another time.

The end of a weekend well spent in Tokyo.

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Shopping observations: Coupons

A few weeks ago, it was a madhouse at the local Fry’s supermarket. Packed to the gills, and tons of rude people.

CouponingAlas, I stumbled across a woman doing extreme couponing. She had an expanding file folder that was literally stuffed with coupons, and a shopping cart full os odd items. This caused me to recall why I am not really a fan of coupons.

It is an American dream to get a good deal. Even more so than elsewhere in the world there is a desire to get a bargain. Coupons are an integral part of this phenomenon.

There are many reasons to issue coupons.  As a marketer, I know that they are a valuable tool to drive brand awareness, and to get early awareness of new products. If you introduce a new razor line, it is common that a promotional coupon to drive some early uptake in the market. But this often goes too far. Often people will only buy a product if there is a coupon. If that happens, then you haven’t increased market awareness or share, but instead you have created an expectation, lowering the reference price for the product or offering.

I remember from my restaurant days that we often had coupons to bring in customers. I recall that they did bring people in, but an observation was that the people it drew didn’t come back until there was another coupon. Which leads me to …

GroupOn, an online business that offers deals for people who prepay. The concept is solid, but in practice, it has had some issues. Either the business is swamped, impacting service and quality (too many deals sold), or it brings in people looking for a deal, but who don’t convert to repeat business. I signed up for a short time, but found that it was pretty much only offers for 50% off manicures, pedicures, or bowling lane time.

I am not really a user of the common coupon. Almost always they are targeted at products or brands that I am not interested in. If I am not likely to use Schick razors, it doesn’t matter how often I get coupons, even coupons for free blades, I am not going to switch from Gillette.

The only exception are the personalized coupons that are printed at the checkout register. If you are going to hand me a coupon for something that I am already buying, I will take advantage of it. They know that I buy a large number of Lean Cuisine meals, so $3 off when you buy 5 is a no brainer. Want me to try the fake bacon bits as salad toppers, and I am probably not going to bite.

Back to the store, the lady that had the file folder full of coupons, her cart was full of sports drink (not gatorade), canned beans, and an astounding amount of yogurt from the new Greek style yogurt. Perhaps that was what she needed, but I suspect that it wasn’t the top of her list.


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Grocery Store Observations

This afternoon I did a little shopping for the holiday feast tomorrow, and I got to observe some prime high quality behavior.

First, how hard is it to put your damn shopping cart in one of the little corrals that they provide?  Seriously, there are at least three per row of cars, but alas, it is too damn far for most people to put them where they are out of the way of other shoppers.  There must have been 40 carts strewn all over the parking lot, not in the pens provided.

Second, I don’t care if your significant other is just running in for a minute, but it is NOT cool to park and idle your big assed truck or SUV in the firelane in front of the store.  There were 4 of them today.

Third, there is plenty of steak. You don’t have to push and shove to get ahead of people at the meat counter. There is plenty of Mayonnaise, so you don’t have to block the condiments with your cart while you are trying to choose between the full fat, the canola oil version (yuck) or the reduced fat version.

I am sure I will have a few more posts about the insanity that grocery shopping brings out in people.

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Gift shopping tips for men

As last week was my better half’s birthday, and next week is our anniversary, I thought I would share what I have learned over the years in gift giving for the feminine half of the human race. I am sure this is out there somewhere, but I figure that it can’t hurt to repeat it ad nauseum.

First, buy big durable goods. Cars work if you can afford it (and in fact Lexus does some brilliant messaging around this) but I am not quite that rich.

Second, buy tech goodies.  iPads, smartphone, computer, or if your other half is a video geek, AV gear works well.

Next up (and many might move this to the top) jewelry.  I am fortunate that my spouse isn’t a fan of expensive flashy jewelry, so I get to rate this down the list.

Many other good ideas, spa days, fancy meals out, weekends at resorts etc are all great ideas (and some of them you might enjoy too.)

What you should never ever under any circumstances buy your woman any clothes. There are several reasons for this, and tripping on any of them is cause for time spent in the doghouse.

  1. If you buy a size too big – Hoo boy, this is good for some fireworks. You become an instant insensitive slob who thinks your woman it too fat.
  2. If you buy a size too small – Almost worse than going too big. Now you are expecting them to be something that they aren’t, and crying jags, followed by whole pints of hagen daz ice cream being consumed.
  3. If you actually buy the right size, you might think that you are golden, but a fact I have learned in life is that a woman does not want you to know that she is a size 12.  That is supposed to be a state secret, and not divulged.

If you must, note where their clothes come from (the label) and buy a generous gift certificate for that store. Or, better yet, go along and let them shop while you watch them model the clothes. (naturally, you bring the credit card)