Stay Tuned/Short Tidbits Of Note

From Eccentric Flower

 



stay tuned
 



Short Tidbits Of Note
26 July 1998


Having returned from NYC, where everyone is better-dressed than you, and where the meals are usually good but incredibly expensive, I'm rather fatigued. I stayed in a quaint hotel across the street from the Algonquin and about as old, and the bed was apparently of a like age. Then I slept on a futon for two nights at a friend's, and futons are not real beds. Then I drove for several hours today. So I'm cleaning out a few miscellaneous items of interest and then proceeding off to sleep in a bed I know I can get some rest in. Sorry for the brevity.


Got an item from USA Today, about a month stale, which notes that pumping caffeine into unlikely items is a new trend. Surely everyone's seen the caffeinated bottled water in their local convenience store by now, right? And Surge, a caffeinated soda designed to compete with Mountain Dew (poorly-kept hacker secret: Mountain Dew, before Surge, was the most caffeinated soda on the market), has already been mentioned here. How about Wrigley marketing a caffeinated chewing gum called Stay Alert? A caffeinated orange juice - or two? A Jolt Cola candy?

The article notes that "many caffeine products are popular with teens" - treating it as a complete accident, as if the products aren't being pitched directly to the teens. Caffeine is a legal vice which kids (and adults) can indulge in without society, or parents, scolding them. It has less severe consequences for excess than other vices. So this isn't really especially surprising, as trends go. The surprise is that, with Jolt Cola's sales up every year, that it's taken other companies so long to notice.


The Boston Phoenix has an article in the 17 July issue about trademarked names and phrases, basically propounding the dire thesis that soon we won't be able to write anything because the trademark police are getting ever more vigilant - and more greedy. Most good English words and phrases have already been taken (same goes for domain names), and every week I find, or someone sends me, an item about some lawsuit involving a name conflict in domains or in trademarked terms. Just for example, this week the electronic newsletter Need To Know had an item on frivolous domain holders being sued, and Entertainment Weekly had an item on bands being forced to change their names because they were too similar to other bands.

The irony, as a sidebar to the Phoenix item points out, is that trademark holders who are concerned with protecting their trademarks have to be jerks, to some extent. If they don't protest incorrect use of their trademarks every time the trademarks are used, they are in danger of having their brands declared, in essence, public domain. As some of us whose heads are full of useless information already knew, "aspirin," "cellophane," "zipper," and "refrigerator" were all capitalized, trademarked terms, once upon a time. Although, as the article points out, some of this vigilance may be over-vigilance: "DuPont and Bayer, after all, certainly managed to get by after losing the naming rights to 'nylon' and 'aspirin.'"


An article from the New York Times (which seems to be a better paper than I remember, so maybe I'm just getting old), notes that Swanson is finally giving the venerable TV dinner (which hasn't actually said "TV dinner" on the package in a long while) an overhaul. Swanson's menu is in a time warp - "They've missed every single trend since the Korean War," an industry analyst is quoted as saying - but now that Campbell's has cut loose all the orphan parts of its company it doesn't know how to deal with into a new company, Vlasic Foods International, the Swanson bigwigs have a certain amount of free rein.

Don't expect big changes at once, though: The only change for the immediate future is to alter the meal customers are least satisfied with, the fried chicken. At the moment not even the people who make 'em are happy with 'em, and the main reason is the way the chicken is cut, into nineteen unrecognizable pieces. They're fixing that. There will also be the first Swanson TV commercials in a decade. Remains to be seen whether Swanson can sell to adults again - the main problem, apparently, is that adults just don't eat TV dinners anymore, at least not the old-fashioned kind. (Even with my heavy junk food tolerance I can't remember the last time I had a Swanson dinner, but my reasons are those of quantity - I can buy a Marie Callender pot pie and get more, better food for the money. Swanson dinners are tiny.)


Finally, while passing through western Connecticut I had the privilege of spending time in the weirdest grocery store I've ever seen. It's called Stew Leonard's, and if you want to see it you'll need to go to Danbury or Norwalk - there are apparently only two. They're enormous wood-shingled stores, with the aisles of the stores arranged in a maze-like pattern. Except for a few breaks which the fire code probably necessitates, to get through the store you must start at the beginning and wind your way through to the end. You don't get any choices about which way to go. This gives the store a kind of Disney programmed-ride ambience, which is helped by the singing, moving robot figures on the ledges above the shelves.

No, I am not making this up. As you enter, you are greeted at the first turn by a cowboy dog with a guitar, and a Confederate dog with a banjo, both bipedal and about five feet tall, way above your head, singing songs which are about twenty-five percent traditional campfire music and seventy-five percent advertising for the store. Later you encounter a cow's head (with a nameplate - I forget her name) sticking out of the wall. If you pull the rope by her, she moos at you.

Everywhere there are robots with buttons to press, mostly at kid-height, although one second-hand and one first-hand report seem to indicate that as many kids are frightened by the robots as thrilled by them. I personally will carry the "Farm Fresh Five," a band composed of singing, playing milk carton robots, into at least one nightmare myself.

The store does many things right. They started as a dairy concern, and they bottle their milk on the premises. When in doubt, they do it themselves, grinding and roasting their own coffee, et cetera. Their dairy, produce, and meat look impeccably fresh. They claim to take great care in customer satisfaction. But the arrangement of the store - merchandise is arranged for maximum impulse buying for the captive audience threading the maze - indicates that they take great care with their sales pitches as well.

Adding an extra irony to all this is the fact that Stew Leonard is apparently in jail for tax evasion - and his son Stew Jr. has had some trouble as well. Their gift catalog (they offer gift baskets) has a new item called "Dad's Deluxe Basket," where the copy (ostensibly written by Stew Jr.) reads: "Dad's asked me to make up a new basket with all his favorites to sent to his friends!"

Appropriate jokes about whether it contains files, hacksaws, et cetera were made.



Backstory

There are now more than two Stew Leonard's, despite their founder's troubles. (The stores are now run by his children.) However, they're still all located in Connecticut or New York as of this writing. Hopefully the website will provide insight into how truly weird the place is, for those who can't visit. There's plenty I didn't mention here, like the wall of photos of people in exotic places holding Stew's grocery bags.


and now back to our program


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