Tale of the Little-Dog

When my son and his wife visited with their daughters last week, the consensus for dinner was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.  These choices were noteworthy in that I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog.  Sweet Italian sausage?  A couple of times a month cut up into a stir-fry of vegetables.  Beer brats?  Also delicious, hot off the grill with a little mustard.  But a hot dog is child’s play by comparison.  Or should I say, a “dachshund sausage”?

It’s true.  The Germans, who by all accounts can take credit for the invention of the hot dog (five hundred years ago!) nicknamed their frankfurters “dachshunds” – or “little-dog” sausages because, well, they looked exactly like the dog breed.  The only history Americans claim is the re-nickname “hot dog”.  Even the hot dog bun – which really took hold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – points back to the Germans, who always ate their sausages with bread.

Are hot dogs a staple in your diet, or like me are they simply a distant memory?  If they weren’t hot off the grill in the backyard or at a summer picnic, perhaps you had one at a baseball game (but not so much football or basketball, go figure).  You’ve probably also seen hot dogs on the midway at carnivals and county fairs.  Wherever you get your franks today, they’re just not as likely to come from established restaurants.

In the 1970s, America seemed to have hot dog stands on every corner.  The most popular of these was the distinctive drive-thru Der Wienerschnitzel’s, but you also had – at least from my California-based memory – Pup ‘N’ Taco, Ben Franks, Tail o’ the Pup, and the walk-up Hot Dog on-a-Stick booths you’d find at amusement parks.  Today’s retail hot dog is at a Sonic Drive-In or the food court at Costco.  If you live anywhere near New York’s Coney Island, you can also include “Nathan’s Famous”, or at least the annual hot dog eating contest of the same name.

A hot dog may be “a cooked sausage eaten in a long, soft piece of bread”, but its secondary meanings are less definitive.  “Hot Dog!” is something you used to say when you were VERY happy about something else (“used to”, meaning sixty or seventy years ago).  A “hot dog” is also a person “who makes fast, skillful movements in skiing, snowboarding, or surfing to make people notice them”.  That last definition still stands.

Speaking of “used to say”, we also used to sing about hot dogs, didn’t we?  Oscar Mayer’s jingle convinced us we should BE hot dogs (so everyone would be in love with us).  But the better song came from Armour, which asked us what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?  Per the lyrics, “…fat kids, skinny kids, kids that climb on rocks… tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox…”  Today’s version of the Armour jingle would probably be censored just for using the word “kids”.

“I wish I had a million dollars. HOT DOG!” (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and “It’s A Wonderful Life”)

Hot dogs will always be a childhood memory more than a dietary preference in my book.  My mother, raising five hungry boys, developed several dinner recipes when time and ingredients were in short supply.  These included canned baked beans and weenies (two ingredients = dinner!), and a truly odd creation from the Betty Crocker cookbook made up of hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and cheese (three ingredients!).  Whether it tasted good or not – I honestly can’t remember – dogs, mash, and cheese conveniently covered the protein, carb, and fat categories, all in one broiler-blasted casserole.

The Oscar Mayer “Wienermobile”

My most vivid childhood hot dog memories are not the dinners mentioned above.  Instead, I can’t forget snacking on raw hot dogs from the refrigerator (which sounds awful now, but hey, I was a kid).  My mother was faithful to the Oscar Mayer brand so I ate a lot of their hot dogs raw.   Speaking of Oscar Mayer, here’s the better memory.  They built a motorized advertisement which to this day may be the coolest vehicle on wheels.  The “Wienermobile” cruised the streets of Los Angeles, stopping every now and then in a parking lot so you could view it up close.  The driver handed out tiny plastic replicas of the vehicle, appropriately labeled “Weenie Whistles”.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and “The Santa Clause”)

Let me conclude with a solved hot dog mystery.  Your grocery store sells most brands in packages of ten.  They also sell hot dog buns but in packages of eight.  Why?  Because hot dogs weigh about 1.6 ounces, which makes a package of ten a convenient sale of exactly one pound of meat.  On the other hand, hot dog buns are baked in trays of four, which work best with conveyor belts and processing.  An odd number of buns – trays of five – is a model of inefficiency.  So until one or the other manufacturer changes their standard, you’ll always have leftovers for snacks.  Or better yet, for your dog.

The hot dogs I served my granddaughters last week were comically advertised as healthy: no fillers, no preservatives, and so on.  They weren’t very good.  Maybe the worst part of a hot dog is what makes it taste so good?  Or maybe hot dogs have simply lost their appeal to me?  No, wait, that can’t be true.  Anything my granddaughters ask me to eat has instant appeal.

Guess I haven’t eaten my last little-dog sausage just yet.

Some content sourced from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

A Million Little Leaks

Several years ago, I worked out with a personal trainer in a bunch of one-hour sessions at my gym.  She was all about proper lifting and careful stretching – and nasty core exercises I’ve patently avoided to this day.  But she did give me one time-proven piece of advice: after working out, go relax 10-15 minutes in the dry sauna. You’ve already revved up your metabolism with the workout, so the sauna helps extract toxins from the body. Yes, and the sauna also helps imitate the heat and humidity of South Carolina in the summertime.

My wife & I are heading to the Palmetto State for a long-overdue getaway at the end of May.  We’ll be spending a few days in the western counties before catching up with our daughter and her boyfriend in coastal Charleston.  We’ve taken this trip before.  The difference?  Last time we were there in early April when the heat and humidity sort of caressed your cheek with a soft kiss.  This time we’ll be there to kick off summer and it’ll feel like standing under a hot shower.  Outdoors.  Fully dressed.

I’ve always been a sweater (no, I don’t mean the extra layer you pull over your head in the winter months).  After a long jog, my t-shirt and shorts are so wet they could double as sponges.  My hair falls wet-stringy straight down my forehead and the perspiration runs in rivers here and streams there.  Yep, I’m one handsome dude.  But where most people say ick, I recognize sweating for the healthy cooling/cleansing process it is. A sign my metabolism is alive and kicking.  Turn on the faucets, baby.

Speaking of moisture, isn’t moist one of the most atrocious-sounding words in the English language?  I’ve never made peace with those five letters and I know I haven’t used moist in a sentence in years (no matter how good my baked goods taste).  The English language has such beautiful words, like chimes and delicacy and silhouette.  Why disrupt the sweet-sounding party with a word like moist?

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’m not gonna pretend a good sweat is ever comfortable (maybe it’s because I feel moist) but I’ve certainly gotten used to the sensation over the years.  And now that I live in Colorado?  Zero humidity.  Well, okay, there’s a little humidity here at 7,500 feet above sea level.  But most of the time it’s so dry, the needle on your tank seems to be perpetually on “E”.  This pathetic little voice deep inside your body pleads for, “water… water…” (think Tin Man asking for his oil can – that kind of voice).

A dry sauna room (aka a “hot box”)

Let’s go back to my dry sauna sessions.  Since you’re already asking the question, I don’t mean “wet sauna” (where steam is introduced into a room as tiled as a Chinese kitchen). I’m talking about that other room, with nothing but wooden benches and a nasty little blast furnace in the corner (wood-burning, electric, hot rocks – whatever heats like hell).  You sit there draped in a small towel in 200º F and for a few minutes, all is quiet and comfortable.  But then, almost imperceptibly, your skin develops a sheen.  You begin to glisten.  Suddenly droplets of perspiration pop out all over the place and it’s “open the floodgates, Poseidon”.  A million little leaks.

I won’t speak for the ladies’ locker room (that mysterious country club adjacent to our locker room), but sometimes the men’s dry sauna can get a little awkward.  When you approach the glass door, it’s so steamed you can’t tell how many guys are already in there.  Once you enter, choose a place on the bench without hesitation or you’ll be judged.  Good chance you’ll end up next to a heavy breather, which in some schools of thought is therapeutic.  Other times you’ll end up next to someone with headphones, which somehow don’t block the four-letter words of his rap music.  One time I was subjected to the wellness preachings of a huge Samoan-looking guy, where I thought it best not to argue with his musings.  All of which is to say, you never really know what you’re gonna get with the dry sauna.  It’s an intimate little sweatbox filled with semi-naked strangers.  Good times, huh?

South Carolina’s “Holy City”

When I’m in Charleston I won’t miss the dry sauna because Mom Nature will provide her own version round-the-clock.  The heat and humidity will promote enough of my perspiration to – as the family says – “make my face rain”.  I’m like one of those mysterious underground springs, where the water keeps bubbling up from the ground and you wonder if it’s ever gonna stop.  Every gonna stop?  Not with my metabolism.  For sheer entertainment value, if you’re in Charleston later this month, keep an eye out for me.  I’m the one with the million little leaks.

Whirlybird Wonder

“Ginny”

If you haven’t been following the dog-and-pony pony-and-dog show taking place on Mars the last couple of months, you might want to break out the telescope. Not that you’ll be able to see a car-sized rover or a toy-sized helicopter from millions of miles away. But you can see Mars itself, and then you can imagine “Percy” and “Ginny” sniffing around the red dirt and rocks up there. They’re just sampling things to see if Mars can roll out the welcome mat to humans someday.

The rover “Perseverance” is the pony in this show; “Ingenuity” the dog. I want to talk about the dog. Last July Percy hitched a nine-month ride to Mars, launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral aboard a massive Atlas V rocket. Little Ginny hitched a ride on Percy; she the steadfast little soldier clinging to the rover’s underbelly. Considering Ginny measures only a few feet in all dimensions, it must’ve been a hang-on-for-dear-life E-ticket kind of adventure.

I’d love to make this a children’s story, but Ginny is anything but soft and cuddly. Have a look. She’s about as cute as a wasp. Consider Martian atmosphere is only 1/100th as dense as that of Earth, which means Ginny has virtually nothing to grab onto to sustain flight. But she whirls at five times the rate of a regular helicopter (2,400 rpm!), and then she rises.  Product safety warning: don’t go anywhere near Ginny’s rotor blades.

Ten days ago Ginny lifted off Mars to a skyscraping height of ten feet.  Then she hovered briefly before rotating about ninety degrees, kind of just observing the Mars-scape.  Finally, she landed.  The whole exercise lasted less than forty seconds.  Big deal, right?  Well, that little maneuver qualified Ginny as “the first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on a planet besides Earth”. Way to go, little wasp.  You just reserved a spot in the Smithsonian after you return home.

Will Ginny end up here?

When I picture Ginny clinging to the rover Percy, then hurtling through outer space for months on end, my middle-aged mind recalled the old Thunderbirds television show.  Thunderbirds featured the Tracy family (marionettes!) and their fleet of wicked-cool space vehicles.  The five Thunderbirds included a giant green supersonic carrier (“Thunderbird Two”), whose massive belly carried a yellow utility submersible (“Thunderbird Four”).  Kind of like Percy carried Ginny.  Trust me young(er) readers, Thunderbirds was awesome television in the 1960s… even if it was just puppets getting their strings pulled.

I’ve ridden in a helicopter exactly once in my life, on our honeymoon over the Napali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  I turned to my bride mid-flight and probably uttered some not-so-nice words as I remembered how much I dislike heights.  The glass of champagne beforehand certainly helped.  For me, the fear has always been a toss-up between vertigo (physical) or the idea that terra firma is far, far below me (mental).  No matter the reason, heights just aren’t my cup of tea.

My acrophobia probably goes back to my first ride on a Ferris Wheel, with adolescent nightmares of slipping through the metal lap bar and taking an unplanned skydive.  Or ski lifts, where a little bit of fiddling with the lap bar latch could mean the end of everything.  Parasailing? (No).  Hang-gliding? (Never).  Hot-air balloons? (Why even ask?).  Sorry – airplanes aside, and only the bigger ones mind you – I prefer my thrills securely grounded.

For all the recent broadcast news on Percy and Ginny, I can’t seem to find the part of the story where Ginny returns to Percy, who then returns to the Atlas V rocket, who then returns to Earth.  I’m looking for the part about splashdowns and photo ops and ticker-tape parades – the happy-ending kind of stuff.  My earlier comment about a spot in the Smithsonian may have been a little premature (can you say, “Ginny replica”?).  Note to reader: if you do decide to make this a children’s story you might want to edit things a bit.  Just say our little pony and dog are now asleep on Mars, waiting for their human friends to get there someday.  It sounds much better than, “we just left them there”.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Springtime Rings

My daughter drops little hints on our phone calls recently, teasers to suggest her boyfriend will soon pop the proverbial question. If he does propose, her left hand will be adorned with an engagement ring and she’ll become – literally – a marked woman. She might as well sport a little neon sign on her ring finger blinking, T-A-K-E-N.

While my daughter gets excited about her potential Ring by Spring (Hallmark Channel movie, March 2014), I glance down now at the gold band I’ve been wearing for the last thirty-four years.  My wife and I decided a plain ring wasn’t enough of a statement for wedded bliss so we chose one with seven inset diamonds across the top.  Now that I think about it, those seven gems might as well broadcast M-A-R-R-I-E-D.

My ring

Over the years, I’ve grown fond of the string of bling inside my ring.  It’s a unique setting and the diamonds draw compliments.  But credit to my wife, there’s purpose behind the glitter.  She gives me her coy smile and declares, “When you’re walking down the street by yourself, the woman with her eye on you a block away will easily know you’re married”.  A block away?  That’s pushing it, but my diamond shine certainly does seem to advertise M-I-N-E.

Speaking of the opposite sex, Irwin Shaw, a playwright and author from the early 1900’s, wrote a short story that seems appropriate here.  It’s called The Girls in Their Summer Dresses.  Shaw puts us on the streets of New York City on a beautiful day, where a married couple is going for a walk.  The husband keeps getting distracted by every pretty girl passing by and his wife calls him out on it.  Their conversation over drinks after – and his closing thought – make for an interesting perspective on marriage.  You can read The Girls in Their Summer Dresses here.

Claddagh ring

I can’t talk about my daughter’s forthcoming engagement ring and my own circle of gold without including a ring of my wife’s.  No, not her wedding band (though it’s a beaut’) but rather a Claddagh ring she’ll receive from Ireland in the next few days.  As we learned when we visited the Emerald Isle (and also from the Hallmark Channel – As Luck Would Have It, April 2021), the Claddagh ring includes symbols of love (heart), friendship (clasped hands), and loyalty (crown).  Wear the ring facing one way to show you’re single and looking for love.  Wear the ring the way my wife will, to show you’re already “captured”.

“Eternity” ring

So there’s one more ring for love out there in jewelry shops (and it’s not a “promise ring”, which doesn’t count for much of anything).  Ever heard of an eternity ring?  It’s a band of precious metal with little gems all the way around the circle, to symbolize “never-ending love”.  Talk about a bauble.  Women describe it as “cumbersome”, and rumor has De Beers came up with the concept to justify a large purchase agreement with Russia for small diamonds.  My wife will never get an eternity ring from me.  Our vows included a nod to her wedding ring as “a forever sign of my love and fidelity”.  See?  I’ve got “never-ending” covered already.

My newsfeed included a recent wedding proposal in Atlanta, where the groom-to-be took his bride-to-be on a helicopter tour of the city, then promptly dropped to one knee on top of the skyscraper they landed on.  When he popped the question he opened a box of five engagement rings.  Seriously?  I hope the guy my daughter will marry is way more decisive than that.  Commit to just O-N-E, son, kind of like you did when you chose my daughter.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Man tops off helicopter proposal with five engagement rings”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Ketchup Catch-Up

At the Communion rail in our pre-COVID, in-person church days, my wife and I would sometimes laugh at the size of the hunk of bread they’d tear off the loaf. The pieces were so big I’d often be chewing all the way back to my seat (and think I should’ve asked for seconds). On the other hand, today’s “drive-in church” Communion amounts to hermetically-sealed plastic capsules handed gingerly through the car window. Peel back the plastic to reveal the tasteless wafer and half-swallow of grape juice inside. No, it’s not breakfast by any definition, but at least we’re still achieving the higher purpose.

Communion and ketchup are strange bedfellows but I’m about to explain why they belong in the same sentence.  If you’ve followed the headlines lately, you know – just below the latest details of the Myanmar conflict – we’re all worried about whether there’ll be enough ketchup packets for our next take-out meal.  That’s right, the world is currently lacking in – not ketchup – but ketchup packets.  If we don’t address the situation soon, buildings will burn and looting will run rampant.  Even worse, we might have to top everything with mustard instead.

It’s the pandemic to blame, of course.  As soon as traditional sit-down restaurants shifted to pick-up and delivery, their demand for packeted condiments jumped up to the level of Wendy’s and McDonald’s.  In fact, Wendy’s and McDonald’s removed ketchup packets from their front counters, not because customers were taking too many, but because other restaurants were raiding their supplies.  Yep, it’s gotten that kind of desperate out there in burger land.

Heinz, the undisputed king of ketchup, recently committed to increasing packet production by 25% to fend off potential mayhem in the streets.  125% of Heinz’s typical annual production amounts to, well… let’s just say there’d be enough to place a packet in the hand of every man, woman, and child on the planet.  Dang.  That’s a whole lot of processed tomato spread.

Speaking of processed tomato spread, here’s my favorite ingredient in ketchup: mustard (powder).  It’s true.  Go check the ingredients list on the bottle I know you have in your refrigerator.

Will there be enough to go around?

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the global packet shortage.  Call me highbrow but I’m having a hard time caring, because honestly I can’t remember the last time I used a ketchup packet.  The restaurants of my choosing always bring the bottle to the table when you ask for it.  Furthermore – burgers aside – I don’t have a lot of use for ketchup.  Not on my fries, not on my meatloaf, neither eggs nor hash browns.  And while we’re at it can we all agree: mustard only on a bratwurst or a hot dog?  It should be a cardinal rule.

But I digress… again.  FOCUS!

If I don my eco-friendly hat for a moment (and don’t I look sharp?), the last thing I want to hear about is Heinz upping ketchup packet production to 12 billion a year.  That sounds like enough plastic to Ziploc a small country many times over.  But I get it.  In these times of please-pass-the-virus (or better yet, don’t), we demand individually wrapped one-and-done solutions.  Like ketchup packets.  Like Communion elements.

Handy host

Good things come in small packages, so the saying goes.  Yeah, well, they come in big packages too.  Like ketchup from a bottle instead of a plastic packet.  Like Communion from a loaf of freshly baked bread instead of hole-punched from a sheet of Styrofoam. And seriously, who uses just one ketchup packet?  Picture a baby burger you can balance between your finger and thumb and maybe it’s enough.  Anything larger and you’re grabbing packets by the handful.

Let’s wrap this topic on a personal note.  If ketchup packets disappear, my granddaughters won’t understand a really good bedtime story, the kind where they’ll giggle every time they talk about it.  You know the story, the one where my buddies and I pocket ketchup packets from our school lunch trays, take ’em out to the playground asphalt, and stomp on ’em to give some unsuspecting kid a tomato facewash?  Oh please, drop the mock horror.  You know you were out there on the playground too, doing the very same thing.

Some content sourced from the 4/8/2021 CNN.com article, “America is facing a ketchup packet shortage”.

My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Hopping on Pop

In the Dr. Seuss children’s classic Hop On Pop, readers travel through pages of rhyming word pairs, with the usual whimsical cartoon characters acting out the scenes (ex. “All Ball, we all play ball” and “Day Play, we play all day”). It’s not until about halfway through the book where you see the title pair, “Hop Pop”.  And when I saw “STOP, you must not Hop on Pop”, I decided Dr. Seuss was referring to the latest junk food mashup, “Pepsi x Peeps”.

This blog often comments on sweets – so much so I should probably have a category called “sugar”.  I’ve talked about Halloween candy, chocolate, and licorice, and it’s a little unsettling I’ve discussed doughnuts in two of the last ten posts.  Naturally, my literary sugar addiction couldn’t resist a word or two on a truly disturbing concoction.  Just in time for Easter, Pepsi is advertising a Peeps-flavored soft drink.  I’m trying to get my taste-buds imagination around this “pillowy-soft and sweet” marshmallow-flavored cola.  I can’t taste it, can you?  All I come up with is sugar.  Lots and lots of sugar.

You know Peeps.  Of course, you do.  The colorful marshmallow bunnies and chicks are the hot item every Easter in the U.S. and Canada.  Consumer demand for the cute little creatures means Just Born Quality Confections cranks out 2 billion every year.  Naturally, Peeps has moved past Easter to be available year-round, especially for other holidays.  Just Born even expanded the product line beyond candy, most notably with a Peeps-flavored line of lip balms.

Courtesy of PepsiCo.

With off-the-charts (and inexplicable) demand for Peeps, I shouldn’t be surprised Pepsi injected the flavor into its latest hybrid drink.  But here’s what bothers me.  Even if marshmallow-tasting cola is your thing (and you should have your taste buds examined), why does it have to be “Pepsi x Peeps”?  It’s not as if the marshmallow taste of Peeps is unique. (It might as well be “Pepsi x Lucky Charms”.)  The appeal of Peeps is exactly what’s not in the Pepsi product: fluorescent colors, cute little creatures, and sugar-dusted spongy-soft marshmallows.

I consider “Pepsi x Peeps” a disservice to marshmallows everywhere.  Marshmallows deserve their place in more respectable foods.  Oozing out of S’mores around the campfire.  Adorning sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving.  Buried in Rocky Road ice cream.  Abundant in Rice Krispy treats.  Floating gracefully in a sea of hot chocolate.  But reduced to a mere flavor, wandering aimlessly amidst the carbonation bubbles of a cola?  That’s just harsh.

A more deserving “frankenfood”

No matter.  Consumers love new products, especially combos of tastes that were already good by themselves.  Burger King combined Cheetos and Mac ‘n’ Cheese for a carb-loaded side dish.  Taco Bell combined Doritos and tacos into one of its all-time best-selling entrees.  And Reese’s perfected peanut butter and chocolate as a candy (as did many others as an ice cream).

Courtesy of PepsiCo.

I won’t be buying “Pepsi x Peeps” anytime soon.  But neither will you.  In the ultimate snub, this promotion is not for a product you will find on your grocery store shelves anytime soon.  Instead, you can only “win” the drink by hashtagging #HangingWithMyPeeps on your springtime photos.  3,000 of the most creative Instagram and Twitter promotions will win three-packs of the colorful cans.  I won’t be entering.  Instead, I’ll be expending my limited social media energy elsewhere.

I was raised in a Coke household so maybe it’s natural for me to knock Pepsi down a peg or two.  But they’re kind of asking for it when they’ve already test-marketed products like “Pepsi Holiday Spice” and “Pepsi Salted Caramel”.  They even amped the caffeine level in one of their varieties to promote it as a ‘breakfast drink”.  Pepsi will stop at nothing to get your business.  Including coercing you to provide free advertising on social media.  Suckers.

Stay strong, little one

I hope “Peepsi” amounts to nothing more than an out-of-reach sweepstakes giveaway.  I hope marshmallows soon return to their roles as cute, colorful, edible animals.  C’mon, Pepsi – the Easter Bunny wants you to know: Stop hopping on pop!

Some content sourced from Laura Miller’s YouTube audiobook, “Hop on Pop”,  the People.com article, “Pepsi and Peeps Have Joined Forces to Create Marshmallow Soda”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sugarcoating the Shot

When my childhood sweet tooth took its toll so many years ago, I just about lived in the dentist’s chair getting cavities filled. Anesthetics weren’t as effective as what we have today so those drill sessions were miserable. The only upside was the shelf of free toys my dentist teased beforehand, “dangling the carrot” to get me to sit still. Now, starting Monday, Krispy Kreme is taking the same approach to entice COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Free doughnuts” – who doesn’t like the sound of that?  Even if you’re more of a Dunkin’ fan, the allure of anyone’s free doughnuts is undeniable.  As long as you show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, you can get a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme every day for the remainder of 2021.  Heck, that’s enough incentive to permanently adjust the morning commute.  But not enough to get the vaccine.

I’m a huge fan of the Krispy Kreme “yeast doughnut”.  The original glazed version is light and airy and goes down so easy you could inhale a dozen in one sitting.  In fact, I’ve almost done just that.  My wife and I were driving to the airport with friends a few years ago, bound for Las Vegas.  We passed a Krispy Kreme store, checked our watches, and mad-dashed a U-turn so we could grab a few doughnuts for breakfast on the run.  “A few” amounted to two dozen and we had no problem finishing all of them on the rest of our drive.  That’s six doughnuts apiece and I didn’t even feel stuffed.

There’s the rub (or marketing genius) of the Krispy Kreme COVID-19 vaccination promotion.  There’s no way – I mean NO WAY you’re gonna walk into Krispy Kreme, get only a free doughnut, and walk out.  Nobody has that in their DNA.  Recall the Lay’s Potato Chip slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one.”  The same applies to Krispy Kreme doughnuts in spades.  You don’t buy them by the “one” but rather by the dozen.

[Random thought: My mind just wandered to the midway at the county fair and those big games of ring toss.  Substitute doughnuts for the rings and syringes for the pegs.  Can you see it?  Yeah, probably not the best image for the Krispy Kreme promotion.]

If this story was about Voodoo Doughnuts or another baker whose creations are more akin to a large, filling dessert, maybe one free doughnut would be enough.  But at Krispy Kreme you’re going to get your free doughnut and promptly buy a dozen more.  It’s because you’re standing in the lobby and the slow-moving conveyor of hot, fresh doughnuts tempts you just beyond the glass.  You reach out for a touch or a taste but you can’t.  It’s how Krispy Kreme cajoles you into buying more of their product.

As for the vaccine enticement, Mary Poppins would certainly approve wouldn’t she?  Krispy Kreme should put her on their television commercials joyfully singing, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”.  Mary’d fit nicely into Krispy Kreme’s advertised “Be Sweet” initiative, designed to sell a lot of doughnuts but also, “…to inspire joy and kindness”.  Let’s hope hundreds and thousands of free doughnuts do just that.

Speaking of free doughnuts, whoever created this campaign must know what they’re doing or suffer the most awful form of job termination.  Here in Colorado, our vaccination rate hovers around 15.3% for a state population of 5.7 million people.  That means on Monday, Colorado Krispy Kreme stores could potentially see 872,000 customers demanding their free doughnuts.  And the day after that.  And the day after that.  Oh and – heh – Colorado only has TWO Krispy Kreme retail outlets in the entire state.  Traffic jams of epic proportions.

Now here’s the irony behind this Krispy Kreme headline.  For those who decide not to get the COVID-19 vaccine (and that would be me; don’t judge), we can still get a free glazed doughnut and a medium coffee at their stores on Mondays from March 29th to May 24th.  That’s nine free doughnuts and coffee for someone who didn’t even get the shot.  Does that inspire their intended “joy and kindness”?  You bet it does.

I only wish the nearest Krispy Kreme weren’t forty miles away.  Lucky for me there’s a new one under construction not fifteen minutes from my house.  They’re planning to open their doors at the end of December.  You know, just as their free doughnut promotion comes to a close.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Krispy Kreme is making vaccinations extra sweet…” and KrispyKreme.com.

Feeding Frenzy

Thanks to a whole lot of snow in Colorado I was pretty much housebound this week.  I was also reminded of the number of mouths I’m expected to feed. That total is nine… if I count the four horses, two cats, and one dog besides my wife & me. Now that I think about it, a horse eats enough for two so let’s bump the number to eleven mouths. And nine of those belong to animals.

A year or so ago I wrote a post called Sign Me Up!, where I marveled at the rapidly growing world of subscription-based services.  Among my own subscriptions I listed a magazine, a newspaper, and digital music, I also included Chewy, the online pet food supplier whose mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere.”  At the time I was just trying Chewy out, not willing to go all-in with a subscription.  Today?  I’m fully on board and wondering why I didn’t sign up sooner.

Even the U.S. Post Office celebrates “fur babies”

Every time a Chewy pet food box shows up at my front door my first thought is, “Why didn’t I come up with this idea?”  Chewy’s concept is wonderfully simple… and wildly successful.  First, create a list of the world’s major suppliers of dog and cat food.  Second, negotiate bulk purchases of their products at a discount.  Third, set up a small network of fulfillment centers.  Finally, sell to customers with some of the discount, keeping the rest for your own operation and profit.  It’s a middleman’s recipe for millions.  Er, make that billions.

If you think this post is a plug for Chewy you’re darned tootin’ it is.  Chewy offers over 2,000 brands of pet food to 15 million subscribed customers.  97% say they’re satisfied.  Chewy’s net sales in 2019 were $4.8 billion dollars.  Nosh on that impressive number for a second.  $4.8 billion sounds like the GDP of a small country.  A small country with a lot of pets.

Foresight is everything here.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed there were 200 brands of pet food, let alone 2,000.  If I go back to my childhood (way more than ten years ago) I can name exactly four pet food brands or products of the day: Purina, Friskies, Alpo, and a curious General Mills creation called Gaines Burgers (“The canned dog food… without the can!”)  Well, I also remember a variety box of dog biscuits called “Fives”, but that’s because I snacked on them every now and then when there wasn’t anything else in the pantry.  Fives were fit for human consumption.  At least, I think they were.

The pet food demand of the 1970s wouldn’t have sustained a subscription service like Chewy.  On the other hand, today’s market is a feeding frenzy, especially with more people opting for “fur babies” over children.  And don’t think Chewy hasn’t noticed all the doggy daycare and emotional support.  Now they also deliver food for your fish, your bird, your snake, and all those farm animals grazing on your backyard lawn (alpacas, anyone?)  Chewy even offers a pharmacy of over-the-counter meds when your pet is in some way under the weather.

Hello, “Chewy”!

I was going to wrap up this plug by smugly suggesting Chewy cater to our horses, but of course they already do.  I can’t subscribe to hay bales yet (I’m sure they’re working on that) but I can buy grain, treats, blankets, tack, and fly spray.  So instead, let me speculate it probably won’t be long before Chewy gets into the “human” food delivery business as well, to compete with Amazon, Wal*Mart, and Target.  With Chewy’s millions of subscribed customers, the new offering would take off like a bull in a china shop.  Or better, like a big, furry bad boy in a Star Wars movie.

Her Majesty’s Persistent Presence

America is a vast melting pot, her contents stirred for generations in a dogged effort to blend peoples and cultures into a cohesive whole. It’s the classic chemistry experiment, where the glass beaker is filled with all manner of substances and then shaken, only to watch the inevitable separation back to individual weights and colors.  The shake-up brings moments of drama though; the storm before the calm if you will.  It’s also an apt description of the British Monarchy.

Despite my best efforts to filter my newsfeed, I still got the announcement about Oprah Winfrey’s televised interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last week.  I don’t know much about either former royal (or Oprah, for that matter) so I dismissed the headline and moved on.  But I was alerted to the interview again the following day.  And again the next day.  Finally, in a move that can only be described as can’t-help-myself, I got out of my chair, grabbed the remote, and programmed the DVR to record.  Something deep-rooted was telling me Sunday night’s interview was must-watch TV.

No it wasn’t.  The questions and answers were predictable.  The topics just begged for a response from Buckingham Palace (mission accomplished).  After two hours of back-and-forth (and too much time in a chicken coop) my take on this couple hadn’t changed.  Meghan shouldn’t have dabbled in the royals in the first place.  Meghan eventually orchestrated her way out of the palace (and the country).  Harry followed.  Now they’re barely surviving… in an 18,000 square foot house in Montecito, California worth $14 million.  Oprah is their neighbor.

Waste of two hours?  There’s no denying it.  Still, I chose to watch.

Americans don’t have royals, but we have a lot of movies about royals.

Why do I care about Harry and Meghan?  I don’t, yet somehow I do.  Maybe I should blame The Crown, the excellent Netflix series about the British monarchy.  By total coincidence, my wife and I started watching Season Four this week, which is all about Harry’s mother Diana.  Then my newsfeed tells me the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip) suffered a heart condition last week, rough enough to land him in the hospital.  Add to that regular photos of Queen Elizabeth looking ever-regal at the ripe old age of 94 and the royals are all over the place.  They make themselves kind of hard to ignore.

The Queen (will live forever)

The episodes of The Crown are a revelation, especially for those of us in “New England”.  Each show kind of ungilds the lily of America’s perception of British royalty.  There’s more drama, politics, and in-fighting than we Yanks would’ve ever believed of fair princes and princesses.  Yet through it all stands the queen – at the epicenter of the shaken beaker – somehow maintaining poise and presence.  All of the events in The Crown take place within Elizabeth’s lifetime, yet it feels like we’re going several generations back. 

Despite The Crown and my newfound respect for Elizabeth, there’s no question it was the late Diana, Princess of Wales who first piqued my interest in the British royals.  Who could blame me, right?  Lady Di was beautiful and supremely innocent, a veritable Disney princess in the flesh.  She was born just a few months before I was.  Her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 – the grandest of ceremonies watched by hundreds of millions of people across the world – was the stuff of fairy tales (Charles himself, not so much).  Diana embodied all that was good and somehow magical about life as a royal.

Lady Di belongs in this club

But then we have Diana’s shocking death not sixteen years after her marriage.  Talk about shaking the beaker.  My wife and I were at a party in California at the time and returned to our hotel late, staying up hours past midnight to watch the funeral on television.  Like the Oprah interview this week, I can’t explain why I gave up half a night’s sleep to watch.  I just felt compelled to.

Thanks to The Crown, the royals aren’t looking quite as regal as they used to.  Diana effectively sacrificed her life to be a royal.  The agendas of Elizabeth and her several prime ministers were in constant conflict.  Season Four has a poignant episode where Elizabeth arranges an individual lunch with each of her four children.  She needs a valet to prepare a brief of information on each child so she can have meaningful discussions with them.  Elizabeth may be “Queen Mother” but the title rates a distant second to “Queen”.

(photo courtesy of Fox News)

Harry and Meghan seem determined to move on from the monarchy.  They’ll never achieve “normal”, and whether their marriage is the real deal is TBD, but good on them for making a show of it.  Me, I’m moving on too.  The next season of The Crown isn’t until next year so it looks like I finally get a break from the royals.  Er, unless William and Kate are up to anything interesting.  Are they up to anything interesting?  Hm.  I’d better go check.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.