Archives for the month of: January, 2014

I am back in the land of smiling people and happy faces. Joy.

I awoke this morning after 9 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep to the clanging of surround-sound church bells.The sun will be cresting the mountains to the east in another 45 minutes which is when I will open the doors to the terrace and watch the sun rise. Bliss.

I am drinking a cup of dark roast Chiapas coffee while sitting at my worktable contemplating a healthy stress-free day which will mostly be spent wandering through the returning fragments of my once sleep deprived mind. Happiness.

In 90 minutes I will head down to the Mercado. But first I will pick up a large cup of fresh squeezed carrot and orange juice from my neighbor then head to Gaby’s for some eggs in green salsa, beans, and handmade tortillas straight off the grill. Tasty nourishing goodness.

This day in Mexico, just like every other day here, will be spent working. My work. Done at my pace. On what I am interested in. Satisfaction (as in the Isaiah 55:1-2 variety of satisfaction).

Then a cigar and a couple of beers to seal the day as the sun sets while seated on the terrace in a gentle breeze from which to contemplate the quiet pleasure of cooking dinner. Joy.

Sarah and I play the ‘ Could you live here?’ game whenever we travel together. Minnesota was the last place where we played the game. We were leaving The Great North on June 30th at the end of our run/bike/canoe trip when the question was asked. You will have to read the post if you’re at all interested in why I said ‘no’ to Minneapolis.

So yesterday on one of my walks through South Beach l thought to myself, ‘Could I live here?’ The answer was yes, I could live here for a year. Especially if it meant furthering the sandal business. But to live (live) here? The answer was no.

Why? Easy, because the beach life is a myth. One that you don’t have to lean on very hard before it breaks and your life becomes just another cynical wreck like so many of these complaining bastards that you see down here.

What’s the beach myth? That living on the beach is paradise. And how is that a myth? Simple. The beach is meant to be escaped to, not lived at. You need a crappy job in a crappy place with crappy weather; something to best contrast your idyllic vacation to, for the beach to really work.

Hegel once said ‘What is undifferentiated is lifeless’. And if any place needs some differentiation it’s the beach. To come live here is to become just another prisoner in one of its many air-conditioned towers. Same guard gate, same hurricane shutters. Only on a different floor with a different view at a different address.

When the heat and humidity gets oppressive – which is 8 months out of the year – you better like your condo apartment, cable TV, and the internet. The mall? Forget about it. It’s merely an extension of the same shit that’s already in your apartment. Bookstores? Gone. Restaurants? All chains. All the same.

If I ever get kicked out of Mexico, Detroit is the first city on my list to move to. It would be the perfect back drop for a book I want to write with the working title ‘Who Let the Air Out of the American Dream?’ And what better place to write it than Detroit?

I think the imagination would positively run wild amidst all of the downtown city blocks that have been returned to the plow. Fifty years ago Detroit was at the top of its game as the leading industrial city in the world. It had throw away jobs, a high standard of living and opulently endowed cultural centers. Now, downtown is largely a lawless wasteland. And what savage investigative work I wonder, could this returning native son dig up amongst all that decay?

I thought that I had died and gone to heaven when I saw it listed as one of the daily specials. I had eaten pigs feet before in a couple of different ways but never had them in stew.

Poor people food. Real food. I could see from the second it was put in front of me that it was going to be something special. It was like somebody’s grandmother being there to guide me – it was that personal of a dish – whispering in my ear that she only had 3 little old pigs feet but cooked them long enough to make them real tasty.

Other than the feet, the stew had only a few pieces of sausage, some pepper slices, onions, and green olives in it. They had been stewing so long that the thick skin was falling off the feet; rendered them into a tasty, sticky, gelatinous goo. The dish turned out to be one of the best things I’ve eaten on this trip.

Great food should always invoke a memory and so it was with each spoonful of this big decadent, pig feet, fatty, unctuousness thing that I recollected a tripe dish (done in the old Roman style) that I ate with Sarah in Rome a couple of years ago. That dish, like this one, was so thick and rich from having been so cooked down that it had an almost pudding like consistency. (Note: Tripe is not treated this way in Mexico. It is left chewy.)

And a further thought. There is tripe (or any offal for that matter) where, from the preparation through the cooking and eating processes, that dish rises up from the smelly and nasty to the realm of the sublime. And the tripe dish in Rome , just like its local Cuban cousin, the pig’s feet stew, did just that.

The Puerto Sagua Restaurant has been in South Beach for 51 years and owned by the same family for the past 45 years. That is some pretty serious Cuban food experience at work. The old man that owns the place dresses down like any other waiter in the place. His thin white hair is always neatly combed back as he spends what I gather is most of his day gazing out onto the street through one of many windows always with a slightly sad look of melancholy unconcern.

I was walking down 5th Street in South Miami Beach an hour ago and it hit me like a ton of bricks as it suddenly occurred to me why I was not getting my message through and why my sandals were turning out to be a harder sell than I thought they should be.

And here’s the problem. The problem is we are creating a new market. I mean isn’t that what you call it when a person or a company has done some innovation and they are attempting to deliver something new?

If that’s true then a more comprehensive problem statement would sound something like – How do you create a market when you don’t have some market force like pent up demand (or a new technology), a huge advertising budget, or celebrity endorsements?

Henry Ford brought an affordable car to market just at the time the world was ready for lots of cars; but didn’t quite know it (Daimler conversely was anticating that a chauffer availability problem would keep a damper on demand). So Ford was not just one of pioneers of the automobile industry, he as such helped to create that market. As part of that market creation Mr, Ford sagely observed that ‘If you ask people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse’.

So how are our sandals creating a new market? I best articulated this when talking to the Israeli guy who owns the Italian shoe/sandal place around the corner. I said, ‘We want to compete somewhere in the middle between the cheap mass-produced Asian crap and the expensive luxury brands manufactured primarily by hand in Italy’. He liked that. And with that he finally understood how my sandals fit into the bigger picture (because they sure as hell didn’t fit into his expensive store).

So this problem is playing out in the Miami retail environment. Namely, there isn’t a shop that’s been able to accommodate us because we don’t fit. We don’t belong in the cheap beach stores that sell the plastic flip flops and we don’t fit into the high end expensive Italians shoe stores. And it just occurred to me, there’s nothing in between.

And concurrent, ‘Why would you want to build a sandal that doesn’t wear out’? That’s what the Israeli guy asked me. ‘That’s stupid’, he said.

And he might be right, but for an entirely different reason than what he was suggesting. I mean that I worry from time to time that what we are trying to do is stupid because we might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. But I remind myself that is the negative way to look at our situation.

And I remind myself that there is a new market of people out there that want both quality and durability. And that we as a company bring a necessary and ecologically important solution along with our products that is embedded into each pair of our sandals through the use of recycled material as well as our low impact manufacturing processes. And someone that truly had their marketing hat on could speak to the great possibilities for some industry revitalization (Mexico’s failing huarahe industry) and job creation given just some modest successes.

Large modern companies solve the market creation problem by using two approaches. One, they have huge advertising budgets so they just throw a ton of money at it, and two, they use celebrity endorsements. William Gibson opined that 80% of a modern product’s budget was spent on advertising.

So how do we, a start up, create a new market when we don’t have any compelling market force (they’re just sandals for crying out loud), an advertising budget or celebrity endorsements?

That’s the statement of the problem as I see it.

PS – But I would love to hear from you if you think my logic is flawed.

I had dinner there yesterday (and lunch).They had tongue on the specials side of the menu and that’s what I ordered for dinner. The guy who sat down on the stool to left of me saw what I was eating and that’s what he ordered too; that’s how good it looked. The tongue was served up in a dish in a huge monolithic slab that someone then had taken and cut lengthwise with a very sharp knife. It was fall apart tender. I’ve become accustomed to see tongue all chopped up so this was different, but in good way.

The black beans came in a separate dish and a big scoop of white rice surrounded by sweet fried plantains was served on a plate. The separate dish thing, I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but it’s not about presentation. Somehow I think the Cubans are just kind of particular about keeping their colors separate.

I am still operating in severe sleep deprivation mode at this point so my cognitive functions are deeply limited; further exacerbated by the editing functions on the 7 inch tablet, but I’ll get to that later.

My go to meal for lunch at this place is their excellent fish stew. It’s light and tasty; not too much and not too little. I always sit at the counter and don’t bother with the dining room anymore. It’s easier and the opportunity for social interaction is better.

The young guy sitting on the stool to the right of me was a window designer from New York down in Miami Beach on business for a few days. He was surprisingly ungay but not  unsurprisingly tattooed.  We chatted around stuffing our faces. I asked him what differentiated him from everyone else in his business – you got to be good if someone flies you all the way from NYC – or in other words, what was it that he did that made him good at his job? I loved his answer. ‘It was all in the details’, he said, ‘taking care of the little things’.

I took a very long bus ride up to Ventura to visit the mall so that I could buy polo shirts for my friend Manolo in Mexico. The long ride – try 5th St. to 199th St. – gave me an opportunity to think about sleep deprivation and how that feels as opposed to being hungover. To be sleep deprived is like wandering around in an immense fog. To be hungover is typically more about a headache and maybe some nausea. But for the most part you can still think with  a hangover. Where on the other hand being in a sleep deprived state is like having your intelligence ratcheted back by 50 percent or more. Being both sleep deprived and hungover ironically produces an ephoric feeling the morning after.  One further note on the subject, I have discovered experentially that you can neither drink yourself through or around sleep deprivation; unintuitive but true.

Manolo requested polo shirts in ‘spring and summer colors’. You got to be very sure of your masculinity to say something like that. Although I must say that’s a style concept quite novel to someone like me who wears only white or navy blue t shirts 12 months out of the year. But whatever. Still it’s likes talking about fashion in a way that I haven’t thought about in 30 years. Color?

PS – A note on this tablet: First a head’s up to Google – Do More Software Testing Before You Release A Product!  (is the text equivalent of screaming supposed to be done all in caps? Or just the first letters?). Second, for those of you eagerly awaiting the latest release of Android version 4.4.2 – be aware that it has some significant bugs. Cut and paste doesn’t even workwork in this version on Google native products like the Nexus and I’ve been discovering that trying to do something like a Bluetooth file transfer is extremely problematic. And there are other issues too like problems with editing functions in different pages that are opened in the Chrome browser (another Google product). But I’ll rant more on that subject later.

PPS – If this post is more chopped up and less coherent than previous, you know why.

PPPS – I just got an email asking me about the sleep deprivation and my answer back was it’s the damned outdoor restaurant next door that plays music until 12 a.m. / 1 a.m. My white noise generator can deal with just about everything except bass. And one of their speakers is only 15-20 ft. from my wall and window.

PPPPS- I am a morning person which means that my creative operational hours are typically between 5 a.m. And 10:00 a.m. which gets totally skewed when somebody’s dicking with my time in the middle of (my) night.

Please just kill me. Six days without REM is intolerable…

I just came back from dinner at the very inexpensive Cuban restaurant 4 blocks around the corner from where I am staying in South Beach. It was Friday night so it was counter space only so I sat next to a tall skinny beautiful blonde from Australia who obviously turned out to be a model. She had her bag parked on my stool but we worked things out even though she was a little bit drunk. We ended up becoming friends kinda and she took my business card and I showed them my sandals that I was wearing and they (her and her makeup assistant) promised to get a hold of me tomorrow morning and buy some sandals.

Then a medical software salesman sat down after they left and we had a nice long chat and he gave me some advice about how to sell and market things.

And then a scientist from Belgium sat down on the other side of me and we had a chat about life, raising daughters, sandals and all that good stuff.

Dinner was fun and did a bit of networking too. How cool is that?

I’ve had lunch at the El Equisito Restaurant twice. Yesterday I had the Popa Viejo, the shredded beef in tomato sauce. Today I had the Bacalao, a dish prepared from dried and salted cod.

Image

Both were lunch specials and cost something like $6.99 each and both were equally delicious. Cuban food has been my go to food since I arrived in Miami. It’s not just a great value proposition but it’s also a food that has not been lost in translation. In my humble opinion food maintains its authenticity any place where there is a large enough indigenous population of people who take care not to let their food be screwed with.

Contrast this with Chinese and Thai food in the US where it’s almost impossible to get the real deal.

The busness development guy – tried as I could – just didn’t work out. To use a baseball analogy, even with the extra coaching and slow pitching, I couldn’t get him onto first base.

An example. The day before I left Mexico I was busy doing 20 things at once and I emailed the guy and said please reply to this email with your telephone number and your contact info.

His reply was that he wanted to connect up via LinkedIn. I replied and said fine, just as soon as you send me your telephone number and your contact info. He replied back and said that it was on Linkedin and then very condescendingly added, ‘And how may I help you’?

I think we need to revisit the whole capital crimes and punishment thing. I believe the reason why a lot of people get themselves murdered is the fact that they don’t do their job, either in their personal or professional life. If that’s true then it’s entirely quite possible that we have been approaching the issue of capital punishment from the wrong angle.

So instead of punishing the murderers, maybe we should start executing those people on the other end of the spectrum, those people who don’t do their jobs. And you might ask, ‘Well, who is capable of judging such offenses? And who could pick the jurys’?

I think I could do that job.

And so opens the beginning to Hunter S Thompson’s famous ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. And I had such a moment of fear yesterday when I was in Walgreens buying some sundry items and the clerk rang up 14 dollars and some odd change and I said that was ‘too much’.

She said that I needed to be a member to get the savings. I said I didn’t want to become a member. She said just plug in your phone number and you will become a member.

I punched in my Mexican number. She said,’you are already a member’.

I thought how can this be? I don’t shop in Walgreens. There isn’t a Walgreens in Mexico and I didn’t shop in Walgreens when I lived in Washington, DC.

I said, ‘Oh that’s interesting (how can that be)’?

She said, ‘I don’t know, Spike but you’re already a member’.

I thought , There must be some kind of conspiracy at work here because Spike doesn’t exist and you don’t have that area code because it’s a Mexican area code’.

And when I looked up, her face began to take on this feral cast…

I’m going to keep this short because writing without a keyboard is really weird. Is it really even writing? I am also so sleep deprived that I’m pretty punchy at this point (there is a speaker from the restaurant next door that plays loud music from early in the morning until late at night. But that is another story…)

Getting used to the speech to text function of this Nexus 7 LTE is going to take some getting use to but I have to say that I absolutely love this device (and I am not a pushover for consumer electronics by any stretch of the imagination).

Miami is mind blowing. I’d forgotten how big and wonderful this city was and how diverse. I only have to walk a block from where I’m staying and I’ll hear half a dozen different languages spoken.

Public transportation here is incredibly smooth easy and cheap. I am now a master of the bus system although I still have random problems with maps. By confusing Avenue with Street – it ended me up in like a completely different place when looking for the Mexican Consulate this morning. But that was a small matter.

After a very successful visit with a consular official at the Mexican Consulate I made it up to Little Havana for lunch and a cigar. My friend, Mike Loh, all the way from Singapore, recommended the Little Havana Cigar Factory (a truly awesome cigar store). And one of the employees of the cigar place recommended a Cuban restaurant which coincidentally was right across the street and was excellent, not to mention cheap; try 6.99 for one of the daily specials which was twice as much food as I could eat and delicious.

There have been random acts of kindness directed in my direction which has also been truly amazing. But I will save that for another post…