There’s a mildly disturbing trend that’s been developing over the last decade or two. Many corporations are becoming more like cults insofar as the indoctrination, motivational, and recruitment methods they employ on their workers. I’ve personally encountered this first hand through working for such companies, interviewing with many more of them, as well as from experience of dating girls who were employed/captivated by such institutions. It is no longer sufficient to merely put forth the effort and achieve solid results in a given job and expect a paycheck. Companies now seem to require you to be a devoted disciple of their brand as well as adhere to their “new agey” pseudo corporate philosophies in all aspects of your life. “We all live and breathe Such and Such Internet Company Inc” an interviewer recently told me without even a hint of understated sarcasm. “We want someone 100 percent dedicated to our brand, 24/7.” Well, it’s not me, pal. You might have some useful products, and I’d be happy to promote them for you, maybe even exaggerate their value a bit if I have to, in exchange for some steady cash, but I don’t live life solely for the ideals of pimping someone’s goods and services that people don’t truly need(and they don’t.) In other words, my workplace does not equal my identity.
It’s one thing to slightly overemphasize the quality of the services and pretend your business is doing really amazing things for the sake of making a buck.. yet these companies are filled with true believers. Millennials(particularly of the female variety) seem to be the most hardcore cult followers. They often possess a passion for the internet companies they work for not unlike the cheerful enthusiasm of Kim Cattrall’s character in the religious training camps portrayed in the 1981 film “Ticket to Heaven.” Truthfully though, I’ve seen office “bros,” sorority sluts, and even Hillary Clinton pantsuit rocking business women get emotional to the point of tears when speaking about their love and devotion to the social media marketing firm they slave for. “Umm, excuse me, you know this is just a place that sells ads and stuff, right?” is the heretic thought that immediately pops into a free mind, which dares not be spoken aloud. “We don’t sell things here. We provide solutions that are going to save small businesses.”
Like cults, many modern businesses have their own unique lingo and bizarre euphemistic terminology for internal processes and hierarchies. The Moonies “love bombed” people. Corporations have “fuel calls,” “culture committees,” seemingly urgent commands like “so and so needs to be sparked,” as well as hundreds of other phrases, acronyms and code words which usually make little sense to anyone outside the particular organization. All of the pep talks, the slogans, the videos, the motivational team building activities, the chanting, the charismatic guru CEO’s(whom often look like they could have doubled as 70’s porn stars in another life) and their henchmen can leave a relatively sane person feeling pretty isolated working at one of these places.
Notice how managers increasingly stress the importance of someone being a “good culture fit,” when discussing the recruitment of prospective employees. This has typically been a weasely code for age discrimination against older applicants, people with merely annoying idiosyncrasies, or even those possessing wack fashion styles. Basically, they want someone who is on the same page as everyone else…someone who isn’t going to make waves or stir the pot. I’ve also heard of the “culture fit” copout being used to discriminate against women, but in my experience girls tend to be the most likely to benefit(at least the attractive ones,) and they are typically those most obsessed with promoting/developing company culture in general. Perhaps it is just ugly people who are not a good culture fit, and gender is irrelevant. Pseudo-scientific “predictive index” styled psychological tests and assessments are given to screen hopeful applicants(sometimes even before initial human interviews) in an attempt to weed out potential agitators and those that might be a “bad fit” for the position and the company. If you play the game without rolling your eyes in front of them, manage to maneuver through their psychological assessments, “gotcha” roleplay scenarios and are lucky enough to be chosen, they expect you to live your life as an unquestioning extension, a tentacle of their brand, even outside of work. How you conduct yourself in private can indeed reflect negatively on their business, but that’s precisely because of the increasingly pervading mindset that you = your job. These same companies often creepily describe employees as being “part of our family.” Now that actual families are typically smaller and likely to be separated geographically, many young people are on their own without any support structure, and these money making entities are filling the void. It’s nice to be taken care of when you’re struggling in a lonely big city, but it sucks balls to have to give up your soul and individuality in return. After all, the People’s Temple provided for their followers’ needs as well(just don’t drink the Flavor-Aid.) Indeed, some large internet companies are starting to build onsite housing for their workers. With all their needs met and a happy environment employees will no longer have to be concerned with anything in life except being productive.
There is a positive side to all this of course. Anyone who has ever worked in a boiler room call center knows what a truly shitty work environment is like: “Are you hungry? Cool, dude. There’s a vending machine in the break room, but the candy bars are close to being expired, and you sometimes have to shake it or it will eat your quarters. I usually just get a hot dog from the 7-11 across the street.” The uncomfortable chairs with mystery stains on them, the manager who screams at you if you’re two minutes late back from break, the disgusting, obnoxious, trashy, fatass coworkers who talk while eating Hot Cheetos and chew with their mouth open, etc. Such are the traumatic memories of workplaces in our previous lives, pre “do not call list” era, telemarketing shitholes of the 1990s, “engrams” needing to be wiped out in auditing sessions. To that extent these new companies with their catered lunches, on site massage therapists, “work hard play hard” mentality, and serene, smiley face ambiance are a very welcome change. There was undeniably a silver lining to hating a horrible job environment though. It drove us to seek out genuine fulfillment in other areas of our lives and to dream. Whether it was through having children, writing a science fiction novel, or even just sitting around watching reruns of Charlie’s Angels and The Rockford Files, it was something in the outside world that had nothing to do with work, whereby our minds could detach and deprogram. I’ll admit it’s tough to reconcile libertarian free market economic views with the cynical reality of how big companies actually operate these days, the way they manipulate people and turn them into walking commercials… zombies with high resolution logos. In fact, I don’t think I can do it, and I certainly don’t enough care enough to try. At least for now you can still choose which cult you want to join though, or whether you want to join at all.
So, if you’re looking for a job, get with the program and join a team today. By all means, work for one of these 21st century corporate cults. Enjoy every excess they offer. Everyone is so happy! You’ll love coming to work every day. Just remember though, during the morning meeting when they lead the “energy chant,” make sure(while maintaining a shit eating grin on your face) to mutter your own unique version under your breath. Give them your talents, but keep your soul. Oh, and unlike some cults, if you try to leave these ones, you can actually walk right out the door. Good luck out in the streets of San Francisco(or Austin or Brooklyn or wherever – insert yuppie white liberal metro area here -.) Michael Douglas and the late Karl Malden won’t be there to save you from the mobs of the violently schizophrenic homeless people or assist you with the area’s astronomical rent costs. Anyhow, you probably won’t really want to leave any company in this job market, but unlike a real life biological family, if they ever decide you’re not useful anymore to their cause, your smiling brothers and sisters in commerce will “offload” your ass in a heartbeat. Enjoy those catered team lunches while they’re hot, but beware of wolves in hipster millennial CEO clothing.
Army Navy, one the finest bands to come out of Los Angeles in probably the last 10 years, has put out a new video, directed by veteran young writer/director Mark Schoenecker and featuring Martin Starr(Freaks and Geeks.) The well respected group has enjoyed steadily increasing popularity since they burst onto the scene several years ago. Their latest video, for the song titled “World’s End,” is a refreshingly unassuming masterpiece. In this era of illiterate Ke$ha softcore, and perplexingly popular yet total cheeseball songs like “I Wanna Be A Billionaire,” director Schoenecker refreshingly manages to capture the golden age of Sunset Strip innocence and combine it with 21st century, contemporary appeal. Stylistically, “World’s End” is seemingly modeled after the old music variety shows like Shindig, which once dominated television airwaves and introduced many famous musical acts. Yet, this is not really a “retro” video. Rather it represents a return to lost fundamental standards of taste, and attention to long abandoned qualities like color usage, ambiance, and subtlety. In other words, it is the future we now live in, the way we’ve always hoped it would be.
I think they boast of at least 5,000 stores, which in my opinion is way too many in this day and age and essentially amounts to an overextended electronics empire. If one were to think about how RS can adapt and survive, the example they should look to is Redbox. Video stores went bankrupt because the product they served no longer constituted an entire store. Everything could be rented online through Netflix or streamed on demand. Yet for those who would have preferred not to wait for dvds in the mail, or didn’t have a connection or screen resolution capable of streaming… along came Redbox. Everything that was once handled by a 10 employee, 2,000 square foot storefront, could now be streamlined through an unmanned vending machine outside one’s local circle K. Such could be the case with Radioshack. I’m not saying they should close all their stores,but there is no reason for them to maintain 5 or 6 stores in a given city. My feeling is that they should keep the most profitable 1,500 stores as well as low rent/low risk outlets in places like the south(where people are still more inclined to purchase from a local outlet.) The everyday items RS sells like batteries, cables, wireless accessories, could be sold in RS vending machines dispersed throughout cities. I’m not suggesting they fill these things with capacitors and robotics components. Those items should still be sold at the regular stores. People would be willing to drive a small distance for these, so long as there is still a shop or two within the city limits, people will still make the trip.
Secondly, they should resurrect their “Realistic” brand and sell vacuum tubes and other such equipment. Radioshack seems to have abandoned this market right when it is making a big comeback. I’ve been to CES 4 years in a row, and there is big money in the high end audio market. It is not a huge market share, but if we’re talking about reducing the amount of physical storefronts, this can be offset by improving the quality and expanding the product offering. Money saved from closing physical stores can also be spent promoting the RadioShack.com website and boosting online sales. Dollars normally spent on keeping a physical store open can go a long way in online marketing.
Also, I know most people hate it, but I kind of like their decision to rebrand themselves “The Shack.” It really is annoyingly catchy.
I have to admit, part of me just can’t help but like Newt. In most ways he’s a paleo’s nightmare candidate. His guest worker program, free trade advocacy (wasn’t he one of the chief architects of that genius NAFTA scheme? how’d that work out?), and interventionist foreign policy, are all disastrous for the country. I doubt anybody cares about the lobbyist stuff. So what’s to like really?
Well, Gingich’s imaginative space exploration ideas are far advanced over anything anyone else could offer. Indeed, the other candidates (save Ron Paul) seem to have zero imagination on this or any other issue.
I also think you hit on something in last week’s Radio Derb episode when you said that Newt has won the “bitter ex-husband” constituency. So the sanctimonious “marriage is sacred” crowd thinks Newt’s affairs are unacceptable. You have to wonder what world these people live in where they have never been in a relationship with a pain-in-the-butt female. Lots of things can happen after you commit to someone. They let themselves go, get fat, etc. These broads can drain you emotionally and physically with their endless demands and grievances. People change over time, and divorce is a messy business, especially when there’s money involved. Affairs are biologically natural, when one is separated from their mate for a significant period of time. They are even more natural for the male, whose biological goal in most respects is to impregnate as many females as possible, no? Anyway, if it weren’t for Newt’s dreadful neocon policies, he would have this misogynist’s vote hands down.
One other reason I’m inclined to root for Newt is that he just makes for such a great villain. His narcissism, grandiosity and megalomania have all the makings of a bombastic antagonist, perhaps in the mold of someone like Drax from Moonraker. Even his name, “Newt” lends itself to this narrative (a salamander?) I could easily see him as one of the Alien leaders from V — the original miniseries (1983 version, not the crappy remake.)
There you have it: if you’re into sci-fi and misogyny, and think narcissism is underrated, you’ve gotta go with Gingrich.
Just last week l was reading this article. lt talked about flying. Said we’d all become just like cattle. Trusting our lives to people we don’t even know. Like pilots. Said we do it all the time. Then we get our heads bashed in. . . . . .like cattle, for being so trusting.
A couple months ago, I picked up a DVD of Clint Eastwood’s 1977 movie, “The Gauntlet,” which was shot mostly in Phoenix. I hadn’t seen it since it was on UPN one afternoon in the summer 1996, just a few weeks after I moved here. I remember at the time being excited and feeling a sense of pride that Phoenix was my home, and that the film was set in what was now essentially my hometown. Indeed upon re-watching it, I noticed various downtown Phoenix landmarks are visible in the background. Hanny’s can actually be seen in a skyview during one driving sequence. “The Gauntlet” is a pretty solid film up until the last couple of minutes, with it’s hyperdramatic, highly implausible ending( I find it hard to believe that hundreds of cops would just stand there silently, idly watching while the police commissioner and a supposed fugitive argue and shoot each other at point blank range. The remark about air travel made by the waitress in Las Vegas reminded me of the nature of my own reservations about flying. It’s the fact that while it’s statistically safer, you have absolutely zero control over the outcome of the situation. It’s like buying a reverse lottery ticket with the jackpot of a horrifying death. While you’re much more likely to die behind the wheel, to some extent you can trust your own instincts and defensive driving skills, to give yourself at least some small amount of leverage to tip the balance. I’ve always felt a similar, slightly less ambivalence toward mass transit. Though you may be in a heavy traffic, or construction environment when driving a car, you have control over the ambiance of your immediate environment(volume of the radio, level of peace and quiet, whom or what is sitting next to you.) I’ve ridden the bus several thousand times in my life, and besides the fact that it doubles or triples the travel time to any destination, the worst part about it is always the plethora of irritating and ill-mannered people you have to share it with. I sit in silence trying to avoid unsolicited talking as well as block out all of the loud and obnoxious banter from oblivious people who don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the riding experience of anyone else. Once on a bus ride from Los Angeles, two ghetto teenage girls sat behind me discussing their multiple miscarriages the entire length of the trip. “I told my man he needs to start wearin’ cause I don’t wanna be gettin’ pregnant again.” One time on a West Hollywood city bus, the driver pulled over while a muscular Russian guy fought a drunken homeless black guy that had been harassing the other passengers. People who always talk of the great train systems in Japan and Hong Kong, don’t seem to realize that when attempting to duplicate it here, we would not have the luxury of riding it with courteous and intelligent Asian people(not even taking into account the “groping” incidents women frequently endure in these countries’ rail cars.) I had a good experience the one or two times I used the Los Angeles subway to get to the San Fernando Valley(it was fast, and there was almost nobody on it) though one might question the wisdom of building an underground railway system in an area that is built on a famous faultline and therefore highly susceptible to potentially massive earthquakes. Personally I would rather that cities incorporate strategies to limit or reduce the overall amount of people, rather than working to attract and accommodate large increases in uneducated people, herding everyone into cattle cars and virtually eliminating individuals’ control over their own personal space and travel experience. In theory, I’m not really opposed to the idea of public transportation. I enjoyed the monorail at Disneyland as much as the next kid, and would gladly set aside my idiosyncratic reservations and fears if I were able to ride something remotely 1960′s/70′s futuristic to work everyday. Riding the contemporary city bus or light rail feels more like Soylent Green than 2001 A Space Odyssey, though. The Phoenix of 1977 as depicted in The Gauntlet has been thoroughly transformed, yet like the film, it still retains much of it’s charm. As with most change, something’s gained and something’s lost.
The touch screen on my phone stopped working a couple of weeks ago, and I had to drive all the way to Paradise Valley Mall to get a new phone, since that’s where the AT&T warranty center is. PV mall was a major hangout for me all through the entire 1990′s. First when I used to visit my grandparents, and they would drop me off there for hours. I would hang out at the arcade “Pocket Change” (a place where great romances were later born) next to the infamous Orange Julius(now a chinese food place) playing Cruisin USA(possibly the best car game ever with the exception of Fzero for SNES.) and spend time in the Vans skate shop. Basically I just wandered the mall and daydreamed, the same stuff I still do now.
In the summer of 1996 when I moved to Phoenix, I knew absolutely no one, and as such going out with friends for me simply meant going to the mall by myself which was the closest I could get to actual human interaction(late night trips to Denny’s were also common.) The first Friday night that I spent in Phoenix, I went to the PV Mall theater and saw “Escape From L.A.” by myself. I always had a love for Los Angeles(and would later live there and subsequently make my own daring escape) Anyway, I remember the movie projector broke about 20 minutes into the movie, and so they gave everyone free movie passes to come back. I returned the very next day to see it again at the matinee showing.
For one of my first demo tapes in 1998, Oliver Hibert drew me a picture of the pv mall food court which I used as the cover. The mall closed down the arcade that same year, because they no longer wanted the place to be a teen hangout and didn’t like the type of people they were attracting(there was famously a stabbing/shooting there where someone was killed.)
I had an apartment across the street from PV mall for a brief period in 1999 before moving to Los Angeles. It was at a place called Paradise Point. I’d go to the mall every day and spend hours there.
Anyhow, more than 10 years later there I was, returning to my old stomping ground. I was taken aback by how small the place really is. How on Earth did I ever spend so much time there? It’s only one floor. There are like only two directions you can walk, and neither of them go very far.
I was pleased to see they actually brought back the arcade. Only now it’s called “Tilt”, and is only about half the size and is mostly an empty/self maintained video game room. There is no attendant or prize booth> The place just isn’t the bustling, action packed, hooligan teen headquarters it once was. It almost serves as a museum or memorial to the old arcade.
The old PV mall actually reminds me of Logan’s Run, which was filmed in a mall that was built around the same time period(mid to late 70′s) and looks very similar in design(or used to before PV mall was substantially remodeled.) The mall logan’s run was filmed in was demolished in 2006. Strangely, while attending the Dallas Guitar Show in 2007, I’ve actually stayed in a hotel in Dallas that’s right across from where the Logan’s Run mall used to be.
In another eerie Logan’s Run coincidence, at some point Paradise Valley Mall appears to have added a “Carousel” adjacent to the food court.
The security guards at PV mall were always notorious assholes, the stereotypical mall rent-a cops who comically take their job way too seriously. After I managed to take this one harmless cellphone photo, they promptly descended upon me like a pack of idiots to inform me that “cameras and photos are not allowed.” It was almost (but not quite) enough to ruin my trip down memory lane.
“I was a gull once
way back then
way back when
and if I hadn’t
much to do now
I’d be that again.”
-Keith Gunderson from “A Continual Interest in the Sun and Sea”
Looking around at all the neat stuff today that goes
unappreciated, while the most uninteresting and uninspiring
works get hailed as genius and trumpeted from every orifice of society….I often seek out obscure older books, records and films curious as to what classics may have unjustly went largely unnoticed in another time.
While at Bard’s Books with Ace one day, a book caught my eye called “A Continual Interest in the Sun and Sea” by Keith Gunderson, 1971. It’s a collection of untitled poems(the author hints it is really just one long poem) which as you might ascertain from the title, all relate to the experience of the sea in some way. They aren’t all about being on a boat in the ocean of course. Some relate to romantic beach adventures, the cheap amusement park atmosphere on the Santa Monica Pier, taking baths, gazing out at the stars, or merely the sea as somewhat abstract idea.
The author manages to capture the ambiance of the sea perfectly. I read this book in the bathtub in Phoenix, summer 2011… but I might as well have been sailing out of Marina Del Rey in 1965. If you have the slightest bit of imagination at your disposal, and harbor an escapist’s longing for the wonders of the sea, this book can really take you there.
25 cent photos while you wait.
I’m pleased to say also, that the author, Keith Gunderson is still alive and well teaching philosophy at the University of Minnesota, and more importantly still writing. His bio on the back of the book says that he taught philosophy at UCLA from 1964-67. With his young family he spent a good deal of time exploring the oceanic environs of southern California, picnicking by Zuma Beach or wandering around the Santa Monica Pier absorbing its circus variety of sights and sounds. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! He also apparently wrote a follow up called “Inland Missing the Sea” which appeared together with it in a later version.
[Edit: Since this review was published in 2011, Keith Gunderson passed away in 2013 at the age of 78. RIP]
The Beginning of the End of All That is Good
By Brandon Adamson
When I was a child,
things in life would be good for a long while,
and then it would end(my goodness!)
As a young teenager,
things would end just as they were getting good,
or so my feeble mind wagered at the time.
In my young adulthood,
things tended to end as I thought
they were about to begin to get good.
Amidst the present tensions,
good things seem to end even before they begin
leaving little time to wonder
what might have been.
In the future then,
all things will begin to end.
At the used book store in the Milwaukee Airport in 1988, I made my mom buy me a book called “Winning Through Intimidation” mainly because, as a little kid, I liked the illustrations and was drawn to the cool looking turtle on the front cover.
I kept this book under my pillow(along with about 8 other books) and used to read it before falling asleep. I have no idea how much I was able to actually comprehend. Despite it’s title, this book is actually about how to avoid being intimidated, not just by people, but by life itself. With it’s cynical world view, and humorous anecdotes, the principles are timeless and can be applied to almost any situation. I revisited this book recently while in the bathtub and found that I had unknowingly(subconsciously) adopted many of the methods and attitudes promoted in this book(page 7 for example:)
Theory of Sustenance of a Positive Attitude Through the Assumption of a Negative Result
a. Prepare yourself for long-term success by being prepared for short-term failure
b. A person shouldn’t enter a sales situation feeling he can’t make the sale, but he should realistically assume that he won’t make the sale. If you’re prepared, then you’re able to feel confident that you are capable of making the sale if it is possible to be made. Hope for the best, but realistically assume the worst.
c. No matter how well prepared you are, only a small percentage of deals actually close, because there are an endless number of factors beyond your control.
d. Each negative result is an educational experience from which you can extract lessons learned, and then forget about the negative result.
How many times have I gone into a romantic situation enthusiastically while at the same time knowing it was likely to be a complete fucking disaster?(see the entry below this one.) I’m pretty sure it’s been every time, for a long time.
“Winning Through Intimidation” came out in 1973, and was remarkably a self-published book which became a #1 best seller. The Author, Robert Ringer, is still around, http://www.robertringer.com. I’ve always been obsessed with both rabbits and turtles. Indeed, my moniker on the internet was “rabbit” in the early days of the internet(after the main character in John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run which has always been a personal favorite.) The white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was my favorite character as well. Yet, truth be told I identify more with the tortoise. In fact one of my ex girlfriends used to refer to me as a turtle, mainly due to how slow I was to commit and allow the relationship to progress. Though I might also argue that my incredible patience with her and protective shell to deflect her blows were the real turtle-like qualities. Friends I have had in the music and art world have never understood why I released things so cheaply and never followed the so called natural steps to achieve fame, fortune and notoriety. “How will you ever become popular if you don’t play live.” “Don’t you want to tour and get a record deal?” You have to do this. You have to do that to make it, Brandon.” All they thought about was the short term, concerned with doing whatever they could to get ahead quickly. When I started recording music in the late 90′s, I may have lived under some of those illusions, but I was looking 20 or 30 years ahead. My goal was to release as many works and small projects as I could, with an eye on what their cumulative effect would be as opposed to their individual immediate impact(which I had no illusions about.) Just put something out, any way you can, don’t push it too hard or give a rats ass what anyone thinks, and move on to the next project. Each is just a piece of some gigantic narcissistic puzzle of my life. Is it the best way to create things and live? I can’t really say I know for sure. It is this tortoise’s way though.
Robert Ringer adopted The Tortoise as his alter ego in his first book, because so many of the anecdotes in that autobiographical work were reminiscent of the legendary tortoise-and-hare tale. The Tortoise is the unglamorous plodder who always seems to find a way to come out ahead, no matter how harshly life treats him along the way. He isn’t flashy or impressive; his strengths are consistency, perseverance, resiliency, and resourcefulness. He’s the kind of reptile who, upon being told that he can’t play in someone’s game, simply goes out and starts his own league.
The Tortoise is the quintessential antihero, reflected in such characters as Ben Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), the shy, stuttering boyfriend in The Graduate; or Colombo, the fumbling, stumbling detective played by Peter Falk in the old TV series of the same name, slow when it came to figuring things out, but always catching the villain in the end; or Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in the Rocky film series, the late starter who overcame all odds to become world heavyweight champion.
The Tortoise is the ultimate icon of perseverance, the reptile who demonstrates that the outcome of most situations in life are decided over the long term. His motto succinctly sums up his view of the world:
Quickly getting out of the starting blocks may get people’s attention, but all that counts is where you are when the race is over.
“Maybe I’ll be seeing you around the jungle sometime.”
As a side note, given that this book came out in 1973, there are some hilarious parts in “boy-girl theory and “better deal theory” sections relating to how a woman can sell herself as a potential wife to a man(and vice versa.) Now after all these years I finally recognize where my views on relationships as business partnerships originated. It was as a prepubescent boy at the airport in 1988, picking up a copy of “Winning Through Intimidation.” The butterfly effect, anyone?
A post-apocalyptic ghost town. That’s what Mill Ave seems to resemble these days as I stroll down it, making my routine stops to the few remaining establishments that I have any remote interest in (Old Town Books, Slices, and Mojo Frozen Yogurt.) Vacant retail spaces once occupied by monolithic chain stores like The Gap, Borders, Abercrombie, and (most recently) American Apparel, remain dormant…waiting for the next sucker to brave the astronomical rent prices to get a piece of that coveted “college kid” demographic.
I don’t have quite the fond memories that others share of the so called “good old days of Mill Ave,” which may be because when I started hanging out there it was 1997 and 1998, and the area had already begun it’s decline. In fact, during those days, going to Mill Ave was a totally depressing experience for me. It was flooded with those annoying ghetto street racers, bumping Power 92.3 in their lowered Honda CRX’s and modified Mitsubishi Eclipses. Not that I don’t have an appreciation for automobile racing(I’m a bit a crazy driver myself,) but only if we’re talking about 60′s muscle cars, grand prix, or Steve McQueen. Indeed, not some quasi-horde of mid 90′s riff raff wearing those “Boss” T shirts(the ones with huge writing on them) or rocking Tommy Hilfiger jackets and speaking in ebonic tongues. Though I will confess to owning two pieces of Tommy Hilfiger clothing in 1997 which were purchased solely for the purpose of attracting normal girls and repelling the sort of mousy, alternative, train wreck chicks that would have mistaken me for one of their own at the time.
In the spring of 1998 I used to wander down mill ave nightly, handing out crappy 4 track cassette tapes to unsuspecting victims. I always hear people talk about Long Wongs, Gibson’s, Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop as the epitome of a lost golden era of Tempe. In my mind though, the Tempe I remember, while it certainly included those elements(I saw Buck O’ Nine at Gibson’s and MXPX at the Electric Ballroom in 1997) the ambiance was much more gangster, machismo, and hip hop oriented than what one would have expected on an episode of “Party of Five” or Melrose Place Soundtrack. I recall long lines of hoochies and thugs stretched outside Club 411. The scene was thriving though. And most importantly, the things you were looking for could be found if you knew where to go and could filter out all the nattering nabobs of negativism.
Speaking of negativity, when will they finally get around to doing something about the aggressive bums? Downtown Tempe has always seemed to be a magnet for the most ungrateful and obnoxious homeless people I have ever encountered. Avoiding eye contact, harassment, and annoying interaction with Mill Ave homeless people is an integral part of the Tempe experience. A friend of mine once joked that avoiding the bums on mill was likened to the game “Plinko” from The Price of Right. I occasionally entertain fantasies of “The Scoops” from Soylent Green coming and swooping them all up to be taken away to some waste management facility. Not that it’s cool to bag on the homeless, but let’s face it, the “Mill Ave Street kids” are not boat people from Cambodia or South Vietnam. They’re mostly lazy underachievers from suburban homes in the East Valley.
I did have some interesting times in Tempe. I used to play Tekken at Sweet Daddy’s Arcade(where Fascinations adult store is now?) on their big screen version. One time I played against a homeless dude who smelled so bad that I let him win and take over the machine just to get away from him. There is no denying that there used to be a plethora of live music clubs, and they were quite good. Electric Ballroom, Gibson’s and Nita’s Hideaway were my own personal favorites.
Tempe has been poised to make a comeback for a few years now, which seems to have been rudely interrupted by the real estate crash. The ruins of an unfinished condo tower loom high overhead, the developer of which committed suicide. Slowly, there have been interesting developments in Tempe. The Valley Art Theater is back in full swing, and the new Madcap Theaters venue replaced the old Harkins and shows cool vintage and campy films. The Fixx Coffee bar opened up where an internet cafe used to be. All the ghetto clubs have mostly been replaced by sexified pop music bars for the Sponge Bob Squarepants and Teletubbies generation. The college douchebags in their brodozers are still around, but as long as ASU is there, they will be too. Artists are slowly creeping back into the city, since word is getting out that you can sell on the street. I’m not into the whole “Tempe vs. Phoenix” rivalry. I love Phoenix and Downtown Scottsdale as well. It would be great to see Tempe complete its transformation from Mad Max style bartertown and 90′s Hippie wasteland to a 21st century, cosmopolitan art destination. Ready, set, go.