The Little Stuff Doesn’t Work

I used to eat a lot at McDonald’s. Right now I can taste a quarter pounder if I think about it. The fries became less satisfying over time, but the food was always consistent, and back before the chainification of America this was important. I remember eating roast beef outside of Yellowstone back in ’74. Tasted like that shoe Charlie Chaplin consumed in “The Gold Rush.” And when you’re alone, in the middle of nowhere, in the pre-cellphone era, that’s pretty depressing.

Now the reason I bring this up is because I ate at Mickey D’s so much that I knew more about ordering than the people who worked there. I always wanted to jump over the counter and key my own order in. Even when they went to pictures, the clerks couldn’t do it. Even more depressing were the should-be retireds not only taking your order, but sweeping up. You looked at them and wondered if that could be you. I know a number of people who are living on social security, still in their sixties, what are they gonna make it on in their nineties? Life is long, wait until you’re seventy to take social security. Because if you live past your mid-eighties, the crossover point, and you probably will, the extra cash will make a difference.

So yesterday I had a flat tire.

Now in the old days, you’d have a full-sized spare. I changed the tire on my BMWs numerous times. But now you’ve got a donut if you’re lucky. Some new cars come without a spare at all, just an inflation kit, to get you to the next stop. As for BMWs, they’ve got run-flats, which cost a ton to replace, but you can still drive on them. I no longer drive a BMW, I’ve got a donut, but I didn’t think I’d need it.

Monday I parked on a hill. You know, with the car leaning sideways. I saw the rear tire looked low. But today, tires are so low-profile that you’re not always sure they’re flat. And these low-profile tires give a worse ride, but they look cool!

Now I would have taken the dirt road into the trailhead, but there were potholes and I was worried because of these low-profile tires that I’d bend a rim, never mind puncture a tire.

But I have OCD, I’m always looking for problems.

So the next day, yesterday, I’m driving on the freeway and when I drive over the Botts Dots, I hear a thump, louder than usual, I chalk it up to my radio being turned down low.

I made a stop.

And then an hour later I went to my next appointment, parked, and the tire still looked flat, I realized I had to take action.

That’s another facet of the modern world, you’ve got no time, everything’s squeezed together, one problem screws up your whole day.

But at least we have Uber and Lyft. Used to be you were stuck completely. Now I was worried whether I’d have to use one of these two ride-hailing apps to get to Hollywood for my Sirius XM show.

I had an hour, wherein I planned to read the papers. I wanted to go to lunch, but there wasn’t quite enough time. I had it all figured out. I’d finish this appointment, drive to Hollywood to beat the traffic, eat lunch and then do my radio show. But the older you get, the more you realize plans are worthless. You can lay it out, but it rarely goes down that way. Our smartphones are seamless, but the world they exist in is not.

So I figured I’d drive to the Pep Boys nearby. Maybe they could fix the tire in the interim.

They said it would take an hour and a half. That would work, assuming it was true.

And so I called a Lyft, since they were proffering a discount, and engaged in a conversation with the driver. Which I enjoy, but sometimes I don’t want to do, but I feel guilty if I don’t. And then I start thinking about the tip. Travis Kalanick had it right, the price should be the price. Raise it, I’ll pay it, I don’t know any better, there’s no comparison shopping. But now, from the time I get into a car I’m worried about it. Danny Meyer gets rid of tipping in his restaurants but Uber succumbs to the blowback and institutes tipping. Everybody blinks in response to public pressure when they should not.

And there’s a new law in California, having to do with independent contactors. To avoid its drivers being classified as employees, Uber no longer gives a final price, but a range. I could explain the legalities, but that’s not my point. Uber used to be seamless, the price was the price. But now? As for those complaining about the gig economy, you have to realize most Uber and Lyft drivers are now professionals, doing it full-time, making fifty plus grand a year. I know, because I quizzed them. They like doing it, even though they’re working twelve hours a day, six days a week. And they like it because their previous jobs were so heinous or disappeared. This does not mean there’s not a problem with the gig economy, but let’s stop talking about bringing manufacturing back and give well-paying service jobs to the populace. That’s today, the focus is always taken off the main issues. People want to work. And they want to be able to pay their bills.

So while I’m at my next appointment, the phone rings, I’ve ruined the tire.

I’m always paranoid about that. Even more the rim. In the old days, tires would go completely flat, you’d know. But today?

I was driving to Pep Boys and I was worrying about this. Should I stop and inflate the tire half a mile away or keep rolling? Last time I stopped and saved the tire, this time I did not. Then again, last time they said the tire needed to be replaced, the tread was too low, so maybe I didn’t really save it.

And now you get into the warranty… “Consumer Reports,” everybody tells you not to buy the warranty, because no one gets a flat. But I just did. And since the tire needs to be replaced, it’ll be pro-rated.

But they don’t have the tire in stock, Rodrigo said it would come this morning.

But Rodrigo did not tell me he was not working today.

So I called and got Gus, he said my car was ready.

So I called a Lyft.

But the problem is, Lyft drivers are trying to save money, so they all have T-Mobile, maybe Sprint, and as a result their phones don’t work in the hills. So, once they get near my neighborhood, signal drops out, you don’t know if they’re near or far, and you don’t want to keep them waiting, you might get a bad rating.

And my driver was Mary, usually they’re men, almost always foreigners. (Once again, who else is gonna do this job? But immigrants are the enemy!)

Mary eventually showed up.

But her phone had no signal, so I gave her directions.

But she wouldn’t believe me.

And then it turned out she was Russian and really didn’t speak English.

I told her I knew the route, and when she got to the freeway, her phone would come back to life.

She didn’t believe me, she turned her phone off and on twice as she crawled along.

End result? She lost the ride.

So I’m giving her directions. Meanwhile I’m on the phone. And then she pulls over in the middle of Sepulveda.

She starts talking but I don’t get it. This is before I recognize the language problem. I tell her to turn down the radio, but she doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Finally, I get it. I tell her not to worry, I’m in the car, I’ll pay cash.

Meanwhile, the Lyft system is sending another car to my home. But that guy Cody also has a cheap cellphone provider and I can’t reach him to cancel. I keep calling and calling. I text and text. Now I hear from Lyft that he’s gonna be outside and I should be waiting. Finally I get Cody on the phone and cancel the ride.

Meanwhile, Mary hands me her phone, because she can’t understand me. She wants me to enter the Pep Boys address. WAZE is in Russian.

Now she’s on the wrong side of the freeway. We’ve got to switch to the 10, but she’s in the number one lane of the 405. I have to throw off my phone call for the second time, I tell her to get to the right, she eventually makes it. We arrive at Pep Boys, thank god I’ve got correct change.

So I go in to pick up my car. The guy is not wearing a uniform. Which makes me suspicious. Actually, it takes five minutes for me to find him, the desk is unmanned. He’s got a haircut like the Weeknd, flopping almost down to his eyes, he’s got a neck tattoo, he’s nice, but he’s clueless.

Before I pay the bill I want to know how they arrived at the number. I got sixty percent off on the new tire, but they charged me almost fifty bucks to install it. Watcha gonna do?

But after I pay, and they print out the paperwork, I ask this guy to go line by line, I want to make sure I’ve still got a warranty on this new tire.

And I see a line that says ninety day balance. Well, I’ve got lifetime balance, rotation and alignment, I don’t want to get stuck further down the road.

He keeps saying I’m wrong until he realizes I’m right, uttering acronyms I don’t understand along the way. He says he’s got to call his boss, the aforementioned Gus.

Gus tells him the bill is wrong, to give me a free oil change to make up for it.

I don’t want a free oil change.

Mr. Weeknd doesn’t have the password, so I’ve got to wait for Gus to come back from lunch, it’s supposed to be fifteen minutes, could be an hour. And I start wondering if it’s worth it, to wait, for the money. But I could envision the future, driving up with a flat in that same tire, them charging me to repair it and balance it, and I did not want to be ripped-off when it wasn’t my fault.

So I go in the waiting room.

The TV is on. Everywhere the TV is on. It’s like no one can read, we all have to watch inane television while we’re waiting.

There’s only one other guy there, he’s not watching, I figure I’ll take control, turn the volume down. I go up to the set, but it has no buttons, few do anymore.

So now I need the remote control. Usually establishments hide it, they don’t want you messing with the volume, stealing the remote.

But I found it and turned down the TV and got back on my call for the third time.

Gus arrived early actually.

Then he started blaming it on me.

Didn’t Rodrigo tell you how much it would cost?


Didn’t this new guy go through every line before you paid?


But you definitely want the oil change, it’s a better deal.


So I owe you $18, $16.99 plus $2.50, right?

Well, no. First, explain what you’re refunding on the paperwork.

He can’t do that.

So we’re back to the eighteen bucks. And I tell him that $16.99 plus $2.50 is actually $19.49. Is he ripping me off or can he not add? Both!

So he tells me to put my card into the reader for a refund and…

Then he needs to change the cash register tape. Only he does not know how to do it.

So he calls over the young ‘un, who eventually has to peel away stuck tape for the better part of five minutes.

But after installing a new wheel of tape, it doesn’t print.

And this is just about the time I realize the young ‘un didn’t give me a receipt the first time around.

So Gus tells me he can’t print a receipt.

Okay, I’ll live with that, even though I don’t want to. But can he print out another work order to keep in my glove box, the other one going into the file in my office?


Only he can’t.

He can’t make the printer work. He tries over and over again. Then he just hands me Pep Boys’ work order.

Do I think Pep Boys was intentionally screwing me?

No. I think it was just ineptitude. But one reason I did not want the oil change is I knew they’d try and upsell me. That’s how these outfits make their money, go in for a minor repair and they’ll scare you into more work you don’t need, and I’m a paranoid guy, I fall for it.

So, what we’ve got is a legion of undertrained, inefficient workers. How could the bosses let them do the job?

Because it’s a corporation and those at the top need to get rich, and turnover is so heavy they don’t care about the employees anyway.

And the employees don’t care about the job, because they don’t make enough money.

Talk about the American worker.

And our best laid plans fall by the wayside, this happens every week, you’ve got to build in time to deal with the system. The products are better than the people, which is why I’m always wary of a person touching my stuff, they usually screw it up.

So, in an ever more automated world, we’re dealing with the same damn problems.

People, you can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em.

Modern Marketing

It’s a feeling.

The aughts are over. You remember, the viral era. When something got started online and passed amongst your peers until you found out about it. There are just too many messages today. So how do you get your point across these days? MONEY!

This is the lesson of Michael Bloomberg, how he could go from mostly unknown to a fait accompli in the minds of many. He created a feeling. You saw his ads and heard about him everywhere, sprinkle in a bit of pundit prognosticating and suddenly he went from nowhere to double digit polls.

This is what major labels do today.

Used to be, even in the aforementioned aughts, if you did something great, people would find out about it. Those days are now history. Sure, every once in a while a new fad comes out of nowhere, like TikTok, but then those with money pounce on it. You cannot have a marketing meeting today without a discussion of TikTok, the major labels are all over it.

So what this means is what the majors market you become aware of, you get a feeling that it’s happening and you check it out. And that’s the hardest part, getting someone to indulge, spend some time checking out your item.

And one vertical, one appearance, no longer matters. Unless maybe it’s on the Super Bowl. Trump’s appeal to African-American voters got traction, then again, Bloomberg’s spot was only a speck in his overall advertising campaign. In other words, if you believe an appearance on late night TV is gonna move the needle, you’re sorely mistaken. And Bloomberg has proven not only do you have to invade television, but the internet, and you have to employ the latest internet techniques to further your campaign, like the creation of memes. Sure, Bloomberg’s effort may be ham-fisted, but the Republicans have been employing meme-makers for years. And the great thing about online traction is it spreads faster than marketing in old media, i.e. print and television. If it catches fire, it can be spread instantly, at no cost, with no friction.

But it costs a lot to get started.

Hell, look at Lil Nas X. He seemed to be well-known before he made his Sony deal. But it was Sony who made him a household name, who raised his profile to the point he was in a Super Bowl commercial.

But it didn’t cost Lil Nas X much to get started!

That’s true. He’s the outlier. But big money created the specious campaign about country radio rejecting “Old Town Road,” previous to that most people had never heard of the track, never mind heard it.

But most products, most songs, are not that unique, not that ground-breaking. Furthermore, “Old Town Road” was the first TikTok success.

Remember when Radiohead put out “In Rainbows”? Just a post was enough. Now, if you’re lucky, a post reaches your diehard fans.

As for social media marketing?

It only reaches a subsection of your diehard fans. There is no virality.

But if you look at Harry’s, you know, the razor blade/shaving company, you’ll remember that online ads were everywhere, to the point you became aware, and then when it became a business story…

Sure, you can get all this notoriety, create a feeling and end up with a turntable hit, something that people are aware of that generates no money, but one thing is for sure, today’s marketing is inefficient, there are no slam-dunks.

So established companies promote what is obvious, they don’t want to waste time creating the new and trying to convince people, it’s just too difficult. Which is why major labels promote rap and hip-hop. And, of course the market gets skewed, only rap and hip-hop get that feeling around them, everything that does not fit in those categories just floats in the backwater, when you hear about it you reject it as something niche, for true believers, who may have their heads up their tushies.

But, it gets even worse, with no filter, with no standard of excellence, a lot of what is created and promoted in the niches is crap, further pushing that genre down, creating the feeling that it is not happening.

And since it is not happening, those people interested in money, the professionals, abandon it or don’t even start. Sure, the Beatles drove the culture, got girls, but they also made money. Which wasn’t so easy to do if you were a youngster sans education. Prior to this you became a professional, a doctor or a lawyer, the same way you became a banker or a tech entrepreneur, both of which professions are now long in the tooth.

Yes, marketers believe their product is forever, until suddenly it isn’t.

And the public knows it’s over before the marketers, but it takes a long time for people to get the feeling. And oftentimes it is a feeling, not facts. Especially in a world where facts are fungible.

Attention is not enough. People just can’t see it, although that’s better than being ignored. At some point the synapses of the public must fire, they must feel that they’re missing out, that they’ve got to check something out. Which is why today acts are nowhere for years and then suddenly everywhere, like Lizzo.

So, if there’s no money in an endeavor, chances are there will continue to be none unless someone spends money marketing it everywhere, with a sustained campaign. And this really only works, the monied really only invest, when what is outside is so different, so great, so irresistible, that if people only experienced it, they’d love it.

Which is why marketing is not enough. Which is why everything has to connect instantly. No one’s got the time to go deep, not unless they’ve been convinced previously, are already a fan.

But it’s not always a hook. Sometimes the sound is so different, so intriguing, that that is what draws people to it. But you’ve got to be willing to push the envelope.

And Billie Eilish is certainly different. But all insiders, and many outsiders, know it was about the cash, that Interscope nurtured the act for years.

But this is the exception, in a world where no one has ownership, everybody wants their bonus, everybody can’t wait while something percolates in the market, they want it now.

But the consumer is different. The consumer has all the time in the world for what intrigues them. Which is what TV bingeing is all about, never mind podcasts and videogaming. If you strike a vein, if you really connect, people will dedicate themselves more than they ever did, spending more time and money. But too many focus on reaching new customers as opposed to satiating the old. First and foremost, you must feed your base, they are your evangelists, they help spread the word, they’re marketing 24/7 because they believe. So put out new material, fans want new. But don’t give up on the penumbra, the world at large, but it’s gonna take money. And only the big cats have it.

Today’s Trump

You’ve got to be rich.

And it always comes down to who you know.

No one is willing to sacrifice anymore. Latest example? The Nevada Culinary Union. They bargained for a blue chip health care plan. Screw those who have inferior plans, or no plan at all. I’ve got mine, AND SCREW YOU!

How did it come to this? How is it that Americans drive gas-guzzling SUVs, which handle worse than cars, and are less safe than cars, and will kill those not driving SUVs, while the media excoriates electric cars, which even the auto industry admits are coming. Yes, if you follow the car business, you know that Volkswagen has doubled-down on electric vehicles. BMW cut back, and now they’re behind. And Tesla is winning not only because it’s cool, but it has the best technology, the best battery packs, the longest range! But we need to believe in the usual suspects, like GM, Ford and Chrysler, all of which have a long history of crashing after lining their pockets “giving the people what they want.”

It all comes down to marketing.

Which is how Michael Bloomberg went from zero to hero.

Because anybody with something does not want to sacrifice. Doesn’t want to be at risk of losing whatsoever.

And the media, the talking heads, the pundits, the opinion columnists, who are upper middle class if not outright rich, lobby for the status quo themselves. Because it works for them. They don’t want a renegade, they might lose their position.

But Donald Trump won by being a renegade. By talking about how the government does not work and the game is rigged.

The government has issues, but one thing’s for sure, the game is rigged.

Let’s see, all the people Trump pardoned/commuted today… It’s not like they had public defenders, it’s not like they didn’t have the right to appeal, they were convicted, fair and square, there’s a system, based on laws, and if you sacrifice the law…you’ve got chaos.

Which is what we’ve got today.

The automakers don’t want to lower fuel economy standards because they’re fearful of California. Sure, they’d like them to be brought down, but what if a Democrat wins and they’re pushed back up!

No one knows what’s gonna happen.

It is not business as usual.

But one thing is for certain, if you’re not rich, you don’t count, you have no voice.

Because they don’t want to let you have one.

Oh, they’ll let you call in to talk shows, they’ll get you fighting about secondary issues, but they won’t let you challenge the system, which is imperfect but works just fine for them.

You should watch Hasan Minhaj on obesity:

How America Is Causing Global Obesity | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj

Americans are not fat because they’re lazy, unable to make good choices…no, they’re fat because big food wants them that way. First and foremost by the use of corn syrup, i.e. fructose, as opposed to the more expensive sugar. Got to keep those farmers voting Republican!

And as you will see in the Minhaj show, these big companies are not only fattening Americans, but Mexicans and Samoans… They get the law changed to their advantage, and they blame the consequences on YOU!

That’s today’s America, it’s your fault you’re not rich, it’s your fault you’ve got cancer.

Which brings me to last night’s John Oliver show, wherein he makes the case for Medicare for all:

Medicare for All: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Oliver goes through all the negative talking points, blows them away, and if you’re not for Medicare for all after you watch this, you’re greedy or, like members of the Culinary Union, have a blue chip policy.

But there can be no change.

But change happens. The last twenty years have been all about change. Digital disruption. It’s always outsiders with a creaky new way that is cheap and pooh-poohed that ultimately triumphs and kills what came before. Why can’t this happen in politics?


I’ll vote for any Democrat against Trump. But I must say, the DNC and the media are bending over backward to hand it to Michael Bloomberg. Today the polls came out and the stories were all about Bloomberg’s surge, when Sanders surged way ahead of the field.

Selective reporting.

It used to be different. There was the Fairness Doctrine, making sure the limited news outlets presented both sides.

And if you owned a megaphone, a newspaper, TV or radio station, you were powerful.

You’re less powerful today.

Those in power, the elite, hate technology, even though they selectively use it. I listened to NPR tonight wherein they sang the virtues of the independent bookstore, saying the digital book was neutered. But the sycophantic host even admitted he showroomed the Ron Chernow book on Ulysses S. Grant and bought the digital copy, because the physical book was just too heavy.

This is the establishment, they like it how it was, even though it’s no longer this way.

I get it if you’re a member of the Republican elite. The money and perks have always flowed upward. But the Democratic elite? They have contempt for those below them, believe they know better, spread their own disinformation in pursuit of their goals. There can be change, just as long as they don’t lose out.

And you wonder why the rank and file voted for Trump.

So it all comes down to hope. If Bloomberg is elected, we’ll get rid of the orange menace. But will the fundamental problems of this country be addressed? Of course not, because Bloomberg doesn’t even know how the hoi polloi live.

So Blagojevich broke the law. We don’t want our elected officials selling Senate seats. But we live in a country where our President can lean on Ukraine to neuter the campaign of Joe Biden, which he successfully did!

Mitt Romney did the right thing, and he was excoriated by the right, but…they still love him in Utah, because their society is built on the family and helping one another, morality.

Bernard Kerik was caught red-handed, as was Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. Commit a blue collar crime and you’re screwed, there’s a camera everywhere, you’re going up the river. But white collar crime is seen as less bad, these are good people, we don’t want to ruin their lives, like the judge said in the Stanford rape case. SO WHY DID THEY DO THIS?

That’s what you’ve got to ask. These people thought they were invulnerable, they’d been getting away with bending the rules for years, it’s just that this time they got caught. Whereas you’re lucky if you can get probation on the first offense.

So there’s a different legal system for the rich and poor. And unlike in the old days, the rich no longer worry about the optics. Trump doesn’t care how it looks, Kerik working with the Donald’s henchman Giuliani, Blagojevich appearing on “The Apprentice,” he just does what he feels like, with a vengeance, vindictively.

Susan Collins told us Trump learned a lesson…yeah, that he can do whatever he wants!

As for those who support him, it’s less about him than the tribe on the other side. They hate Democrats so much, they’ll endorse the behavior of any Republican, just ask the evangelicals.

So if you live online, you see contrary opinions.

But big media has told us it’s all cranks and their opinions don’t count. Meanwhile, Breitbart and the Daily Caller got Trump elected. Who cares about veracity, that demonstrates power.

And although the right decries authoritarianism in China, it refuses to publicize any story it doesn’t agree with, that doesn’t reinforce its position.

So, you can be an outsider, you can have the illusion of power, because you vote.

But for the first time in my life I’m starting to wonder if it matters. If we organize and come up with a contrary candidate, our own opinion, they shut us right down. Bernie Sanders is a socialist who loves Russia and will ruin the economy, after eliminating Democratic coattails.

Meanwhile, Trump is a guy who really loves Putin, and endorses/enables socialism for the rich, with low taxes, the carried interest rule, government handouts, but somehow that’s different.

It isn’t about Bernie Sanders the man, it’s about what he’s saying, telling the truth in a world where that is abhorred. The everyday person got screwed, and the playing field must be leveled, while everybody is taken care of while they get back on their feet.

But those on both the right and left say this can’t be so. Change must be gradual, and you know there can’t be change because the government is gridlocked, and you’re asking the impossible anyway.

Meanwhile, let’s hand the nomination to a billionaire who just recently was a Republican, who changed the law so he could serve a third term as mayor, who made the elites feel safe while his police force threw those less privileged up against the wall.

But that’s overlooked. Even the sexism. Because this is the guy the elites want, because he’ll just be the anti-Trump, who cares if he gets anything done.

And their plan is working. I was with three twentysomethings just now, all were Bernie fans, now they’re behind Bloomberg, the media has convinced them, they’re defeated. Even though it’s their future at risk.

So what we’ve found is despite our numbers, we ain’t got much power. Even if Bernie Sanders wins a primary, he loses. The owners of this country want it this way.

As for Michael Milken… Wasn’t he the first guy to make so much money on Wall Street? Isn’t he evidence of the basic problem? By pardoning him aren’t we endorsing this kind of behavior, especially if you employ your riches that remain for good causes?

It’s depressing. And everybody is telling us we know nothing and should do what they say. And however it plays out, they’re not gonna lose, but we are.

Meanwhile, we’re fighting each other for scraps and most have no idea how the game is really played anyway. Everybody believes they’re gonna be a successful entrepreneur, become a billionaire. Someone else did it, so why can’t they?

Because that other person had wealthy parents who gave them the best education at institutions where you can make relationships that pay dividends down the road. You never had a chance. And today, both parties are doing their best to snuff whatever light, whatever hope remains, out.

And you wonder why there’s a rash of suicides.

Road Songs-SiriusXM This Week

Tune in tomorrow, Tuesday February 18th, to Volume 106, 7 PM East, 4 PM West.

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Twitter: @lefsetz or @siriusxmvolume/#lefsetzlive

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