All posts by Giacomo

#makeParades GreatAgain

“A procession is a participants’ journey, while a parade is a performance with an audience.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I have been very vocal of my love for a parade. The earliest memories that come to mind are from my hometown growing up in Oakland, NJ. I was real young then. Maybe 6. Maybe. I recall the blaring of firetrucks. Marching bands. An Olympic torch running through town. People yelling and screaming, waving American flags. I think there was even a photo of me in the paper, holding a sign of some sort. Not sure. The energy that day was infectious, and forever coursed through my veins. I live for these “large displays of affection” if you will.

Since this time I have made it a personal journey to explore numerous celebrations, or create them. During my first life as an ad guy, there was much pleasure to be had in the campaigns that involved real life events as opposed to just the printed piece. Making the content was always the fun part so to speak, whether that was holding an indoor triathlon or just something as simple as a photoshoot for a car, there was a tangible aura that kept me going. I loved it. Needed it.

Over the years Philly gave me many, many experiences so powerful, they will forever feul my desire for celebration. Winning a World Series after decades (yes, I’m a Mets fan, but so what). Being first on scene as over 1 MILLION plus people storm a 4 block area downtown in a flurry of tension release. Highly recommend. (Todd Frazier’s Homerun Derby win was a very close second) The second moment, that happens more frequently than Philly championship wins, thank god, is the Mummers Day parade. Now, you’ve never heard of it. Pretty sure. The Mummers is like secret code that you are actually from Philadelphia. For some reason it never really goes national, barely has a reach into the surrounding states, and yet has thrived and grown for well over 100 years. It’s also a much debated “love it or hate it” topic among Philadelphians, but thats a separate article entirely. The mummers parade is a celebration on New Years Day. That takes up the whole day. And a good chunk of the city. It’s considered a folk parade, but has serious Mardis Gras influences. There is much legend and mystique about it, but as someone that lived off 2 street, heard them practice for days and days and days on end, I can tell you (even after having recently been to Mardis Gras) nothing beats their levels of creativity and spirit.

To me, as an artist of…some kind….it’s beautiful. These groups aren’t classically trained. The participants don’t go to art schools, or take classes. Most of the “clubs” are housed in south Philly, home of many a labor union. Electricians. Plumbers. Contractors. Each member has shared decades of tradition, and handed down skills for the next generation to follow and add to. The clubs push each other to innovate in friendly competition. They want the mummer tradition to survive, to add to the weird culture of their home. Entire families get involved in what I can only describe as the largest, longest craft project in history. it’s a 364 day choreographed dance, the likes and logistics of which I have never seen. Until, that is, I visited New Orleans.

Now, this is a separate animal. Much like, you simply cannot compare New York City to any argument or debate with other cities. Nola has this celebration shit down. And on lock. The cliff notes of Carnevalé is, 12 days after Christmas it begins, and they party and purge everyday up until Fat Tuesday, the day right before Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. There are a solid 2 weeks of parades, in almost every neighborhood about town. Yes. Parades. Everyday. For 2 weeks. Now, this prompted much research, and quite frankly deserves an Orwellian sized novel it’s so cool, but again, the energy about this massive release of debauchery cannot be understated.

Cut scene to Cincinnati. The much nationally considered city as the driver of the struggle bus. To be fair, many blue state residents don’t particularly consider anything of value to come from ANY city outside of their collective interstate, nonetheless, Cincy in particular along with Cleveland is the butt of many jokes. But personally one cannot judge until one experiences, and living and visiting are two different things. I have lived here, officially, for 5.5 years now. Still an immigrant, but well ingrained in the psyche of a city. One I can wholeheartedly say is broken. (que hisses)

Cincy has it’s celebrations. They are, based on size, Opening Day, Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincy, Northside 4th of July, Midpoint, Bunbury, Beerfest, Bockfest, countless other festivals (sausagefest, goettafest, Italianfest). Now, there are festivals, and then there are celebrations. Some add to the cultural foundation of a city. They need time to grow by seeding the notion that a visitor could live in said city to continue on a journey of learning and giving back to said culture. Some, just put butts in the seats. I’ll leave it to you to decide which celebrations here leave that lasting impact, but I can tell you the one that should. Bockfest. The cliff note of Bockfest, it’s the celebration of the coming of spring and the beginning of the fast by many a monk who chose to drink Bock beer to sustain themselves. So, it’s not unlike Mardis Gras. “Hey guys we have to get all Christian tomorrow, so let’s have some fun first.”

When I first moved to Cincy and stumbled upon this weird little party, my celebration sense tingled. I couldn’t wait till the next year where I’d figure out how to be involved in the parade itself. So for the next three years I was. Building parade floats is an extremely daunting experience. Requires many hands. A fair bit of money. And many, many long hours. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. And probably some of the most stressful work I’ve ever done. Logistically it’s a nightmare. Short time frames. Limited budgets. Lack of workspace. A multitude of skill sets needed for production. Not fun. But when the pieces come together, and you are finally taking that mere 10 minute walk. It’s lightning in a bottle.

Unfortunately, bottles break. I cannot express emotionally, how far you can fall, when you are feeling so high. Positives turn to negatives, and sometimes you just need a break. So for my first time here in Cincy, I had absolutely nothing to do with Bockfest this year. Not a single beer. Not a single brat. I just worked at a slew of places not even mentioned in any Bockfest literature. Being on the outside was interesting. I can’t tell you haw many, “so what the hell is going on?” questions I had to field over that weekend. “Really?” I would think to myself. Is Cincy still that disjointed that it doesn’t know about Bockfest? A celebration happening in it’s own backyard. A celebration it can literally call it’s own. Something that defines it’s nature. It’s history. Because that is what this place is severely lacking.

Years, a story does not make. The path this city has followed, like many midwest cities, is a lethargic one. Not rooted in any particular cultural battles. just a simple industrial town, nothing to see here folks kind of place. I’d put it right up there with middle child syndrome, not the first and certainly not the last. Oft feeling forgotten but truth is that it is self imposed. Cincinnatians are too humble for their own good. Too many non-followers rather than participants. And too stubborn in thinking. OTR needs more from the creative community (what little there is here, it’s just unaffordable), especially in regards to Bockfest. By many means it is still an OTR celebration and institution. But the 52 neighborhoods here remain divided. That comes from a culture of segregated thinking, not a unified goal. Sure, everyone can come together for Opening Day, as they crowd the streets of Central Business District. OTR residents know the streets up here are a lot more clear, and safe despite what may have happened here 15 years ago. But surely a “coming of spring festival” is something we can all agree on. Something we can all make great.

Cincy needs a little moxie. My dream for Bockfest? Each neighborhood puts together an “Order.” An order in this case is like a club (mummers) or krewe (mardi gras). These neighborhoods use what they got, school/local bands, warehouses, small business support. They organize starting the week after Bockfest, begin planning next years theme. They hold sausage cookouts over the summer for fund raising efforts, involve whole families in the production process, maybe even create fundraisers for other local charities as well. Maybe their “houses of order” are all along McMicken in the Brewery Distrcit. They come, represent their little part of the city in the parade. The parade that celebrates the heart of Cincinnati, not some random, drink it once a year beer. They show up for pride. They show up for competition. Maybe the winning neighborhood wins some capital funding dollars. They show off a little. They trash talk a little. There is one Stanley Cup-ish trophy that is engraved and passed around each year. They throw trinkets and convince some out of towner that Cincy, might have more to it than you think. It might. I want it to. You want it to. But as other cities start putting their best foot forward, it’s time to prove it.

That’s a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of one, very small festival. To ask them to fix the culturally devoid, split-minded city of Cincinnati. But it’s from the sparks that you start a fire. 100 years from now, I would hope my actions, in some weird round about way, convinced someone to be a positive impact in their own city. Wouldn’t you?

How to Shake the World

I think I am still coming to terms with this (quite wonderful might I add) transition in my life. The hours are bonkers, My body is sort of going through hell, but more importantly my mind is incredibly clear. And that last part, is for me, the most important. I can’t tell you how many voices there are up there some days. Trying to organize all the tasks, commands and DOS prompts into some sort of priority was a pipe dream back in the day. To this day I still wonder why, what could have caused that choke point? I am seriously starting to think it was the simple act of a) sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day and 2) being entranced by the bug light that is a screen (phone, computer, tv, et al.).

But no. In this new life I have goals. Small ones. Fix a window. Repair a headlight. Renovate a 4500 sq ft house. And knocking these small goals off the list has become my measure of efficiency.

As I cross things off, it seems my mind turns this pro-activeness into soundbites of inspiration. Inspiration which, admittedly, helps me wake up everyday. You see some goals while small, are daunting. Some goals, have yet to even get started. The weight of horizon goals weigh on me daily, and the turmoil (at least some see it that way, I sort of, well, don’t) that is my schedule can certainly bring bouts of depression, or thoughts that things are too big for just me.

While all this may be true, energy like that is contagious. It lives within the cracks and crevices of the weary. Under knick-knacks, and behind closet doors. And sometimes, you need yourself to remind you. Or your loved ones, that the power to succeed is within you. That you can simply will it into being. For the first time in a very long time, I haven’t the foggiest idea how the next few weeks, months or years are going to play out. I have absolutely no roadmap. But I know I am in for one hell of a ride thanks to my heart, and that stupid part of my brain shouting words of encouragement and reminders of successes, that has become (finally) more powerful than the other part of my brain that shouts out the failures and reminders of the foggy road ahead.

The video above is for all those that feel lost. The Neo’s stuck in Kafkaland. The superheroes with middle-of-the-road origins and no sense of drive. Your head runs your day, but your heart runs your life. If the video above inspires you, great, then you were meant to watch it. If it’s cheesy, and leaves you feeling kind of “meh”, then you aren’t at a point where you need to watch it. Bookmark it, save it for the rainy day.

I suppose I should have written about how I did the renovation on the 40dm. Seeing as she was quite the interesting challenge. I should have, and I will. But for now I am just going to sit here. Sip my milkshake and smile at my minor achievement. Tomorrow I will smile at Pam’s achievement. Derek’s on the next. I might even smile at two people’s on Saturday, I am looking at you Bob and Laura. Because you are all so very smile-worthy.

Ok, I’m done drinking the Kool Aid now. Keep being smile-worthy Cincy, and #bethechange you want to see in the world.

A Brief Pause for this Public Service Announcement

Alien. I love to revisit this film from time to time, to oddly enough, give me a grounded perspective when my emotions get the best of me. The original, standalone epic almost pushed me into film-making at a very young age. The pacing, the soundtrack, each shot so immaculate. The story so crisp. But really, it envelops you. From the tagline to the credits, it personifies the empathic nature that I live my life. You feel alone. You feel terrified. You feel helpless.

I wish every person could see through anthers eyes, or at the very least, be attuned to the same line of communication and be willing to listen. Every designer that doesn’t, is just making more trash for the planet so far as I am concerned, and should be ashamed of themselves. But the public, I wish nothing but the utmost tolerance in this regard.

I used to find the dialogue, sorry, political dialogue here in Cincy, cute. It was an amazing breathe of fresh air to hear people clamor on, on both sides of an argument, about their respective opinions. In person. (The Internet rants have a tendency to belabor the topic at hand, and at best, muddy an already complex issue). Whether you are pro streetcar, or anti-historic district, or on the fence with bike lanes, your opinion on the matter should serve as feedback, and, if I were to plead a case one way or the other I should either try to see/experience where you are coming from, or make you do the same.

This is called understanding. Empathy. Standing in someone else’s shoes. Very…very, few politicians get it. Let alone the general public.

Obviously, we are all entitled to opinions, and points-of-view. I have no issue with that. By all means, carry on. Please do in fact. However, if you constantly ramble on, without shutting your mouth and listening, or better yet, experiencing ANY part of even your own argument in ANY way. Then, to put it as eloquently as I can, you need to shut the fuck up.

Case in point. A local piece by a local acquaintance, ran today asking a very simple question. “Why can’t Cincinnati have a Bean?” The piece, you can read by clicking on the link right there, is innocuous enough. It’s a conversation piece really. Something oft brought up in the various arts groups or nights about town. The concept is quite simple, there is no real draw to Cincinnati. Ok. That’s harsh. Not that Millennium Park isn’t a draw for Chicago (it is), nor that The Bean or many of the other pieces in said park generate much for the city of Chi-Town (they do), but the jist is that permanent placemaking here is just, well, weak sauce.

Now, we will get to my opinion in a minute, but let’s get to the ”reason for this post” part of the topic where I get all steamy and my sentence structure breaks down. A local public servant, let’s just call him, Rusty. Rusty Choads. Well, Rusty decided to take to Facebook and take a rather interesting response to the aforementioned opinion article, basically completely taking the entirety of the text out of context, submit his own conclusions and misses the point so hilariously, he makes 50 cent throwing out the first pitch look like a strike.

Let’s be clear on this Rusty. You are a public servant. So demeaning or so much as challenging any citizen’s opinion in a social forum such as Facebook, is laughable. Especially in the context in which you did. At no point did the author insinuate that they wished Cincy was Chicago (it could take a few lessons) or that Cranley was an awful person for not letting that happen. (To be fair, he’s an awful person for running a city without an iota of a vision, and for his complete lack of empathy with anyone who lives within it. But that’s a different post)

All the article was pointing towards, was that Cincy needs a draw. That’s it. And immediately, like the diligent, hard-working, straight to numbers politico that you are, you went to budgets. Newsflash. Tourism exports account for as much as 30% of the world’s exports of commercial services and 6% of overall exports of goods and services. Globally, as an export category, tourism ranks fourth after fuels, chemicals and food. Bottom line, it generates money you tool.

If given a choice between NY, LA, Chicago, Orlando or Cincinnati, where do you think people are going to go? Ok. That’s an unfair question. Let’s level it a bit. Given the options of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Nashville, or Cincinnati, what do you think the average American would pick? No one cares about How To Run a City 101 when determining a destination. No one cares about city data, when the thought of a glamorous day trip about town strikes them.

To this day, each and every member of council, (not trying to haul ass out of town to DC that is) still refuses to accept the difficulty of drawing anyone of sound mind and body to Cincinnati. And THAT is a problem, which will continue to hold this city back. I am no longer talking about the professionals, the smartest and brightest of career minded folk. This city can’t even command enough middle class jobs, or skilled worker positions to make it a long term viable marketplace. The core will soon out price itself, and when there are no jobs to equal that cost of living, what happens? Riots. Well, fiscal, economic riots anyways.

Tourism connects people, creates relationships, it teaches them how to live in close proximity to one another. While Cincinnati, I don’t believe, can be defined as an “in close proximity of one another” kind of town. It’s imperative that we start acting like one. It needs more destinations. If your argument is that is already has these destinations, Well, then it needs better marketing. Because I, and many others, have experienced other cities. (some would snidely call them “real cities”) where you can bark off in mere seconds the tourism draws. Philly – Love Park. South Street. The Art Museum. Ben Franklin Parkway in the summer. The waterfront. Eastern State Pen. Liberty Bell. Independence Mall. Old City. Italian Market. Rreading Terminal. City Hall. University City. John’s Roast Pork. NoLibs. The button. The clothespin. The brush. And I would bet a fair number of people NOT from Philly know more draws than people within. Marketing. It’s what’s for dinner.

Now, does having all of those things make Philly a better place to live? No. Visit, yes. But live, no, not by any means. Aristotle puts it best, “The city is built with the aim of attaining happiness.” Having things. Playful, fun, destinations, where one can create a moment, or a memory. Propose or get married. Laugh or meditate. Surrounded by the energy, spirit and creative thinking that is city living, is what the article was about Rusty Choads. And Cincinnati desperately needs less curated neighborhoods, and more, moments, to help define it.

So, yes, we all get it, running a city is haaaaard. SimCity apparently didn’t quite nail the realism you were expecting. But while in the public eye, try to at least, fake that you give a damn about what us, the citizens are asking for. Empathy. Show some. It’s a respect thing.

In the meantime, my name is Giacomo, and I approve this message.

My Soap Box Life

History. It’s truly amazing that the one subject I absolutely despised (besides physics), has become the one I am most fascinated with (along with physics). I love finding pieces. Snippets. Portions. Anecdotes and attempting within my mindscape to string them all together. The two characters in my head, Jake (my ego) sits in a musty room with his sport coat off, coffee in hand, wearing the same clothes as yesterday and smelling of green label Jack Daniels and roast beef. He is always standing, looking at the board of information from afar. Silent, until his cockiness can take no more and he blurts out answers. The other voice, Jacob (my ID), is more calculating. Not quite the risk taker, he sports the same pressed grey suit everyday with a maroon tie. His hair gelled to one side, horn-rimmed glasses, clean shaven. His nose always pressed up to the details while his fingers stay locked to his chin. Together they make quite the pair. Theories bouncing off each other until a crisp story lays before them. Then they strike.

They have been breaking down a clue. A singular clue that a woman named Regina gave them just the other day.


It was a well worn piece of cardboard, from a box. A woman’s form adorned the top and on the remainder of the lip in bold black type, “CINCINNATI 1/2 OZ.”
Now let the journey begin.

The two Jake’s have a swath of knowledge to build upon. The house itself in which the clue was found is almost 150 years old. The pocket door in which the clue was found, hadn’t been removed in some time, and the location of the clue would put it at, well, something really fucking old.

The two Jake’s had some technical skills, and some childish history. Beneath our sheet-cladden woman in gold appeared to be white lines. But these were not lines at all. You see, as a child, the two Jake’s enjoyed writing in code. Not the typical code one might see enemies encrypting to hide from each other. No. The two Jake enjoyed optical codes. To be precise, drowning letters so long and thin that they nearly looked like lines.


So immediately, a scan of the clue was placed into a digital “shop” where the “photo” was leveled and cured and scaled down to bring a bit more clarity to the situation. With a rough tear across the bottom, some guesswork had to come into play. It’s a tenuous game of Wheel of Fortune. With the help of the University of Cincinnati’s Cincinnati Company Profiles and History Database, our clue would reveal the case cracker. Woodbury.


As a student of advertising, my heart leaped. My god, is this really a piece of Woodbury history? I’ve read all the articles and the stories, but never have I actually seen let alone held a piece of it. It was absolutely fitting, joyous even, that Regina revealed herself in this way. To understand, a little history.


John Woodbury, a dermatologist, started making facial soaps in Albany NY, circa 1870 (roughly the year Regina was born). Because soap/personal care products started becoming all the rage thanks to advances in manufacturing, Jergen’s purchased them around 1901 and moved the company to Cincinnati, OH. There is so much to love about Woodbury, but lets start with the basics. The original package had Johnny’s big ole mug on the front, much like many, MANY products of that time did. You see products were oft sold on the basis of some professional reputation. Hence various sundry’s being named after Doctors and whatnot, “Surely this must be good if an educated man came up with it.”

However, Woodbury, wasn’t a particularly attractive fellow, so sales were dim even though the product was extremely effective, especially considering Woodbury wasn’t even a licensed dermatologist (he just played on on to speak). So this is where things get really fun. In an effort to boost sales, Jergen’s brings in the J. Walter Thompson Agency, originally also from Cincinnati, to figure it all out. JWT had a LOT of revolutionary moments in it’s lifetime, but the biggest I would have to say, is the fact that they were probably the first, by a long shot, to employ women as creative and art directors. Helen Lansdowne Resor, to be exact.

Upon being given the Woodbury account, Helen set off for 6 months doing actual, user research. In 1910. This statement blows my mind on many levels, first that JWT had enough foresight to give a woman this account, and two, that she had the foresight to do market research. In 1910. Regardless, she came back with the campaign of “Nose pores—how to reduce them”. Innocuous as it may be, this is probably one of the first campaigns to speak of a “consumer problem/solution” rather than the merits of the producers and their own face adorning a product. Regardless, sales jumped. But the fun isn’t done quite yet. In 1911, JWT presented a new campaign with the tagline, “A Skin You Love to Touch.”

Concepted and designed by Helen herself, this is the first time that sex was used to sell a product in such a blatant overtone. Now, all Gaze arguments aside in regards to the early days of advertising, this particular Woodbury ad series featured completely naked women, and ran in countless Ladies Home Journals preaching of “filtered sunlight” and feeding on the aspirational aspect of actually owning skin that others not only want but yearn to touch. Sales of Woodbury absolutely skyrocketed. I would say more than skyrocket, Woodbury’s sales hit like an Earth-ending event for it’s competitors. It was mere luck (and money/size) at this point that the larger personal care businesses could hold a sliver within the market.






Ad after ad seemingly started to push the social boundaries of the time. What absolutely astounds me is the leaps. Typically, when dealing with product or marketing innovations, there are small jumps in order to prime the consumers. But Mrs. Lansdowne’s campaign shoved social concepts off a cliff. No longer were we washing babies, or respecting the quacks that invented said products. No. We were going right to what your pure naked self would want. Bottled sex enveloped in the warmth of sunlight. I would have given anything to be in this pitch meeting. Let’s be VERY crystal clear here. You have a room full of men. Real industry tycoon types, being pitched a concept to feature a women and how she wants to feel, by a woman.


Yes, granted America was on the precipice of it’s first sexual awakening, but that was still a solid decade off and we aren’t exactly talking the ’60s here. It’s still fresh in World War I era. Helen became a massive spokeswoman during woman’s suffrage and various other feminist movements in regards to advancing women in the professional workplace. So much so, that I believe JWT was the first to have an entire department dedicated and populated by women strictly to market towards women. Makes sense. But, now you have to wonder, through all the good that Helen has done in this regard (and while I am sure this wasn’t her intention), it’s quite ironic that she was actually the first to objectify a woman in advertising.

Food for thought.


So Regina, keeps giving me knowledge. Knowledge on how to build a house with your bare hands, and philosophical knowledge in regards to the ad age (of all things). Her beauty, much like that of the first woman, lying coyly with her back to the camera, isn’t so much “look at what I was”, but more “look at what I can be with your help.” So thank you Regina, I will be your facial scrub, so that you can endure long after I am gone.

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Learning to Drink

My life as a designer, has been, well, one I am pretty sure I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every turn it’s a unique problem. Every project I look to twist into something more. Each client and agency and shop, has been my academia. It’s been a mental struggle because, as I learned very early in life, that’s just how my brain works. It constantly wants to jump from one topic to the next, never quite being fulfilled, but at the same time being fairly satisfied. There’s an innuendo there, but I’m not taking it.

Most recently I decided to put my “professional” design career back into hiatus. Last time I did that I had the sudden urge to go to grad school, thus throwing myself into another $60k of American school debt, all because there was something funny I couldn’t quite put my finger on in regards to the All Powerful Oz, that This time around, well, I just think the entire industry needs a wake up call a la the DotCom crash circa 2001. So this time, I’ll just sit it out. Text me when everyone’s head (and fiscal responsibility) is screwed back on straight.

Now, let me be very clear here. By professional career, I mean steady paycheck, benefits and being told to sit here and do this between the hours of 9-5 (midwest design hours, its 10-9 on the east coast and any random 3 hours on the west). Design is very much a part of my life. It is my life. The very nature of how to identify and problem solve within ANY medium is something I am quite proud of. And for those of you, and back when I was teaching I know there were many, that often feel the weight of peers pressing down on you almost forcing you to be a successful NY/LA/Chicago design god, know this…

You are allowed to do what you want. Success in life is determined by your happiness, not what The CW, Kim Kardashian, your professors, fellow colleagues, students, parents or any other American pop culture reference tweets that it should be.

Just because I went to college, ok, a LOT of college for design, doesn’t mean it’s something I want to be heralded for. God help me if my tombstone reads “Here lies Giacomo. Designer. This is in Helvetica. 72 pt.” Same goes for doctors, lawyers, politicians and all the other jobs we jammed into 80s sitcoms to represent “success” as going-off-to-college-to-be, through the eyes of society. No. I went to school because I loved to learn. I went to UArts because not only was it a school for art, but also dance, music and theater. While the music bug never quite caught on, my moves are dope and yes I do have a knack for the theatrical. But at the ripe old age of 37, I decided to get another education. This time, well, this time I am learning how to drink.

Yes. For the past 3 weeks, my schedule has been as follows. Wake up. Show up at 10 am. Drink (insert spirit here). Take notes. Learn technique with (insert spirit here). Drink. Take more notes. Go home. Repeat. I have been under the full blown 195 mph training course to be a bartender, and never in my life have I found anything more fascinating.

Now. This shit is complicated. It reminds me of 4th grade when they wanted to put me in algebra classes ahead of everyone else. I sat there. Befuddled. Day after day. My grades everywhere else plummeted. I would cry doing my homework day in and day out to the point where my mom had to BEG the teacher to let me go back down to the regular math classes. The teacher refused. When asked why, she handed my mom all of my tests, which apparently I had nailed. I was holding myself back, in a way. Regardless, bar tending is more than just putting Sugar Variable A with Modifier B plus Spirit C and emulsifying. No, like many, MANY other jobs out there. It’s an art form. An art form, I have learned to turn into a board game.

Behold. The Drinking Game™. (working title)


Think you are quite the mixologist? Well, then this game is for you. It’s simple really, since you are probably also trained in a classic, detail oriented Milk & Honey style right? Of course! Well, you have the 13 families which breakdown into their respective ratios: Sours (3/4,3/4,2), Collins/Fizz (see sours), Gimlets (1, 3/4, 2) Rickeys (see Gimlets), Daiquiris (see Gimlets), Sidecars (1/2, 1 1/2, 1), Ginger Highballs (1/2, 3/4, 2), Old Fashioned (SBWS), Martinis (2-1), Manhattans (see martinis), Juleps (liquid candy with mint), Caiphirinhas (liquid candy with lime) and Smashes (see Juleps + Caiphirinhas). Then you have techniques for each: dry, medium hard, long hard, whip, double back and long pour. All of which should be “cooked” and “plated” in their optimal glassware maintaing the correct temperature during the duration that the guest should be imbibing. Easy right? Well, here is how the game breaks down.

First thing is first, just like any bar, before you open the doors, you need to setup your well. This will undoubtedly get more complex as I have learned that a key to speed and efficiency is being able to identify bottles, in low light. Quickly. But for now, brightly colored foam circles represent our ingredients.


  • white = egg white
  • orange = ginger
  • red = spirit
  • green = lime
  • pink = sugar
  • yellow = lemon
  • purple = modifier (can be anything else bitters/liquers/etc, sorry I ran out of colors)

The next game pieces represent the ice. Are you building on a block? Whipped? Or just filling with a regular old scoop of ice?


Then we have the drink cards. Basically, these can serve as flash cards, if you simply want to sit and learn how to make the standard version of each. In the competitive aspect of the game, they serve as the customers order. Draw as many cards as determined by a dice roll.

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The cards themselves are color coded very specifically. The main color puts them into a citrus family, so yellow is a sour, green is a gimlet, orange is a ginger highball, and white is no citrus (so mostly spirits). The strip of color to the right of each face card represent the main spirits color. So white would be clear, and a series of golds and brown represent various tones of dark spirits. Red is tequila or mezcal. For those of you versed in round building, perhaps you are seeing the patterns here. Which brings us to the game board.


This game was designed to practice round building without the cost of a full bar. Period. Round Building is the fine art of nailing the perfect cocktail(s), all while being extremely efficient. So an efficiency like, touching a bottle only once. Since I have learned of this concept, admittedly I have been going to bars to see if anyone uses it. Short answer? No. (which might explain why it takes 40 minutes to get a cocktail at some unnamed places). So this lesson in human object interaction makes me absolutely giddy.

A few rules, otherwise you will screw up the flavor of the cocktail. Since we are going for efficiency, you would typically use the same jigger without washing it out, but certain flavor profiles will dramatically change the drink if you do not abide by these rules (or wash out your jigger first). They are as follows:

  1. Lime before Lemon (hence the yellow/green color coding of cards)
  2. Light spirits to dark (hence the white, gold, tan, brown stripes on the cards)
  3. Must wash the jigger if using tequila or mezcal in the round (hence the red stripes on the cards)
  4. Cook stirred drinks first, plate them last


While technically, not wrong (because you would have to see how I filled out this board, not the location of the card) Rule #4 above should probably dictate that either the Monte Carlo is in column 1 (if building left to right) or the Joe Rickey is in column 2 (if building right to left, which I would probably do at Sundry since our toolset is on the left, meh, minor detail).

So, to recap, it’s: add ingredients touching each bottle once, be sure to add them to the correct technique space, be sure to select the technique being used, be sure to add the correct amount of ice per the technique suggested, be sure to pull the glassware at the appropriate time and be sure to plate and garnish in the correct order. Simple enough right? Okay, now add a stopwatch. And another bartender with their own station. Then, let the games begin.



Now, all this being said, I am merely an apprentice learning this extremely fine craft. The bartenders at Cincy’s newest, and might I say finest establishment of Sundry & Vice, can play this game in their sleep, while smiling, waving, winking and giving dissertations in a Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector all at the same time. So stop in this Friday, when the doors open and you can finally go behind the looking glass.


An Open Letter to Anheuser-Busch

We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations on your latest #UpForWhatever commercial featuring an unsuspecting patron partaking in a large, live-action Pac Man game. As a group who encourages adults to “play”, we cannot tell you how many times we have dabbled in trying to achieve this exact concept. It’s brilliant on so many levels that our community believes in, movement and exercise, problem solving, space revitalization and most importantly, continuing to play as an adult.

Speaking as marketing and advertising professionals, we commend you on the production level. The bar you have set for this campaign in particular has seen no bounds as of yet from it’s initial inception of a The Hangover-like absurd evening to the rebranding of an entire town for the sake of letting loose. You clearly acknowledge who your user is and created a fun concept. Well done.

Now knock it off.


Place-making is very hard to achieve in some contexts. We know many that would wish to have an endless budget with which to work with, but this is never an excuse. Actually, it’s that very constraint that oft leads to a celebrated methodology in this regard. With our little #playGroupThatCould we take pride in the fact that most of our prototypes, events and what have you could be replicated on a modest budget. That you don’t need thousands of dollars to make someone smile, laugh, partake in using said tool.

You sensationalize place-making events to a point of damaging contextual backlash. For those of us seeking budgets and backers for very similar events to help re-energize urban neighborhoods that are badly in need of economic redevelopment, it’s instances very much like this one that feed into negative public sentiment while trying to pull off said events.

Basically, we love what you are doing, but your brand/product is not sending out the correct message for why it should be done.


Case in point, Burning Man. BM makes no qualms about that fact that it does not allow brands of any kind into the protected city. The creation of camp sub-brands amidst the dichotomy of the BM monopoly not withstanding, this works as a driver for each attending to find their own inspiration, their own voice. By sharing that voice, that passion with others, you empower them to achieve the same. You pay it forward.

Placemaking, when done correctly, maximizes a neighborhoods potential. Holding up the mirror if you will, to create a sustained level of happiness and well-being.

See that last part there? Sustained. Look, AB, we can call you that right? AB you have done many insanely wonderful things in your Ad Age of being stunt men. We are sure the people of Crested Butte, Co., all 1,500 of them, will undoubtedly benefit from your “renting” of the town for a weekend. Lord knows how far a half million dollars will go in a town that size. Lord also knows what the infusion of basically doubling the town’s residence would do for the economy during the same weekend. But you don’t need to be the flamboyantly rich uncle. Your disregard for the dollar is disturbingly high, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Brewster’s Millions. And that was fiction.


But we love your gusto. Go big. This is our mantra day in and day out when planning events, except to us, “big” is a physical one not a production level one. Okay, okay, maybe this letter comes out of envy for your little Pac-Man machine. Or maybe it’s that whatever drunkenly infused conversation your ad team has can be fully funded and built at the drop of a Bud Light trucker’s hat. Whatever it is, would you mind dialing it back a little bit for the rest of us? Or maybe just leave the door to your warehouse of “gently used in beer commercial” items open? Because we really want to bring awareness to some of our issues locally, and we would like to be taken seriously in the meantime.

Advocates for a United State of Play

Identity 451

My current living/working relationship with this city has left me with somewhat tortured feedback in regards to the trials and tribulations of “Being Cincinnati.” Many a HPPY HOUR™ has been spent dissecting the short-comings of a city, seemingly, with all the necessary pieces to co-exist with the elites like Chicago, New York, Boston et al. I often joke about the reflections of sports teams out here in the midwest and their mirror-like persona to the current vibe the city embues. The Bengals as of late are prime examples, yes they are in the conversation of being on the verge of greatness, but there’s one or two pieces that seem to keep them from the game. And the city is all too quick to latch onto that one, or two pieces and throw it immediately under the bus (see Andy Dalton). What’s absolutely brilliant yet mesmerizing, however, is this city’s natural ability to forgive and forget. Never have I witnessed an entire populous so lacklusterly shrug off their pro sport meltdowns. Then again, I spent the better part of my life in Philly, where they practically tattoo their misery on their respective foreheads.

All that aside, what Cincy really lacks, and many would agree, is an identity. Something that screams Cincinnati. Not just screams it, but maybe even slaps it up, down left and right with the bravado of Italian whose espresso was just insulted by a Greek who just married said Italian’s sister and then ran off with his mom in aforementioned Italian’s Ferrari. But no, this city still has an incredible humbleness to it. It’s refreshing, but for brand architects, it’s frustrating as all hell. You should never settle for average.

Now this identity can present itself in many places and in many forms. One of the obvious places that I enjoy critiquing so much in this regard, is where people come and go all the time. Some, live here, most, have never been, so how a city presents itself in this space is what you might like to call, the grand ole first impression. We all know how important those are right? What to wear? What to say upon meeting? Do you shake or hug? The nervousness in your gut just before it all. The sweating. First impressions go a long way when entering into a relationship, business or personal. So there is no better place to start, than the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport.


So here we are. CVG. Cincy’s little mall where you can park your planes in Kentucky. If you can’t picture it, I’ll provide a few clutch photos that I have pulled together. Although, if you can’t picture it, I won’t be surprised as this easily has to fall under the most forgettable places on earth. Now, does that make it bad? No. It also doesn’t make it good. It quite literally falls under the “I will never think about this place ever again” category. Which is fine. You can go that route. But when you are the concierge to a struggling urban core, why should you settle?

Cincy. You settle for a lot. You really do. This shouldn’t be one of those things. Upon leaving the gates, and getting those travelers legs under you, your new visitor should be embraced with your culture. A culture is an identity. It’s an industry. It’s the battery. It’s your reason for waking up everyday, and putting on that (insert local brand here) tshirt. It’s that thing, for one reason or another you seemed to have burned (or never made) a long time ago.

Case in point. Here is the Reno-Tahoe airport, of whom I had the pleasure of landing in this past summer. Now, all Reno jokes aside (and trust me, the sheen wears off quickly), you can clearly see from the moment you step away from the gates to exit the building, ALL THAT THE REGION HAS TO OFFER. Outdoor excursion madness. Year round. From skiing, to Burning Man to bowling (bowling capital of the US) to betting to throwing salmon at bears. It’s warm, woodsy, and basically the picturesque postcard you immediately selfie yourself into and #WishYouWereHere.

Giant Slalom A


So, how does Cincy stack up?






Now, what did you glean form those photos? Immediate perceptions are key in determining brand success, so, is this a place that you would want to stay? Revisit? Move your family to? I ask these questions because they are hurdles that even major companies face every day. While there does seem to be a trend of people moving more mid-west, it is not out of want or need but rather necessity (we’re cheaper cost of living y’all!) But a city should ask for more from it citizen’s, namely, pride and a yearning to defend and respect the place they call home.

Now, I see the absurdity of it all. Why absurd? Because I keep bragging to all of my colleagues back home that we are the design capital of the US (statistically we have more designers/problem solvers/strategists here per capita) than anywhere else, and yet this city plays itself off so neutrally. WHY!!!!?? I blame each and every one of you for accepting this. I blame myself for letting you accept that things can be accepted. Yes, I realize that there are larger issues at hand, but that just means that there should be a pocket of us that can help take care of the smaller ones, while the much smarter folks out there take care of the big ones. Or, talk a lot, not really accomplish much except name recognition, then run off to greener pastures.

Maybe it has to do with the lifeline that is Procter & Gamble. Cincy owes as much of it’s existence to that of the “average leading brand” overlord known to the rest of the world as P&G. Most of this city’s suburban residents are highly dependent on them for income. So much so that I fear a relationship tree in that regard. P&G in general has to lead a very neutral approach to almost all of their operations. Due to sheer size, legal repercussions of one miscalculation could very well tilt the economic outlook of not just an entire region, but a country. So my question is, with nearly everyone and their mother indebted to such ways, where such “neutralness” or sterilization becomes a way of life, has that lead to Cincinnati’s identity being one of no identity at all?

It seems the constant strive to be a “good quality product” for the average consumer lead to the meh of finding cultural success in other aspects of our lives. If only we were as passionate about wanting something truly unique as we are about which high school we all went to. For now, maybe we should just expect more for a space that thousands of what we would call “new users” experience everyday when they visit the Cincinnati region. That it shouldn’t be too much to ask demand for better ideas, better concepts and better executions by all involved.

Project Regina: The Long Winter

I’m sorry. These are words I utter constantly as I stumble about each of her rooms. Five months in, and while I know “all teh things” we have accomplished so far have taken her light years ahead of the ruin she was, the road keep stretching in front of me like that scene in poltergeist where mom couldn’t reach the door down the hall where her child lay screaming in terror. It stretched. Endlessly. Even upon arriving the house made sure the journey wasn’t going to be quite that easy.

Regina. She doesn’t need to remind me. I remind myself. Everyday I wake up, frozen. Staring at the wall. 4500 square feet. What the fuck was I thinking? I’m so sorry Gina. I’m trying. I really am.


It’s this experience that I needed though. As an urban crusader who strolls about wondering why in the hell people leave things to rot and die, the answer I have so longed for has become oh so clear. Because it’s easy. So many times I have fought through the pain my body is churning out. So many times I fought through shear exhaustion, mentally and physically. So many times I have stared at her blueprints, wiping away teardrops so as to not smear the careful notes and drawings.

I’m sorry.

Each day I wonder if the winter will cause you to fall. Having just tweaked my knee to a point where I can’t stand, I wonder. Will the water seeping between the bricks and your sandstone facade make you topple down? Can I muster enough finances to get that damn cornice fixed? I could try it myself, but I only trust so much of my D.I.Y. “Why is this so hard?” I yell. Often. “Hrm, well at least I stopped apologizing.” Talking to myself out loud is my new norm. The echo throughout the halls makes it seem like she is talking back.

So where are we, on this path, is the question almost everyone asks. Well, I still want to save every building. I wonder what lies behind the plywood. The dripping remains of decades of neglect. It’s mesmerizing to me. I want more of it, maybe not as much as Regina is giving me but I know I can help out my neighborhood. My Wild Wild West End. I do really want a horse. But instead of slinging on a gun belt it’s a tool belt. I really do want to help start a bakery, a cheese shop, a butcher. I want to open my ice cream parlor and serve up some damn good coffee.


Back to the question at hand, where are we? Well, we have a plan. Mostly. Bill has hacked and skewered her current layout to what we feel, is the most viable way to use her space in a modern setting. And by modern we mean little things like indoor outhouses, and those new fancy things we call kitchens. Floor one will remain, relatively, original. Relatively like, Mars is relatively close to Earth. In the grand scheme of things. But 2 and 3, our beloved 2 and 3, will be for the most part gutted. It’s odd nooks and cranny’s and after-the-fact stairwells will soon be no more.

We have gotten absurdly good at stripping. Have made every joke in creation about it, and yes, will consider stripping for money now because of it. We need a dumpster. Well, a few dumpsters probably. We need patience. A lot of it. We need a scaffold. Or a bunch of ladders. We need windows. We need a door. We need modern electricity. We need plumbing and HVAC. We need box gutter work and cornice restoration. Most importantly, we need hope, and a little luck.

IMG_0862IMG_0863The absolute life saving Silent Paint Stripper system. Don’t redo your home without it.

If you see us out there on the street, if we look tired or worn out. If we are sitting silently at the bar or staring off into the distance. Come up and say hi. Because odds are, we need a hug.

But each day that I peel something away, or bag up or clear out, it makes me happy. Once the fear goes away, the pride and determination comes out. Every time the hammer strikes, the old and withered Regina flashes back in time to a tickled and laughing flapper circe 1923. She dances in sequined gold dress with Remus and Cox laughing in the background. She is saving me as much as I save her. So I will keep bringing that hammer down. Again and again. Until she is stuck back in 1923, and we can sit back and be entertained.


Project Regina: The Long Road Home

4500 Square Feet. This is a number that will haunt me for some time. Little mine craft cubes of feet, trampling me behind my eyelids. If I include the basement, which I should and keep yelling at myself for not, we are talking an even 6000. It should be noted that a mile isn’t even 6,000 feet. But that’s sort of how you have to look at these things. Straight ahead, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually, 6,000 feet becomes 5,999. Then 5,998, 97, 96. But for now. Six. Thousand. Feats.

That is pretty much what we will have to pull off in order to get this old girl back in shape. Each time I step foot on her land, I have a goal. No matter how small or insignificant that goal is, it seems to push us miles further than we were just a week ago. And that’s important. Because with a project so large, and time/materials/labor and money so low. Well, you have to take the little victories. Keep taking those punches in the stomach, and stand right back up, before you know it, abs of friggin steel.

So, our first real goal, and one that is very accomplishable no matter who you are or what you have, is clean up. It’s amazing how far a little bit trash tossing will do. From the yard to the interior, a very specific timeline of events during our first month led to some serious motivation. Yard. Third floor. Second Floor. First Floor. Dumpster.

So the yard. When I first approached Gina back in July. She had a small jungle out front and was covered with vines. The previous owner, of whom I will be cursing rampantly through my posts, just “let it all go.” The result was a jungle of interwoven bushes and weed trees that one could lose a car in. And trust me when I say that, as during the clean out, we tossed 7 tires and found a leaf eater. Yes. An entire piece of landscaping equipment was calling my front lawn home for, well, who knows how long.

But just look at the rather simple results of yanking some stubborn, ludicrous, motherf…silly ivy and deweeding a bit.


Ironwork! A sidewalk! Basement windows! Sandstone!

Now granted by “a little weeding” I really meant 3 full days of back breaking labor with the help of some friends and a few chainsaws, thus filling up roughly 40 yards bags. But so many more secrets about the house have been revealed. Now added to my list are gutter and gate work, a fabulous front yard “alleyway” for Pam, and what I am assume will be an interesting battle with carpenter ants. Who apparently eat through stone. Rest up you little bitches, next spring, it’s on.

Now, the inside. How to tackle 3 floors? Pretty simple. Crack open a window, and start chucking. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit a dumpster on the side of our house. Trust me when I say I really wish magic was a thing, because magically making one appear in my side yard is something I would have paid for. Hell, I would have applied for $100,000 more dollars in school debt just to attend Hogwarts for just that one single solitary spell.

But like the muggles we were, the third floor called our name.


The initial plan was to simply move down to 2 and trudge forward with the tossing. We quickly realized, however, that a dumpster load of fun was easily in our backyard at this point, as well as the front rooms on the first floor. So what the hell, let’s get a dumpster and see what we can uncover.

Now, to this point, especially on walking through the house, with an architect and talking about the long, expensive, arduous road ahead, it’s both invigorating and mentally depressing. We are not well off, have all the time in the world, nor have all the skills required to own/rebuild a home. Tack on a $500 bill for a dumpster, 100 degree summer days, and what we have is a boiling-point-nervous-breakdown disaster waiting to happen.

When a dumpster arrives, you are on the clock. You want to move fast. Fill it up and get it out. We made a Facebook event inviting everyone in the area in hopes of being able to pack a 40 yarder in just one Saturday. Beer and Pizza will be provided. It’s one of those things where, you know you have good friends, but when the sun sets, and you are exhausted from the day. A well of joy fills you up, lifted by those around you that showed up to help for whatever their motivation. It speaks volumes having a strong kinship with those around you. This happened once in Philly, where you just get this truly overwhelming experience of aid. I recall it hitting me like a ton of bricks because, well, it came out of the blue.


The entryway


The front room


The kitchen


The first one.

So thank you to the friends and strangers who helped clear out our Queen, so that we can begin to make a mess of her all over again. It truly showed the motivation and impressive spirit that so many would give what they could, so that just one more house can be reborn. This is Cincinnati, and this is our West End.

Burning Man: Chapter 3, Light Monsters

3d-glassesSM This post enhanced with 3-D Giacomovision

I just, don’t. It really is hard to process what my eyes are allowing into the realm of visual cortex. Honestly, I haven’t felt this disturbed since my problem understanding basic algebra back in the 5th grade. THAT moment I recall vividly. I couldn’t sleep. I would squint all the time. I cried when I was doing my homework. My own mother went to the teacher and insisted I be brought down with the other kids. For my own health. The teacher refused, saying she knew I could do it. That while I might be struggling that my brain, for whatever reason, would catch on. That I had shown some ability somewhere along the line to do so.

Tonight. My brain was right back in grade school. What lay before me, as I pedal through the dust and sand into the blackness ahead, was a completel auditor and visual quagmire. It was like Adafruit had genetically engineered a Lady Gaga daydream which was currently copulating with Ibiza circa 2002. It was beautiful, random electric mist.

“Where should we go?” Donovan asks, assuming I am in a state of mind to answer a question with logic.

Normally I would have some snarky wise-ass comment at the ready. A device many use to either hide or deflect questions that have either a. an obvious answer or b. an aloofness that neither party cares to elaborate on. But I. Had. Nothing. A zombie could make more of an effort at a structured statement than I could have at that moment. That is to say, even my grunt was confused. You see there are many sensory things happening at this very moment. Let’s start with depth and scale. During the day, when all is visible, the Man as the tallest thing in all the land sans distant mountains, if he will beg my pardon here, looks smaller in person. His 100 ft stature easy halves itself with no real discernible landmarks close by as a point of reference. At night, well, at night we are floating in a void.

Just as the desert absorbs all sound, it seeming does the same with light. The black offers a tremendous backdrop for the luminescent wonders that are swimming about. Swimming is the best way to describe it. I know my feet are on ground. The rough road shoving the bike seat up my ass is a constant reminder of that. Don’t you worry. But in gazing out to judge direction and distance, the lights that adorn, every, single thing, dance about much like I would assume the dance goes in the waters of the deep. It’s a shame most of these LED creatures that are trolling about only exist along an X axis. Fo rthe sport of it I lay my head on the playa floor to change it to a complete up down. There really are no words.

We venture into the think of it. LED bike monsters crowd the streets. Keep in mind, only half BRC’s population has made camp by this time, and more are trickling in by the minute. If you aren’t fully aware while cruising around the esplanade at night, I can very easily see how someone could be seriously injured, or even killed. It’s basically large schools of metallic fish roving about with no direct purpose or general direction. It pulses in waves. A few of the daring slice across the diagonal away from the mobs. What’s more scary are the close encounters with the un-lightened. Those caught out before sundown without any glowing wares of any kind. It’s damn near suicidal.

As we shift closer to the camps and structures, the lights begin to take form. Is that a yacht? “HARD LEFT!! PAC-MAN GHOST COMING UP THE RIGHT SIDE!!” I nearly collide with a giraffe. Yes a giraffe. I yell for Donovan to stop. I needed a minute. As I catch my bearings Pinky slinks behind me. Chasing 3 bikes with pro monkey lights on their back wheels with a pac-man on them. “Gah, this is chaos.” I mutter under my breathe. Suddenly a gigantic neoned 18-wheeler dressed as a bull slips by. Followed by Discofish. “What the HELL is THAT thing? Ok, ah. I need a drink.” I can assure you, I was on nothing. Having never had any type of game or video driven seizure in my lifetime, I was pretty sure I was near one. I literally was having the social anxiety ripped form my body. Exorcised. It needed to happen, but I also needed a minute, and some lubricant for this to happen.

We went to one of the many camp structures shooting fire, playing some progressive house (Is that Dave Ralph’s Love Parade?) and offering a tropical punch, of sorts. It felt good to get off the bike. In the darkness of the “parking lot,” my headlamp shot out like a beam, filled with all the lovely dust you can’t see during the day. It swarms the light like little mitochondrians. Suddenly my mind starts to make connections. Ok, so from here out think sideshow carnivals, only with a lot more propane. Steampunk on steroids. Imagine Times Square come alive, like King’s Maximum Overdive. You always wanted to live in imagination. Here’s your chance. Sure enough as I look up, the stage is a massive laughing clown face with chaser bulbs spelling out the camp name, girls dressed as dolls and tokyo-poppish Sailor Moon knockoffs dance under the DJ who barks at the crowd and smashes down on a button that blasts fire every time Katy Perry yells roar. The heat. My god the heat, it feels so good. Wait. Why does the heat feel good. Holy crap it’s getting cold out here. Cold in the desert. My subconscious inner voices (there are two, one gruff and confident, the other kind of an obnoxious brainy surf) both shout in unison, you are on your own on this one chief, we got other shit to worry about.


Across from the technopop cotton candy garden was a thrash metal mosh pit. The humor of this is not lost on me. We kicked off onto our bikes once more and almost immediate passed a geodesic dome where people were dancing that salsa? This place literally has everything. All cultures all favs, all beliefs. All living in 1 albeit tightly packed few square miles. And more importably, for the most part, we all get along? The world could learn a lot from this place. Then again, it might have a difficult enough time wrapping its head around it. I know I did.

A full night of exploration unveiled completely new interactions to the playa art. What was fairly innocuous during the day, was a full sensory experience at night. What was to be looked at for craft, was now meant to be touched and held. It was in a word, (that cannot do it 1 % of justice) incredible. “Dude that’s totally Elon Musk’s yacht!” Donovan screams above the sound garden (yes, I’m in a very literal sound garden). Since I am pretty damn sure John Digweed is actually the DJ on said yacht, we break for it.

“Let’s get on that damn yacht.”


We shoot daringly across the playa. Avoiding the dazed and confused. Wait was that a Thunder Do…nah, never mind. A structure still silent and dark would have to wait to be explored. There is a badass yacht cruising across the desert with some of the sickest sets I’ve heard in a long while, and I’m going to get on it. We finally catch up to it, my brain is in action movie mode as we slip into it’s imaginary wake, I wonder what to do with the bikes. Oh. Nevermind. No mutant vehicle is work it’s salt, unless it has a place to house your ride. Sure enough, just off the back of the yacht, were some rather large spikes. If one was adept enough you could jump off your whip, throw it onto a spike, and shoot up the precariously attached stairs.

“Ah, what the hell.” Jump. Lift. Set. Run. Climb. Soon I found myself on the bow of a 60 foot yacht, with speakers cartoonishly strapped to the front, and dozens of people in swimsuits dancing across the bow in fur coats. “Oh, so this is was DiCaprio meant.” I can’t recall where this boat took us, or how long we were even on it. I lost track of all space and time. My perception was starting to shift. More dimensionality was coming into play. Jesus this is only the first night. Donovan leans over, “we’re at burning man duuuuuuude.” he actually whispers this time.

“Yes. Yes we most certainly are.”


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Burning Man: Chapter 2 Fever Breaks


It’s fucking cold. That’s the first thought when the lightning struck. A bolt so loud and so close it made grandma half a bottle deep in Beam seam like a Shirley Temple musical. So that’s how this is going to start eh? A monsoon in the desert? Christ. My head hurts. My body is clearly ragged from the 5 hours of air travel and 9 hours in the car. Mix in the dust, cold, and general travel anxiety and I have the equivalent of a Traveler’s Pneumonia. Luckily, it’s just 5:30 am. Wait? What? Ah, shit, that’s right. Time change. Sleep it off.

So I do. And thank god. After another hour of my body not knowing if it should be hot or cold, my pounding headache and fever turn into a wet hot mess of sweat. So screw it, I’m getting up. It’s too quiet, I don’t trust it. Except for this oddly creepy ambulance running in the far corner of camp, there was no noise to think of. No birds. No bugs. No leaves. I walk over to the Street-O-Potties for the first time. No noise there either. It’s surprising how contained the downwind smell is. Still wouldn’t want to be camped next to it, but it’s not bad. I’m not a coffee person so I’ll use it as my morning wakeup jolt.

On my return to our tent, the guy in the ambulance who had stared me down walks up. “Morning!”

“Hello.” You overly cheerful-for-being-camped-out-in-an-ambulance-in-the-desert mugg, is what I am clearly thinking.

“You guys get in all right?”

“Yeah, fine. Super late. I think we made camp at like 12:30 or so.” I am soon to realize that ye old, “so when did you guys get in” is to become the conversation starter for, well, every encounter on the playa.

“Yeah I figured as much, which is why I didn’t want to go knocking on tents last night, but you guys are in a private camp area.”

I turn my head at the very clear, 300 square feet of empty space around me, and our tent. “Really?”

“Yeah, its fine. No big rush to move but anything between the blue flags is a private camp. There a vehicle restriction right now but move whenever you can. Have a good burn!”

While I struggle to figure out the origin of “sparkle pony.” I am well aware that I am one. I am also well aware, that this will be the first of many, many screw ups, pointing out exactly how sparkly, and ponyish I will be by the end of this trip. Fine. “Donovan, get your ass up. We’re being evicted.”


A couple quick bike rides around, while completely disorienting, left us to the rather simple decision of simply walking our tent across the “street”. Funny thing about Burning Man being closed (which we didn’t know at the time and would actually change the dynamic quite bit according to some of our soon to meet friends), the streets and camping areas are much harder to find when no one is actually camping in them. Large swaths of playa left us wondering if we were in a campground or right dead smack in the middle of the Martin Luther King Boulevard of Black Rock City. So all innuendo aside, we decided to pitch a tent, for the second time in as many days in hopes of establishing our refuge on the deserted desert.

Admittedly, I was still in physical pain from the day before. With some bug making me sluggish, I recalled an old creative directors fix for all things from hangovers to flu’s, just run it out. With our bikes eager to mount, it seemed a good time to get a little exercise in, and orient ourselves around this new city of ours for the next 6 days. The research kicks in. Que Batman-like montage of us assembling ourselves for a bike ride. CAMELBACK! CAMERA! CUP! WIDE-BRIMMED HAT! SUNGLASSES! TOILET PAPER!..”ok we ready?” Yup. Let’s GO!”

“Ho ho ho hold on.” SPF-100! BIKE LOCK! GOGGLES! “Ok, let’s go.”


Ok. Ready. Now that I look like a 54 year-old comic book guy scared of facing the world as he leaves his mothers basement for the first time. Regardless, we set off to map the playa. Our first Burning Man venture. “WE’RE AT BURNING MAN, DUUUUUUDE!” Donovan repeats for not the last time as we turn up 6:45 and head straight to the easiest landmark on the horizon, The Man.

It’s actually quite pleasant out here. Yes it’s 8 am. Most people are still knocked out from the prior night. It’s absurdly quiet. The air simply absorbs all noise and digests it with equal expedience. It’s certainly moist out as well. I am in the desert right? This cold and wet thing, is not something I had prepared for. Shake it off. There is The Man! I can see him inching closer as we pedal our bikes through the moist clay beneath. the playa sticks to the wheels a bit? I find myself kicking the wheels as I am riding to get the cumbersome little bits off. Ah, hell with it. BUUUUURNING MAN!!

The Man is just in front of us now. We begin to race each other a bit. I quickly wind because of this “bug”, and the apparent lack of oxygen at 4,000 feet. “There he is man, woooooooooo!” Donovan yells out as we pull our bikes to a BMX-like skid at the entrance. What are we 11 years old?

“Hey fellas” says a woman in a pink fur trimmed coat, “Y’all get in last night?”

“Yup” and something remotely bromantic like “BURNING MAN!” and a chest bump I am sure followed this sentiment, you will have to forgive me it’s a bit of a haze.

“Awesome! well you will have to come back and visit the Man later! He’s eager to meet you!”

“Woowho!!! Wait what?”

“The Man isn’t open yet, he opens today at 6 pm.”

“Um, oooooh..ok. well let’s go grab some coffee at center camp then.”

“Oooh, They don’t open till 3 pm.”

“Of course they don’t. Is all that open space out there…open?” We ask, pointing in the general direction of nothingness.

“Absolutely! Happy burn!”


So we set forth, into deep playa. Eager to check out all of the art beginning to take shape, or at the very least, open to the public. Small things. Most will tell you, it’s very hard to impress me. As the resident Baron von Shootdown of virtually everything on the planet (something I have leaned to take pride in), I was taken aback by much of what I saw and will see in the coming days. The Embrace. The Library of Babel. Last Outpost. The Lost Tea Party. Parasolvent. The child that is me, ran amuck in the muck. Ducking in, exploring. Playing. Then, almost as a salute to being a kid again…

It began to rain.

Oh what joy and fun or dancing in the desert under a rainstorm. The beautiful cacophony water makes when it hits these structures. It was as if the art wanted to play too. So we played together, my meditation, my laughter. I was smiling. In the desert. This will not get old. It was as if the desert itself was trying to soothe me, calm me down and prepare me for what was ahead. “Relax Giac, you’ll be fine. Feel this water upon your face. Pick up your bike. Grab some breakfast. You have to continue your journey.”

I shit you not, the desert whispered it into my ear.

So with the rain settled and the day layed before us, we attempted the long bike back from deep playa. Funny thing about water, and playa. Everything that touches it becomes instant velcro. It like the playa wants, no, yearns to hug you. All of you. In large chunks. And then, once you have a decent layer of clay smeared upon your surface, you get another layer, and then another. About a quarter mile back our bikes were useless sculptures. Too heavy to carry let alone push. We left them, locked up and alone to think about how they failed us.

Now, we were left with our feet. Half mile from camp. The ground moist, and squishy. Each stomp picked up an easy pound of “stuff”. The same joy and pleasure I had once felt was quickly becoming disdain, a not so subtle reminder that in order to burn, I needed to relinquish control. All of it. You are very much just a passenger at Burning Man, letting the wave take you where it may. Sure. I’ve read this before, but not being a particularly spiritual person, I simply scoffed and called bullshit. But now, I am the one, with bullshit all over me. Particularly under my boots. A full 5 inches taller we made it back to camp, and hid until the sun came up.

Riding your bikes in the rain. Sparkle Pony Offense #2.


Now by “hid” I mean passed out. The sheer exhaustion of making it back to camp, from 2 miles away, drained us, only to be awoken, quite fittingly, by the #HottestFeelingInMyAdultLife. Our currently unshaded structure sat directly, I am sure, with a large magnifying glass pointed straight down upon us. The rain was gone, the streets completely dry once more, and the “oh, this is the desert” feeling beginning to hit us as the sun beat down on us like a Ferguson cop. We had no real plan for a shade structure. It seemed like a “nice to have.” BRC has a way of making you think real quick about some of your prior decisions, and better yet how to fix said decisions. Luckily we had 40 feet of duct tape and 4 thermal blankets. You’d be surprised how well this works. Our neighbors around us were as well. That somehow the desert hadn’t decided to make quick moop of our little invention is something I was very grateful for. Immediately upon donning our little tent with enough thermal blankets to make Apollo 13 proud, the inside temperature went from 110˚ to about 78˚. Glorious air conditioning.

I called our little home Disco Brawl, because it was sure to be home to much internal and probably a few external arguments. It was clear that this entire ride is going to be coming in waves. Up then down. then up again. One thing that was not an argument however, was how badly we needed a mojito. You have to give it to us Philly boys. No matter how disoriented e are, you can be sure that we are going to find the open bars. Mojitos. Some Vodka..thing. Some rum..thing. Some quesadilla..thing. Everything laid bare before us.


“Ok. I’m starting to get this, but we really need to plan this thing out.” I come to realize. SO after a full day of welcoming and revelry we head back to camp to prepare for opening night on the playa. After a quick meal pack of flavored tuna and rice, we douce ourselves with water and don our finest glowsticks so as not to be run over by the waking mutant art cars hitting the streets as darkness falls. “ready dude?” Donovan asks me, completely sincere as he was the first one to experience this just the night before.

“Yeah sure, how nuts could it possibly be?” I respond. I actually thought about this. Having experienced my fair share of NYC nightlife in it’s heyday, and a fair share of off kilter raves in abandoned places here there and everywhere, I responded in the most honest way I could. What I didn’t catch was Donovan’s smirk. A sly little number as he kicked off on his cruiser, into the darkness. So we biked onward, the music building in volume and intensity as the streets counted up from I. We were offered shots at H. The DJ in the camp at G waved us on. The art bike blowing fire at F damn near turned us medium rare. E was eerily dark and quiet. The calm before the storm? D enveloped us in a flock of LEDs, the bass from C coursed through our bodies. The cheers from B filled us with unenviable excitement, and as we burst onto the esplanade, eyes wide, mouth open, I tried to be epic. I tried to muster the words. Words to etch into history. Words I could tell my children about this very experience. Words so academic that every Harvard grad would personally quote me on every postcard form every backpacking journey they embark on from here to the end of time. Words that would completely sum up what lay before me. What came out?

“Jesus. Fucking. Christ.”

Burning Man: Chapter 1 The Journey Ahead


This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy. My childhood brain recoils back flashing images of a near naked Chevy Chase about to take the plunge for a moment of skinny dipping glory with the other-worldy gorgeous Christy Brinkly. I’m on a plane, purposefully headed to a desert. Where I will purposefully try to live for 7 days. The research has been done. The checklists have been checked, burned, and then rechecked. I know I’m forgetting something.

“Fuck I hate traveling.”

The woman next to me shifts a little in her seat. Jesus I am speaking out loud now. What am I doing? Why did I say yes to this? This is the kid that literally petitioned the Boy Scouts asking if it was mandatory to go camping in order to get the outdoorsman merit badges. Now, I find myself hauling 100 lbs of hunt into the harsh reality of Nevada. No, Spielbergian mirage can remotely prepare you for Nevada. It’s comforting. That;s for sure. Those moments when you are driving about in the rental car, getting th least minutes items you will need. You know. The little things like, food, and water. You see these little manufactured neighborhoods, and immediately images of ET and Poltergeist, for some reason, give me comfort.

“We are going to fucking BURNING MAN DUDE!!!!” was literally on repeat by my best friend Donovan. This asshole. Well, he got me here. Of anyone to convince me to go camping in a fucking desert, it’s this guy. He’d probably convince me to go drilling on an asteroid to save the world if he wanted to. The kids got an absurd energy about him. Everyones best friend.

Admittedly, this is exciting. As someone who lives for the study of urban design, play and experience design. This is it. The mecca. The end game. I came out here to try to put some semblance of my life together. To find that spark. For the past few months I’ve been, well, all over the place mentally. Job. House. PlayCincy. Art. WRKP Co. Freelance. I don’t know why but for some reason I feel like I am in a flatspin of creativity. It just keeps going in circles and I can’t control it. Push left, thrust right. Nothing works. Just an endless cycle of going no where, but everywhere at the same time. This is not a good feeling. I like control, or at least the closest semblance to it. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. I like to remove myself from control, so long as I know there’s tracks up ahead that this locomotive will be staying on.

So yes. going to Burning Man seems like a brilliant idea to lose myself in the mess of myself. That’s how I justify it. I need chaos in order to get order. Shoot a nuke at a supernova, see what happens. I really have no idea what to expect, and for the first time in my life I don’t care. I’m going to let the ocean of whatever this is, pull me in, and I’ll learn how to control it later. Oh hey look. Rocks.


So here we are, driving through Nevada. The conversation twists around, we lose cell signals which is actually kind of soothing, although with that we lose the ability to fact check each other. Wait how close are we to Area 51? No, Breaking Bad took place in New Mexico..didn’t it? Not sure. It all looks the same out here. That same damn that a hill? or a mountain? Whatever the fuck it is it taunts us in the distance. What is that distance exactly? I have no sense of scale out here. Shit. And it’s quiet. Real quiet. Sound absorbing quiet. Murder your best friend and no one would know quiet. Putting that in my back pocket..just in case.

This journey out here though, the 1 hour and 45 minute trek from Reno to Black Rock City, amps you up. It prepares you. You can feel the lure to The Man. Unfortunately, what did evade, all of our research, was that right when your GPS says you are 15 minutes away (20 miles, give or take), your car will stop on the road. Your car will stop. You will get out. You will peer down the line of other cars, stopped, on the road. You will then break out the guitar/frisbee/soccer ball. You will meet your new German neighbors. You will honk the horn at the couple making out in front of you instead of driving those 40 feet up the line. Because in all of that research about surviving in the desert, you forgot the one, very key detail in all of this. There are 60,000+ people, trying to squeeze through 1 door. Well, god dammit.


For the next 12 hours, you will be tested. Mentally. Physically. Having already been flying for 5 hours, and driving about for 2, the first hour is the humorous one of stopping and starting. Stopping and starting. Now, I lived in north Jersey for the better part of my life. I’ve sat in both Friday and Saturday shore traffic on the GSP. I’ve been privy to the many plans to avoid it. Take 287. Leave at 2 am. Drive on the shoulder. But at the end of the day (when you finally arrive), there is absolutely nothing you can do about the situation you are in. It’s a single file line. You can’t go around, up, over or under. You just have to sit. Manage your body. Manage your mind. And try to find a way to not use the spoon/pen/headphone jack lying about to gouge out your own eyes in an attempt to bleed out.

Yes. The wait to get INTO Burning Man, was so grueling, so unexpected, and so beyond my level of comprehension that a 20+ year old event can’t figure out the simple logistics of entry. It was around hour 4 of going from 40 feet away from the entry to 6 feet, that I had my first real breakdown. Donovan was asleep, I was behind the wheel. I was staring, STARING at the gateway, 1 car in front of me, and I wanted to go home. Bad. I wanted to just hard turn my rental car and blast through the crowds straight back to Reno. I felt, madness, for only the second time in my life.

Little did I know, this wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel that this week.


A history lesson learned

God I hated history in school. I’m sorry Mr. Albanese. You made the class awesome, and fun. But I was just absolutely not into it. There were flashes, moments if you will, where I was engaged. But i feel like all of those moments related to when Brooke Clair flipped her hair or smiled in my general direction. History sucked. Past-tense.

If I have learned nothing from being a designer, it is to not just learn from, but also copy-paste, xerox, cut-glue, and flat out swipe whatever I can from those before me. The learnings. The styles. The processes. Just make it all yours. Syphon it in like you are Neo slurping down jujitsu through a Matrix straw, and when you are done, pass it left.

History, has taught me plenty of lessons in my old age. I’ve accepted who I am as a designer. I am not some uber-meta game changer. My last name will not join the ranks of Rand, Eames, Wright, etc. This is an important self-realization every designer should make. I do believe I have the skills to be a starter, mind you, even Trent Dilfer won a Superbowl. No, I am more of a tracer. I see. I love. I adapt. I refresh. Learning this about myself, has lead to my love of old. With all the advancements in the new, kids today will struggle going back just in their own lifetime. An issue only Sam Beckett could truly understand.

But while laser focus on your trade makes you exemplary (and kind of typecast if you ask me), it’s understanding and solving for the past that makes for good TV. Doctors need to know EVERYTHING about you in order to treat you correctly. Lawyers and police play both sides of the coin in solving crimes. Juries need to comprehend which side is the truth. Lives are held at stake. Relationships grow (or crumble). THINK. Every time we see an accident, our immediate thought is what’s happened here? as our brain tries to fill in the gaps of understanding to account for what it sees. History (gray) matters.

Fast forward. Present day. Everything I was ever proud of creating, is due in large part to the amount of research I put behind it. Which is why I am very, very excited to enter into my latest project partnership with a little building in the West End. Let’s just call her Regina. Regina del West. Theoretically built in 1875, Regina has a story. 3 to be exact. and 4600 sq ft of wood, brick and sandstone. Upon her head she wears a crown, visible from the long stretches of i-75 northbound, as well as the vestiges of Union Terminal. I have walked a mile inside Regina already. Her eyes heavy, her wooden brow weary from years. And while the billboard facetted to her head surely assured her life long-lasting in servitude to the Mad Men gods. I will rejuvenate her. Remind her of her beauty. Spark a suburb clinging onto the lifeblood of its neighbors. Regina will be alive and a beacon of shining hope that was once dead, left to rot, abused and misunderstood. Will. Rule. Again.

The West End never left.

But it sure as hell is making a return.

Regina del West was home to cattle herders, confectioners, and cabinet makers. It’s spurned lasting love and housed those when love was lost. It was a safe house for a printer and his brother, the musician, who introduced him to his future wife. Regina saw a man change his name because it was hard to pronounce (no it wasn’t German). She watched a young beer maker grow. Tailors, stenographers, phone operators, laborers, box makers, plasters, porters, cashiers, molders, carpenters, finishers, packers, cigar dealers, drivers, truck men and a chiropractor traipsed through her halls before the calendars hit 1941. Oh the stories in Regina’s walls. Walls that have been put up. Walls that have come down. But walls that will stand strong long after my chapter is written in them. Walls that I will hug, and call home.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, my Regina del West.


The Cheesesteak via Penn Station

Very recently, a true and blue Cincinnatian, upon finding out I am from Philly, asked that I try a Penn Station Philadelphia Cheesesteak. Now I have stepped down this path before. Every one seems to think that with ingredients so simple, cheese and steak, that they can slap them together and throw the Philly™ brand right on it. “COME! Experience a taste of Philadelphia! It’s just like living there! Or at Least passing through!” And who is to say it’s not? Surely, my mind is whisked away to France every time I sip champagne. Well, allow me to put this record on repeat. It’s not that simple people.

To truly test the merits of a PS Philadelphia Cheesesteak, I had to eat it under the most suitable conditions that a cheesesteak was inevitably designed for, with a hangover. You see in Philly, we are careful with our intake of the city’s signature sandwich. We don’t glamorize it in a chain. It doesn’t really come up as an option for lunch everyday in our thought process. Nor dinner. It is a sandwich that the world assumes runs through every Philadelphians anatomy. Wiz in the veins you might say. But that is simply not the case, well, for most of the city. There are a few times when a cheesesteak is required eating, and almost all of those moments revolve around inebriation. The 2am Pats/Genos run. The 11am didnt-quite-make-it-there-last-night-cause-I-drank-too-much run. The before-any-ballgame run. The someone South-Philly-challenged-you run. Or, the you-are-a-tourist run.

Yes, Philadelphians argue over the best one, much like Cincy and it’s “chili.” But no matter if it’s Pat’s, Geno’s, Carmen’s, Tony Luke’s, Campo’s, Jim’s, Steve’s, John’s, Shank’s or any of the glorious food carts about the city, each cheesesteak abides by a few unspoken rules, all of which Penn Station East Coast Subs broke.

Having been born in Jersey, lived just outside of New York City, and spent an equal amount of time in Philly, I can tell you, that the # 1, make or break of your sandwich, begins and ends…with the bread. Cincy, and the midwest in general, seems to lack this fundamental truth. I always thought a fabulous incentive/economic development idea would be to just give a couple families from the northwest an entire city block, complete with storefronts on the ground and residences above. These families have talents. You need the baker, the butcher, and the cheese maker. This simple triad forms the foundation of food gloriousness, not to mention spurns economic growth around it. Just watch, specialty shops like pasta, sausage, and pastry would pop up. Very shortly thereafter you will have a deli, a cafe and a BYOB all in a nice little row.

But I’m getting off track, in Philly, all the great sandwiches use Sarcone’s bread. And I mean, ALL of them. Crispy on the outside, soft and moist deliciousness on the inside. This hoagie roll has some serious girth. PS is a chain, and therefore has their own mass production way of making bread. But honestly it falls in the same boat as Subway, Potbelly, Jimmy John’s et al, as a universal “loaf.” The chain shops seem to go out of their way, to make sure their bread isn’t “in the way” of the sandwich. It lacks the crunch that shops try to faux by “toasting” it. And something in the water out here has the bread just not getting that fluff you see back East. The end result is something between a Kroger’s Bake-It-Yourself doughy mess and a tortilla.

Strike 1.

Now, there’s the ingredients. Cheese and steak. And the way in which you order them. You see there is a vernacular here. It’s what makes a cheesesteak, a Philly™ cheesesteak. ‘Wiz wit’ or ‘wiz witout’. It’s not complicated. What’s it mean? It means you want your cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz either with or without onions. Can you get them with other things? Like Provolone? Mushrooms? Pizza Sauce? Peppers? Sure. But let’s leave those to the experienced shall we. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And if you can’t get the basics, I’m not putting you in the advanced class.

PS’s default cheese is provolone. Now, this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just not right. What I have noticed out here in your sandwiches is a lack of detail that often comes in the form of an adjective. For example, I often crave an Italian hoagie. When this happens, I order from a deli at the corner of 4th and Plum (it’s closest to my work). It comes with ham, salami, provolone, tomato, onion and something that I think was Italian dressing. Again, not wrong(ish), but not right. It should be, capicola ham, prosciutto di parma, genoa salami or soprassata, sharp provolone, roma tomatoes, onions, red wine vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano. See what I did there? Adjectives. Very important adjectives. In the case of the PS provolone, it should have been sharp provolone. Correction, it should have been Cheese Whiz, and I should have asked for sharp provolone. Nonetheless..

Strike 2.

And call me sentimental, but there is something about the experience of ordering a cheesesteak at any of the Philly locations, that PS missed out on. You know exactly where people were or are going as you wait online. If it’s 11 am on a Sunday, they are pregaming for the Phillies or Eagles. If their clothes are sweats and their hair is a mess, they were probably at Roy’s or the PoPE way too late and drank way too much the night before. If someone is explaining how to order to someone else, well, welcome to Philly! I hope no one spit on you during your stay. There is a beautiful energy in those moments. Those fabulous line rides of people watching that end in meat. And cheese. And cheese covered fries. The system is so efficient. Just piles of pre-marinated, thinly sliced sirloin, slung onto a Sarcone’s hoagie roll pre-slathered in whiz and topped with onions, handed down the line to a wrapper, all in the blink of an eye as the server yells “NEXT!” At Penn Station, on campus, on a lazy Sunday, mere blocks from frat house row, I stood alone. Listening to SportCenter recaps and watching a grillmaster slop the meat and onions onto the bread, cover it with soft provolone, and then send it through a toaster.

Strike 3.

Now, you might be thinking that it’s unfair to put the “experience” on trial here. As PS just doesn’t have the volume nor are they known for their “cheesesteaks” to such an extent that people travel from all over just to experience the sw-east coast life. To which I say, if you are going to put PHILADELPHIA in your title sandwich, you better damn well represent. Getting the cheesesteak is just as paramount to eating a cheesesteak in Philly. People travel in groups. Families go there together. The camaraderie and comfort in that simple sandwich is what makes ALL the steak houses in Philly equal. You might be thinking, “c’mon dude, it’s a chain. You can’t judge Penn Station like that.” But I have seen this here. In Cincy, at a place you all call Skyline. I’ve heard the wonderful stories, accepted that people crave this stuff, and experienced the mild arguments over which Skyline is better, to which some smart ass always ends with “The Camp Washington one!”. So I know that a chain can bring reverence, and be madly efficient at it (Lord knows Henry Ford himself looks down at both the cheesesteak and Skyline ways with a tear in his eye, and “Finally.” running through his head).

I know it sounds like I am dissing the Penn Station cheesesteak. By all regards it’s an ok sandwich. Price-wise it’s right in line with a Philly one ($10), and served it’s purpose (my hangover was nearly gone upon completing this post). It’s just not a Philadelphia™ cheesesteak. Because of the their name, and the gall of using “Philadelphia” in front of their sandwich (as many chains have before them) they are, by all marketing accounts, the Subject Matter Experts to the thralls of people that haven’t had the experience to compare it to, thus I am going to judge them differently as many here would. And until I can successfully figure out how to get a piping hot, fresh-off-the-line cheesesteak from 572 miles away to do a side-by-side comparison for you, they will continue to be the apex of which all other area cheesesteaks will be judged. However, next time you find out I am from Philly, and ask me to try this or that cheesesteak, know that I’ll feed you a line that I learned when I moved out here.

All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon.

Oh and by the way, the best sandwich Philly has to offer is not even a cheesesteak, it’s a roast pork, but don’t tell anyone, I don’t want those lines to get longer than they already are.


I still recall the first time I visited this city, back in July of 1999. My friend took me to a hobby shop up in Mt. Lookout. I saw something cool, probably a 1:50 scale Millenium Falcon or something, and I asked how much it was. “Please?” asked the merchant. “Okay, um, please can you tell me how much this is?” was my response. My friend snickered. The man behind the counter glared at me. Little did I know the gentleman was just asking me to repeat myself. So it is only fitting, that I use that moment, as the jumping off point of observing language in conversation.

Fast forward to today. With many tools at our disposal to analyze language, what can we learn from a simple discussion? Simple being a relative term, let’s take the last day of the 3 day “Cincinnati Streetcar Debate.” My original goal of this was to use all three days, however with this being my first forray into transcription, 4 days of tedious typing, rewinding, listening and repeating, quickly shattered that idea. Instead what you see here is the final 1 hour and 45 minutes of discussion amongst Cincinnati City Council on December 4, 2013.

During this time, all council member gave their final remarks in hopes of swaying just one member in either direction so that a “pause” on construction would not happen. We all know what happened. And I’m not going to go into detail again, if you need a refresher, feel free to read this piece I wrote. Instead, I would like to break down the conversation. Our council commended our ability to make them accountable during the 3 days of debate. Well, I’ve got news for them, I’m just getting started.

As voters, we have to be really look between the lines when it comes to political jargon. It’s politics. It’s supposed to be confusing. That’s their goal, generally, to hide and bend truth so that public perception can be bent along with their will. To get “group think” working against you, you really have to be a horrible politician. Luckily, this is Cincinnati. So let’s look at all that jargon, and try to divulge some meaning shall we?

For starters there is the conversation as a whole. This piece should give you an example of just how long almost 2 hours of speech looks like translated into colorforms. It is the straight up conversation, and I assigned each speaker a color as noted by this key.
Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 12.34.16 AM

At 17,002 words it was interesting in itself. The piece points out the obvious, of course, that those looking to garner one more vote were talking the most. But what were they really saying? To answer this, I ran the entire transcription through Wordle, an online tool that aggregates the most common words and makes them larger based on usage. Normally this works like a charm. For example you could run Moby Dick through it and the final piece would state, Man Hunts Whale. It’s kind of a Cliff Notes for Dummies, if that’s even possible. So what turns up if I run all 17,002 words though? You get an image where “streetcar” is literally lost in the cloud.


Funny right? Now, it’s not totally fair that I left in some of these words, although I hope that by bringing this to light, our public speakers will become better public speakers. Modern language has long suffered form “Ah” “um” and it’s politically correct equivalent phrase “you know” (more on that later). Wordle does take out the more common words such as articles, prepositions and a few other things. So for the next few, experiments, I took some liberties and deleted the ahs, um, and other commonly used terms due to the formality of the proceedings (Mr and chair for instance). So what are the next few experiments? The individual councilmembers contributions to the conversation, isolated. Enjoy.


Councilmember Flynn was one of the surprisingly more eloquent speakers. And by eleoquent I mean he didn’t studder or resort to long pauses, or the use of “Ah’s” and “um’s.” This usually means that the speaker either has a well thought out dialogue, or is allowing their brain to structure a thought before their mouth blurts it out. Translation, a slow speaker. The lack of pause could be due to his low word count. Mr. Flynn, while considered someone “on the fence,” was also the least talkative, not even breaking the 600 word mark. That’s Smitherman worthy. He was, however, the most clear with his remarks. Stating “information” (wanting, need and lack thereof) being his reason for voting for pause, you can see that word being his most used.



Councilmember Mann is also considered by many to be the only other swing vote. The old Mann couldn’t see anyway around the costs of the project based on the numbers presented to him, so he’s reserving judgement until a newly appointed auditor gives him, well, probably the same numbers. Personally, I enjoyed leaving in “ah” “mr” and “president.” It makes for what I consider to be a pretty accurate portrayal of his speech pattern, but to be fair, I cut them out in an edited Top 25 words, where you can see that “cost” is a pervasive word and goes along with his #1 gripe. Ok, two for two so far.



Ann Murray surprised me. I actually thought she had the least amount of talking time. Turns out she spoke more than both Sittenfeld and Seelbach. However, what she was saying, is anyone’s guess. During this entire debate, Murray has been extremely tight lipped on her reasons for disliking the streetcar. Sure, the easy thing would be to hide behind costs, and her “fiscally conservative” nature. But if so, then say that, use your words. Instead, her most common phrases where “really,” “want,” “people,” “council,” “appreciate,” and a slew of others. There is one that stood out though and I had to go back and learn why. You may see the “know” all super big. But know what? Well, as it turns out, Amy’s favorite phrase is “you know,” which is a deflection meant to comfort the listener into thinking that the conversation is on equal footing. That everything being discussed is known amongst the two conversing parties. It’s a subconscious move, but sometimes it’s easier to make everyone feel, you know, like the information shared is obvious.



Seelbach_25 Edited
Oh Mr. Seelbach. I love ya buddy, but you are not going to be winning many battles these next four years. Your brutal honesty is refreshing, just be careful that it does not become you or your supporters downfall. You clearly speak from the heart, as your conversation was littered with pauses, ah’s and stutters. It’s unfortunate because we can literally see your frustration. It reminds me of the first time I experienced office politics, I was young and stupid. No friends were made, and while I may have been correct, no horse would hitch themselves to my wagon. Your shining light? Clearly you fight for the “people” as that was your word of choice.


Councilmember Simpson. What is there to say? Yvette put the weight of the supporters on her shoulders and like a good lawyer tried to deflect all the bullshit that had been flying around for days. So much so, that I really feel like her words became scattered in a sense. While she reiterated the obvious motion of “free money to do your damn study and keep on constructing” it was lost in the fact that she had to remind people of basic human rights, litigation and law for dummies. Considering her word count was nearly 1/6 of the total count over two hours, I’d say she did a pretty good job of limiting her ums. Her most common word is unfortunately a slang term, “gonna,” which a lot of people actually used. I debated for a bit as to whether I should change these to actual versus phonetical, but I think it’s one of those things we as a society need to be more aware of. We need less coulda, woulda, shoulda, and more “going to.”



P.G. is, in my mind, going to be Mayor after a successful recall election exactly one year from today. He was incredibly quiet on day three. Like Mr. Seelbach, I’m pretty sure he was just fed up with chambers, and just wanted to move onto the business of doing good for the city. He will do good for the city. Why do I know this? He makes sure to constantly challenge us to “think.”


I really wanted this character to tank. Hard. Unfortunately, he and his wife were up late the night before, clearly practicing his speech. Full of dramatic timing and absolutely no substance, Smitherman managed to get through his tale with no ah’s, um’s or stutters. He also managed to get through it by reinforcing his smug, better-than-though-next-level douche-bagginess, insulting all of chambers, the public, and viewers at home in the process, but hey, it was Oscar-worthy. What was his ode about? Why “thank”ing the “mayor” of course! I guess he should get points for both showing up to the meeting and not falling asleep this time. Now if someone could get him to talk about the issue at hand with relevance and not like a republican voting on Reagan’s Star Wars program we might be getting somewhere.


I really thought Winburn would get the award for least talkative, but that surprisingly went to Flynn (which I think may be a pattern these next four years). Instead Winburn gets the Best Bill Cosby Award. I swear to God at one point I thought he would whip out some Jello Pudding pops and hand them to all the “proud little kids councilmembers” who were growing up before his eyes. Not to be a Debbie Downer Mr. Winburn, but at least the other members of council don’t make “y’all” a pervasive part of their dialog when addressing a city on important matters. But you seem to also want to ignore the issue at hand anyways, and just talk about the new “mayor.”


Ah, Mr. Young. There are no words for what you tried to accomplish, so I’ll just let your words speak for themselves. “Ah, Mr. Chair, simply think.”



Finally, there is the Mayor himself. It’s hard to really justify exactly what is going on here. Cranley has to moderate, so much of his word count is due to that. He often times felt a need to deflect comments immediately after a supporter gave them, which only sort of muddied the conversation. His Top 25 is littered with phrases like “public want” and “chance speak.” The funniest thing is his word of choice is, know (no?). I guess that’s his right, he’s the moderator, mayor, dictator, what have you. I’d like to say that there is some meaning in his most common words. I’d like to say that there was a pattern that came out. But he is extremely well trained in his reserve and speech. You know who else was? G. Dubyah.

Now this was all well and fun, but I wasn’t really getting what I wanted. So I double-backed again and went through each persons dialogue. Much has been said of Cincinnati being “a city united” lately. Ok, Cranley has that on repeat. But is that really true? Is the council actually speaking like that? Well, in my final graphic, I summed up all the prior bits, and added a final data point. Exactly how often did a councilmember use I (I’ve, I’d, my, me) versus we (we’re, we’d, us, our)? The results? Well, I’m going to just put this right here.


I actually just listed everyone alphabetically, but have since realized that if you put their words into a conversation between two people, it’s actually quite humorous.
“Mr, ah, information cost, you know. People gonna think…”
“Thank Mayor”
“mayor…simply think.”

If you would like to download the transcription and have fun for yourself you can do so here. Perhaps my Engrish, PhD friends can shed some more insights.
The video I used to get these is from the city website, but you can also download a version here

Population versus Transit

Buses? We don’t need no stinking buses.

When looking at modern urban planning/growth/development/etc, we always look to history to see moments where things worked or didn’t, because building on such a large scale costs millions, effects thousands, and more importantly generates the cities identity for decades to come. It’s very common for cities to go “all in” on one export or another. You do what is available to you regionally. History will show you how cities often boom right when their hedged bet becomes popular. But look at what happens when your export no longer becomes the flavor of choice. Pittsburgh hit the height of its glory when trains were all the rage and steel tracks were needed across the US. Detroit then took all their swagger after the war when everyone saw the infinite possibility of cars. In the past 20 years you’ve had a second “wagon’s west” movement as young pioneers are swaying out there headed for technological gold. History hasn’t been so kind for the first two, and we will see how the West Coast cities fare in the coming years, but I am noticing something quite unique amongst major metropolis, the big guys like NYC, Philly, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. They aren’t remotely unique.

Now before you kill the writer, allow me to explain. The more successful, sustainable cities are, the more likely they also don’t “hedge their bets”. Besides the obvious differences (landmarks, regional culture, civic pride), each of these cities has a very similar yet equally diverse level of investment in the arts, public transportation, housing, public safety, wellness, and infrastructure. In other words, they are all well designed.

Now the population versus transportation debate is always one of chicken or the egg. One begets the other thus requiring expansion on the other etc etc. When I started plotting this graph, I simply wanted to see where it goes. Truth be told, there is too much information on here. For some inane reason I started by plotting the population of Cincinnati versus NYC and Philly, thinking that was fair. So then I moved into something slightly more midwest like Chicago. Really not fair. So then I brought in cities that Cincy is always or at least lately has been compared too (Pittsburgh and Portland), and one rather unique one that it hasn’t, San Francisco After a while I simply just started making something pretty. This notion deserves to be interactive piece,  as trying to mark noted transportation points in history for Cincinnati, et al, is slightly more difficult than you’d expect.

You see, transit histories in other cites are fairly set in stone. There was a decision when to build something, how long it took, when it opened etc. That’s because for the most part these cities were born, and refused to abandon rails. For the most part, anyways. When the nation got bus crazy, yes, they abandoned streetcars for something that was seen as cheaper, dependent on gas (which was cheap and widely available) and wasn’t “restricted.” All of these reasons are coming back to bite said cities in the ass as maintenance and gas prices soar. And as it turns out, restrictions are good for a city design (see bike routes, parking lanes, crosswalks, etc all). There are rules, very clear ones, that help cities flourish when it comes to infrastructure. Cincy though, really went “all in” with cars.  They saw their population increasing on a fairly steady pace, saw a need for transportation expansion, and made a reactionary choice to invest in buses because that is what every other city was doing. Buses, however, are the urban development equivalent of an impulse buy. Cars really allowed Cincinnatians to flee though. Who wouldn’t? The luscious untouched winding hills and countryside was a pleasant literal and figurative breath of fresh air.

A graphic like this needs to be more open source, which is why I’m just sort of dumping it here, and if it picks up partners, fantastic. There is simply too much information and I was trying to do too much in too short of time. It glosses over a lot of things, and goes into too much detail on others. What you can take away is the American dependance on cars, and just how much damage the 1950’s propaganda driven  lifestyle really, really, really did to us as a culture. Rails in a city, work very much like fencing for cattle. They allow you to roam about in a controlled space, thus keeping the damage to a specific area. But when America really got too big for it’s britches, and “single-handedly ended Europe the World’s little scuffle,” the mentality changed. We no longer wanted to be controlled, or to have to deal with set times, and set places. We wanted freedom. Hell, we gave it to everyone else, why shouldn’t we have it for ourselves? Enter mass marketing, commercialism, and the American promise of the old white picket fence, 2 and a half kids and dog. Want versus need.

It is so hard to pinpoint one err, there really isn’t one per say. Competition amongst the gothams, the depression (which is apparently the best form of contraception by the way), ensuing spending spree afterwards. I guess its really just progress in general, and city life. No one stopped to question anything they simply just reacted. Here is to hoping we learned a thing or two.

Download the full file here

Take it from a transplant

When I was being woo-ed to this city, there was one major advantage (that still exists to this day) on your side. Cost of living. When I visited, there was absolutely nothing redeeming. It was almost as if the hosts that brought me here, weren’t exactly trying to convince me of its possibility. Highlights of my tour included: lunches at Skyline, dinners at Montgomery Inn, and Fountain Square. So I did what I always do to learn about an area. I went on a walkabout. I just headed north, past central parkway, past liberty. I just walked. What I saw at the time, was a lot of painted plywood. Having lived in Killadelphia for more than 17 years, not much was phasing me, until this walk. It was depressing. It was quizzical. For the first time in my city life, I actually feared for my safety. It just didn’t make any sense. The history nut in me started to dig. In two days, I learned more about Cincinnati than most of the people I would be working with. But what I really “walked” away with, was a booming possibility. All too often in my life, I just missed the boat when it came to urban development. Brooklyn. Philly. It all slowly crept out of reach in the blink of an eye. But here, here is my third chance. Look at all this plywood begging to be torn down! It’s like a buffet.

So I learned about 3CDC, the master plan, Washington Park, Vine Street, and then, the streetcar. It was all too perfect. It just sat on a table with a tag that said “Drink Me.” And like the perennial sucker that I am, I did. I had $60,000 in grad school loans about to drop, a good job offer, and a chance to be involved in a community full of, well, resilient citizens is the best way i can put it. The Opportunity sign has been flashing behind my eyelids for the better part of two years, which is probably why I am so scorned right now, because I feel like I haven’t really attempted to cash in yet. But, it seems I have become a bit too much like 90% of the populace, and not enough like the 10% that remind me on occasion that it’s all for good.

I got swelled up into the politics. Hung out with the mayor. Rubbed elbows with the local business celebs. Made besties with all the local blogging socialites. You know, normal stuff. I haven’t yet started my own business or bought my own house, but I’ve gone further down that road here than anywhere else in my life. I got drunk on Cincy, both literally and figuratively. The streetcar though, oh what an interesting little debate. Hearing both sides was refreshing. You don’t get that on the The Coasts. The political favor is so loud that if you don’t agree, well, then you don’t matter. Here though. Here there is a debate, and it’s a good one.

Personally, I am in favor of the streetcar, but not for why you may think. Yes, I studied a fair amount of urban planning, enough to know the tangibles behind a good public transit system. But to be clear, the streetcar plan is not a good public transit system. It’s simply a foundation. A wonky, quirky one, which is probably why I was so attracted to it. Like everything else in this city, it was accessible. In my time here, I was literally hanging out with the mayor, the MAYOR of a major minor city. I shook hands with some of the Reds. Met decision makers at Proctor Gamble. You guys might take these things for granted, but you just do not get this kind of access in major cities. So this streetcar, it was my own little celebrity. In Philly you learn to fear SEPTA (their SORTA), with their out of control bus drivers that will just as easily run you over as it will go on strike holding an entire city hostage. In NYC there is the subway, which has become just as synonymous, and easily shapes the personality of the city that never sleeps. Now Cincy has this, streetcar. It’s so shiny, and orange. It reminded me of a Pixar character, and what’s awesome is I can be involved at every step of the process. It’s literally a big train set. I can learn so much, collect data, generate my own research. Play with the city. IT’S SO FUZZY I’M GONNA DIE!

Logistically though, it’s a terrible idea. The Loop unites two neighborhoods districts that you can easily walk. Something The Coasters are very used too. Twelve blocks here equals one NYC block, or 2 Philly ones. It’s no bigs really. Does it make hitting up Neon’s before a Reds game much more efficient? Yup. But, if you really want to get all the neighborhoods to like you, experience all you have to offer, the Loop should at least include Clifton. I have not been in on the full history of why the smaller loop got buy in and the larger loops did not, I am sure after almost 20 years of fighting for a rail line you kind of settle for whatever you can get. I am also a firm believer in the “you have to start somewhere” excuse. This line could succeed in the sheer fact that it’s supporters will will it too. The real concern I had for the line, is the argument that it would expand population (which in theory it can). The problem is though, that all the boarded up property within OTR is held up by (for the most part) 3CDC. All that property is unavailable for the public to come in and rehab. The difficult process of buying a house is even more complicated by 3CDC property ownership. So technically, the city will hold back it’s own development if it waits and tries to curate each property along and surrounding the line. But that’s another rant.

However, all of this is moot today.

In what has been an exhaustive 3 days of political theater, the new regime council, has literally managed to ignite the flame that can burn this city, in the most public decimation I’ve seen in years. You can already hear this nationwide giggle. I’m having these horrifying spinal tap flashbacks of my first day as a freshman in high school where I walk into the cafeteria and some random joke is on me (never wear teal, in shirts, shorts; separate or together). The rest of the US, strike that cause this is global now, world is laughing at you Cincinnati. The new Council uses “well, the voters have spoken, and they don’t want a streetcar” as their driving force. Jimmy Kimmel, Fallon and other late night hosts have proven time and time again just how much the American public knows about any given modern political topic. The large majority of the public are misinformed, and react to issues strictly based on emotion and persuasion. 95% is the typical number you hear. Cincy has the luxury of that number being lower, at 90% I’d say, but it is still difficult to overcome.


Choose your excuse below, but they all had very simple answers that detractors would simply ignore, and then move onto the next excuse on the list:
We can’t afford it.” Business wise, you can’t not afford it either. Cincy is almost past the point of no return in construction. You will now be spending the same to stop the project, if not more. Congrats. See graphic above.

The Line doesn’t come into my neighborhood, why should I care/pay for it.” It’s called increasing the tax base, more funds means more money for your neighborhood. Many have said that OTR residents should pay more in their own tax increase, which is a good idea. When asked, many residents said they were willing to do that. The streetcar is a privilege that can and should be partially funded by those that live near it.

It will never make money for us.” Technically, no it won’t. If you are the type that looks strictly at numbers, the streetcar will never be “in the black,” but no piece of public transportation is, not even roadways. Only in NYC and Boston do their systems pull in revenue, and that has more to do with population density that anything else. What numbers do not tell you, and to be honest you really do have to dig for these studies, is the long term ROI of the surrounding neighborhoods due to the presence of the rail lines. Typically, the rail line is like a magnet increasing population, businesses and improving health and well being. But, this council probably won’t “trust those numbers” seeing as they are in Cranley’s pocket haven’t seen it for themselves.

Just put in another bus” What I find funny about this comment, is I guarantee it came from someone that has never ridden, or had to depend on a bus. Here’s the deal. We have been a car culture for 70 years. It’s normal to depend on a car. But you don’t need one. Cars are a want not a need. Here, in Ohio, you could argue that point (I myself have almost put on as many miles on my car here in 2 years, as I had in 6 years in Philly). But cars/buses et al have a much faster degradation rate. The more use they get, the higher the maintenance costs. Not to mention that, a bus? really? You want to add another smoker to the environment? Have you lived under a rock for the past 5 years? Gas guzzlers are trending down, thanks to George W. and his electric car referendum, energy efficiency is the new Madonna. So, in this case, get off the bus already.

It’s a want not a need.” So is a car (see above), but you could say the same for food sources, which this city has, in fact. The fact that Cincy has misprioritized wants and needs for over 100 years is why you are borderline Detroit, and your population reflects as such.

Other excuses like “It’s laying off firemen and police.” “Schools are closing because of it.” “It made me stub my toe.” all reinforce the fact that the public simply does not understand city charters, how tax dollars work, and how a city maintains day to day operations. Nor should they really, that’s a politicians job, to manage that. But it should be a voters job to be informed. Perhaps a few simple questions are in order before we vote, kind of like a concussion test for football players. It’s sickening that it’s come to that, really, and actually quite ironic.

Ironic for me personally, in that, the very age where I say information overload causes irreparable damage to society, is the very thing that broke my little streetcar of desire. A lack of information by the losing campaign. A misguided amount of information by the winning campaign. What I would call a political “pick route” over the latest bits of info to confuse an already anemic public. Make no mistake, the streetcar lost the day Cranley was elected. When 58% of 27% of the total population left their homes on a rainy day to cast their ballot (someone really needs to fix that). Regardless of what happened, and what we all could have done prior to the election, what happened in those chambers is a far cry from a democracy and closer to a live reading of Parks and Rec.

Imagine if you will, just for a moment, that demeaning comments about your race, gender, intelligence, and logic are all fair game. Typical sitcom fodder from Parks & Rec correct? Only imagine it happening for real, in front of a live audience, and the outcome of said debate will affect an actual, existing city. I am all for people speaking their voice in a democracy, and agree or not, you can accept the ignorance from citizens. But on a major city council? From the Mayor? A mayor who said “any and all may speak about the streetcar” led to 3 days of citizen speeches, an incredible 100 or so pro to 5 against. People left work. Left school. Left their daily routine to flood the chambers, so that this charade could happen. He said that the council “endured” the voice of the people. I have news for you sir, it’s going to get a lot louder for a lot longer.

The facts were presented, and the Federal Government made it very black and white. If you pause, you will lose your funding. The result of this is, the streetcar project is over. Holes are left in the ground. Workers get laid off, and a manufacturing plant in Spain shuts down. I’m not fucking kidding. Allow me to offer a bit of advice when it comes to the federal government. You don’t fuck with the federal government. Case in point, millions of families along the Jersey shore are just now, or still have yet to receive federal grant money to rebuild their homes/lives. Cincinnati effectivly said, “nah, we’re good.” to $45 millions dollars. Dollars that are scarcely handed out to those in need. Want to fact check it? Sure. Feel free to call my family, who just received their federal grant money, and would be all too happy for even a small piece of what Cincy is oh-so-willing to throw away. Grants are very tense procedures, lots of i’s dotted and t’s crossed. It is not something to be taken lightly. Hell, it’s peoples jobs (they are called grant writers, maybe city hall should invest in a good one). Here’s what happens. This money cannot be used elsewhere. It was granted for use in the streetcar project, hence where the term grant comes from. If you try, a gigantic red flag goes up. Now they warn you, and go line by line through your expenditures to make sure the money is going where it is planned to go, otherwise they take it back. If that happens, well, you have affected their annual budget. This sudden surplus will now lead to them not being given as much next year. The grantees never forget, and you are now effectively blacklisted because you have caused them a headache. The Injustice Society led by Cranley, ignored a private investor willing to foot the bill for construction to continue while an audit takes place, just so that the Federal Government wouldn’t pull out. Nope. Not interested. Moyor Cranley then likened public transportation in the urban core to Blockbuster, DVD’s, laserdisc and other dying nonsense, and disregarded the outright facts. By canceling the project, the city of Cincinnati will have to pay close to, if not more than the amount of the streetcar. He admitted it himself.

The remaining Injustice Society should be ashamed of themselves for the way they acted before the vote, taking the time to not debate the topic, but instead throw the previous administration under the bus for putting us here in the first place, when 6 of the current council members were part of the previous administration. They sighted not being able to speak. I’m sorry, but to speak you need to a. show up to the council meeting, councilman, b. not be asleep in your chair and c. generally give a shit. Mr. Smithers Smitherman went so far up Mayor Burns Cranley’s ass that he left a rent check on the table before doing so. I’ve sat in and listened to many meetings in chambers ,and I swear I thought this guy was a mute until today. Glad to see he finally grew some balls, correction, found some other ones to caress that weren’t bigger than his and would keep smacking him down because he has no viable worth to add, to anything.

Cincinnati, has nothing right now to be proud of. With yet another wasted opportunity in the books, the Queen City of the West is, at best, a pauper. As someone in a position to fetch extremely creative talent from The Coasts, and having tried, multiple times, I would like to tell council this. I literally can’t pay people to come here. Look, this is simple advertising, you give people a bit of an illusion. Not an outright lie, just a stretching of the truth. This sounds cruel, but the streetcar gave this city the illusion of being something much bigger, growing, energetic. An outsider could allude to certain things, that maybe they wouldn’t need a car all the time, that they can get off work, go to the grocer and be home in minutes, or that the city is connected, or that it would be easy to get around, or that the city is moving in the right direction. See, not all outright lies, just stretches of the truth. Instead Cincy is forever set to battle the stigma that surrounds it, a city that can’t just seem to catch a break despite the good intentions of the people within it. I have talked at length, about the people here. You are all Ohio’s redeeming quality, despite that some lame study says y’all have the vernacular of a sailor. You are all untainted by the egos of The Coasts and despite constant beatdowns (Bengals, Browns, Indians, …just general Ohio-yness), you stand back up, and ask for more without ever batting an eyelash. It is your gift of resilience that should be praised, therefore it is fitting that this resilience will be your downfall. You see, that’s the chink in the armor. Austin, Portland, Atlanta and all the other cities we like to talk about have an identity (and growing populace), that is fostered and nurtured. The reason people, talented people, from these major cities get freaked out when they come here, it’s that feeling of being surrounded by Stepford wives. Something here, just isn’t right. It’s water. It’s vanilla. It has no identity. The majority (that voted) is perfectly happy just being meh, taking their punches, smiling and moving on. Well, maybe it’s time to start throwing a few punches yourself.

Before the final deathblow, the supporting council asked us to believe. Believe in what Cincy could be. Supporters have been shouting this from the rooftops for days. Thing is, you had as many as you could in those few days. We did believe, many still do. However, I watched that circus in those chambers. There is very little to believe that anything good will come from this regime, I however, would like to help. I offer Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Wendall Young and P.G Sittenfeld my services, free of charge, as a designer, strategist, marketer and overall get-it-doner. My little graphic that could proved design can start a conversation. So if you need help making a presentation, starting a recall campaign, being in a photoshoot, or if any of you want to be mayor during the next term, just let me know. And to the Beleibers, please stop using Journey as your call to arms, the irony of a 20 year old song from a since disbanded group as the voice for a hard fought project now on life support should not be lost on you. You are all smarter than that.

Stay calm and streetcar on.

Flop the Vote

Growing up, I cared very little for politics. My label as a Republican stems from my mom being as such, as well as knowing that Ronald Regan tried to make something called “Star Wars” a this galaxy…right now. To a 7 year old, this burns a mental loyalty into your soul. Living in Philly or NYC, the sheer density, and liberal values being shoved down your throat 24/7 basically leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Philly was actually so liberal, it was pointless to even vote. I would often (and I don’t recommend this) simply throw out a completely absurd retort to my rather hard core politico friends, even if I didn’t believe it, just to turn a night of mundane revelry into a charged one. They would chock it up to me being a naive Republican, I would chock it up to the importance of understanding both sides of problem.

It wasn’t really until grad school (of course), and applying the design process to different organizations, ideas, etc, that I really began to take a shining to politics. Because as it seems, in order to solve a problem, the biggest issue is not the funding or the solving…or the reality, it’s the politics involved. To make a difference in something you need to navigate many, many.. ideals, agendas, and preconceived notions for progress. We repeat our beliefs out loud, or in our own head so much so, that they become ingrained in our vocabulary. You’ll soon catch yourself unknowingly spewing your beliefs. No matter how morally, factually or culturally true they are. Etched into our atoms, I like to say. So campaigning nowadays takes on an interesting life.

As experience/interaction designers, we have to learn to throw out our personal beliefs in order to be able to observe without bias. Using this past Cincinnati Mayoral election as fodder for play, I am going to break down the entirety of the election process, make some educated assumptions, and ask some questions to see where things truly went wrong.

Let us start with the task itself. In the most basic of steps to “have your voice heard” you must do the following:

1. Be 18 years old
2. Get Registered
3. Find a Polling Location
4. Go to Polling Location
5. Have ID at the ready
6. Enter/walk up to/decipher your districts fun little voting machine
7. Have made a decision on whom to vote for
8. Submit votes
9. Go home and feel slightly more empowered than (typically) 70% of the populace

Now, it’s really the nuances here that determine the success rate of any of these given steps. Nuances and level of civic pride and/or involvement. Let’s start with step 1. Being 18 years old. I do recall my very first eligible election. My mom took me. I was overwhelmed. I was asked to fill out forms (with pens!) and it was in a gymnasium that was all squeaky and echoey. I remember the smell of moldy cloth as I walked up to the curtained booth, for the first time, without a parent at my side. Mom was in the booth next door. Within a minute or so the experienced pro next to me made the booths massive mechanical “clunk” sound signifying that her choices were made. I, stared blankly at a sheet realizing I successfully navigated all the way to #7 above, but had no idea what I aligned with. I remember my mom calling out asking if i was ok, and then me whispering back my dilemma, to which point she burst out in laughter, and I just began flipping switches.

Prepared or not, few still show up on game day mainly due to parental example. This trend has been observed heavily since the early 1950s. Keep in mind 18 year olds voting is a fairly new trend, only about 30 years old. For how loud the hipsterific millenials seem to scream mercy when the soap box falls near them, they rarely voice their opinion on the matter. Truth is, with only 49% of 18 year-olds actually registered to vote, very little put forth the effort to understand the candidates or their opinion (and one could say vice versa).

Step 2, the great clunker. Getting registered. Depending on the type of election, location, and about a million other factors, many don’t realize that they have to be registered, in advance (like 30 days ahead), to vote. Local governments use, interesting, tactics to remind people of this. Most notably people on the street with clipboards asking you if you are a registered voter. You know, that tactic that studies have shown immediately sends people into defensive mode, thereby closing their ear drums and sending their feet scurrying about like a countermeasure avoiding a missile. Now the other various ways involve, doing it online, at the primary, going to your local clerk/city hall/courthouse/post office, basically anything with an eagle on it, or attending a social event in support. Besides waiting for someone to knock on your door, these are pro-active methods. All viable if not annoying solutions to feed that amazing statistic that roughly only 70% of eligible people are registered, thereby allowed to vote.

Thus bringing us to election day. As if the steps prior aren’t annoying enough. Keep in mind, while the internet has sped up these steps considerably, a majority of the non-voters, i.e the other 70% or so, don’t use the internet as prevalently as you, currently reading this blog. So the ease in which you might consider these steps, is actually more of a physical exertion on many others. Now, to the polling locations. Imagine if you will, a city very much dependent on the car in order to get around. A city where people travel via 2 buses routes just to get some healthy food options. A city sprawled and disjointed by a severe lack of public transportation. Now, make them find (call, watch the news, internet, word of mouth) the district polling location, and then walk there in the rain. Go ahead, I’ll wait. In a society where even an automated phone system has been in play for nearly 26 years, never mind the internet, I find this absurd.

Ok, now once you get there, we kind of hold our breath. Let’s not even get into the irate crowds, bullying or random acts of incidence that can happen at a polling location. We could, but that honestly is a whole other article. No, let’s get into what many might think is a simple step 5. Having valid ID. A recent testimony by a PA statistician noted that of the 8 million voters in Pennsylvania, about half a million (a disproportionate number of them minorities) didn’t have a valid ID to vote. That’s another 6% off the top. So, to recap, you are 18, you have physically gone somewhere to register to vote, you have made the calls, internet queries or news watching to find your local polling location 30 days later, and in the interim have made a point of getting a valid ID which requires dealing with the ever delightful state of ______’s DMV. Still want to vote? Ok…

Let’s take a gander at your districts little fun box. Ever had that moment when you are driving your new car, it gets dark out, and you realize you have no fucking clue where the headlight switch is? Or how about that moment, when your 16 year old daughter out on her first date, keeps calling your new fangled phone that you can’t figure out how to answer? Or how about when your wife asks you to set the DVR to record something she will inevitably die if she doesn’t see it even though you hadn’t a clue that you even owned a DVR? Yes, I am talking about new-ness here, and the jarring sensation of it all. But that is what happens. When it comes to interaction design, you are bending peoples cognitive abilities. Influencing them, heavily, to understand the experience they are about to partake in, without (hopefully) instruction. Overstimulating this “cognitive load”, is very simple. See Windows 7 backlash. And the result is temporary confusion. Now add in the fact that there is no single device that is used across all wards to vote, tally, or maintain results. In this digital age, we still use very analog methods when it comes to voting. Something that is extremely counter intuitive to IxD, where the more you depend on a human for input, the greater the risk of failure. Regardless, it is well documented how badly designed these systems actually are, downright confusing even to a voter. Keep in mind this is a task not repeated often, and the system you may have used 2, 4 years ago, is likely changed even further. Many claim this is by design to prevent even the remotest form of tampering. I claim its just downright stupid, and a universal system/booth needs to be adapted and implemented showing realtime results. More on that later.

But all of this can be thwarted by the very next item on the list. Who do you pick? When it comes to voting day, the debating stops, and the word is typical. “Just get out and vote.” The assumption is that by now, you have heard all you need to hear and you are armed with the information necessary to make a clear decision. But truth is, a majority don’t. In the last mayoral election here in Cincinnati, the candidates voted 98% of the time exactly the same, with a disparity on 2 issues. Both are democrats. Neither are backed by their own party. Yes, this city had Jerry Springer for mayor once. Now I get it. Anyone that has heard me speak or attended my lectures knows my stance on modern media. You could probably get more factual information in a Stephen King novel. The perverting of social medias, and complete invasion of screens has melted whatever parts of gray matter in our brains that lend themselves to logical thought. Modern campaigns are so muddied and confusing that only key phrases and words ring true. We are being trained to skim over facts, and just take whole stories at headline value. FOR STREETCAR. AGAINST STREETCAR. No one asks why? Or to what end? People only see dollar signs and somehow they think it effects their life. When a library, school, fire department, etc was built down the street from you, did you notice more money being yanked out of your bank account? No. You didn’t. But you react to these issues because they are immediately followed up with things like, “Local schools cutting out football due to lack of budget” and immediately go to blame the biggest bill on the cit’s itinerary. There are apps and websites to help us make our decisions, like Elect Next, where after a few simple steps it can align you with candidates that share your values. Such items are great but you need to think of this ahead of time, and no, these tools will not “fill in details” like even an outsourced parking authority will generate $35 million in revenue annually for the city (See Philadelphia Parking Authority). All it will do is assign broad generalizations, unfortunately for the rest of use, we are dependent on you doing due diligence. Yet again, you need to be proactive here. Pretend you are shopping for a new fridge, do your homework cause you are going to be stuck with it for a bit (see again, this requires more effort than the 70% will allow).

But there always the chance that you forgot to submit your vote. While there are no hard numbers on this, it is still widely believed that somewhere between 0.1 and .3% of all votes fail to record due to user, machine or counter error. So yeah. There’s that.

Okay, there are many many things actually hindering down the voting process. But why, in Cincinnati’s case did it fail so miserably? When I polled a large swath of people the following day, the most common response was, “I didn’t know who to vote for so I chose not to.” Yup. The old S.A.T. trick, if you don’t know the answer, skip the question. See, this is where you need to shut off that defensive mode in your brain, the part that immediately said, “oh that’s bullshit, it’s a cop out.” Because I am here to tell you, that it’s not. If you are reading this (especially this far in), odds are you are heavily involved in your community, politically and otherwise. You want answers as to why this and that happened. Well, theres a couple ways to look at it. First and foremost do rule number one, and throw out your bias.

Now, you could do the numbers game, where at each step above you significantly reduce the amount of votes actual versus votes assumed. That is of course had the candidates done their jobs and gotten people to the polls. Historically, no candidate has put forth any real means of circumventing the above process. Technically, they can’t. That’s tampering. But no government seems eager to simplify this process to the point of Tweeting. I mean seriously. We can’t go door to door? We can’t have a mobile voting *chuckle* streetcar? In vast contrast to the presidential election (which has more money thrown about) I saw very little effort by any candidate to “stimulate the mob.” No, those useless yard signs don’t count. And I apologize, they aren’t useless, we all now know whose houses to egg on a consistent basis. We are a populace of the disillusioned, it shouldn’t take much to at the very least, antagonize …coax.. us into voting. The seemingly complicated process of voting may explain the rise in absentee ballots over the past few elections. By a lot actually. While still slightly analog, most of the process is completed online, requiring no socially awkward moments (feeding our modern introvertness), physically going to locations (other than a mailbox), and more time to research thoroughly.

More should be made of the vast amount of misinformation strewn about and passed, seemingly, amongst the twitterverse and other social realms. Cranley did nothing amazing to win this. He simply threw out chum to the sharks. Cranley’s numbers actually fell in line with most incumbents over the years. If anything I would place the blame on Qualls who, let’s be honest, let her supporters do a lion share of the talking for her. Ok, let me rephrase, her supporters always spoke louder than her, which placed her in the psychological position of “on the defensive.” The chatter, however, never really left the confines of downtown, where she was about as close to unanimous as you can get, but unfortunately isn’t enough to circumvent the decision making of the surrounding neighborhoods. Communities who, let’s face it, have been feeling extremely neglected since the resurgence of OTR. But it’s that face time, that door to door, that, lack of marketing “effort” that sank Qualls. I mean there are literally people out there that think they are personally paying for a streetcar that they will never use, and that their fireman neighbor is unemployed because of it. We played this game in kindergarten people, it’s called telephone. You actually changed the phrasing on purpose the further out you went. Remember? Qualls didn’t need voter turn out, she needed a better spinster. She should get whoever P.G. Sittentight is using, cause as far as I can tell he’s crushing it. A simple commercial showing your pearly-while smile, Benz driving couple, parking at the Banks, enjoying a ballgame and a laugh before hoping onto the streetcar to grab an overpriced hot dog at Senate then on a romantic walk through Washington Park enroute to a symphony performance is all that you’d need. Seriously, Rox, you have supporters that are filmmakers and would gladly do this for free.

However if it’s voter turn out that you seek, a large part of me says that you need to feed the lethargism of modern society. They want the 140 character voting process. The status update. The check in. The 6 second movie of the next 4 years of their life. We were trending that way even without smartphones. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality. With the reduced number of voters consisting of higher educated, proactive members of a community, my question is, are you prepared for the results of a system that can produce 90+%?

Let’s take a vote.