Traveling to a new city? Gone are the days when you could seek out a relatively unknown local haunt with killer food and great drinks.

Looking for a secluded beach? Sure you can find one, and the reason it’s secluded is because it sucks.

Want to attend a festival? If it’s worth a damn, you can be sure it will be packed with folks just like you.

The internet, social media and review sites like Yelp have ushered in the hidden gem’s death. Millennials will never again experience the risk of venturing to some remote corner and braving an untested meal. Online reviews have all but ensured the cream rises and the shit falls. I assume the worst places are kept afloat by an older generation unaccustomed to deliberate option weighing, but eventually that will fade.

I don’t judge this trend too harshly. My valuable dollars are better spent on one sure thing than wading into a dozen streams hoping for a catch. Take craft beer, for example. An overwhelming influx of new breweries makes keeping track a challenge. Beer Advocate allows people to rate each brew they drink and turn their courage into a safe filter for those looking to try something delicious on the spot. I reference the site when I’m making decisions so I can derive maximum enjoyment for each beer I drink.

On the other hand, diving in without a safety net is thrilling. Life experiences are not only the highlights, but the lowlights. And the spaces in between. When you remove any uncertainty, you’re left with a flawed decision making mechanism. Choices we make, bad and good, shape us. Like immune systems, we need a little bit of bad luck in order to keep us alert and healthy. The stories resulting from an exceptionally crappy incident are often infinitely better than those where everything went off without a hitch. We miss those when we’re tiptoeing along the paths traveled before us.

My gripe is simpler, though. Everything is so damn crowded. Savvy planning packs key spots and events unlike ever before.

Big cities always have two major scenes, those for the tourists and those for the residents. Review sites have broken that barrier now, too. While kitschy eateries and famous bars drew visitors in the past, people now hunt for the most authentic experience. The result is more outsiders at beloved locales and locals looking for a new location to relocate.

Events are even worse. Take Disney’s International Food & Wine Festival. My first trip to the annual celebration was back in Oct. 2011. Three days in Florida during an off peak time allowed us to hit most major attractions in all four theme parks and still had time to enjoy the multicultural fare from Epcot’s food kiosks. The stark contrast between the thinness of those crowds relative to the busy summer months was a dream. Any stereotypes about long lines vanished before my eyes. Flash forward to 2013. In two short years, the secret was out. Disney marketing convinced people to vacation in the offseason and crowds approached early summer levels. This kept me far away in October 2014.

Closer to home, there was the infamous Bacon Fest NY 2012. Capitalizing on the incessant  trend of fetshisizing bacon that’s plagued our culture over the past five to ten years, someone decided this event had to exist. Organizers expected 500-1,000 people and planned accordingly. The result was almost 3,000. Jesus Christ, people. Bacon is good, sure, but does it require the over the top obsession we’ve placed on it? Featuring bacon in ice cream or beer or any other dish screams, “Look how hip we are.” Same goes for the hordes that get giddy over it.

Sorry for the interlude. Tangents will kill you. Especially while driving.

One can see this trend most conspicuously in the expansion of “Con” culture. Comic Conventions used to be havens for a certain sort of enthusiast, removed from the mainstream. Now San Diego Comic-Con attracts more people than ever before. And they aren’t just from nerd culture. The move towards mass appeal has opened the floodgates. Other less famous conventions, like NYCC, have seen visitor numbers swell recently. The result is more famous guests and exponentially longer lines.

If a person or place does something well today, you can be sure it’ll be mobbed tomorrow. Word of mouth spreads like stage four cancer. We have two choices: join the masses in an abbreviated high quality experience or slog through a mediocre one. Some things are worth doing, no matter how crowded. People will always make the trip out to the beaches on July 4th. Or to visit family on Long Island for Thanksgiving. No amount of assured stress deters them. But maybe, just maybe, every once in a while it’s worth removing the training wheels, going against the grain, cutting away the safety net and any other cliche in favor of creating your own unique adventure. It may just end in utter failure, but at least you’ll have a story for your valor.

Outlets’ popularity has risen sharply in recent years, quicker than the growth of normal retail locations over the same time. Increasingly budget conscious consumers want value from their stagnant wages. Lower cost goods from established brands allow people to experience luxury for a fraction of retail prices. If this sounds too good to be true, it often is. Today’s outlet merchandise has only tenuous connections to the main lines retailers peddle through flagship stores.

Outlet stores are not a recent invention. They can be traced back to the 1930s, when clothing factories started offering excess or damaged merchandise at reduced prices. Until the 70s, all of the offered stock was incidental to the normal manufacture of garments on a large scale. As people increasingly grew wise to these bargains, however, retailers could no longer meet consumers’ demand and the business model began to shift towards lines specifically manufactured for the outlets.

As an example of this often deceptive practice, let’s take a look at J.Crew vs. J.Crew Factory. The former is a higher-priced, higher-quality mid-range clothing manufacturer most people know. They make clothing popular with the college crowd and twenty-somethings. Though J.Crew’s prices aren’t always worth the accompanying quality, a 30% off sale places most of their clothing in a value sweet spot. The latter, J.Crew Factory, is a lower end brand designed to compete with Gap, Uniqlo and H&M. Other than clearance merchandise that sometimes shows up in these Factory stores, the normal stock has never seen the inside of a real J.Crew. Materials and stitching are lower quality. The MSRP is just a fabrication, as these stores constantly offer deep discounts designed to suggest big savings.

J.Crew is far from the only company doing this. They’re just capitalizing on the industry trend over the last twenty years. By slapping a coveted brand on cheaper goods, it’s easy to trick the coupon crowd into thinking they’re getting a deal. Inflating retail prices to levels consistent with the main line, while never selling the clothing at that price, is just dirty.

Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank are two egregious offenders. It’s not uncommon to see outrageous offers like “Buy 1 Suit, Get 3 Free” deals from these menswear companies. So the MSRP may be $800 (grossly overpriced for the second rate, fused suits these companies sell), but with those three free you get each one for $200. There aren’t many businesses that can afford to mark down goods to ¼ of retail on a regular basis. The fact is that those suits cost much less than the discounted price to manufacture.

T.J. Maxx is joining the party. Overstock locations like this and Marshalls sell well-known brands to consumers for discounts. Unlike a normal outlet, whose parent retailer controls both the brand and manufacturing, department stores depend on the stock they receive from retailers, right? Not necessarily. Companies like Calvin Klein now license their brand to T.J. Maxx, who can then turn around and manufacture a line of apparel directly for the store. These goods aren’t made under CK’s supervision and don’t conform to the same quality control standards (which says even less when you consider the deterioration of Calvin Klein’s quality since the 1980s). Is nowhere safe?

Market reality is that there can’t possibly be enough second quality and overstock merchandise to meet consumer demand. Instead of maintaining integrity and either relegating small amounts of goods to fewer outlets OR being transparent and admitting to shoppers they’re browsing separate stock, retailers have chosen deception.

The appropriate response is to stop patronizing these stores and buy fewer, higher quality items, ideally made from fair paid labor. But education can be glacial. People will continue to hunt for what they perceive to be the best deals. The Federal Trade Commission needs to get involved, too. The government needs to end practices developed by businesses too inept to function without blatantly lying and condescending to their “valued customers.”


I wasn’t raised on running. The longest I remember purposely going as a child was the mile run during the middle school physical fitness test. A 6:45 mile. Respectable. Even though I wasn’t compelled towards this particular activity, I kept fit through hockey, bike riding and weirdly running in circles like kids seem to do. There wasn’t any need to run outside the desire to get somewhere in a hurry.

After high school, hockey and biking surrendered to binge drinking and excess eating. My priorities changed as my invincible teenage attitude persisted. The result was as ugly as one might expect. I remember trying to play a men’s league the spring I graduated college, 65 pounds heavier than any point during my adolescence. The shame of allowing myself to retreat so far into sedentary abyss prompted a personal revolution. As Sam Cooke sang, “I know a  change gonna come.” I dropped the weight that made me border on obese and fluctuated after that at various levels of “functioning overweight.”

Weight training and dieting are essential components to large scale weight loss, but this post obviously isn’t about them. I can wax poetic about how working out automatically improved my outlook and burned fat quickly. Unfortunately, weights don’t require great levels of sustained activity. They helped return me to human acceptability, but didn’t drive me back to youthful activeness.

For the longest time, whenever somebody would mention running a 5k or a half marathon, I’d dismiss it as something pseudo-douchey people do to flex their superior fitness in other’s faces. Like all things foreign, what we don’t understand is often what we end up hating. My disdain was envy, directed at those who never allowed unfounded excuses prevent real accomplishment. Running requires effort and that’s the point.

My race experience thus far has been minimal, but seeing progress as the fruit of hard work is rewarding as hell. After posting a disappointing time at my first 5k in October, one where underpreparedness and bad allergies forced me to walk parts of it, I could’ve been discouraged from further participation. But I decided to register for the Boston 5k, which I ran this past weekend, and attempted to improve. Improve I did. Three minutes and thirty seconds faster than October and my fastest mile was the final.

Watching runners compete in the Boston Marathon on Monday, the perseverance required not just on race day, but in a half year or more of training, is motivation enough to want it. A marathon isn’t a physical feat, it’s mental. Any person’s body can be crafted into the ideal form for such a challenge, but even the fittest can’t simply show up in Hopkinton and blaze 26.2 miles of trail into Copley. You have to be willing to make running a significant part of your identity. And when it’s done and you think you’ve accomplished something great, you can still do better. Both the male and female winners of this year’s B.A.A 5k set American road records. Others, like me, set personal ones.

Improvement is always possible, not just on the road but in every aspect of life. Continuous effort is essential. Complacency sets in quickly if you’re not careful. It’s so easy to say, “I’m not going to run today because…” and this is the most dangerous thing you can do. Once you start in on excuses, you’ll convince yourself of anything. Instead, get up and go. Running made me accountable every single day and I can honestly say it has transformed me. Let it transform you, too.



Tell most people something is an acquired taste and they’ll immediately dismiss it. Why work to enjoy food and drink when you can stick with tried and true favorites? I completely agree…in theory. For those foolish enough to swallow their reservations, allow me to proselytize about a gem I discovered when I ignored my own, Laphroaig Scotch Whisky.

My took my first sip of single malt Scotch in 2008 at American Bounty Restaurant, one of the Culinary Institute of America restaurants in Hyde Park, NY. Glenlivet 12 poured sinfully into an ice filled tumbler. Until then, liquor sans mixer troubled my palate and my throat. I took a big risk attempting to enjoy a drink potentially beyond my ability to enjoy. But it tasted good. The melting ice cooled and diluted the alcohol, but I could still detect the vanilla, grapefruit, and apples that define the flavor profile. A seasoned whisky drinker might equate it to wading knee deep into a pool. You have to start somewhere.

Shortly after, I procured my own bottle of that very same Glenlivet 12 and worked on improving my burn tolerance. Turns out well-made scotch isn’t nearly as harsh as the off-brand, plastic-bottled whiskey with which I was tempered in college. Timidity turned to triumph. I’d found a new hobby. An expensive new hobby.

With so much information available today, a moment of revelation like the one I experienced is soon deflated by the abundance of knowledge you realize you don’t know. Never underestimate how many enlightened members of a community are available to tell you precisely how pedestrian your tastes are. I started from the bare minimum of acceptability among scotch drinkers and it was time to dive headfirst. So I researched and drank and repeated. All for science.

The name continuing to crop up everywhere was Laphroaig. One of the few Islay distilleries, which are known for smoky peatiness, Laphroaig was widely regarded as the smokiest and peatiest of the bunch. The described flavors were intimidating: Vanilla masked with intense smoke, seaweed, medicinal, including Band-Aids and whiffs of a first aid box, heavy spices like cardamom and black pepper, a finish that’s tarry and iodine. Not exactly like enjoying a vanilla ice cream cone. An “acquired taste” enthusiasts assured, one that would pay off in time.

My first attempt at Laphroaig was like a convict heading to the electric chair. Any enthusiasm as I purchased the bottle waned when I realized I actually had to drink this stuff. My ritual included pouring a small sample into a Glencairn glass, sniffing it, sloshing it around, sniffing again then taking a sip. I did this with all whiskies because that’s what I was told to do. The aroma was medicinal and smoke. Something between roasted cough syrup and charred bandages. As I sat with this green tinted bottle resting on the table, I realized the fruitiness of Glenlivet and Macallan and Glenfiddich and everything else I’d tried to that point wouldn’t save me now. I would experience the consequences of shelling out $50 for a drink I’d never tried before.

Poetry would dictate I took a great swig, slammed the glass on the table and filled it again. Not so. I sipped it like a child eating broccoli. The minimal number of whisky particles in that first taste tested the boundaries of what one can consider an experience. I hated it. Everything in the described flavor profile was there, but in wildly different ratios than expected. The smoke was overwhelming, the vanilla was handcuffed, the Band-Aids made me rather be in a hospital. It wasn’t an ice cream cone or a Vanilla Coke or even pure vanilla dripped directly on my tongue. I was determined to get it. I took a larger sip. The worn off shock diminished the unpleasantness. It was still bad. I drained the glass. Nothing.

Have you ever had a dream where your perception of truth was drastically different than when you’re awake? Like when they upload the Kung Fu program into Neo’s brain in The Matrix. Suddenly, you can’t imagine reality before. Like the information was always with you, even though you can’t recall the arduousness of the journey. I tried Laphroaig twice more before I understood. The whisky’s vices were virtues. The flavors were like nothing else. Taste enough of anything and brands blend. This occupied a seat removed from all others. I actually found myself craving more of it and disregarding all other drinks for weeks.

Laphroaig 10 is now my default whisky. Sometimes I’ll stray to a Lagavulin or Ardbeg, but my original Islay still holds a special place. Over time, I’ve tried others by the distillery. Cask Strength is a wonderful 55% ABV and up (depending on the batch) monster that’s bottled before dilution down to 43%. Laphroaig in its purest form. Quarter Cask (pictured above) is a more refined version that opens up the subtle flavors and adds a few new ones. Laphroaig 18 is another whisky beast with even more complexity, begging to be tamed by the brave.

I wouldn’t recommend Laphroaig to someone new to single malt Scotch. There’s too much foreign for a xenophobic brain to appreciate. But if you’ve enjoyed the Speysides and find yourself looking towards the unknown, try a dram of Laphroaig. Then another. And another. Drink it until you love it or continue to hate it. Then drink some more.

The NHL regular season ended over the weekend. The Carolina Hurricanes missed the playoffs for the sixth year in a row. What should be a heartbreaking time of the season was met merely by a shrug of my shoulders. Hey, at least they didn’t get my hopes up like the Boston Bruins.

People often ask me how I became a Hurricanes fan, as if they’d never heard of the Hartford Whalers. So many people still wear apparel with the iconic Whalers logo, probably more than when the team still played in the northeast. Struggling attendance, coupled with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s southern expansion strategy, lifted the Whalers from the Connecticut capital and to North Carolina’s in Raleigh. I happened to hitch a ride.

Since they moved to Carolina, the franchise has had more success than they ever did in Hartford. They won the Southeast Division in just their second season and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in their fifth. I still remember watching Game 1 of the 01-02 series on TV. The Detroit Red Wings were a juggernaut opponent. In Joe Louis Arena, in front of a hostile crowd, the upstart Hurricanes took the first game 3-2 in an epic OT battle that shocked anyone with an interest in hockey and a pulse. The Red Wings had ten future Hall-of-Famers on that team. Of course, David rarely vanquishes Goliath and the Canes lost the next four games en route to a 4-1 loss in their first cup appearance.

When your team is meant to be a bottom feeder, it sends waves through front offices when they break the mold. Clearly the owners weren’t content to just exist in their warm little southern enclave. They wanted to win. But the Hurricanes stepped back from the zenith. They had two dismal years in 02-03 and 03-04 before the NHL lockout in 04-05 that cancelled the entire season.

Then came magic. In 2005-06, the Hurricanes won the Southeast Division, the Eastern Conference title and the Stanley Cup. Before the beginning of that finals against the Edmonton Oilers, I realized something I missed for eight years. Hockey fans don’t WANT a team in North Carolina. Guys would always give me shit for being a Canes fan before. It wasn’t unusual and I didn’t take it too seriously. But bring on a clash between a long dormant Canadian superpower and this football country usurper and you’ll see where hockey fans’ loyalties lie. That Cup win was the most satisfying championship I’ve ever supported because it was a big “Fuck You” to everyone who thinks hockey should only exist 40°N latitude or higher.

No team wins a championship every season. The length between them dictates how disappointed we are when they fall short. New York Yankees fans expect heaping loads of World Series titles (though that sentiment may necessarily have to change). Buffalo fans are just happy the NHL and NFL haven’t abandoned their snowy wasteland. Stanley Cups like the Hurricanes’ make the waiting worthwhile. Some teams never win. The deck is stacked against them. I’ve been lucky enough to experience at least one championship in the last decade from every professional team I support.

Sticking with a perennial winner is easy. Sticking with a storied franchise, even if they haven’t won much lately, also so. Trying to support a team clearly designed to round out a full league and boost revenue through market expansion isn’t always. The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nor are they the Chicago Blackhawks or New York Rangers. They play in a small market where hockey is as niche as rugby. Expectations aren’t dynastic decades of continual championship chances. It’s that one storybook year where every element conspires to allow your team to break through. Even if they’ve missed the playoffs for the past three seasons and will for the next three, this one is ours.

The Hurricanes have vied for Lord Stanley’s Cup once since the championship run, when they were swept by the Penguins in the 08-09 Eastern Conference finals. It’s the way these things go. In all likelihood, I’ll never see another win. That’s okay. I’ll look forward to a few of those heartbreaking playoff losses in the future. This is the challenge and I embrace it. We’ll always have 2005-06.