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.

IMG_1836I’m not much of a coffee fan. Before last month, I hadn’t had a cup in over a year. I certainly don’t drink it for the appreciation of some rare, organically grown, fair trade Peruvian specialty bean harvested from the base of the Andes. For me, the stimulating effects of caffeine are the sole purpose and I rarely found myself needing that kind of jolt.

Starbucks, one of the top sellers in the United States (and globally), never held much appeal. It had a reputation for overpriced products and often excessively bitter coffee. My personal experiences proved poor on most occasions. Sometime in college, I resolved to not patronize a corporation whose java was more expensive, less delicious and less accessible than Dunkin Donuts.

Coffee connoisseurs can castrate me for my consciously controversial, contradictory conception of quality, but I’m not unfamiliar with snobbery. I’ll never choose a Budweiser, Miller, Coors or other American Adjunct Lager over a merely mediocre craft brew. Single malt scotches only, please. Loose leaf tea for life!!! You get the point. But if something doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t taste good. No amount of evidence is more convincing than the proof on my own taste buds.

Old habits die hard and grudges are not easily lost to the annals. Coffee’s merits fell on deaf ears and Starbucks became the embodiment of why I hated it. I was convinced of some elaborate yuppie collusion meant to drive millions to consume a product they all secretly despised. Beliefs are tricky. They sink their claws in, take hold and it’s awfully hard to let them go.

A month ago, two things changed in my daily routine. I began running again (in addition to a consistent weight training regimen) and I resolved to up my word count per day. With a proper diet, the first was no sweat (deducting ten points for puns). Longer, grueling runs actually induce a stimulating high that temporarily counters the sheer amount of energy expended. It doesn’t last, though, and it certainly doesn’t compel me to knock out 2000 words in an evening. I needed something tangible, so I turned to the most cliche substance a writer can use (besides alcohol).

Coffee helped. It instantly made me more productive and I began to manage my schedule a lot better. Before long, I submitted to the inevitable and began to write at a table in the back of Starbucks, which was more convenient than any other option. I ordered a plain coffee with some whole milk and drank. It tasted good. Not just “I need this shot of stimulant to my system good,” but genuinely enjoyable. And at ~$2.50 for a large (I still won’t call it a Venti), it’s not unreasonable to have a cup every now and then.

Maybe Starbucks changed. Maybe I changed. Whatever the cause, I realized that keeping an open mind to change is never a bad thing.