Brainiac Musicians

In this post from 2013 I talked about the hottest brainiacs – that is, female academics and engineers who just happened to be pretty in addition to being smart as a whip. In this post, I want to talk about musicians who are surprisingly smart. Let’s do this:

Amelia Fletcher is a British singer and songwriter, known for being in a string of bands in the 90s, including Talulah Gosh, Marine Research, Tender Trap and (most famously) Heavenly. Looking at it from afar, you might wonder why Fletcher was in so many bands, or why she seemed to quit one as soon as the band started getting famous. That’s because Fletcher was getting a doctorate in economics from Oxford, and could only be in a band as time permitted. In 2001 she was named chief economist at the Office of Fair Trading, roughly analogous to America’s Federal Trade Commission. In 2013 she was named “Professor of Competition Policy” at the University of East Anglia.

Like Fletcher, Ladytron’s Mira Aroyo also studied for her doctorate at Oxford. Unlike Fletcher, Aroyo quit after deciding that the lab work needed to get a doctorate in genetics was much less fun than being in a band. Rumors persist in some circles that she’s still in school, or that she went back and got her doctorate, but these are untrue. In an interview with The Sunday Mail she said “I was a geneticist doing a PhD and realizing lab work wasn’t for me. We were doing Ladytron at the same time and I was enjoying it more. It was easier and more fun”.

After being unceremoniously dumped by British New Wave band Japan, guitarist Rob Dean tried forming a few bands with limited success, including “Illustrated Man”, with Gang of Four’s former drummer, Hugo Burnham. Dean played on a couple famous albums, including Gary Numan’s 1981 album Dance and Sinéad O’Connor’s debut The Lion and the Cobra in 1987. Not getting anywhere in the music industry, Dean left the UK and moved to Central America where, as “Robert Dean”, he has become one of the leading experts on local birds. In 2007 he illustrated The Birds Of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, and in 2010 he illustrated The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide.

The early 80s British “swing revival” band Roman Holliday is mostly known in the UK for their Top 20 hit “Don’t Try to Stop It”. In the US they’re known for their song “Stand By”: although it only reached #54 on the Billboard charts, the music video was played heavily on MTV in 1983. The band’s guitar player, Brian Bonhomme, is now a professor of Russian history at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

Like most parents, Lauren Mayberry’s folks insisted that she get a college degree as something to fall back on if her music career didn’t pan out. Mayberry didn’t just get one, she got two: a bachelor of laws degree and a masters in journalism. She even won an award in 2010 from the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland for an article she wrote about body piercing safety practices. Not that she needed to: her band, CHVRCHES, is doing quite well, thanks! [NOTE: in most English-speaking countries outside the United States, one can get a “bachelor of laws” degree which, with passing the bar, is all one needs to become a lawyer.]

Lastly, Dan Spitz – lead guitarist and songwriter for Anthrax – left the band in 1995 to pursue an education and career in… watchmaking. He attended the prestigious Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) on a full scholarship, where he was awarded the title of “Master Watchmaker of Mechanical Complications Specialist”. This is serious business: we’re not talking about Spitz being able to assemble a watch from a kit: he can design (and build) highly precise mechanical watches from scratch! Neat, huh?

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft

If you grew up in the late 60s or early 70s, you probably remember the names Sid and Marty Krofft. The Canadian brothers created a ton of iconic kids programs such as The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Land of the Lost. They were behind a few variety shows including Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and Donny & Marie, too.

So it was huge news when it was announced that a Krofft-themed amusement park was going to open inside the Omni Complex in downtown Atlanta. An indoor amusement park… with H.R. Pufnstuf? OMG! OMG! OMG! Sign me up!

The park opened on May 26, 1976… and closed less than six months later, on November 10, 1976. And here’s the thing: for decades, the narrative was that the park’s failure was due to Atlanta’s high crime rate in the 1970s. I’m not gonna lie – crime was an issue back then. My dad had Hawks season tickets in the 70s, so I was down there all the time. It was a bit scary, and dad made sure to never let me out of his sight, even for a second. But while that was an issue, the park did itself no favors.

For one thing, The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft was designed so that a visit would last three hours. That’s it: three hours. If you showed up when the park opened at 10AM, you’d be done by 1PM.

But few visitors actually stayed that long, because the park only had two rides: the Crystal Carousel and the pinball ride. The Crystal Carousel, a giant merry go round made out of clear acrylic, was kinda cool to me, a little boy… but was probably considered pretty lame by anyone over the age of 10. And the pinball ride was incredibly lame, even by my five year-old standards. You sat inside a large silver “ball” which ran on a track and “crashed” into flippers and bumpers and such. It sounds cool, but the ride was so slow and the mechanics were so loud there was just no element of danger or fun. It was like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World with all the effects turned off. Aside from those two rides, the park was mostly a mish-mash of carnival performers (I remember a sword swallower), live shows, shops and restaurant.

What’s more, the park was designed to lead visitors in a specific path. You’d take the World’s Longest Freestanding Escalator to the top floor of the park, then work your way down to the bottom floor. There was nothing stopping you from going back and experiencing something again… except all human traffic you’d have to walk against. For people who specialized in “imagination”, the park sure lacked it.

Lastly – and I can’t stress this enough – The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft was the MOST EXPENSIVE ATTRACTION in the Atlanta area at the time. Adult admission was $5.75 per person ($24.63 in 2016 dollars). Kid’s tickets were $4.75 ($20.35). Contrast this with Six Flags, where adult tickets were $5.00 ($21.42) and kid’s tickets were $3.50 ($14.99). But it wasn’t just about the money: Six Flags could easily be an all-day adventure, as opposed to the three hours (max) at The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft. And at Six Flags you were free to wander around the park at your leisure, riding the dozen (or more) rides in any order you chose. When it came to “bang for the buck”, Six Flags coaxed The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft down a dark alley and beat the everlovin’ snot out of it.

If your parents were cheapskates, you could go to Stone Mountain Park (one-day car pass: $2) and climb the mountain (free), have a picnic (free-ish) and play miniature golf (like, 50¢ per game per person, or go to the water slides (around $2 for 2-3 hours).

And THAT was the real problem The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft faced: ALMOST ANYTHING was cheaper and more fun than the park.

An Open Letter to Spotify

Dear Spotify:

You know how some families have two children, and one child is a straight-A student who gets in to Stanford… while the other child is a ne’er do well who’s been to jail at least once and still lives at home… yet, paradoxically, the parents are always riding the successful kid’s ass?

You, Spotify, are that successful kid. You’ve grown from nothing to become the most successful music streaming service in the world. You’ve literally changed the way I consume music, and – in a very real sense – you’ve changed my life. You’re standing at the precipice of greatness.

But you’re not perfect. Nothing ever is, really. Which is why I’m constantly complaining about you. Not because you’re awful… but because you’re so close to becoming The One True Music Service. It’s like you have victory inches from your grasp, and you don’t even see it.

So here’s a laundry list of things you could do to to become truly great:

For starters, get rid of the 10,000 song limit. If you’re not familiar with how Spotify works, there’s a “Your Music” section of the app which lets you “save” albums and singles to your account. So instead of having to search for an album every time you want to hear it, you can “save” it to an easily-accessible list of albums in your account. I keep putting “save” in quotes because the app isn’t really saving anything: it just creates a shortcut to the album in your account, not unlike a browser bookmark. Spotify limits the total number of songs in “Your Music” to 10,000 for some reason (Apple Music’s limit is 100,000). There’s no engineering or data storage reason why Spotify can’t allow you to save 100,000 songs to your account, too. And, if you think about it, it actually makes sense for Spotify to raise the limit: the more music you have in your account, the more invested in Spotify you become, and the less likely you are to switch to a competing service.

Secondly, Spotify should really consider a cloud storage option. No music service has everything. Some artists sign exclusive agreements with one service. Some artists, like Peter Gabriel and Prince, eschew streaming completely. A few albums temporarily disappear while the service renegotiates its contract with a record label, much like how TV channels can disappear from cable lineups while networks and cable companies argue over carriage fees. Some albums were put out by labels that have since gone out of business, and the rights holders can’t be easily found. And most music fans have at least some music that’s “too obscure” or “too sketchy” for a streaming service. I’m not just talking about my treasured MP3s of 86, an Atlanta post-rock band from the 80s that no one remembers – I’m also talking about live bootlegs, demo tapes, etc.

Apple Music and Google Play Music both have apps that scan your local music and upload any songs missing from their catalogs. That way, all the music you’ve collected over the years – the bootlegs, the rare remixes, the fan club singles, the vinyl rips of albums that never made it to CD, much less streaming – becomes part of Apple or Google’s cloud. You can stream it to any device at any time. From the end user’s point of view, it becomes part of Apple Music or Google Play Music’s catalog.

Spotify’s solution to the problem is much less elegant. You can integrate local files into the desktop app, and you can add local files to playlists. If you sync that playlist to a mobile device – but only on the same Wi-Fi network as the desktop app – the local files will be copied to your device. So if you create a playlist which contains 2GB of local files, that playlist will take up 2GB of storage space on your device… which defeats the entire purpose of a “streaming service”. With Google Play Music – which allows you to upload up to 50,000 local songs – those files would take up zero space, ‘cos Google’s streaming it to you from the cloud.

Even worse – and this is something Redditors at /r/Spotify just don’t seem to get – once you leave your Wi-Fi network, that music is simply inaccessible. Example: my all-time favorite version of The Cure’s “A Forest” is from The Cure in Orange concert. I have In Orange on Laserdisc, and ripped that track to mp3 years ago. The song has been uploaded to my Google Play Music account. So if I’m at a friend’s house, and we’re sitting around listening to music via Bluetooth speaker and we get a random urge to hear it, I just open GPM and stream it. With Spotify, I could add it to a playlist and listen at a friend’s house… but only if I had the foresight to sync it to my phone before I left. Otherwise I’m just out of luck. I don’t know how much it would cost for Spotify to add the ability to upload 20,000 or 50,000 songs, but they need to do it. Every time I exit Spotify and open GPM just to play one song is a chance Google has to get me to switch. But if Spotify goes public sometime soon, that sweet, sweet IPO money could get something like this going.

While I’m here, Spotify please don’t stratify your accounts. If you do get around to adding cloud storage, don’t create a new “$14.99/month Spotify + Cloud” plan. Either figure out a way to include it in the $9.99/month Premium plan or increase the cost of Premium to $12.99/month. Or whatever you have to do. My point is, don’t make it more complicated. I wasn’t a paying customer when you had Free, Unlimited and Premium plans, but every time I read about it my head hurts. And I still don’t really know the difference between “Free on Mobile Phones” vs. “Free on Tablets and Other Devices” accounts. It doesn’t really matter, since I’ve got Premium… but just… keep it simple.

Speaking of “simple”, could you please post changelogs somewhere? Like any app, Spotify has bugs. It also gets new features. It sure would be nice if you published lists of bug fixes and new features with every version of the app so end users could know if that weird bug has finally been fixed. Spotify sometimes changes the way things work, and it sure would be nice to be able to go to the app’s page on Google Play and to get confirmation that yes, something has changed, and here’s how it works now.

Next, you guys should fix the apps. On paper, Spotify’s apps are great, and work on multiple platforms, like Windows, Mac, Android, Roku and more. But each has its own share of bugs and quirks. There was a 2-3 month stretch where Spotify’s Android app would take forever to start up on Wi-Fi. It was fine over LTE, and the bug affected all my Android devices, not just my phone. And we’ve got a 200Mbps connection with a decent router that can stream multiple Netflix HD feeds over Wi-Fi no problem. The problem seemed to go away for a while, but still comes back from time to time. The Roku app still can’t scrobble. The Windows app has always taken forever to start (although I disabled the Friends pane, which speeds it up some). Just sit down with your developers and figure out a way to make them faster and more reliable. If that means a new development environment, so be it.

And lastly, a personal beef: the gift card situation in the United States. Some people prefer not using credit cards online if they don’t have to. I’ve paid for my phone service with Virgin Mobile Top-Up cards for almost 8 years, and it works because Virgin cards are available everywhere: Walmart, Target, Publix, Bi-Lo, CVS, Walgreens, Lowe’s, QuikTrip and more. There’s a 99% chance I’ll go to one of those stores at least once a month, so it’s no problem to pick one up. However, finding Spotify gift cards is almost impossible. Best Buy is the only B&M store I know of that sells them, so I have to make a special trip to buy a card. This is especially galling for two reasons: 1) Spotify cards are sold everywhere in Europe; and 2) Shops like CVS carry all sorts of “marginal” online cards. Are people still buying Facebook Game cards? Are Groupon cards a big seller? Is the Nintendo Network a big seller? If not, why aren’t Spotify cards replacing them? Again, you should be making it easier for your customers, not harder. And having options is a good thing, especially since you already have the tech on your site to redeem gift cards.

I didn’t quite say this in my opening, Spotify, so I’ll say it now: I love you. I love you with all my heart. It’s a rare day that I don’t open Spotify and listen to some tunes while running errands, or doing household chores or writing articles like these. I want you to succeed. You’re the best app that ever happened to me! I just wish you’d pay a little attention to some of the points I’ve raised. You’re a sexy supermodel, Spotify… but you’re a sexy supermodel who chews with her mouth open.

Sincerely,

Jim Cofer

Things I Miss About Atlanta

So, this topic came up on Reddit recently, and I thought I’d share. Note that most of the things I miss are lost to time, not distance.

Yakitori Den-Chan! A yakitori bar in Buckhead. That place was such a beautiful scam: they had 3 tiers of yakitori: “mostly vegetables” (75¢ per skewer), “basic meats” ($1.50 per skewer) and “exotic meats” ($3 per skewer). You’d walk in, order one of those giant Sapporos, then order 10 skewers for around $11. But that wouldn’t fill you up, so you’d order another 25 oz. Sapporo and another round of skewers. But then you’d start looking at the exotic meats:

“Yak? I’ve never had yak before. Where else can you get yak in this city for $3? Gimme a yak skewer… and a kangaroo skewer – when will I ever get to try kangaroo again?… and a rattlesnake skewer? Why not? And a wild boar skewer (well done, please)… and another round of these 25 oz. Sapporos!”

Next thing you know, you’ve ordered a couple more rounds of skewers, and your bill’s $125, which was a gigantic amount of money to blow on dinner back in 1992! And I fell for it multiple times.

Frijoleros on Peachtree – Like Tortillas, one of the first burrito places in Atlanta. Only I liked Frijoleros better. I thought Tortillas was kinda bland (sacrilege, I know). I guess I should also mention the Cotton Club while I’m here.

Jaggers at Emory was a student bar that had the best cheap eats. $3 for two “chili pups” – hot dogs generously covered in chili, cheese and onions, in a basket (it was a knife and fork job, for sure) – was the best cheap dinner ever! This place also had some of the nerdiest bathroom graffiti in town. I once saw graffiti arguing about Latin grammar, and on another visit saw graffiti where people argued over which version of the Book of Common Prayer was better.

I fell in love with Monte Cristo sandwiches at the St. Charles Deli in VaHi. I fell in love with a couple girls there, too.

Horace at Moes and Joes, Erby Walker at The Varsity.

When Junkman’s Daughter was at the corner of Euclid and Colquitt.

I went to Club Rio a couple of times – an amazing trick, since I was, like, 16 or 17 and barely needed to shave.

Bridgetown Grill. The jerk chicken and black & white soup still bless my dreams from time to time.

When Churchill Arms in Buckhead was an actual English pub. When the elderly couple ran it, it was a nice, quiet pub. They had piano singalongs on Friday nights, the average age of the patrons was probably 50, and they mostly served pale ale and Irish whiskey. In winter, you could sit on the beat-up leather sofa by a roaring fire with a glass of Jameson and a cigar and just be. In the late 90s they turned it over to their sons, who turned it into their very own goddamn frat house.

The County Cork Pub in Buckhead. This place was always off the chain Friday and Saturday nights. Always well over the fire marshal’s capacity, it was jam-packed with the good sort of people who appreciate Guinness. They also usually had an actual Irish person on stage singing the filthiest drinking songs known to man! Oh, and the popcorn machine: all the free baskets of popcorn you can eat while downing 6 (or more) pints of Guinness!

When Wax N Facts was half the size it is now. And the part where the used records are now was the “hippy furniture store”, owned by the guy who sat in a giant comfy chair reading a book, smoking a pipe and hanging out with his cat all day.

Moto’s Café was a short-lived vegetarian café near Emory that became a hipster coffeehouse after 9PM. I’m not a vegetarian, but their vegetarian lasagna was delicious, and I saw quite a few good acts there. And “hipster coffeehouse” was actually a cool thing in 1987.

While I’m on coffeehouses, Aurora Coffee and the short-lived (but much beloved by GSU hipsters) Trinity Coffee House. Coffee? Beer? Musical acts? In a 1920s building on the post-industrial wasteland of Trinity Avenue? Instant hipster cred.

Gear was a short-lived store next to Wax N Facts. They sold original t-shirts based on Soviet propaganda posters. They also sold high quality army\navy surplus clothes. I got a badass Swedish Navy jacket and a cool pair of black Israeli BDU pants there. And an Audrey Horne sweatshirt too, oddly.

audreytoodreamy

Cinefest and Album88. Thanks for destroying the happy memories of my college years, GSU. You can stop wondering why I refuse to send you money now.

Calcutta Indian Restaurant in Little 5. I can’t remember if this was actually a good restaurant, but… my first job out of high school was about 30 seconds from L5P. I went there every day for lunch, and it didn’t take long to get tired of Fellini’s, Bridgetown, La Fonda, Zesto, and that crappy Chinese buffet where The Brewhouse is now. I’d never had Indian food before, so gave it a try one afternoon. And I’ve been hooked on Indian ever since!

The old George’s. I used to go to Church of Our Saviour across the street. I’d go to George’s after mass, or to pass time before Adult Confirmation class. George’s was a run-down dive, full of beer signs from the 50s that hadn’t been dusted since the 70s, booths with peeling vinyl, and the less said about the restrooms the better. It’s all… nice now. At least the burgers are still pretty good.

That weird “magick shoppe” underneath (and behind) Abbadabba’s.

The Buckhead Taco Mac. I lived about 100 yards from their front door, and could get drinks or food until 4AM. And I did, quite a few times!

I also lived directly across the street from the Oxford Books on Pharr. I’m still sad they’re gone.

I never went inside The Gold Club: strip clubs aren’t my thing. Still, there was somethin’ about rolling past the Gold Club on Piedmont on Friday or Saturday nights…

Being a 16 year-old high school kid and having a student membership at the High Museum (i.e. free admission). Remember when Ferris Bueller skipped school and went to the Art Institute? I did something like that on a lesser scale at least 10 times.

Mick’s. If only because it was “like Applebee’s, but good”. Their crowd-pleasin’ menu made it the first stop before many Georgia Tech football and basketball games, concerts and such.

Jalisco Mexican Restaurant. I think it’s still there, in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. This place didn’t card at all back in the 90s. When I was 19 or 20, it was the go-to place for pre-concert beer and nachos! And on some days – maybe Tuesdays? – they had $1 Tecates. Hell yeah! When my little sister was a freshman at Georgia Tech, she offered to get us tickets to a football game. To return the favor, I took her to Jalisco beforehand. I told her to just be cool and order a beer. So she did. Several, in fact. I got her good and tipsy for the game, and she seemed to have a such a great time, being away from home and “breakin’ all the rules”. Oh, and I almost got thrown out of the game myself.

The Ugly Mug Pub in Duluth. It was just a bar in a suburban strip mall… but it was right around the corner. The great food specials – a huge cut of Prime Rib, with potato and a salad for $9.95! – brought us in, but Braves games, trivia nights and everyone being home from college kept us going there.

3660 Peachtree is a condo complex in Brookhaven, a couple blocks north of Phipps Plaza. One unit was owned by the father of one of my high school classmates, and he rented it to different combinations of my former classmates for the entirety of the 1990s. My high school friends stuck together for a very long time after graduation and that condo is a big reason why. There was always a birthday party or Labor Day cookout, or someone back in town from school, or really any kind of get together there, and everyone was always invited. So it kept us together.

Last one, promise: the Shakespeare Tavern. I think it’s still there… but I dunno ‘cos I moved away 14 years ago. Even if it’s still there, there was something so charming and slapdash about how it was back in the 90s.

Thanks, Spotify!

One of the big draws of Spotify Premium is that the service allows you to download music for offline listening. So if you’re going somewhere where LTE or Wi-Fi might not be available (camping) or might be expensive or slow (most airports and flights), you can save tunes to your device and listen offline. Hell, even if LTE or Wi-Fi is available, you might want to download a song anyway: if you’re one of those people who plays a track on repeat, it’s better to download a song once over Wi-Fi than use your precious data to download the same bits over and over again.

Spotify Premium allows you to download music to (up to) 3 devices. Like most software with such limits, you can log in to your account and revoke permissions for a device… in case one of your devices is lost, stolen or broken and you order a replacement. But Spotify’s UI isn’t that helpful:

Spotify WTF

I have Spotify installed on an LG G Stylo (phone), Asus ZenPad (tablet) and Amazon Fire (tablet). But I can’t tell which device is which, because Spotify’s programmers can’t be bothered to add a few lines of code to their app.

Thanks, Spotify!

I’m DONE with Target

Lots of people love Target. I don’t.

For one thing, Target seems to never, ever have what I want. No matter how mundane the item – be it a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a Snickers bar, Irish Spring soap or a simple 4×6″ picture frame… if I need it, Target won’t have it. I often joke that the reason Target has CCTV cameras in the parking lot is so they can see me coming and hide whatever it is I’m there for.

But what’s worse, though, are the employees. I don’t know if Target only hires really stupid people, or if they train them poorly… but every time I ask a Target employee about the item I can’t seem to find, they not only act as if they’ve never heard of the thing before, they act like they can’t imagine why someone would want it:

“Orange… juice, you said? And you said it’s some kind of… beverage?”

Dear…

“Kitty… ‘litter’? Am I saying that correctly? ‘Kitty litter’? And it’s some sort of… pet accessory? For cats?”

God…

“Sandpaper? It’s not in office supplies? That’s where the paper is. Never heard of SANDpaper, though.”

Why?

There are a couple other things I could niggle. For one, Target’s grocery selection really sucks. Say what you will about Walmart, but my local Walmart has a full-blown grocery store inside. It doesn’t really cater to exotic tastes, but a family of four could easily buy all their groceries at Walmart, no problem. My local Target, on the other hand, has hundreds of items, but only one or two of any given item. Walmart has 15 types of canned chili; Target has three. Walmart has 84 different types of bread; Target has, like, six, tops. And the worst part is, unless you’re willing to compromise a lot, you can’t even buy a whole meal’s worth of stuff at Target. You want slow cooker pot roast with veggies? Target will have everything but the actual roast. Or they’ll have the roast, but no potatoes. Or potatoes but no carrots. Or they’ll have all the food, but no slow cooker spices. Or they won’t have slow cooker liners. Or something. It’s always something with Target.

Also, people say Target has “nicer” stuff than Walmart. I’m sure that’s true to an extent. Their crappy bookshelves are more stylish than Walmart’s crappy bookshelves. Target’s wastebaskets do look more like something you’d see at a hip spa or salon than Walmart’s “what old lady’s house did they steal this from?” wastebaskets. And, if you’re under the age of 25, Target’s clothes probably are cooler than Walmart’s. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but get the feeling that Target’s stuff costs 25% more than Walmart’s, but isn’t 25% better. Their crappy $129 bookshelf won’t last any longer or hold more weight than Walmart’s crappy $99 bookshelf, and their $7.50 Hanes t-shirt won’t last longer than Walmart’s $5 Hanes shirt.

*     *     *

Today was the last damn straw, though.

See, thanks to all the online security scares, I’m kind of wary about using a credit card online. So I try to use gift cards when possible. I pay for my mobile phone service with prepaid cards, which is easy to do, because almost any store that sells such cards will carry ones for my provider, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll be going to one such store at least once a month.

Spotify cards are somewhat harder to find, however. Despite Spotify’s site saying they’re available at many large (specific) retailers – Kroger! Target! Best Buy! Walmart! CVS! – they’re actually kind of hard to find.

Last night I was reading the Spotify subreddit, where some post playlists and others ask questions about the service. I saw a question about gift cards… which got me curious enough to look for them at Amazon. No dice. I googled “Spotify gift card” and got a link to this page at Target. Here’s a screencap:

Spotify at Target
(click to embiggen)

As you can see, this is a $30 Spotify card being offered for $21. It’s “only sold in stores”, “not available for free pickup” but is “in stock” at my local Gastonia (North Carolina) Target. It’s also located on aisle F29.

I had to run an errand today that would take me somewhat close to that Target, so I figured I’d buy a couple of cards. Hey, six months of Spotify for $42 instead of $60 isn’t that bad a deal, right? It’s almost like getting two months free!

So I went to the store, and went to aisle F29 (who even knew Target aisles were numbered?) I found the cards, but they were marked at $30, No problem, I figured. I’d just get them to adjust the price at checkout. Just to be sure, however, I looked closely at the rest of the cards on the aisle. No other Spotify cards, just these.

Of course, they can’t price match at the register. That would be too damn easy. After waiting for several minutes at a slow-ass register, the nice but clueless cashier (whose nametag read – I kid you not – “New Target Associate”) directed me to customer service.

The guy at Customer Service first told me that he couldn’t match the price, because the graphics are different. I asked him why the hell that matters. Packaging changes all the time, but the essential bit of a giftcard – the barcode and pin – don’t. He hemmed and hawed for several minutes, then said that he couldn’t price match because the pictured card was for “3 months of service” while the cards in my hand were “gift cards”. I told him that was a distinction without difference. Virgin Mobile used to sell Broadband2Go, PayLo and Beyond Wireless cards… but it didn’t matter which one you used, because it all went into the same Virgin Mobile account. He hemmed and hawed – no really, I think he actually said “heeeeemmm” and “hawwwww” – then said, “yeah, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it”. I asked him to get me someone “higher up the food chain”.

After a few minutes, a Target manager came up and asked me what she could do. I explained the situation, and was literally floored by her “logic”.

See, the cards were on clearance, and that’s why you can’t order them online for pickup. OK, but Google Play cards are also “not available for in-store pickup”, but they’re not on clearance. So what’s the difference?

Well, she said, they don’t have any in stock. OK, so why does the webpage say “in stock at Gastonia”? Because we have them in stock, but not those cards. What the hell does THAT mean? Oh, the cards that are on clearance? You’re out of those? So why does the website say you do have them in stock? Because they do have $30 Spotify cards in stock, but not those $30 Spotify cards.

After a few minutes of her circular logic, I held up the printout and asked: “OK, let’s pretend that you don’t work for Target. You go to Target.com and search for ‘Spotify’. This is one of the results. The webpage clearly says ‘only sold in stores’, that you can’t buy them online for pickup. It also says that they’re available in this very store. What would YOU think?” Apparently she’d “be confused too” but she’d understand because there’s some vital difference between whatever the company posted on their website and what they had in the store (despite all evidence to the contrary).

Finally exasperated, I asked: “So… you say that such cards actually exist somewhere in the realm of Target. How can I buy some of these? What can you do today to sell me these?”

“Well, I guess you can drive to another Target. There’s one at Metropolitan, and….”

Go to hell already. You know what? If I’d talked to the store manager, and if the manager had said “because fuck you, that’s why we’re not price matching”, I’d somehow feel better. I’d feel better than having to listen to someone half my age trying to explain something she clearly doesn’t understand, and clearly making it all up as she went along. I don’t have kids, but I can easily recognize someone making up teen-level bullshit on the fly. And this was weapons-grade bullshit, my friends.

I went ahead and bought a single card… because why the hell not? I’d wasted an hour of my life arguing with a 20 year-old girl at Target… that has to be better than making a special stop of Best Buy just to make a “spite purchase” of a whopping $30.

Still, though… it bugged me. So when I got home I called Target’s customer service number. I spoke to a nice lady in India (I think.. possibly the Philippines). I gave her the 18-digit receipt number and she was able to pull up the transaction in her system. She immediately saw and understood the issue, but couldn’t help much. The best she could do was issue me a refund on the on the difference… $9… in the form of a Target gift card. Dammit. I could use it to buy a mobile phone giftcard… but I bet it’ll say “cannot be used on gift card purchases”.

Bastards. I hate Target.

Hidden Cameras?

In 8th or 9th grade, I had a thing for Nancy Wilson of Heart. My best pal, Rich, had a thing for Ann Wilson (who was still skinny at the time). As best I recall, it was the only time there was a pair of women, and I chose the blonde and my best mate chose the brunette… to this day, it’s almost always the other way ’round.

Ann and Nancy Wilson

Heart was coming to Atlanta to play a show at The Omni. Even at that young age, I’d already developed the habit of looking at the “event tickets” section of the Atlanta Journal’s classifieds. There I spotted an ad for a pair of 10th row seats for only $5-$10 above face value! I wasn’t a huge fan of Heart’s music, but I really wanted to see an arena concert up close; Rich didn’t care for Heart’s then-current music (“What About Love”, “Never”, “These Dreams”), but he did like their earlier stuff, like “Barracuda”. I called the ticket seller, and he seemed legit. So I begged my mom to drive me to a hotel parking lot at Buford Highway and 285. Money and tickets were exchanged, and we were good to go.

I moved away from Atlanta almost 15 years ago, so things might have changed. But back in the 80s, suburban white folks only used the MARTA train to go to things like concerts or sporting events. On any given night, MARTA trains would run nearly empty… but let there be a concert or game, and the cars would be full of metalheads or football fans. So it was pretty safe, which is why Rich’s parents picked me up and drove us to the Doraville MARTA station. We took the train in and had a bangin’ time at the show.

My dad worked close to The Omni, and usually kept late hours. So the plan was for me to call him from a payphone once the concert was over. And that’s exactly what happened: I found a payphone on the concourse and called him, and he said he’d be there as soon as he could.

Rich and I were standing outside the arena, waiting for my dad to show. But then a guy walked up to us. He was a big fella, with long blond hair, broad shoulders and a beer belly. He was probably in his mid 20s.

“Uhhhhh… hey guys!” he said, his body teetering back and forth, the smell of alcohol obvious from five feet away.

“Could you guys help me? I’m from Greenville, South Carolina, and I drove down for the show… and I am drunker than hell. I can’t… I can’t… I don’t… I don’t, uh, remember where I parked my… my… where I parked my car. I have, like, $327 in my wallet, and I’d, like, give you guys some, like, money, if you’d like, help me find… [hiccup] it.”

Rich and I didn’t say a word. But we did exchange a series of glances.

The first glance said “this guy is fucked up, and we could totally lead him to that parking deck over there, push him down the stairs and take his wallet”. Keep in mind that $327 in 1986 is worth $700 in 2014 dollars. $350 each for rolling a drunk guy wasn’t a bad idea. Also, there were only, like, 3-4 steps at the parking deck, so it wasn’t like we were gonna push him down 30 feet of concrete.

The second glance said “we could do that, but my\your dad’s not here. What if the dude fights back? What if the cops see us? We can’t just stand here and wait for my\your dad to be unofficial getaway driver! And just how would we get away, anyway? Traffic is crawling. A one-legged cop could catch us!”

The third glance said “Ya know, this seems awfully suspicious. He seems really nice… too nice. And wasn’t the ‘I have $327 in my wallet’ oddly specific? Dude, this has to be some kind of scam. Either the APD is doing some kind of sting operation, or NBC News is doing some kind of hidden camera show. Or worse, he could be totally sober and just splashed himself with whiskey. He could be trying to lead us to his sketchy van in the parking deck, and we’d end up chained to the wall of his basement!”

Rich and I, at exact the same moment, said something like “nah, man. Wish we could help, but my dad\his old man will be here any second.”

As soon as the guy stumbled off, we chattered excitedly:

“Dude, we totally could have…”

“I know!”

“But wasn’t it weird that…”

“I know!”

“But even if we did…”

“I know!”

To this day, I sometimes wonder what was up with all that. Was he legit, just a harmless drunk guy from South Carolina? Or was he an undercover Atlanta cop itching to bust some 8th graders from the suburbs? Or was he some John Wayne Gacy type, waiting to bury us in his crawlspace? Did he ever find his car, or did someone else roll him that night? Did he pass out in his car, or did he actually try to drive to Greenville that night? If so, did he make it home OK?

Life’s little mysteries!