retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Maybe we’re ready for a Long Ranger revival.

I had a piece not long ago about how a reference I made to the masked man and his faithful companion, Tonto, fell on deaf ears with my daughter, who had no idea what I was talking about. As is my habit, I turned this into a metaphor about how business needs to speak to its customers and employees in a language and using touchstones that they actually understand.

Well, an MNB user yesterday pointed me in the direction of a Washington Post piece noting that politicians routinely use the phrase “no silver bullet” to describe the lack of an easy solution to various problems. In fact, President Barack Obama has used the phrase more than 60 times in the past few years, and it also has been uttered by officials such as David Axelrod, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld.

Silver bullets, of course, were the Lone Ranger’s projectile of choice because they served as a reminder of the value of life and should not be taken away cheaply.

(They’re also the only way to kill a werewolf ... so maybe they have some currency with “Twilight” fans, though I have no idea if they ever come up in the books.)

I’m guessing that for whatever reason, the phrase “silver bullet” may have some resonance with people who have no idea about the Lone Ranger or werewolves. (Werewolves? Where wolf?)

But this is another good example of how we have to be careful with our words and metaphors. What speaks volumes to us may not communicate quite so powerful a message to be people with whom we are speaking.

There was a terrific profile of William Shatner in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. To be fair, he comes off as just a little bit nuts...but also hugely entertaining and in love with his life and career.

It is this last part that I admire - his ability to keep reinventing himself, to repackage his talent and image in ways that give Shatner sustainable appeal. He’s almost 80, but he’s starting a new TV series this fall, his first situation comedy. Asked by the author when he planned to retire, Shatner was not amused:

“Retire! Retire! You mean go fishing in Montana? What does that mean: you hated the whole life you lived? I love to act, write, generate ideas. I’m crazy about horses, my wife, my kids” — he has three grown daughters — “my grandkids, my next part, the words that I learn so that they come out indigenously.”

I’ve always thought that the day my father retired from his job as an elementary school principal was the day he started to get old. Before that, he was always on the playground, shooting baskets with the kids, tossing the football around, keeping an eye on things while the teachers were inside having lunch. Engaged.

Read Shatner’s words, and I can almost hear his voice. And I love the sentiment - that to look forward to retirement is to somehow say that you do not love the life you are living. Is retirement death? Not always, and certainly not for everyone. We’re not all lucky enough to love what we do, the life that we lead, the people with whom we spend our time.

It’s nice when we don’t look forward to the final frontier, but the frontier that we’re actually exploring every day.

Not sure why the Shatner profile made me contemplative. But it did.

The Boston Globe reports on how Aramark is trying to upgrade the foodservice offerings at Fenway Park, at least in the more expensive restaurants, sourcing product from local farms and fishermen. The trend is slowly finding its way into the more traditional concession stands (though they still tend to source most of their product from major foodservice providers). And other baseball stadiums - such as Citi Field - apparently have been taking note, looking to improve and localize some of their food offerings. (Sansolo and I would prefer that they start by improving the baseball at Citi Field, but that’s another issue.)

I find this heartening, and a reflection of the fact that people are taking a greater interest in the food they are putting into their mouths. One of my big disappointments this summer is that I did not get to Minnesota to see the new Target Field where the Twins play...and where you can apparently get some great Byerly’s wild rice soup.

I’m not going to speak specifically about this subject, but I do want to say one thing because I cannot help myself.

Burning any book is never a good idea. I do not believe that there has ever been a time when the burning of a book advanced a culture, improved a civilization, or matured a people. Ever.

Enough said.

A big shout out to the folks at the Utah Food Industry Association, who were kind enough to host me this week and allowing me the privilege of speaking to their conference. Not only that, but they gave the opportunity to emcee their Best Bagger competition, which was a hoot - and won by Andrew Hadlock of Macey’s, who’ll be heading back to Vegas for the finals. (He won 3rd place in the national finals last year, I’m told.)

I had a blast. Thanks.

I opined yesterday about the mixed messages being sent by the US Open, but there was one point I did not make, and that also is worth mentioning because it is a good business metaphor.

Whoever designed the seating for the outlying courts ought to be shot. (Not really, but you get my meaning.)

They are solid metal. Last week, when we were there, the temperature was around 100 degrees, as if often can be during late August in New York City.

The metal seats were so hot that it was almost impossible to sit on them. There was no shade, no relief - just a lot of people either standing up or lowering themselves gingerly onto benches and hoping that their rear ends would not suffer serious burns.

The designers of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center could easily have seen this coming from a mile way. All they had to do was think...or spend an August in New York City. And they would have made the benches out of something else.

End of rant.

I have been looking forward to the new George Clooney movie, “The American,” all summer ... and when it opened last week, I was not disappointed.

Know this, however. This may be a thriller about an assassin, but it is nothing like a Bond or Bourne movie (though I love both those franchises). Rather, it has a deliberate, European pace - it unfolds rather than explodes, and takes its time exploring the characters and the Italian village where it mostly takes place. There are moments of violence, to be sure ... but mostly the emotion that I felt while watching “The American” was tension.

Clooney plays an assassin who is holed up in Italy waiting for a new assignment; he is stoic, but in a kind of withdrawn pain; he wants out of the game, but knows that for people in his profession, the end of a career often means something a lot more permanent. It is, I think, a very different performance for him; he is not the cocksure Danny Ocean, nor does the character have the sense of humor that often infuses his characters. He does, however, have a kind of weary irony about him ... as if he were from a Hemingway novel. I kept thinking that in the sixties or seventies, actors like Steve McQueen or even Burt Lancaster would have played this part. Clooney makes it his own, with authority.

“The American” also looks gorgeous. The director is Anton Corbijn, and this is just his second feature. I’m not familiar with his previous work as a photographer, but I will tell you this - I cannot remember the last movie I saw that seemed to be composed with such care and precision.

If you go, just be prepared. It ain’t Bourne, and it ain’t Bond. “The American” is something else - a movie for adults that is what it is, and does not pretend to be something else. After a movie summer that was largely forgettable, that is not a quality to be minimized.

I have two wines for you this week. The 2009 Robalino Albarino, from Spain, which is a little different than most of the albarinos that I have enjoyed - it seemed to have a heavier peach flavor, but that mellowed out a bit with time, and it was quite good.

And the 2008 White X, a blend of sauvignon blanc, muscat blanc, chardonnay, and roussanne from California’s X Winery...which was just brilliant and perfect with a spicy seafood dish.

Enjoy. And thank me later.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: