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Selling a Salesman

About five months ago I embarked on a new career path: sales. Up to that point I had no sales experience except for a few miserable months selling knives.

To get myself prepared, I watched my favorite movie about sales, Boiler Room (which, incidentally, is based on Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Wolf of Wall Street).

There’s a scene in Boiler Room when Seth, a young hotshot stockbroker played by Giovanni Ribisi, is sitting at home one Saturday morning eating breakfast when he gets a call from a guy named Ron, who’s trying to sell him a subscription to the Daily News.

Ron weakly gives his elevator pitch, mispronouncing Seth’s last name–though how does one mispronounce “Davis”?–and Seth says “not interested.” But before Seth lets Ron hang up, he gives him another shot at the call. “I get the same half-assed sales call from you guys every Saturday morning. If you want to close me you should sell me. Start again.”

Ron gives a stronger pitch (albeit clearly reading from a script), “feature-dumping” all the reasons why the Daily News is the best daily newspaper in the city, and even handling some objections from Seth.

At the end of the call Ron asks for the sale. Seth’s response: “Nah, I get the Times.”

As a new sales guy I’m hardly in the position to critique the technique of another sales guy, but on Thursday I was the recipient of a sales call from a rep at an online stock trading site where I’ve done a small amount of business in the past.

This wasn’t a typical cold call–i.e. a sales call in which no prior business relationship with that person exists–because I was already a customer of the site. But, it was most certainly a sales call in that the site makes its money when its customers make trades, and I was making none.

So the guy calls me on my cell phone in the middle of the workday, but I pick up–it was an area code I recognized. He introduces himself and asks “How are you?”–a surprisingly simple way to gauge the mood of the person on the other end of the phone, so you know how much time you’ll have to make your pitch.

He sounds a little “junior.” He explains that he’s noticed I haven’t been very active on the site lately. He’s right. I tend to pick stocks with little more sophistication than those people who fill out a March Madness bracket based on the mascots of the teams, and nothing has really inspired me to make a trade lately.

He goes on to ask me about my financial goals–am I saving for retirement, or do I just hope for a certain percentage return on my investment?–and shares some benchmarks based on other customers of the website. I’m reticent to share my financial goals with someone I don’t know so instead I ask, what does my account look like relative to those benchmarks he mentioned?

Now on a call like this, he’s probably making them at scale–he might make a couple hundred in a day. Most people won’t pick up, and the ones who do won’t talk to him for more than a few seconds. So it doesn’t make sense for him to learn everything about each customer he’s about to call, because it’s just not efficient to do so. I get it.

He takes a second to look up my account and shares some metrics. Fine. So, I ask him, what do you think I should do?

When a customer asks a salesperson this, the salesperson should be licking his chops. You better have a good answer. But this guy couldn’t give me anything specific. Again, because he probably didn’t think I’d pick up the phone, and because he was inexperienced, he certainly didn’t think I’d actually ask for his advice on how to invest my money.

I said, “If you have some ideas on any specific moves you think I should make, I’m all ears.” At this point, honestly, I just wanted to hear his reaction. He didn’t name a single stock, or type of fund, or anything he thought I should invest in. He agreed to follow up with an email (which he hasn’t yet) with some more information.

Obviously this guy wasn’t an experienced stockbroker–they had him calling down a list of people who weren’t using the site–but he’s got to go into the call with the mindset that if someone does answer, and they do ask him for a recommendation (more on “recos” in a moment), that he has something smart to say. This way instead of some jerk writing a blog post about this conversation with him, they’re investing money in a stock he suggested.

Early on in Boiler Room, when Seth is being trained on how to make cold calls by a senior broker, Greg (played by Nicky Katt), Seth asks what he should do if the person he calls wants to buy stock right there on the spot. Greg says, “You wanna go into every call expecting just that.” Greg instructs Seth to yell “reco” at the top of his lungs, at which point the first senior broker to get on the phone has the chance to close the sale. (See below. Semi-NSFW.)

I realize I’m hardly a “whale”–someone who invests massive sums–when it comes to stock trading. But if I was important enough to land on this guy’s call list, then I expect an idea, an insight, something from him that keeps me from uttering the five words every salesperson dreads: remove me from your list.

By Danny Calise

As my boss, Antony, spoke toothlessly through his beard while lighting an already-lit cigarette, I looked around at the empty beer cans and various pieces of trash surrounding me in the 75 square foot office/bedroom of the pedicab shop where I had been working and thought to myself, “How did I get here?” Originally, I had envisioned pedicabbing to be a healthy gig where I got to spend time outdoors and meet all kinds of people. It would be hip, profitable, even glamorous. Well, some of that was true.

* * *

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a pedicabber in Austin, Texas during South by Southwest (SXSW)?

Well, I’ll tell you from first hand experience: you wouldn’t hack it. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible, but much like the persistence and determination it takes to run a marathon, SXSW pedicabbing is as much of a mental feat as it is a physical one.

What exactly is a pedicab? you might be thinking. Well, a pedicab can take two forms: either a full bicycle with a trailer attached to the back with seating for 2-3 people, or a tricycle, which rides like a bicycle and has a front wheel and two wheels underneath the passenger seats in back. Pedicabs thrive in urban areas where points of interest are just beyond reasonable walking distance and streets are flat enough for the pedicab drivers to not have to work too hard to get riders from point A to point B.

Pedicab drivers, or Pedicabbers, can rent the cabs for a nightly fee of around $35 on Fridays and Saturdays or monthly for rates of around $325 to have free rein to take the cab out any time that month. Why not just buy a pedicab outright so you can collect all money and not owe anyone? Well, the benefits of renting the cab from a pedicab company are that they handle all cab maintenance, they possess the proper insurance and business license to handle any potential claims, and, quite frankly, pedicabbing isn’t a sustainable form of income, so the average rider doesn’t want to be invested in it for more than a few months.

* * *

A high school teacher by day, I sought a part-time weekend job where I would be rewarded for working quickly and efficiently. Pedicabbing seemed to fit the bill. From the moment I interviewed for the pedicabbing job at **** **** in Austin in January, 2016, there was talk of a massive gathering of the pedicabbers in March. It was the Super Bowl of Austin pedicabbing. This epic 9-day affair was known, to some, as South by Southwest. To pedicabbers, though, it meant hard work. I was told when I took the job that my body would surely give out physically at some point during the music, film and tech festival. That I’d be pedicabbing day and night, with people in constant demand of a speedy ride. Veteran pedicabbers shared forgettable lore and half-stories about times they…really needed a break, or spent upwards of nine dollars on a meal during South-by because they were just THAT hungry. “Whatever,” I thought to myself, nodding with polite faux-awe on my face as they spoke.

The weeks building up to South-by, I “got my legs,” so to speak, building up the stamina and strength to be able to pedicab straight through the 9-day festival. I went out on Friday and Saturday evenings, starting at around 9 PM and staying out until 2 AM. My cab was bare bones: I didn’t have any music-playing capabilities, nor did I have a blanket to shield riders from the cold weather. What I did have was conversation–I walked the fine line between funny/charming and intrusive/annoying, and what I learned in these weeks was that riders are 99% nice and understanding, and mostly just curious about what it’s like to ride a pedicab.

As someone with a short fuse when it comes to verbal altercations, it was easy to let myself be angered by smart-alec responses to my pedicabbing pitch. I’d shout out, “Hey guys, would you like a ride?” And a man walking with a woman would grab his thigh as he was walking and say, “Not while I’ve got these,” referring to his legs. The woman would make an embarrassed face, I would ride away silently, later thinking of all the comebacks I should have used on him. “You won’t have those for long if you keep wasting them on walking, buddy!”  The truth was there was nothing I could say. If someone didn’t want a ride, there was no reason to waste energy on a comeback, especially if I couldn’t think of a clever one.

* * *

I got the feeling that the pedicab company I worked for was past its heyday. The owner, Antony, a 28 year old toothless man appeared to be one step above homeless. Or, really it seemed like he just slept at the shop. For my first night of training, his excuse for being late was that his ride to the shop took too long, which didn’t make sense to me because he was apparently a business owner. But regardless, I didn’t question his lack of car ownership. I explored the shop, which was located in a bad neighborhood on the East Side of Austin, behind a train station where homeless men could be seen urinating before one’s very eyes. Inside the shop’s gate, there was a garage that could have fit four cars, but instead held 8 upright pedicabs and had many tools sprawled across the floor and various workbenches. Towards the back of the garage was a room with two floor mats, an acoustic guitar, dozens of empty beer bottles and cans and trash everywhere. That was presumably where some pedicabbers or just homeless people stayed nightly. Outside the garage around the back was a space for storage of more cabs and a workstation where the owner did some welding for some extra cash on the side. Even farther back was a shack where the shop’s resident artist lived and sometimes created art.

Once the tour of the shop was over, the owner invited me into his “office,” a room beside the garage towards the front of the shop. Inside was more of the same: beer cans everywhere, some empty, some half full, cigarette butts as far as the eye can see, and a bunk bed with trash on the top bunk and a dirty bedspread on the bottom. All of this was in a space of 75 square feet.

The owner himself, Antony, was a manic dude. He was a businessman, first and foremost, but had a soft spot for people in need, hence all of the opportunities for people to sleep at the shop. Throughout every conversation I’ve ever had with him, he would chainsmoke cigarettes, continually lighting the already lit cigarettes seemingly because he enjoyed the lighting process. When he needed to hold a document and a pen, he would put the lit cigarette in his ear for additional storage. Mid-conversation in the office, he would gently lift one of many beer cans and ask me, “Is this the beer I just brought in here?” and of course, I didn’t know or care. It didn’t bother him, though, and he sipped away.

How this man came to own this shop and all of the pedicabs therein is still something of a mystery to me. Essentially, I think he was just in the right place at the right time and took over for someone else. What I observed was that he certainly didn’t appear to me making any money off of the company, but enjoyed being in charge and made just enough to keep the shop afloat and the cigarettes burning. He alluded to a time in the future when he would have the money to open up a local boxing gym in the neighborhood.

He was a chronic story repeater. The first night I met him, he told me all about the benefits of becoming a “monthly rider” (renting the pedicabs from him on a monthly basis): that he would present me with better riding opportunities, that my cab would always be available, and that the South-by rates would be half-price for monthly riders. Several times after this he would give me the same pitch, even after I had already agreed to become monthly. I grew to hate interacting with him. Not only was he verbose, and always talking about things I cared nothing for, but he possessed a trait that I despised in someone: lack of appreciation for someone else’s time. One time after a South-by shift, he talked my ear off for over an hour, with his eyes half open (I suspected that night that he might be on drugs of some kind, but upon reflection I concluded that he was just insane), about how it would be great for the shop if I could make a run with my car to a used video game store and pick up a few games as well as wires in order for the guys to be able to play a four player game of Mario Kart the next day. He had me write down all of the items that I was to buy, and finally, at 3 AM, he let me go home. I threw the paper with the items away immediately, and cursed the day I ever agreed to work for this man. But after all of our long “talks” (he talked, I nodded), I realized that he was just a lonely man who had so much to say and no one to listen to him. Perhaps this was the case with many veteran pedicabbers.

Every night of South-by when I would return the cab to the shop, I was forced to meet with him one on one to hand him my nightly lease ($35), and listen to whatever he had to say that night. He would be constantly lighting his cigarette, touching his beard and face, tugging on his beltless pants and grossing me out to no end. Then he’d approach a group of pedicabbers sat on a bench outside the garage and shout an obligatory joke that they’d all laugh at out of respect. Yes, the heyday of the shop, if ever there was one, was long gone.

Before South-by, he had described a ritual gathering at the shop that took place the night before South-by started. Pedicabbers and friends of the shop would gather around a fire and burn a dollar in sacrifice to the gods of weather, as well as eat pizza in order to carbo-load in preparation for the great journeys ahead. I ended up sleeping through this ritual and didn’t hear any mention of it around the shop afterwards. It seemed more for Owner’s benefit than ours.

After South-by finished, the owner described an epic annual party that the shop threw. He’d get a great local band to play, and everyone from the neighborhood (did I mention who lived around this neighborhood?) would come together and party down. Impromptu boxing matches would occur, people would climb to the top of the garage, and all types of debauchery would take place. I didn’t attend this event. They held it on the Tuesday after South-by and didn’t get the word out until 10 PM Tuesday night. I asked a fellow pedicabber about this party a few days later and he told me that it was quite tame compared to previous years’ parties. “No one boxed,” he remarked.

* * *

The owner talked a lot about pedicabbing, while admitting at times that he hadn’t done it himself consistently in months. I learned that his advice was not useful because he was officially out of the pedicabbing game. Whatever he knew or had known about pedicabbing was no longer relevant.

On the fourth night of South-by, I had rolled by the shop around 9 PM to take a little break, charge my phone, have some dinner and gather my strength for the night ahead. Knowing that I was one of the few pedicabbers on whom he could rely, he entrusted me with the task of training his roommate, who had just been fired from his job due to his refusal to take a drug test. This was an enormous request on the owner’s part because South-by is the most profitable time of year, and training a new person would ensure a pedicabber that he wouldn’t make a dime for at least an hour. And knowing how much the owner loved talking, I knew that he would flap his toothless gums for a while before he’d let us go. A stingy businessman, he asked how much I’d like to be compensated for the hour and a half that I’d train his roommate. I thought about it, and determined that, in that time, I would make at least 50 bucks. So I told him that’s what I wanted. He sure didn’t trust that amount. He said, “Really? Because typically this night of South-by is pretty slow. The music hasn’t started and tech is just ending.” Utterly frustrated by this guy, I said, “You asked what I thought so I told you.” “Okay, how about this: If you’re out there and it looks decently busy, like you’d be missing out on rides, I’ll pay you $50. Otherwise, I’ll give you $30.” Knowing that I would be the one to tell him whether or not it looked busy, I agreed. He never stepped foot out of the shop so there was no danger in him seeing for himself.

So I trained his roommate, a nice guy with a decent work ethic. And in the end, I took him to a line on Brazos St. where we both lined up and eventually both got rides. I had impressed upon his roommate that the night looked busy, and that later, when the owner asked him, which I knew he would, how it looked out there tonight, he should say it was busy. When I returned to the shop that night, I reported to the owner that it sure was busy out there and that I expected to be paid $50. He skeptically looked me up and down, to read whether or not I was lying to him. “Really? Let’s ask around and see how it was. What time were you training?” “10-11.” He approached the bench where six or seven pedicabbers sat drinking and smoking cigarettes. “Hey how was it out there around 10-11 tonight?” They thought for a moment. It was currently 3 AM. No one had a good idea of what it was like that far back. They looked puzzled. “Uh, it was okay out there, not too crazy.” One pessimistic rider who I usually avoided talking to responded, “It was dead out there for me.” And the owner turned to look at me, convinced that he had correctly smelled a rat. My face didn’t change. “I could have picked up three rides in that time. I don’t know what you want me to say.” Then one of the pedicabbers shouted out, “Isn’t that when ACL Live let out?” And the pirate-like pedicabbers’ table all agreed. The owner conceded, “Okay, okay, that’s a big venue. You would have gotten some rides from that.” I hated him so much. But the cheap bastard walked into the office, walked out and handed me $50.

* * *

A typical night of pedicabbing during South-by might look like this:

5:00 PM – Report to pedicab shop to pick up cab. Check to make sure you have all of your essentials: a Square credit card swiper, a blanket in case riders get cold, a bike tire pump, a spare tire, an external phone charger, at least one bottle of water, food consisting of bars and fruit, and business cards with your name on them.

5:15 PM – Depart the shop and head for East 6th street, home of the Fader Fort and Spotify House. This means that big crowds will be milling around these two music showcase locations. Many people park around I-35 and walk to the shows. Depending on how hot it is (or how lazy people are feeling), this means that a group of two to three people might be looking for a lift for the half-mile uphill distance. Ride around East 6th for 10-15 minutes and if nothing’s doing, head west to the Convention Center.

6:00 PM – The next hour or two will be spent riding up and down Trinity Street, raising my hand and looking for groups of two or three that look like they don’t know where they’re going. During the music part of the festival, they might look like young hip hop artists or messy-haired British rock n’ rollers. Every musician must come through the Convention Center to pick up their badges, so a ton of people are constantly walking in and out. Riding beside the main doors of the Convention Center on the bicycles-only path, I was grateful every time someone opened the door and I got a whiff of powerful indoor air conditioning.

Bizarre protests were witnessed here. One where a group of people ages 8 to 68 were protesting against Netflix. Their signs read “Give us our movies back,” and their shouted slogans included, “What do we want? Movies. When do we want them? Now.” I gathered that they were of the belief that Netflix was somehow taking their movies away from them. Their protest lasted an hour and the constant foot traffic resumed unaffected. I wondered what the debriefing meeting of this protest consisted of. “I think we made our point.” And they all cheers their Blockbuster brand microwave popcorns.

Another protest was a group of punk rock types with tough looking dogs in tow who were protesting against gentrification…in general. They didn’t appear to have any goals other than to shout as loud as they could. Evidently, they measured their success based on the old protesting rubric, “If you change just one person’s mind, you’ve been successful.” I didn’t witness anyone volunteering to join their ranks.

8:00 PM – People are officially out drinking now. This means that people need rides to and from the nightlife hotspots: Rainey Street and the Dirty 6th.

On a typical Friday or Saturday night in Austin, the Dirty 6th (a stretch of East 6th Street that runs from I-35 to Congress Ave.) is the place to be for partygoers. It is notorious for its wild and crazy atmosphere, and its pedestrian-only walkway similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. For pedicabbers, the Dirty 6th is a great spot to pick people up, except that police block off certain streets and only allow us to line up on certain others. On ordinary Friday and Saturday nights, pedicabbers are permitted to line up on either side of Neches and Brazos Streets, and on one side of San Jacinto Blvd. and Trinity Street, while also being able to ride up and down Red River St., a popular route connecting Rainey St. and the Dirth 6th. During the 9 days of South-by, however, pedicabbers were limited to only Brazos and Sabine Streets.

On my first day of South-by, I wasn’t aware of these limitations, and I optimistically rode north on Red River up to 6th and was greeted by a police officer. Having been a pedicabber for two months previously to South-by, I learned through word of mouth and from my own experiences that the cops were not on our side. They loathed us due to our lack of regard for their ever-changing and ever-specific laws. They weren’t even the ones who might write us a ticket for not having a proper pedicabbing license or the right type of blinking lights on the backs of our cabs, that was reserved for special transportation officers. Instead, their role was to forcefully yell at us, and their frustrations were amplified by the fact that pedicabbers, too, were ever-changing. So every time they yelled at a pedicabber, there was no assurance that that pedicabber would spread the word amongst his co-workers because there are over 10 pedicab companies in downtown Austin, and missing among popular topics of conversation between us was the new and exciting restrictions now enforced by the cops. The fact was, we were arch nemeses my nature. All we wanted was to bend the very laws that they lived to uphold. So when I strolled up Red River and saw a brigade of 5 cops sitting in a golf cart next to a road blockade, I wasn’t surprised to get an exasperated reaction from their leader. He shouted angrily, “I already told you guys, you can only go on Sabine and Brazos.” I shrugged my shoulders non-communicatively, for, who were the “you guys” he was referring to? All pedicabbers? If so, I had not gotten the memo. I cursed said officer under my breath and rode down to Sabine to see if my kind were welcome there. We were.

Now, pedicabbers, for the most part, follow an unwritten code of rules among ourselves. Obviously laws like “Don’t ride on the sidewalk.” or “Don’t ride the wrong way on a one-way street.” are broken at the pedicabber’s discretion. But when it comes to breaking rules against one another, these rules are strictly followed and can be punishable in any number of ways such as a group of pedicabbers blocking you in or simply just kicking your ass if you cross the wrong pedicabber.

The foremost example of an unwritten pedicabber’s rule is that of snaking, a loathesome practice that involves a pedicabber stepping in front of a line of pedicabbers and stealing away their rider without regard to the established line for that area. Snaking also includes taking a ride when you are at the back of a line. The accepted practice if you are not first in line (some lines can have up to 20 pedicabbers on them) and a potential customer approaches you is to cease negotiating with that customer immediately and point him.her to the front of the line so that he/she may hire the first pedicabber in line. One can also shout audibly, “First up!” so that the first pedicabber in line can move towards the potential customer to expedite the process. During South-by, however, the rule of law is weakened and the new stance on snaking becomes “monkey see, monkey do.”

11:00 PM to 2:00 AM – On Rainey St., the pedicab lines grew long because pedicabbers weren’t allowed to ride through the street and must wait at the edge of the line of bars for potential customers. It’s a kick in the gut to optimistically ride up the hill to Rainey St., only to find a line of pedicabbers 20 cabs long. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a break is needed and joining a line is a smart play. When you’re ready for dinner, it makes sense to join a line, ask the pedicabber behind you to look after your cab and jet over to a food truck to get some fuel, all the while building up to a guaranteed ride when you reach the front of the line. But when you’re full of energy and ready to ride, all thoughts of obeying laws and the right thing to do go out the window. If a couple comes up to you asking how much it would be for a ride to the Dirty 6th, you tell them 20 bucks and hurriedly usher them into your cab, first in line or not. This form of snaking became a reality during South-by, and by the second day, it was common practice. If people wanted a ride, you gave it to them.

But not all pedicabbers subscribed to the “monkey see, monkey do” logic of snaking. On 6th and Sabine, the line wasn’t 20 pedicabbers long, but rather 8 or 9. Each time “First up!” was called and the first pedicabber in line got a ride, we’d all have to re-maneuver our cabs so that we’d be closer to the front. By the time midnight rolled around, thousands of people were milling about around the cab line and people were hiring cabs left and right. I was fifth in line when three partygoers approached me asking if I can take them to Rainey St. This was a no-brainer. I told them to hop in. The pedicabber in front of me had a more traditional mindset. When he saw the trio about to hop into my cab, the older pedicabber shouted out “First up!,” and moved his head chicken-like, wondering if anyone else was watching me snake this ride. He asked me nervously as the trio sat down in my cab, “Are you part of this line or…,” and I just ignored him, only interacting with the customers. He continued to freak out, and I simply smiled at the customers, asking if they were ready to depart. They were, and we were off. Yet another successful snake.

2:00 AM to 3:00 AM – Power hour. All bars close at 2 AM, which means that every patron leaves the bars and needs a way to get back to their hotels or their cars. Sure, there is competition from Uber and Lyft, but pedicabbers can navigate through traffic legally and illegally, using bike lanes and riding on the opposite side of the double yellow lines. So we got plenty of business. On Rainey, the once long lines are non-existent. As quickly as you can ride up to the end of Rainey St., you can nab a duo or trio and take them to the East Side to their cars or to the JW Marriot downtown, or similar hotels. If you had the stamina to make it to this hour, you are rewarded with consistent rides back to back. I must admit that I didn’t make it to Power Hour every night, but when I did, my adrenaline carried me through to 3 AM.

3:00 AM to 4:00 AM – All pedicabbers ride back to their respective shops down East 4th street. I passed 4th and Attayac, a corner which houses four pedicab shops and where upwards of 15 cabs would be parked outside just chilling as their drivers sat around drinking beers and enjoying a well-earned break. I pull into the shop and park my cab. I pay my nightly lease to the owner and drag myself to my car, knowing that I’m in for the same tiring experience the next day. When I get home, I total up the day’s wages and add them to a post-it on my tv stand. I take a brief shower, dry my hair the best I can, stretch my legs while I brush my teeth and fall face first into my bed. I will wake up eight hours later with my legs feeling like Jell-O.

As I wrote last week, I’ve been trying to break into the competitive sports scene in the D.C. area since moving here from New York a few months ago.

So far, so good, in getting onto a softball team–though I recently learned the team is sponsored by a local gentleman’s club (I am begging you to read the reviews for this place. BTW, a business idea: a blog where people who write Yelp reviews of strip clubs are given carte blanche to just write a couple hundred words on literally anything. I’d read that.)

Okay, we got a little off track there, but onto the main event: the story of how I tried out for a local tennis team, and how things became much more serious than I anticipated.

In looking for ways to immerse myself in the community–taking the first of many steps to becoming Northern Virginia’s answer to Coach Taylor–I reached out to some of the local tennis organizations to see about either joining a team or a ladder* to keep in shape, meet some people, and play tennis with people of a similar skill level to my own.

*A ladder is essentially a list of people who can schedule matches with each other around their own schedules, rather than being scheduled by a league. After they complete a match, they report their scores to the ladder admin, who keeps track of everyone’s win-loss record. At the end of a pre-determined “season” there may be a playoff, and a winner is ultimately crowned. It’s a great way to play tennis competitively without the rigidity of a league situation.

During the process I guess my name ended up on a few lists and message boards, and every so often someone would reach out about meeting up to hit around, or a team they were on, or suggestions for leagues to join.

On February 29 I received an email from a team captain who had gotten my information from another captain who had reached out to me (that team was in a weeknight league, but I was looking for something on weekends):

I captain an excellent team in the DC USTA 4.0 Spring league that will start in April. … The last two years we have won the league and advanced to sectionals in Newport News. … This time we hope to win sectionals and advance to nationals. It seems like you would be a perfect fit for our team being a high end 4.0/low end 4.5 so to speak.

 

Not sure whether to be flattered as a “high end 4.0” or offended at being called a “low end 4.5,”* I wrote back, expressing interest. We agreed to meet the following Sunday morning so he could get a better sense of whether I could play.

*The United States Tennis Association (USTA) rates players based on skill level. I haven’t ever been officially rated, but based on my experience playing in college and asking people who know about these things, I’m around a 4.5. However, I’ve also come to realize that most tennis people in the know tend to play about half a level down from their true rating, so I should be looking at 4.0 leagues.

After 45 minutes of warming up, rallying, and playing a few points, The Captain had seen enough. My groundstrokes and serve had been solid, but my volleys and overheads were weak, having not played in a while. But I assured him it was just rust, and playing steadily would be sure to shake the cobwebs off my game. I had played both singles and doubles at a Division III college, and felt confident I could regain some of that form (albeit it was now 10+ years after graduating).

My day job is in sales, so I did my best to ask not-too-pushy questions that would get The Captain to betray his honest opinion on whether I was right for his team. Before seeing me play he said I would be a “perfect fit,” but now he didn’t seem so sure.

He told me he needed to see me play one more time to make a decision. He later arranged for me to hit with one of his teammates, but that session was rained out. And so I sat in purgatory, not knowing if I was going to make the team. (This was a very different experience from the softball tryouts I’d attend a week later.)

I reached out to The Captain (twice) via email about next steps. His reply, a few days later:

Sorry for the delay in responding. … The first thing you need to do is to join usta and self rate on the usta website. The computer will likely rate you at 4.5 as you are a former division 3 player under 36. Then click the appeal button to appeal down to 4.0. You highlight the factors in your background to make your case here, i.e., haven’t played competitively in 10 years, lost almost all of your doubles matches in Division 3, any injuries? I think the appeals committee meets on Tuesdays. If you are bumped down to 4.0 then I can consider you. There is alot of interest in our team so no promises yet. Once I find out that you are rated  a 4.0, we’ll regroup.

He was the one who reached out to me! Also, I was somehow too good (I needed to appeal to the USTA to decrease my rating) but also not good enough to be given a spot on The Captain’s team. What?

My initial reaction was to send him a scathing email–how dare he ask me to jump through these hoops just to be considered for his team! Instead I spoke to my tennis braintrust–two of my college teammates, and my father-in-law–who convinced me to “play the game.” The Captain was a little fanatical about his tennis, but maybe he was just being passionate. If I made the team, it could be a pretty cool experience competing for a regional or national title.

Gritting my teeth, I sent my reply:

Thanks for your detailed reply. … I’m happy to take the appropriate steps towards getting my USTA rating to make sure I’m qualified to join your team. But before I do, I’m hoping you can share your thoughts on whether I’m the right fit for your team.
As you noted, right now I’m a stronger singles player than doubles player–but I believe my doubles abilities will come back the more I play (I’ve also joined a ladder to get some extra strokes in during the week). Are you concerned about my flexibility to play both singles and doubles if needed? Or about my ability as a singles player? As I said I’d be happy to hit with you … this weekend as a second tryout, and if you’re still not sold on me I’ll withdraw from consideration for your team.
If you are seriously considering me for your team, I’ll go ahead and follow the steps you laid out re: getting rated a 4.0. But if you’re thinking I’m not a great fit without needing to see me play a second time, please let me know.
Thanks in advance for your candor.
If the team was not going to be a good fit for me, that was fine. At this point I wanted to know I was on the team, or to check this off my list and move on. The Captain replied:
Here is the situation. I run and play on a DC team 18+ and a [Maryland] 18+ team. Both teams are excellent. The DC team advanced to sectionals the last 2 years. The MD team advanced to state regionals the last 2 years and fell just short of advancing to sectionals. We think this year it will happen. Both teams are competitive and no one knows what will happen with either team until the matches are played. Both could advance or neither. Last year both of my DC 40 and MD 40 teams advanced to sectionals. In DC, the scoring is based on total courts won in the season so every court played counts. In MD, the scoring is based on total matches. So if a team won 3 of the 5 courts played in the match, it counts as 1 match won. You have nice strokes, but are still rusty and it will take some time to groove the strokes again and get back to your regular game. With the season starting so soon, I can’t take the risk in DC of losing any courts while working on consistency. In MD I can take the risk of losing a court in a match during this period of working on consistency because the team is strong enough to win enough other courts to win the match. As the season progresses, you will eventually be back in the groove. This enables you to get back in the game with competitive match play with no pressure. I might have one slot open on the MD team. If you are interested in the MD team, we can talk about that. Both seasons are during the same time frame starting in April. 
“I might have one slot open on the MD team.” We never once had spoken about playing for his team in Maryland! Rather than assuming this guy was baiting and switching me this whole time, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s managing so many tennis teams that he mistakenly did not inform me that my chances of joining his team were slim, and that he would likely end up having me compete for a possible (but not guaranteed) spot on his team in Maryland.
As you might guess, at this point I replied to let The Captain know I was no longer interested in pursuing a spot on any of his teams. If the right situation presents itself later this spring, I’ll consider it. But clearly it won’t be with The Captain.
Whatever. I bet his team isn’t sponsored by a gentleman’s club…

Over the last decade I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to advertising both as a consumer—now that more ads are targeted to me—and as a professional, since I’ve spent most of that time working in the advertising industry.

I’ve written before on this blog about how one form of advertising, product placement, can go from seamless—almost subliminal—messaging to get us thinking about a brand without directly being fed a commercial in the traditional sense, to something that feels so out of place and distracting that the entertainment value of the content suffers.

On my brother Danny’s recommendation, I recently started catching up on FX’s new-ish series Baskets, starring Zach Galifianakis (the show was co-created by Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and Jonathan Krisel).

Very early on in the series, the first episode in fact, one brand is prominently featured repeatedly on the show: Costco.

Galifianakis’s character, Chip Baskets, is a “classically trained” clown (he studied at an academy in France—which is in Europe, if you’re a fan of this show) who can only find clown work at a rodeo in California. As he climbs the walls to avoid being gored by a bull, his co-worker and fellow rodeo clown tosses him a t-shirt gun to help Chip win the crowd over. Inside the gun are Costco branded t-shirts. (The arena sponsor signage also includes Kirkland Signature, Costco’s private label brand.)

Later in the episode we meet Chip’s mother, played by Louie Anderson (yes, you read that correctly), goes on and on about the great deals she got at Costco, parading out a number of Kirkland Signature products for the camera to capture.

Furthermore, the insurance adjuster Chip meets when he crashes his motor scooter works for—you guessed it!—Costco. Did you know Costco offered auto insurance services? Me neither!

After the first couple of episodes I texted my brother: Baskets is kinda funny but it’s also a long commercial for Costco. So many Costco labels in every shot!

His reply: Haha yea I like to think of Costco as a character on the show.

As an advertiser, I suppose that’s the best possible outcome for such an overt product placement, isn’t it?

Later episodes take place partly at Costco, either with Martha talking to her boss there, or Mrs. Baskets taking Chip’s estranged wife Penelope there to shop. “A dollar fifty for a hot dog! Can you believe it?”

In another episode, Martha was on the verge of being fired because she hadn’t sold any executive memberships to Costco. After unsuccessfully trying to accomplish this feat, Chip’s mom eventually buys Chip the membership. “You don’t have a membership to Costco? What’s wrong with you?”

Oddly enough, as I was Googling to learn more about Costco’s paid product placement, I learned that this so obviously paid for season-long commercial for Costco was actually not paid at all! As it turns out, the agreement the show has made with Costco is that no money will exchange hands, Baskets will get access to a Costco store to film, and Costco will have no creative input. So while Costco–the character on the show–may at times be the butt of the joke, it is amenable to this condition in exchange for free screen time a.k.a. advertising.

So, whether it’s paid or unpaid, Costco’s heavy presence may have had a greater effect on me than I knew–despite supposedly being hyper-aware of advertising thanks to my profession.

Just today as my wife and I made a Costco run—a perk of moving to the suburbs!—we found ourselves at the checkout line when the cashier asked me if I was the primary cardholder on my account. Yes, I said, and so he introduced me to presumably his boss, who asked it me if I had considered—wait for it—an executive membership to Costco. My default reply was to ask what it was, but of course I was already familiar with it thanks to Baskets. After getting all the information I decided to pass on it, for now, but I was, let’s say, 10% more open to hearing more simply because I had known a little bit about it before I was approached.

And now here I am blogging about it, and you’re reading it, and you’re wondering what a Costco executive membership can get you. So the next time you say, “Advertising doesn’t work on me,” think about that for a moment longer and remember: It’s not always about getting you to open your wallet right now. Sometimes it’s just about planting the seed.

In February 2005 I started at my first post-college job at Petry Media Corporation in Manhattan. The sole perk of this position, besides being gainfully employed, was the company softball team.

An athletic guy who played sports all his life, I thought I’d automatically be given a spot on the team. (What an entitled millennial I was!)

Instead, the manager and starting pitcher for the team, Marty, explained that the team was highly competitive, dating back to the 1970s, and that if I wanted a spot on the team I’d have to try out for it.

When the season started a few months later, I was given an opportunity to get into a game and show Marty that I could play. I barely passed my audition, managing four infield singles and solid defense in the field. But Marty was impressed with my speed and glove, so I had earned my spot.

After that tryout, I started on Petry’s team for 11 consecutive seasons until I recently moved from the New York area to just outside of Washington D.C.

Now, I find myself, at 34, trying out again, this time for the local softball league. There’s no such thing as a résumé or references when it comes to joining a softball league. I can regale the head of the league with stories about how I once hit four home runs in a game (leaving out the part where I committed seven errors at shortstop in the same game), or how I hold virtually every team record for the Petry Pilots (again, including most errors in a single game), or how my lifetime batting average is around .450.

But none of that matters. I’m starting from scratch. I’m just some not-that-young guy who is looking to keep the last of his competitive fire alive, meet some good people and make some friends in the process, and maybe have some fun and win some games, too.

After asking too many questions for the league commissioner, he eventually informed me that there would be an open tryout on March 12 at noon at the local field for “free agents” (i.e. prospective players without a team) like myself, and that I had the opportunity to showcase my talent (if I had any) to any of the team captains and coaches who chose to attend the tryout. If they liked what they saw they could select me from the free agent pool and add me to their rosters.

I hadn’t had to try out for a team since 2005* so I didn’t really know what to make of the situation. I had to put my feelings of entitlement and indignation aside and focus on showing these guys what I had to offer to their teams. (I also had to get used to the fact that despite my improved play at shortstop—that seven-error game was years ago, so lay off!—there was no guaranteed I’d get to play my favorite position.)

*I’ve interviewed for many jobs since 2005, which were all effectively tryouts to some degree. But sports feels a little different.

And so I went out and gave it my best without being too flashy. My defense was solid, though I didn’t get much of a chance to show off my arm. My hitting was passable for not having hit a softball since last August. All in all I gave them enough to judge me as a guy who could add value to most softball teams.

During the warm-ups, the scrimmage game that followed, and after we ended the official tryout, several coaches approached me to ask me what night I was interested in playing on (each league was assigned a night, much like the Petry Pilots had all their games on Tuesdays since, I think, the beginning of time), as well as what position I was interested in playing (and which other positions besides shortstop I would be open to). They also told me about their own teams, trying to put their own best feet forward. “We won our league last year,” or “We’re a fun group of guys,” or “Do you like burgers and beer? We’re partially sponsored by a local pub.”

I played tennis in college but had walked onto the team without being recruited by any schools, and so this feeling of someone actively pursuing me based on my athletic ability was new. None of them offered me a sports car or illicit cash in an envelope, but they were certainly jockeying with each other for the best possible players for their roster. And by the time I left I had given my contact info to four different team captains. (When I left I said, “Okay, well that’s enough speed dating for me!” No one laughed.)

Though a full-time position as shortstop is not guaranteed on any of their teams—just like I had on Marty’s team, I’d have to earn my position—I ultimately decided to play for Frank, a retired military guy I met during warmups who reminded me a lot of Marty, my former coach.

Frank has a first-place caliber team who lost a few guys during the off-season and is looking to reload his roster. He brought one of his teammates to the tryout, who hit a couple of home runs during batting practice, so it was clear they had at least one guy who could swing the bat.

The first game will be in a few weeks, and that’s really when my tryout begins. Will I be able to secure playing time on Frank’s team throughout the season, and prove him right in selecting me for his roster? (I use “select” loosely as he group emailed me and four other guys after the tryout about joining his team.)

Maybe Frank’s team will be a bust, or maybe I’ll play 11 seasons for him. Either way it’s a fresh start in a new place, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be playing competitive softball again.

I should only hope the tennis team tryout I have next week goes so well…

This blog post comes from my mom, Joanne Kelleher, as she recalls a #christmasmiracle from 30 years ago. It’s a great read, especially this time of year. Enjoy.

Gratitude is currently enjoying its day in the sun. Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines are sprinkled with #gratefuls and #gratitudes, and the happiness experts advise you to keep a gratitude journal if you want to live a happier life. This particular happiness hack is not new, it’s just become popular to publicly proclaim your gratitude. Most of us have always carried with us moments of grace that we call to mind for a burst of joy, or comfort, or encouragement, and they have been inspiring gratitude in us before there were hashtags to label them. As Christmas approaches, I remember back to such a moment that redeemed a difficult holiday season thirty years ago.

My little boy Bobby was three and he and I were living with my twin brothers in their 2-bedroom apartment in Bayside, Queens. My husband and I had separated, and my brothers had been kind enough to take us in until I could save up some money to rent an apartment. They were two single guys in their mid-20’s, not used to having an active little kid around, so I tried to keep Bobby quiet and out of their way when they were home so as not to wear out our welcome. Usually, we slept in the living room, but sometimes one of my brothers stayed at his girlfriend’s apartment, and on those nights we got to sleep in his bed.  That was always a treat, especially if it was a Thursday night and I could catch up with Knot’s Landing on the television in his room.

During that time, I worked in a warehouse answering phones for a company that rented out televisions and VCRs on a monthly basis. It was my job to let customers know the window for their delivery, pick-up, or service call. I also handled customer complaints, which could be pretty frequent because when stock was low, they rented out equipment that was not up to the usual standard. It wasn’t a great job, but it provided a small income while I tried to get my life back on track. I had become friendly with the other girl who worked there and we were planning to rent an apartment together.

Aside from the everyday stress of trying to get my life together, the added expectations and expense of the holidays were weighing on my mind. I had a few items on lay-away for Bobby, but there were always holiday-related purchases to make and errands to run. With the Christmas countdown accelerating, I decided to squeeze in a lunchtime dash to my go-to neighborhood for bargain shopping. I knew that parking wouldn’t be easy in that congested area, especially at this time of year, but I had to get my shopping done. As I reached the heart of the shopping center, I saw a prime parking spot right on the main street. What a lucky break! I pulled up in front of it preparing to back into it, but before I could back up, a car snuck up behind me and pulled into the spot front first. What?! Are you kidding, guy!? I flung the car door open and stormed back to address the other driver – That is MY spot!  He said, “I’m not moving.”

That was pretty much the end of the conversation and the end of my reserves. It wasn’t just the fact that he wasn’t moving, but the way that he dismissed me, like I wasn’t even worth the argument, that deflated me. I couldn’t muster up more yelling but I couldn’t move either. I stood there frozen in place, hand on hip, the recent months of failure and worry flooding through me and pooling at my eyes in tears that threatened to spill over. Suddenly, I heard a voice from somewhere above my right shoulder. I looked up from the spot-stealer to see a police officer sitting on a horse.

Officer: What’s the problem?

Me: He took my spot.

Officer (to spot-stealer): Get out of the spot.

As simple as that.

All of this had taken place under the el (the elevated train tracks), which obscured the midday sun, but a few blocks beyond us, the el ended and the sun shone brightly. When I looked up at the officer to thank him, he was backlit by sunlight; it looked as though he was glowing. And just then, it began to snow – flurries, the kind that swirl around you like the last flakes settling in a snow globe. The only thing missing was a choir of angels singing. I stood transfixed in the magic of it all, then headed back to my car to claim my parking spot.

I have never forgotten that moment.

On the day of the hero police officer, I couldn’t know that things would get worse before they got better, that my father would die alone in his apartment on Christmas Day, or that the friend who had agreed to rent an apartment with me would back out and leave me with a rent that I couldn’t cover. On that day I only knew that for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful. It was my own tiny Christmas miracle.

Moments of grace don’t always appear as a literal knight in shining armor riding in on a horse illuminated by rays of sunlight in a swirl of gently falling snow, serving justice. Yes, sometimes these moments are huge, like getting the call that your son is in the clear after a months-long medical scare he’d been dealing with. But there’s also grace to be found in the things that we take for granted – having enough to eat, a roof over our heads, our friends and family, even just a quiet moment with your cats purring on your lap.

Catch these moments when you can, and savor them.

Merry Christmas!

#gratitude #grateful

Guest blogger and Austin, Texas, native Danny Calise reviews his experience at this year’s Austin City Limits music festival.

For the first time, my girlfriend, Maya and I attended Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival this year. It was a two weekend event, the second of which we attended. Practically a rite of passage for any Austinite, we were initially drawn to it by the lineup, and eventually realized that it was about much more than just the music.

Buying tickets for such a popular event turned out to be an event in unto itself. The festival organizers announced a window of time weeks before the festival when discounted tickets would be on sale for students and military personnel. The “line” started at 5AM and tickets were to go on sale at 10. We arrived promptly at 5, and there was already over a hundred people in a scrum to reach the ticket window. Heck, we could barely find parking to line up to buy tickets. Most of the people in this line were UT students, willing to suffer for cheaper tickets. But what we learned after abandoning our post around 9 AM, was that when it comes to ACL, sometimes it’s worth it just to pay more for convenience. Thus, we ditched the line and bought tickets on Craigslist later that day.

Officially, the festival got underway on Friday afternoon. After I was released from work at 4:30, I rushed home, picked up Maya and proceeded to the Capital Metro Rail station near our apartment. The plan was to catch the train to downtown, walk nine blocks to the festival shuttle (which, hopefully didn’t have a massive line), and arrive at Zilker Park before Future went on at 6. Well, the train got us to downtown at about 5:45. Making a gametime decision, we noticed a bicycle cab riding by and flagged the driver down. “How much to Zilker?,” I asked, knowing it may be a lot due to festival inflation. “Normally, I charge $30 per person, but for you guys I can do $20.” Too much. We can just take an Uber, I thought. “Thanks anyway.” “Okay, how much would you like to pay?” “I was thinking more like 20.” “How ‘bout 25?” “Sold!” And off we went on the back of a bicycle taxi at sunset. We rode over the Congress St. bridge, soaked in the view and the sun, and passed by all of the cars in traffic heading towards the event thinking, “Suckers!”

The bicycle cab took us as far as he could, right up to a police stopping point for cars. We had about a 5 minute walk to get to the festival. Hungry and ready to hear music, we were delighted to see a random dude with 10 Papa John’s heat-keeping pizza bags stacked up near the gate. “Two dollars a slice?,” he offered. “Sold! We’ll have two…each.” What a world!

Entering the festival gate, we could hear Future playing. To the left we saw huge monitors and an enormous crowd. We had made it.

* * *

Future’s set delivered. Accompanied by a DJ, he energetically played all of the best tracks from his latest album, Dirty Sprite 2, as well as his mixtape with Drake, What a Time to be Alive. Following Future on Friday night, we saw Flosstradamus, presumably a rap/DJ duo whose set consisted of remixes of other artists’ well known songs. This was a common thread among DJ performances at the festival. Floss climbed up their speakers to be seen by the concert goers in the back. Towards the end of Floss’ set, we decided to patronize the food stands, labelled “ACL Eats.” The available stands included local favorites such as P. Terry’s, Stubb’s BBQ, Amy’s Ice Cream, and a lot more. Being vegetarian, Maya and I opted for Frank’s BBQ, which offered a Veggie Chili Cheese Dog for $9. This was by far the best vegetarian option, and as two people who have been burned by a lack of options in the past, we were grateful. We dined under a very large canopy at picnic tables. It felt like camp.

To close the night, Foo Fighters headlined. Their set, like their most famous songs, was epic. Old songs like “Monkey Wrench,” as well as newer, older songs like “Best of Me” were injected with an instrumental break right before the very last chorus, showing that the band could rock like no other. Dave Grohl was seated for the set, still on crutches from his injury months ago. But it didn’t stop him from being funny on the mic, and at the very end of the set, admitting “Okay okay, we’ll play the damn last song now.” Clearly, he was referring to “Everlong.” It sent us away that night with an unforgettable tune in our heads and smiles on our faces. We swam through the enormous crowd and made our way to a bus stop that would take us to the train stop that would take us to our parked car that would take us home. The next night, we decided to drive in and pay for parking.

* * *

On Saturday, which also happened to be my birthday, we skipped the morning performances and drove into downtown at 5:30 PM. We got to Barton Springs Rd., parked in a $10 lot, and, although we were disappointed that the Papa John’s guy wasn’t there, we made it into the gate in time to catch some of Modest Mouse’s set. After seeing Foo Fighters the previous night, our expectations were high for the remaining festival bands to rock, and Modest Mouse didn’t disappoint. Isaac Brock’s voice sounded just as otherworldly live as it does on record, and hearing “Float On” live was exactly what the thousands in the crowd wanted. From there, we caught R&B youngster Alessia Cara. Her soulful voice rang out as she sang her current hit, “Here,” much to the pleasure of the small but receptive audience.

After Ms. Cara, Maya and I settled down on our sheet towards the back of the audience area where Drake would be playing later on. Bassnectar, apparently a dubstep DJ, performed on the stage next to us, his silhouetted figure and extra long hair swaying and bopping to some raucous, bass-heavy electronic tunes.

Drake’s set was the highlight of the weekend for us. He played just about everything you’d want him to. From his one-off features (“Come My Way,” “Tuesday”) to his current hit, “Hotline Bling,” to his deep album cuts (“Crew Love,” “Worst Behavior”) and just about everything in between, spanning all of his three official albums and various mixtapes. He was energetic, honest, and candid, admitting that he was “about to do something very Drake-ish,” and playing yet another song just for the ladies. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the show occurred when the lights went out and another figure appeared on stage, J. Cole. Cole played his current song with Jeremiah, “Planes,” as well as snippets from “Power Trip,” and “Work Out.” To see two huge rap superstars, neither of whom represents the “gangsta” image, touting one another and sharing an on-stage hug, was a treat. It made me wonder why these two don’t have a hit together.

Following J. Cole’s appearance, Drake closed the show with fireworks shooting out of the stage, capping off his headlining set with yet another unforgettable moment. After the last note was played, everyone in the crowd attempted to exit the park simultaneously, a process that took an hour and a half including the painstaking process of inching our way out of the parking lot. Well worth it.

* * *

We wanted to get an early start on Sunday, so we headed downtown around 2 PM, wanting to catch one of Maya’s picks, Kali Uchis at 2:45. It was a sweltering day with much of Zilker Park drenched in oppressive sunlight. However, we were pleased to discover that Kali was playing underneath a huge tent. Kali played her smooth, reggae/island infused pop jams to a loyal fanbase under a canopy. Her band consisted of young guns: teenaged musicians rocking out while she swayed front and center with long, pink hair. She posed questions to the daytime audience such as, “Who are y’all excited to see tonight?,” and she disclosed that she was pumped to watch The Weeknd later on. Her set was a personal one, clearly early on in her career, and those of us who were familiar with her music (as well as her endorsement from Tyler, the Creator), were excited to be there for that moment.

Knowing we didn’t have much we wanted to see at the festival before Chance the Rapper went on at 6, we decided to forgo the food stands and venture out into civilization to a nearby Mexican joint, Chuy’s. To sit down in a comfortable restaurant was a much needed break from the sun and from the dusty grass that was starting to fly around everywhere at the festival. And just before our waitress dropped our check, who walks into the back dining room at Chuy’s, but Kali Uchis! She didn’t stay, but we did let her know that we were fans. Truly, a classic ACL experience.

By 6, we were back at the fest and ready to watch Chance. He performed all the best songs from his very popular mixtape, Acid Rain, as well as select songs from his band project, Surf. The full band sound was something very interesting to watch and listen to for the audience, differing from other hip hop acts. Surf established Chance as not just “the Rapper,” but a veritable band leader, which translated well in a live setting. In between songs, he hyped up the crowd with a call-and-response “Woo-OOH” chant, and generally rambled about the positivity he found reflected at him by the audience. He acknowledged that he values his personal time very much and that he has mixed feelings about flying to a different location to perform. While it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear, this revelation was consistent with Chance’s honest persona and certainly makes for a more interesting artist than someone whose whole life consists of touring and recording. Nonetheless, hearing our favorite songs from Acid Rap in band format was very enjoyable.

To fill the two hour gap between Chance and festival closer, The Weeknd, we once again laid down our sheet and went horizontal on the grass. Nero, a DJ, played in the background, and we weakly fist-pumped each time the beat dropped.

By the time The Weeknd went on, we were both ready to wrap up the..well, weekend. However, he brought a lot of energy to the stage, as well as his numerous recognizable songs. His collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Love Me Harder,” had new life as a one man song. He played some of his salacious anthems from his early stuff, “Glass Table Girls” and “Wicked Games,” and wowed the crowd with his Michael Jackson-esque banger, “Can’t Feel My Face.” Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack hits, “Earned It,” and “Often,” reminded the crowd why this guy was headlining. We were exhausted by the end of the set, and decided to venture off to the parking lot before the whole crowd was released. On the way out, though, we heard the song I had been waiting for the whole festival, IMHO, undeniably the song of 2015, “The Hills.” Having already exited the festival gate, we sang along with Abel Tesfaye as he declared that when he’s f’ed up, it’s the real him.

* * *

All in all, the weekend was music and fun-filled. We didn’t have any complaints or regrets, and got to dance, eat, drink, and relax to our hearts’ desires. Would I recommend ACL to someone who’s never been? Heck yes. But be ready to fight crowds, inflated prices, and funked up transportation along the way.

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