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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.

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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

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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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If you’re a beer drinker, you know that weddings aren’t always the best place to find a quality adult beverage that suits your palate. And if you’re lucky enough to find an alternative to Bud Light, Coors Light, or Miller Lite, it’s likely to be some “exotic” brew like Heineken, which isn’t going to knock your socks off.

So when my fiancée and I began looking at venues for our own wedding we assumed that we, like so many betrothed couples before us, would be stuck serving whatever beers the venue wanted to serve, with little wiggle room for a wannabe beer snob like me to add in a few wildcard selections. But as it turns out, the venue we chose is allowing us to buy and serve any alcohol we want, which means we can customize our own beer list. Hoo-ray beer!

That said, I don’t know as much about beer as I’d like to–or should, given how much of it I’ve drunk over the years. So, I enlisted the help of beer connoisseur Henry Joseph. If you’re an avid reader of this blog (i.e. Mom), you may recognize Henry’s name from previous posts–one about New York City’s Pony Bar and another about the best holiday seasonal beers. Here’s Henry’s take on wedding beer, in his own words:

I LOVE going to weddings. Scratch that. I LOVE dressing up and drinking all day. Weddings are usually good for that, but they are RARELY good for offering you a tasty beer to drink all day. This always bothers me, and I usually stay away from beer altogether, opting instead to start with whisk(e)y and moving on to vodka sodas with maybe a Coors Light in between. Heaven forbid someone offer up an Allagash White at a wedding…

Wheat
Now if someone wanted to put some thought (and money, of course) into it, there are plenty of beers out there that would be PERFECT for a wedding. That Allagash White I mentioned is definitely one, as is any number of other wheat beers. Say, for example, Franziskaner Hefeweizen or the recent GABF Gold Medal winning Dreamweaver Wheat from Troegs.

Saisons
Saisons are another great option. They tend to be mild and approachable in flavor leaning toward the sweet side and offering pleasant fruit/spice notes. Ommegang’s Hennepin is widely available and tastes pretty good to boot.

(Now I’m not gonna do what you think I’m gonna do and recommend Saison DuPont, the Platonic Ideal of the style because it is damn near impossible to find a bottle that isn’t skunked–draft is amazing and should always be drunk. This is the dirty little secret of the beer geek community. Everyone just walks around pretending like it doesn’t happen and saying it’s the best saison there is when the truth is that two seconds in the light has an irrevocable negative effect on its flavor. Rant. Over.)

Saisons are a little harder to find but Ithaca makes a great one in the spring time called Ground Break. It’s available right now and you should go drink it.

Lagers
Of course, you can also go the lager route and offer up a nice crisp, clean alternative to your Bud-Miller-Coors. Go continental with some old German light lagers like Augustiner Edelstoff or heck, even just a simple Spaten Lager and you can have a refreshing beer to drink in large mass and your guests will hardly notice the absence of macro swill. Or you can stay closer to home and go with Victory’s Lager–it’s only one of my favorite beers ever from one of my favorite breweries ever.

In the end, though, it’s your wedding and you can serve whatever the hell you want. I’ve known some people in this industry who’ve poured some pretty cool stuff at their weddings. Some have even poured beer that they made themselves! I’ve never done this so take the following advice with a whatever, but your caterer will probably have beer distributors that they typically work with and they should be able to provide you with a product list. Or if you’re in good with your friendly neighborhood bar/beer store, they may be willing to order a keg for you. There’s no need to make people drink more shitty beer. You’re inviting your friends and family to share this special moment with you, make sure they have something special to drink, too.

As always, big thanks to Henry for schooling us all. What’s your ideal beverage at a wedding? Do you have a preferred “wedding beer”? Please share in the Comments section!

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By Henry Joseph
Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Henry Joseph is The 250 Square Foot View’s resident beer expert. We interviewed him this time last year about The Pony Bar, where he bartends, and talked about the state of the American craft beer industry. Henry knows more than a little bit about beer–he’s a Certified Cicerone. And with Thanksgiving just a week away, we welcome Henry back to the blog to share his suggestions for the best beers to bring to the dinner table this holiday season.

1. Peach Berliner Weiss
Brewery: Perennial (St. Louis, MO)
Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.1%
Description: This tart German-style wheat beer is brewed with 750 pounds of Missouri and southern Illinois peaches.

We’ve been seeing a lot of Berliner Weisses this year and this is one of my favorites. The peach plays wonderfully with the bracing tartness. It’s a great aperitif that pairs well with first courses like salads and would be a true delight next to some fresh shellfish, preferably raw. Soft goat cheese would be great as well. This selection’s a little esoteric and not for everyone, but can be a real treat for people who don’t think they like beer. In any case, a great conversation starter.

2. Duvel Rustica
Brewery: Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)
ABV: 8.5%
Description: Ommegang’s take on the quintessential Belgian Golden Ale; fruity and malty, dry with a hint of sweetness, and utterly drinkable.

I like to think of Duvel as the Platonic ideal of beer. It’s got everything: malt, hops, Belgian yeastiness with a hint of spice, sweet, but dry, and this version brewed by Ommegang is no different. As far as food, this beer pairs well with everything. Literally. And everyone from the well-informed to the inexperienced will love it. If you take anything away from this, it should be that Duvel is always a good idea.

3. Domaine DuPage
Brewery: Two Brothers (Warrenville, IL)
ABV: 5.9%
Description: This French-style country ale is deep amber in color. With a toasty, sweet caramel start, it finishes with just enough hops to clean off the palate.

When you think of France, beer doesn’t usually come to mind, but this oft-neglected style of ale is an excellent companion to all your traditional holiday meals.  The earthy, malty notes are an especially nice match with turkey and stuffing. Plus, these guys just picked up a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for this offering.

4. Old Chub Scotch Ale
Brewery: Oskar Blues (Lyons, CO)
ABV: 8.0%
Description: This jaw-dropping Scottish strong ale features semi-sweet flavors of cocoa and coffee, and a kiss of smoke that will entice even those who think they don’t like dark beer.

We’re getting into some serious stuff here. This guy is all about the MALT and all the wonderful flavors it can bring you. Molasses, caramel, chocolate, with a hint of coffee and smoke. These flavors pair up nicely with similarly heavier foods–meat to be specific, but you’d be surprised how well it matches up with some grilled or roasted vegetables. Especially asparagus. As an added bonus, it makes a GREAT reduction liquid.

5. Black Chocolate Stout
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, NY)
ABV: 10.0%
Description: An award-winning rendition of the Imperial Stout style, once made exclusively for Catherine the Great. A blend of specially roasted malts bring a luscious deep dark chocolate flavor.

RICH is the word here. Roasty would be another. And chocolate, of course. Coffee, too. A bit of warming alcohol, but this beer WILL sneak up on you as its smoothness belies its strength. It’d be right at home next to a slice of pumpkin pie, or cheesecake if you’re feeling fancy. Or, heck, just drink it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Pour the beer right into the bowl. I dare you. I never get tired of this beer, and neither will you.

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The following post is based on an email I got from my good friend and fellow Death Cab For Cutie fan, Nikki (she’s appeared previously on the blog, in my “Pearl Harbor” post). I’ve blogged about Death Cab before, including a review of the first time I saw them live (which was awesome) and the second time (which got awkward). Nikki recently saw Death Cab’s frontman, Ben Gibbard, perform a solo show in Boston. This is her account of that night.

The concert itself was pretty awesome–it was in an old movie theater in my neighborhood. He performed a full set all solo and all acoustic–just him and a guitar and a piano. He played a mix of the new solo stuff and DCFC and Postal Service songs. His second song was “Such Great Heights” and at that point I could only think about how stupid Zooey Deschanel is.

Ben Gibbard doing his thing. (Photo Credit: Nikki Donovan.)

So, the show ended and [my fiancé] John suggested we see if we can get his autograph because it was such a small venue and he seemed like a nice guy who enjoys these smaller shows. We walked around the back of the building and his tour bus was sitting there, so we decided to hang out a bit to see if he’d appear. Within a few minutes, about 15-20 people with Sharpies and tickets and posters gathered around with us. The guy manning the back door to the theater told us that Ben walked off the stage and booked it to his tour bus.  Not giving up hope yet, we all hung around as we saw people going in and out of the tour bus (yes, with cases of O’Doul’s and Gatorade).

Without realizing it, about an hour had passed. The bus was still there idling even after the two equipment trucks drove off and everyone still kept thinking “Ben seems like such a nice guy, if he sees us standing here he’ll totally come out.” Around the hour mark people started walking away slowly, constantly looking back to see if he’d appear (two girls even came back for a drive by 20 minutes after they left).  When we left about an hour and 45 minutes after the show ended there were only four people left (interestingly enough three of the four were dudes) still holding out hope that Ben would not disappoint.  He comes off as such a nice guy–it’s hard for any of us standing out there to think he would purposely ignore us.

Not cool, Ben. Not cool. (Photo Credit: John DeMelo.)

 So here’s what has been going through my mind:

  • Should I be upset/disappointed in Ben Gibbard for not meeting fans and signing autographs? Should I let it ruin an otherwise awesome show? If he is actually a douche, should it change my decision about going to future shows or calling DCFC one of my favorite bands?
  • When I realized my feet were going numb from the cold I turned to John and told him all I hear in my head is Sonny from A Bronx Tale talking about Mickey Mantle.
  • As annoying as it was, we did have fun joking around with the other fans and didn’t realize how much time had actually passed.  It was especially funny talking to all the guys standing out there by themselves waiting for a bromance to blossom.
  • Wouldn’t it be funny to find out he was never in the bus but actually at one of the bars down the street?

Anyway…just a lot of reflection on expectations of celebrities. There are many celebrities I would never expect to engage fans and be fine with that but for some reason I thought Ben Gibbard would.  Just before we walked away John made one last attempt to get his attention by tweeting him to come out and stop making us wait in the cold which was accompanied by a picture of me outside the bus giving a thumbs down and pouting.  Too much?  Ben did not acknowledge the tweet…

And yes, we acknowledge that waiting outside the tour bus was slightly stalker-ish.

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By Danny Calise, Guest Blogger

Is Trevor Moran gonna make it? The cute and cuddly 13-year-old who spends his free time making “Call Me Maybe” dance videos for YouTube has just passed out! From what, you say? From being pale and resting his head on his mom’s lap too long! But does he have the X Factor? Find out on this weeks episode!

As it turned out, the cure for Trevor’s condition (being “overly excited”) was some water and Gatorade©. Finally, after some prompting, Trevor was able to open his eyes (Thank God©!) and the Morans contemplated whether or not he should perform, as a Pepsi machine sat in the background like a supportive older brother. Trevor decided to perform, and boy did he ever! The little cherub was reminiscent of a 13-year-old Elton John, sashaying and wiggling while performing pop standard “Sexy And I Know It.” He sold the spoken word/singing so well that the audience didn’t flinch when he brazenly fibbed “I work out.” Does Trevor have a passion for music? Who cares! He has a passion in his…Oh, right. That’s not “age-appropriate.” The judges’ feedback for Trevor: Demi Lovato – “I was dying, you were too cute.”  Britney Spears – “I like you a lot, you were adorable.” Simon Cowell “I think you’re gonna be remembered for that performance.” LA Reid – “You rocked the house.”

Do the judges ever express any feedback that the audience couldn’t have come up with themselves? Now why would the audience want to learn anything about music on the #1 show on television, when they can learn about who Demi Lovato is currently dating (you’ll have to forgive me, I forgot who), AND pick up a few mean-spirited insults to hurl at foreigners with mental deficiencies, or the actors that play them on TV (“If they ever re-make the film, [Titanic], you could replace the iceberg…It wasn’t a compliment.” – Simon Cowell). The judges’ comments are so heavily edited that it is impossible to learn any musical jargon other than “stage presence” (a favorite of Ms. Lovato’s), “too cute,” and “really good” (a favorite of all of the judges). So what exactly is the point of X Factor?

Perhaps the most bizarre moment on X Factor this week was the rise and fall (and rise) of Tara Simon. We first met her when she was enviously gossiping with another contestant that Gene Simmons’ daughter was also auditioning. As a die hard Factor-head, my brain has been taught that if a contestant is talking smack backstage (it’s strangely convenient that they are always mic’d), he/she is going to be supremely confident and utterly talentless in his/her performance. Going into a commercial break, during the “Coming Up Next” segment, Tara was seen doing pushups backstage (and being mocked for it by an elementary schooler), telling the judges she wanted to be in one of their chairs (how dare she!), and screaming like a raving lunatic. Oh baby!  My hands were sliding up and down on each other like I was about to bite into a juicy steak. These judges are going to rip this girl an entirely new one!

Back from the commercial break, Tara is still doing push-ups, this time with a reasonable explanation for it that the elementary schooler doesn’t understand, prompting the audience at home to think, “I don’t understand what she’s talking about and neither does the little girl. This woman must be nuts!” After a couple of pointed questions from the judges and a cowardly shot at Christina Aguilera from LA Reid, Simon tells her to “Shut up” and Tara is ready to sing. She starts off singing some low notes and pronounces the word “you” strangely, causing some baffled looks from the 14-year-old girls in the audience. A clear sign of a loser. But a few lines later she’s still going, with no “boos,” and as her notes rise higher, so does her approval rating from the audience, the judges, and the viewers at home. Her song finishes with a triumphant applause, tears of joy flowing from her eyes, the judges smitten, and a full 180-degree turn completed. It was like watching Hulk Hogan joining the NWO. Who saw it coming? Not I.

Tara was used and abused in one segment for her ability to fit the mold of what X Factor deems its “crazy” contestants, but then changed teams and joined the “really good” singers in the next segment. I confused. Perhaps there are no hard and fast rules of X Factor. But here are some anyway:

Rule #1 of X Factor – Every “maybe” is a “yes.”
Rule #2 of X Factor – If someone has a weird voice, they should not be treated as a reasonable human being.
Rule #3 of X Factor – When LA Reid nods while watching a white hip hop/soul/r&b artist, the whole black community has accepted him/her.
Rule #4 of X Factor – All good singers are 9’s or better looks-wise (Sole exception: 500 pound minister, frontrunner for winner of the whole competition!).
Rule #5 of X Factor – Each week, Britney must show at least as much cleavage as Christina Aguilera does on The Voice.
Rule #6 of X Factor – Demi Lovato has nothing interesting to say.
Rule #7 of X Factor – This rule sponsored by Pepsi.

So what are we supposed to do?  Not watch the #1 show on television? Unreasonable. My suggestion: complement your viewing of X Factor with its much better rival, The Voice.

The Voice is a show that focuses on quality contestants, their stories, and of course, their voices. The judges work to help those singers in need of advice, not invite terrible singers to the stage to be ridiculed. The Voice specializes in “last chances,” and stories of struggle. At the end of the story segments, we hear the contestants sing for the judges, and we at home are able to judge for ourselves. Cee Lo Green often pushes his button for artists that no other judge is interested in. There are differing opinions. X Factor sets its viewers up for a binary response, yes or no, while The Voice allows for some breathing room when judging a singer. “What can I do better?” one contestant on The Voice asked after no chairs had turned around, while a rejected contestant from X Factor is seen lying on the floor sobbing, begging for a yes from the judges.

The purpose of The Voice, as I understood it from Season 1, was to have contestants judged based solely on their voices, as opposed to whether or not they had an intangible “something,” so vague that the only way to know whether or not someone has it is to find out from the judges. Despite being just a ploy to separate itself and take market share from other leading shows like it, it actually IS doing what it promised in that it’s evaluating a person by their voice (and their back story, which is an extension of their voice) rather than their looks.  What does it take to be an American Idol? Ask Randy Jackson. What does it take to be The Voice? A great voice.

So what does the viewer learn from The Voice? We learn that the judges care about which contestants they have on their team. We learn that the music business is fluid and that artists can come back from nearly anything. Artists can transcend genre and impress a judge from any corner of the music world.

What does the viewer learn from X Factor? That it’s cool to wear clown makeup and laugh at people who are different from you. And that it pays MILLIONS.

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