Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lyft in St. Louis, or "Our Messed-Up Holy Roman Empire of a Cow Town"

I'm sick and tired of all of the shit that the city is putting Lyft through.

For those who don't know, Lyft is like Uber--a crowdsourced ride-share service coordinated by a very sophisticated smartphone app. Anyone with a decent-enough car can sign up to be a driver and make some extra cash, but riders and drivers rate one another on a five-star scale, presumably to keep any would-be axe murderers/deliverance wannabes at bay. The rides cost a lot less than taxis do (60% of taxi fares in most cases), and show up a lot more quickly than the "might show up if I feel like it" licensed cabs sent out by rude/idiotic dispatchers on any given weekend.

Unfortunately, Lyft didn't realize how backward and corrupt St. Louis is. The company didn't understand the complexity of the provincialism that consistently holds this town back from moving into the 21st-century. No, in this town, beaks MUST get wet, and there are a WHOLE lot of thirsty birdies out there.

For example, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC)--these jokers obviously feel threatened. After all, if they lose their monopoly on for-hire car transportation in this town, how can they keep up the exorbitant fares that we're usually forced to pay? Why would anyone put up with being shit on and laughed at by a dispatcher when a smartphone app can get you from point-A to point-B in a lot less time, for a lot less cash?

Of course, Lyft didn't register with these folks, so they got all pissy. The MTC and St. Louis cops started pulling Lyft cars over and citing their drivers almost immediately. Never mind that these people are just trying to make a little extra cash. Never mind that they're probably shuttling around folks who had some booze, and might otherwise try to drive themselves and hope for the best, putting peoples' lives at risk.

No, the cops don't care about that, because they're in on the hustle. DWIs mean more revenue for the cities that catch the offenders. They mean more attorneys fees defending these citations and hefty settlements. All of this is subsumed under the catch-all reason of "safety"--THAT's why Lyft and Uber are no good--we need the MTC and the cops to protect us from those devilishly unsafe drivers and vehicles...so that we can ride around in the "officially-sanctioned"1995 Crown Vics that smell like cheap aftershave and B.O.

Don't get me wrong--I understand why something like the MTC once served a purpose. Even ten years ago, I would've felt a lot more comfortable with a MTC-vetted and licensed driver than some stranger in a Prius.

But times change. The feedback system is absolutely crucial--it helps riders avoid poorly-rated drivers, and vice-versa. Because the app takes care of this, it's incredibly unlikely that someone who's built up a sterling reputation on either side would one day go nuts and decide to veer into oncoming traffic, or indulge in said Deliverance fantasy.

The worst part about it? They don't even know what they're regulating. 

You see, they may think they're regulating "taxicabs." Some of the more enlightened individuals with these agencies may think they have a hand in controlling "car transportation." But what they're really overseeing (and in this instance, limiting) is the movement of people around the city.

And that has real consequences.

For example, if I'm going somewhere where I know I'll have a few cocktails, I'll try my damnedest to either get a ride there, or take public transportation. Unfortunately, I've been burned too many times by the awful, MTC-sanctioned cab companies out there in the past to rely on them to get me or pick me up from anywhere in this city, especially when my personal well-being may be at stake late at night.

Either of these options limit where I can go and spend my money. For example, I don't tend to go to Soulard very often. Not because I don't like the area--I actually think it's pretty cool and have several friends who live around there. But rather because there's no good option for getting there from Clayton. Even if you or a DD ends up driving, the parking is horrendous. A traditional cab simply isn't cost-effective or reliable enough to even consider going that kind of distance.

But with a robust ride-share infrastructure in place? Suddenly, I'm more willing to go to different parts of the city. I might decide to go out and spend money on a night where I'd normally stay in and watch Netflix because the hassle and cost have both been lessened. With a lot of Lyft or Uber cars around, I would have greater peace of mind that I wouldn't end up stranded wherever I went at 1 am (Talk about safety issues! What if I was a young lady? Think about that, MTC...).

In short, these services are breaking down barriers between neighborhoods, and facilitating the free flow of people around town. More area businesses could make A LOT more income from the larger pool of people who would be willing to access their establishments. The city gets a cut of all of that sweet, sweet cash in the form of sales tax.

I guess that's just too forward-thinking for this cow town, though...

It speaks to a larger point--all of the graft, all of the corruption, all of the "we need to examine this" and "there need to be studies done" that--it's all hot, steaming, grade-A quality bullshit. A quick-and-easy shorthand for "we need to figure out how we can keep getting our taste."

I'm sick of it. I'm tired of all of the efforts to modernize this city getting swept to the side in the name of keeping things "the way they've always been." Governments at all levels having to stick their nose in everything to make sure that their self-sustaining inflow of cash, over or under-the-table, keeps pouring in.

Where are all of the good people in local politics these days? Where are the decent people willing to stand up and call these idiots on their idiocy? My guess is we could iron out this Lyft thing by next weekend if it was as simple as writing a new ordinance and letting sane people vote on it.

But which sane people? Aldermen and women who may or may not be on the take? Take it to the citizens, who would likely be buffeted by a P.R. campaign on both sides?

The sad thing is, I can't even do anything like that if I wanted to, since I live in Clayton, and I'm pretty sure you have to be a city resident to propose those kind of changes. Dumb-ass rules made in one of the little fiefdoms of our Holy Roman Empire of a city impact me as a resident of another. No recourse for this citizen.

So I pick up this tiniest of bullhorns to try to rally the few troops I can--YOU, dear readers. This blatant cash-grab by the MTC is another idiotic relic of a bygone era choking this city and its surrounding little kingdoms to death. We need some well-intentioned folks in the city to say "enough is enough!", to make a stand here and get the government out of our lives. To wake these people up to the fact that they lament the boarded-up storefronts downtown in one breath, then take steps to prevent paying customers from making it downtown in the next.
Are you ready to help save St. Louis from itself? Are you ready to stand up and proclaim "enough is enough?"

If so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments, or email me directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading...

-D.J.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Rams Could Leave St. Louis...and It'd Be Easier Than You Think...

Note: I left this reply on a post referencing Shane Gray's column on STLtoday's Rams Talk message board. Shane does fantastic work, but his post finally got me to lay out, clearly, why the Rams could easily leave St. Louis after next season. Because I'm a toddler and NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO ME, I decided to syndicate my reply here. Sorry--sometimes the truth hurts...
-D.J.

Shane, love you man, you do great work, but I think you're a bit off on this one.


Everyone says that it doesn't matter where an NFL team is located due to revenue sharing. On the most shallow level, that's absolutely true.

Howevah, what a lot of people don't seem to realize is that teams get to keep luxury box and club seat revenue for themselves. Otherwise, why would Jerry Jones build his palace in the desert? It wasn't so that he could feel like "more of a man," but rather so that he could double-deck those boxes, charge them insane amounts for pizzas and sixers, and keep all of it for himself per NFL rules.

Ever taken a look at the club level or boxes at a Rams game? Depressingly empty. You know what the worst part about it is? We, as the common folk, can't do anything to change it. We know deep in our guts that the 1%s in this town don't give a flying care about the Rams, and we can't buy spots in their boxes and club seats.

In L.A., there would be a waiting list for these seats, starting with the movie studios and moving on to trans-Pacific ventures. We can complain all we want about how "great the lease is for Stan!" and how "he's from here, so how can he betray us?", but all Stan cares about (sadly for him) is cold, hard, cash.

Not to mention that an L.A. stadium could host a variety of music headliners year-round outside of football games. These would pump millions into Stan's pocket with little-to-no risk.

Think Sam has a sweetheart deal here? Try squaring that away with a stadium on which he owes NOTHING once it's built, combined with a development outside of it from which he takes a fraction of every dollar spent.

"Oh, but what about a relocation fee?" $700 million to triple your franchise value from $750 mill to $2.2 billion--this is a problem because...? If nothing else, the increase in franchise value would cover the stadium, to boot!

"But he can't move the team without the approval of the league!" Actually, yes he can. Al Davis (of all people!) laid the groundwork in the 90s with his antitrust suit against the NFL. He won. I don't care what the owners have contracted with one another for with regard to the LA market, if Stan moved the team, it would end up as an antitrust suit, because of the horizontal allocation of territories. The LAST thing the NFL wants is an antitrust suit--antitrust suits allow the prevailing party to recover triple (3x) damages, in addition to wearing down various legal protections that the NFL has enjoyed to this point, including its "non-profit" status.

That doesn't mean that such a move will be a lock--there are permits to obtain, EISs to get, etc. This is more of a procedural speed bump than anything else, though--any team of halfway-decent lawyers should be able to hammer those out. The only one that could REALLY hold up a stadium is the FAA approval for a stadium so close to LAX, but Al Davis apparently got that approval years ago.


My guess? Stan is looking out for himself. If he can persuade Missouri taxpayers to foot the bill for a new stadium, he'll (perhaps reluctantly) take it. If not, he'll have those Mayflower trucks backing up to Rams Park before you can say "2nd overall pick in the draft."

I don't write these things to scare people, but rather to educate them. I think Stan's counting on the Missouri legislature to rebuff any stadium proposal put forward, leaving him free to move wherever.

What you can do is start to contact your state representatives--let them know that you WILL NOT vote for them if the Rams leave town. You become a single-issue voter on the Rams stadium issue. They may not "want" to move, but if a vote in the legislature fails, they'll be "left with little choice."
If not, don't blame me when they move out to L.A....

-D.J.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Visit to the 2014 St. Louis Auto Show

My car turns 10 this year. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem; I love my car. It's served me well for (counts on fingers...) 6 1/2 years now.

The only problem is that the old gal is getting a little long in the tooth. She's already needed $3000 put into her to replace transmission fluid lines and other needed repairs about a year ago, and the last time I took her in I was told she needed another $2500 in repairs in the next year or so.

So I've decided to get a new one once all of the snow and salt is gone.

Naturally, this meant a trip to this year's auto show.

For those of you outside of St. Louis, the Auto Show is probably the most action the Edward Jones Dome sees all year. For months ahead of time, there's a huge media blitz, as area TV and radio stations take some of that sweet, sweet, "yes-blood-for-oil" cash of the car companies in exchange for hundreds of outsized promo spots ("Brett Hull will be there! Come watch some stunt driver show his stuff! Free climbing wall and play area for the kids!")

As a result, thousands of people from around the area pay $10 a pop to check out new cars from probably a dozen different manufacturers.

I decided to go on Thursday because my schedule as a freelancer gives me some flexibility, and I was going to be damned if I fought through hordes of MethCo types on Sunday just to sit in a few cars to "whittle down" my potential choices.

Little did I know the adventure that awaited me! I was so blown away that I decided to write up a little travelogue about the experience, so that others attending this weekend might better plan their time down there. Without further delay, please enjoy:

-My first dilemma: where to park? Unfortunately, since I didn't know how long I'd be at the show, I couldn't park at a meter. I had a choice: either use the garage at the U.S. Bank building, which was $2/hr (greedy bastards!) or the dilapidated convention center/Embassy Suites garage next to the circular entrance to the Dome for $1/hr. Despite the general skeeviness of the latter, it was a whole $1/hr less than the U.S. Bank garage, so I decided to go with that one.

-Is this the most depressing set of elevator buttons you've ever seen?




















I don't know what kind of area sports fan came up with this scheme, but it defies any kind of logic. How are the Cards in the middle? Blues at the top, Rams at the bottom, just an all-around mess.

-I rode the elevator down with an elderly couple and another 30-ish guy. We disembarked, and the older gentleman's face scrunched up. "Excuse me, do either of you know what 'pay at the pay station' means? Is there some kind of machine we have to use to prepay?"

I look at the other guy. He shrugs his shoulders, "I dunno."

Really? Seriously? I hope my snort conveyed the proper level of disdain. "Yeah, you put your ticket in afterward and pay before you get back in the car, since the machine doesn't know how long you've parked until you're done." The old man got a kick out of that one and thanked me.

Honestly, though, was it such an imposition for the other guy to explain this? Or did he actually not know? Either way, I question his value to our society...

-The first thing I noticed when I got inside: the beer cart was open and ready for business! At 12:30...on a Thursday.

I nodded at the woman manning it, "Bet you only get the die-hards at this hour..." I asked.

As if on cue from the guy behind me: "One Bud Light, please!"

The woman smiled and shook her head, and dutifully filled up the $8.50, 32-once beer for the guy.

-At this point, it would probably be helpful to tell you what I was looking for in terms of a car. As a freelancer, it's tough to know exactly what my budget is, since good months can bring in quite a lot, and not-so-good months are...well...not-so-good for a reason.

Regardless, I was looking for something midsize, with a big enough trunk to fit both my softball stuff and golf clubs at the same time. Leather seats would be a plus, but not necessary. I'd like a good amount of tech (synching up my phone to play music and podcasts would be great), and stuff like a back-up camera would help me scare the shit out of avoid mowing down neighbors and children.

I went into the show targeting the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion as potentially good fits, though I was very open to being convinced otherwise and determined to hit up pretty much all manufacturers that had cars that fit the bill. If there was one "favorite" that I had identified, it was the Nissan Altima; I don't think it's any secret that I enjoy a good sit while driving, and apparently Nissan had NASA engineers design the seats in the Altima. I just hoped that meant that it didn't break into a million fiery pieces NASA engineering something? What could possibly go wrong?!

-My first victim? The kindly folks at Dodge. I looked at the Challenger and the Charger, but neither really fit what I had in mind. I've driven enough of those weird-looking Chargers with the station wagon back as rental cars to be okay with never setting ass in that driver's seat again. The Challenger, though easy on the eyes, gets garbage gas mileage and is kind of pricey with all of the features I'm looking for.

Not wanting a Jeep (sorry, J. Adams) or Chrysler (yikes...), I shifted my focus to...

-Honda on the other side of the room. Both the Accord and Civic were fine automobiles, though I (obviously) liked the price tag on the Civic better. The only problem? To get leather seats in the Civic, you have to get the super-premium model. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the standard fabric seats didn't look like they came directly out of Walter White's Aztek, blood stains, blue meth and all. Seriously, they have some kind of weird tribal weave pattern on them that will have people facepalming three years from now--mark my words!

(It's okay--I know you won't. Very few people mark other peoples' words nowadays, unless they're running for office and/or drunk and cross the line. It's part of the reason why I was semi-successful in the sportswriting biz!)

-Acura was next up. I have a couple of buddies that have Acuras, and they seem to like them well enough. Since Acura is the luxury arm of Honda, I figured their cars would be way out of my price range.

Not true--the ILX actually was a pleasant surprise, clocking in at under $30k. If I stretch a bit (or get a big gig here in the next couple of months), I could maybe even get into the TSX, which has a lot more cool bells and whistles in it. I don't know what it was about the Acuras that I liked so much, other than the "feel" of the cockpit--seemingly innocuous details to other people like "how my right elbow rests on the center console/armrest" and "how the steering wheel lines up with the speedometer" are crucial to me, since I know if I get them wrong they'd drive me absolutely nuts.

I think both Acuras fit the bill--I'll have to test drive them to be sure.

-Fiat? Uh...pass! Despite what Catrina Menghia would have you believe, I don't think driving a Fiat will have supermodels throwing themselves at me, unless it's in a "aw, poor baby, probably doesn't even know how to fix a burned out headlight!"-before-she-toussles-my-hair sort of way. Which simply isn't true--I now know how to change a headlight, thanks to a very nice lady at an auto parts store in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, thank you very much!

-Scion? No thanks. I hear they're getting better, but as long as these:


are still on the road, I just can't trust them.

-I bolted right past the Subaru booth (sorry, Paul Hogan) to the Nissan exhibit. Finally, I could see the heavenly seats Altima in action.

But first, I got sidetracked by the Sentra. I have to admit: it pleasantly surprised me. Granted, for some reason, they employed the same pseudo-tribal pattern on the fabric as Honda, but other than that, it's a comfortable car for a compact.

A good-looking gal with high cheekbones came over and asked if I wanted more info on the Sentra. I said "Sure!" (perhaps too-enthusiastically)...and waited. I answered every question about myself short of "what's your shoe size?" "what brand of condoms do you use?", and "what's your bank password so that we can skip all of this 'sell you a car' business and just funnel your cash directly into our pockets?"

Finally, I got a chance to sit in an Altima. I have to admit, it was great--I did kind of feel like I was in Gravity, though that may have had more to do with the sports bra and tights I was wearing than anything else. Still a strong contender...

-Next up: Toyota. I didn't care for the Corolla too much, even though it's light years ahead of anything built even five years ago, save for the same awful pattern on the seats. I swear to God, these car companies are trying to make it so that if you spill coffee on the seat, it's an improvement.

I liked the Camry, and found myself inexplicably drawn to the Prius. I think it was the gas mileage: after seeing a bunch of big numbers on the stickers between 26-32, that "50" really stands out.

A very nice salesman with a 4-letter name ("Greg?" "Tony?" "Mark?"), likely sensing a mark, came over and struck up a conversation about the Prius with me.

Now, I don't know if I'm quite ready to be a "Prius guy." San Fran is a cool enough town, I guess, but the smug is just TOO MUCH for me. At the same time...that sweet, sweet gas mileage...3 times better than my current car! Oh, the places I could go, oh the people I could see...

And yet...the only people I know who own Priuses are ladies. Which is cool--I applaud their responsible stewardship of the environment. But when the car sounds like something out of "The Jetsons" and has all of the pickup of a pimply high schooler with a cracking voice (or so I've heard...), I just don't know if it's for me.

Still, I signed up for the mailing list, in spite of the numerous red flags that the Target credit card scandal should've raised, and moved on to the next booth.

-As a complete aside, I tend to turn on Frasier on the Hallmark Channel for background noise as I write these things, and (no shit) a commercial for Jerusalem just came on! The voice over? "Come breath the same fresh air Jesus breathed..."

...Uh, yeah, just don't take the bus! Seriously, is that the best sales pitch you have, Jerusalem? Can't you do a little better than that? My buddy Jamie went there with his now wife and called the experience "transformational" and "life-changing." The best you can do is "breathe the same air Jesus breathed!" Do you need a new copywriter? If so, I think I know where I could dig one up...

-Lexus was (unsurprisingly) next; I figured I'd check 'em out for the hell of it. To my surprise, they had a couple of cars in the $35-40k range, which might work...if I win the lottery tomorrow...

I visited the booth and got a brochure from the shapely lady manning it. She informed me that the brochure that I got was "kind of a bullshit one" (not her words, but it was the same general gist--not sure why I put it in quotes in the first place, but fuck it...). To get the REAL brochure, I'd have to (you guessed it) reveal the secret location of the Lost City of El Dorado and the various powers that conspired to commit the Kennedy Assassination in another goddamned iPad app to be put on a mailing list.

-There are three types of people trying to sell these cars:

1) Short, spunky guy who's read every sales book ever written. Some of them are young and personable, others are older and slick. Still others are even older and getting close to "Gil in the Simpsons" territory.

2) Attractive ladies. Not all are knockouts, but they all have obviously mastered the art of flirting, at least to the point of getting you to give them your name, address, phone number, and type of car you're going to buy shortly. Amazingly, for most single guys, the same series of events at a bar is considered "a successful night!"


3) Big, tall sons-a-bitches. These days, I'm running a fairly trim 6'0" 200 lbs., and a lot of these guys dwarfed me. They roll up with a toothpick in their mouth, tryin' to intimidate the "city slickers" into buying. Well, joke's on them: no city slickers here! Welcome to St. Louis, fellas!

-Hyundai was underwhelming. I just can't pull the trigger on an Elantra because my buddy Alex already has one. Of course, this is the same buddy who told me, "I don't know why you're going to the auto show. You could just narrow it down online, then go to multiple of those dealerships in the area, test drive the cars, and try to figure out the best deal."

Uh...yeah...or I could spend $10, actually sit in the cars all in one spot, and save trips to about a dozen dealerships that way. Either way...I dunno...fuck it...

-Kia...PASS! I once rented a Kia in South Carolina--the thing felt like it was made completely out of plastic. I've driven power wheels at friends' houses that felt sturdier, though, to be fair, the Kias did have more leg room.

-Next up? Big, bad GM. I wasn't too psyched on them to begin with, and they quickly proved my initial suspicions with few examples of their various models, little employee support, and underwhelming specs on a lot of their cars.

The one interesting booth in the lot was Buick. Buick is apparently huge in China--guess all of those "all the communists want is a Buick in every garage" quips from 1950-1990 paid off. Interestingly enough, in this country, the only people who want Buicks are middle-aged...and older. They're made well, but needless to say, no usb port, big numbers on the spedometer, etc. It's like a near-luxury car crossed with a Jitterbug!

-Ford also wasn't quite what I expected. They had cool displays with broken-down engines all around the cars, but the cars themselves didn't really "wow" me. My mom has a Focus, so there's no way I'm getting that, but even the Fusion disappointed me.

-That was the end of the "traditional" set of booths. Then there were a bunch of small booths with a variety of services ranging from the cool (cars with wheelchair ramps) to ancillary services (detailing, customization) to the ridiculous (why would i want new windows for my house...at a car show?).

One of the highlights of this section? The minibus! Apparently, for only $55,000, without a commercial driver's license, you can buy one of those shuttle buses that they use to take you from the Parking Spot to the airport terminal. If only I had that kind of cash laying around! I'd...certainly not blow it on a party bus...

-Then there was the promo area, located in the south end of the football field. Just by visiting it, I made it in the end zone more easily than the Rams did all season! (Gratuitous shot at the Rams? Check!) "Drive a segway for $5!" (Believe me, I was tempted...). Unbelievably expensive luxury cars! (Look but don't touch!). I found this to be especially intriguing:



















I mean, I knew the Blues were hard up for money, but...

-The children's area was in this section, too. Let's just say that if I was a kid, and I was promised "a play area!" and "a climbing wall," I'd be sorely disappointed. The "play area" was one small playground set, with the "climbing wall" (about 4 feet tall) attached to it. Granted, as a kid, I wouldn't have cared--if my parents had left me alone on that thing, I would've been occupied for hours.

Of course, those sad parents counting on being able to dump their kids on the "play area" for a few hours while they looked at cars would've been sorely disappointed. I think the guy I saw in the Honda area on my way out had the right idea; his wife was talking to the saleswoman a ways away, and he had the kids climbing around the display car, saying things like "See? Isn't this car AWESOME?!?" in a high-pitched voice. At least invest the kids in selling the car to your wife!

-I'll close with this: I got back to the garage, paid the parking machine...and proceeded to wait in line for 15 minutes. As I sat there, I thought about one thing, and one thing only: I parked in the garage for 2 hours. Would I pay $2 to avoid a delay leaving the garage? Clearly, the answer is "yes." It's led to a whole new way of thinking about parking downtown! Next time I'm snarled in one of the Stadium lots after a Cards game, or the muni lot...also after a Cards game, I guess...maybe I'll consider parking in a different lot, with easier egress, the next time around.

As for what car I'll be in...well...that remains to be seen...

Thanks for reading...

Aside from being a hopeless shill for his own books, D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, radio personality, and attorney in St. Louis, MO. E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

People Who Demand Moral Clarity In Their Art Piss Me Off

I saw The Wolf of Wall Street for a second time last night. As anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can imagine, I absolutely loved it.

The movie follows Leo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a super-charismatic, if morally-bankrupt, hedonist who takes great delight in making millions off of his unsuspecting, rich clients in penny stock pump-and-dump schemes.

I know a few of my friends are refusing to see it for various reasons. I get it if it's "not your kind of movie," or if you "don't like the sense of humor." Hell, I even understand if you won't go see it because of the way it portrays a particular group--I wouldn't necessarily protest a movie for that reason, but hey, to each his own!

Howevah, what I hate--absolutely HATE--is the subset of people who invariably say the following:

"The main character is a big meanie! I can't believe that Leo and Scorsese would endorse such an odious creature by making a movie about him! I need my main characters to be GOOD GUYS!"


Well...I suppose there's THIS, too:



(Side note: I'll still defend Leo on this one--how do we know what real-life Jordan Belfort is like? Leo's spent a lot more time with the guy than I have--isn't it possible that Jordan's turned over a new leaf?

...

Yeah, you're right: he's probably still an asshole...)

Leo is NOT the issue, dude!My issue is with people who demand moral clarity in their art.

I have some experience with this topic; I've written books about:

-A boozy, arrogant scientist who mentally lives in the past and affects a British persona.

-A boozy, foul-mouthed, racist, sexist asshole of a baseball manager who doesn't suffer fools.

-A game-fixing former pro linebacker trying desperately to rehabilitate himself and gain some measure of peace by sacrificing his body for his son's life.

Basically, I love writing about flawed protagonists. I love that it's tough to bring the audience on to their side. I love that they're flawed, human, and thus necessarily more interesting. I love their redemptive arcs, and I love that they sometimes fail in completing them.

What I don't love is this idea that every protagonist simply MUST be likeable for the work to be considered "a good [book/movie/TV show/etc.]."

I've received (on my own books) and heard (on a variety of others) any number of comments to the effect of "I stopped reading in the first chapter" or "I didn't get past the first episode" just because "I didn't like the main character."

There's a term for the kind of story where you're on board with the protagonist from scene one: a fairy tale. Wall-E the robot is imminently likeable from the start. Wall-E is also an awesome fucking movie made by cyborg wizards in their massive lair at Pixar (they're the ones that work on the non-Cars movies).

There's a time and a place for Wall-E--far be it from me to denigrate Pixar's greatest flick. But if every movie started with "How darned likable can we make this main character?", movies would get really boring, really quickly.

There's a reason for this; the key to a good story is conflict. Basically, you want the protagonist to go after an objective, and for the protagonist to be thwarted by the antagonist in its efforts to achieve that objective.

When your protagonist starts out as a choirboy, it's almost too easy to gin up conflict. The antagonist is just "bad" or "evil" by definition; after all, if the protagonist is "good," and the antagonist doesn't want the protagonist to get what he wants, he MUST be evil, right?

But when you start with a protagonist in the middle ground--the moral gray area--or she gets driven there early on in the book, movie, etc., then sources of conflict have to be a little more nuanced. You're forced to question the motivations of both the protagonist and antagonist, and maybe even (GASP!) figure out who's "right!"

Not to mention that when you watch Breaking Bad, and find yourself rooting for Walter White in spite of some horrible thing he's doing, under the guise of "saving his family," it brings up a lot of incredibly deep questions we'd probably rather not ask ourselves: Is Walt full of shit? If he is, does that mean that I'M sometimes full of shit when I use otherwise sacred concepts to justify MY OWN actions.

Now, it's not like I'm cooking meth or anything (note to FBI/whatever NSA agent is reading this: I'm definitely NOT cooking meth, I swear!), but even in the little things in life, the "sacrifices" we make for the ones we love, are they truly "sacrifices?" Or do we just frame them that way to take the responsibility off of ourselves, or otherwise fuck with our minds to justify anything we do?

That's what it comes down to: a good, long look in the mirror. Apparently, a good number of folks are afraid of what they'll see if they stare for too long.

I, on the other hand, want to see every wrinkle, every pore of myself. The only way to plow through unpleasant questions isn't via ignorance, but rather honest self-reflection. That a piece of art, be it Wolf of Wall Street or whatever, could cause such a movement to self-reflection, could cause you to ask those hard questions about yourself, and emerge as a better person on the other side, is the ultimate compliment in my eyes.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading...

Aside from being a hopeless shill for his own books, D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, radio personality, and attorney in St. Louis, MO. E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year--Here's a Free Book!

It's amazing that 2013 is almost over. In many regards, 2013 seems like "The Year That Never Happened," even though I know that's ridiculous on a lot of levels. 

When I reflect on 2013, I'm pretty sure I'll think about it as a year of learning.
 

At this point last year, I only had one book out in one edition. Since then, I've written and published numerous other works in both electronic and print formats. I've started a company that, though on life support, taught me a lot about entrepreneurship that will be invaluable going forward. I've learned a ton about freelance copywriting and wine, which should serve me well in a couple of new career paths going forward. I discovered a new love of training for boxing, and have become fitter than I have been at any point in the past five years (post upcoming).

Though I don't know its exact course, I do know that the boat is moving forward, even if in the general, Captain Ron-inspired, "Well if we get lost, we just have to pull in somewhere and ask for directions" sort of way.

I think big things are in store for 2014, and I'm hoping to share more of the process right here. Who knows? Maybe I'll find the time to bring back the Power Rankings this year, or at least the Power Seven.

So to celebrate the end of a forgettable, if instructive, year, I'm GIVING AWAY COPIES OF JESUS WAS A TIME TRAVELER FOR FREE!


Well...not TOTALLY free. But you won't have to spend any money (I'll explain shortly).

For the next 4 days, you can download JWATT in its entirety FOR FREE at Story Cartel. No bait-and-switch samples, no abridgment, just the book, available for nothing.

"Wait...what? How can you do this?"

It's a cool site called Story Cartel. The idea goes something like this:

1) You download the book and read it for free.


2) Write an honest review on Amazon, B & N, or Goodreads (more than one if you liked it, I hope!)

3) Prove to Story Cartel that you wrote the review by posting it to their submission system.

4) They enter you in a drawing to win one of 3 $10 amazon gift cards.

It's a great idea to help connect authors with readers. So far, it's going well: over 150 people have downloaded it, which is apparently great for the site!

But if you've been holding out in the hopes that I'd eventually host some sort of JWATT giveaway, you too can join in on the fun.

Simply hit the big green DOWNLOAD button on the following page:

LINK

Then complete an HONEST review, and go through their quick & easy submission process to be entered to win the gift cards.

It's that easy.

But don't wait--it expires in just 4 days, so if you want it for free, you have to act fast. After this is over, I may discount it again, I may not, but after this promotion is done, it WON'T BE FREE like this again for a very, VERY long time.

So start off the new year with a new book, and help other folks find my books by writing a thoughtful, honest review of JWATT. Most folks seem to like it, but even if you don't, I appreciate your honest feedback. If nothing else, we can still be internet friends--hey, that's something, right?!

Thanks everyone--happy 2014, and here's hoping to big things for all of us!

-D.J.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Operation Food Search & The Philosopher's Stone

I got an email containing the following:

"We hope that you will consider contributing to _____________'s efforts to support hungry families in the St. Louis area. For every $1 they receive, Operation Food Search provides $22 in food and services to our community."

Huh? What kind of alchemy is this? For every $1 they take in, they provide $22 worth of food AND services? Why not just pour the entire Department of Agriculture's budget into Operation Food Search, then roll THAT over, and roll THAT over, and...well, you get the picture.

Before you know it, the world would be swimming in food--more than we know what to do with! Not only would parents never be able to tell their kids "there are starving kids in India" (note: according to my Dad, his parents used to tell him Sicily. Probably good that it changed, since I don't want to get on the bad side of La Cosa Nostra), but those countries would start to get in on the devastating cycle of poverty-obesity our country has embarked on. It's win-lose!

In all seriousness, though, these folks do good work, and apparently have access to the Philosopher's Stone. If you want to help the hungry in St. Louis, or (let's be honest) want to have a chance to learn the secret that Popes and Kings killed for not even 500 years ago, stop by their website and donate today.
D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Hate Walgreens

This morning, I awoke to discover that, much to my dismay, I was out of dental floss. Unfortunately, I don't use just any shitty old dental floss your dentist might throw in the bag with the Crest toothpaste and Crest toothbrush that he's obligated to throw in because of a deal he cut with (you guessed it) Aquafresh. (I mean, seriously--those samples are so awful that I'm convinced competitors pay to place them in dentists offices so that it'll drive more folks to buy their products).

No, no, no, Captain Fancypants over here has to use those individual floss picks that you can easily use and discard after one use, saving me the trouble of twisting floss around my fingers way too tightly, and the resultant poor circulation in my hands.

And not just any individual floss picks: the Oral-B ones are for shit--the floss part breaks way too easily. Seriously, I go through like four or five picks in one flossing session. It's devastating.

The sad thing is, as simple as this technology may seem, pretty much ALL of the competitors use the same horrible, cut-rate floss probably made from chicken tendons in China.

All, that is, except for two brands: Plackers, and the Walgreens store brand.

Somehow, some way, an organization as ass-backwards as Walgreens managed to get the exclusive rights to both.

Which means that once a month or so, I have to make the trek over to Walgreens pretty much exclusively to get dental floss picks.

Wanna know where all the old people are at 9:30 am? WALGREENS! Of course, while I'm dragging my up-'til-2:00 am-writing-or-copywriting-or-learning-wordpress-or-some-other-godforsaken-computer-skill ass in there on the way to the gym, these lunatics have already been up for 6 hours, bright-and-spry. "Hurry up, Harold--we're gonna miss lunch at IHOP!"


...

"What?"

Needless to say, these old people are ALWAYS slow in line, WITHOUT FAIL! One suspicious old lady stopped the line for a legitimate five minutes because the cashier asked her "Do you have a free rewards card?", and she took that as an invitation to try to suss out all of the "gotcha!" loopholes these jerks at Walgreens had obviously laid for her. Ridiculous!

Not to mention the crazy shit they try to pull. Today in line, an old guy was in front of me and had two things to pay for--what must've been a $15 bottle of Tyenol, and like a $0.69 candy bar. He put the candy bar on the counter, opened his wallet full of $20s, took out a $5 and handed it to the cashier.

[Five Seconds]


[Ten Seconds]

[Cashier tilts head to the counter to check the candy bar again]

[ANOTHER ten seconds]

"Sir, you need to give me that Tylenol."


[Long pause]

"What?!" [Mock outrage]

"The pills that are still in your hand--I need to scan them."

[Seething] "Oh..."

These cashiers need to put up with this garbage every day! I would've said "poor" cashiers, but sadly they're just as miserable as the patrons. Unfortunately, there seems to be a set "timeline" for Walgreens employees. Here's what I've been able to figure out thus far through my Dr. Doolittle-like observations:

-Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: "I got me a job at Walgreens and boy-howdy, I'm ready to take on anything! Look out, world!"

-Bored out of their mind: "How many more fucking people are going to ask where the goddamned Metamucil is?"

-Zombie employee: "BREAAAAAAAAKSSSSSS..."

-Methed-out: "This oughtta make this shift excit--WHO THE FUCK JUST SAID THAT?!? I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU, EVERY ONE'A YA!"

-Totally batshit: "What're ya' gonna do with those floss picks?"

"Uh...floss?"

"No, no...WHATchya gonna FLOSS?"

...


"I gotta go--keep the change!"

-Old and awful: Absolutely true story: I like to go on long walks during the summer (vitamin D and whatnot), and there's a Walgreens on one of my walking routes. If it's especially hot out, I'll stop in at Walscreams for a big, cold bottle of water.

One day this summer, I waited in line forever as four or five of the walking dead bought their various sundries and finally got to the front. The cashier was a rather portly elderly woman, who had stopped the customer in front of me to discuss the weather and her purchases--pretty much anything but having to check me out.

HER: "Sorry about the wait." (What she meant: Fuck you.)

ME: "No worries." (Just get me out of here.)

HER: (Notices I'm in workout clothes): "A little hot to be running outside, isn't it?"

ME: (Unwilling to explain I'm only walking): "That's what the water's for."

HER: "Yeah, when it gets to be this hot, sometimes you just wanna--"

This next part is going to seem CRAZY, but I swear to GOD ALMIGHTY it's 100% TRUE!


[She takes the cold bottle of water and RUBS IT ON HER WRINKLED, LIVER-SPOTTED UPPER BREAST AND NECK AREA] "--cool off a bit, am I right?!"

ME: (Words cannot describe how angry I--)


HER: "Would you like a bag?"

At that point, I could've asked for a condom for the water bottle and it wouldn't have made a difference--it was one of the most disgusting things that's ever happened to me in a retail setting.

FUCK THESE PEOPLE! I HATE THEM ALL! AVOID WALGREENS IF YOU CAN!

In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of Hunt to Read, D.J. Gelner is a writer in St. Louis Missouri. Check out his books, available at his Amazon Author Page and on Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him directly at djgelbooks@gmail.com.