Saturday, June 27, 2009

Which Wich would you prefer? $ubway, thank you.

I’d lived in Austin for over a year before I spent any lunch days in downtown Austin. At long last, I found myself in the downtown office for a week, and I was anxious to explore the best lunch spots with some of my co-workers. The first four days taught me a valuable life lesson: some people call food “good” when it costs too much, doesn’t fill you up, and tastes like crap. I am not one of these people. Finally, on Friday, somebody suggested a place called Which Wich. I had to ask him to repeat it a few times before I realized that we were not dealing in complete words.

Which Wich, as it turns out, is a sandwich shop indigenous to Austin. (For the slow-witted among you, “wich” is short for “sandwich”.) The name is also their gimmick: they have easily the widest variety of sandwiches I’ve ever seen in a sandwich shop, so the most important decision you have to make when you walk in is “Which ‘wich do I want?” They have five sandwich options for each of the 12 principal meats, and that’s before you choose your dressings and vegetables. By my calculations, you can order approximately 1.6 trillion different sandwiches. And all this for $4.50 plus tax.

Since my first visit, I’ve taken most of my out-of-town visitors there (or to Kirby Lane) to introduce them to a tasty and affordable “distinctly Austin” dining experience. Some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my entire life (sorry Mom, and sorry lunch lady Doris) have been at Which Wich.

Imagine my surprise today when my order for a Ham and Bacon on wheat with crispy strings (tiny onion rings that taste like a little bit of deep-fried heaven), lettuce, tomatoes, and cole slaw, and a water cup came to $5.60. I did a double-take. Then I asked how much a sandwich was. $5.10, came the dispassionate reply.

“Wow, that’s even more expensive than Subway now,” I mused, secretly hoping he would give me a discount to keep my business.

“We’re better than Subway, too,” was his insta-reply. I spared him a lecture on how I love Subway more than I value his life. After a moment of contemplation, I also spared his life.

I walked to my seat to wait for them to process my order, and sat there for a while, reading the Wall Street Journal. After a few minutes and nearly three whole sentences, I decided upon my finalized retort: “But at Subway, you get a foot long for $5. Here you get a 6 inch for $5.10. Your sandwiches would have to be twice as good to be worth it, and they’re not. As soon as I finish this tasty little sandwich, you’ve just lost a customer.”

But wait, they almost are twice as good. I mean, come on, crispy strings? Cole slaw? Ham with bacon bits? Toasting in a real toaster oven? Subway has none of these things.

I laud Which Wich’s praise! … as I finish my after-lunch snack of four pieces of Papa John’s pizza. You know, because I was still hungry. You know, because it wasn’t enough. You know, because they’re frickin’ ripping me off.

It’s official. Subway, with your $5 foot long spicy Italian on wheat with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, banana pepper, sweet onion sauce, and salt and pepper, for here; you have my eternal allegiance.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Our rock stars aren't like your rock stars

Think of the last time you saw something and exclaimed out loud, “That’s ingenious!”

I do this every so often, though I tend to use the word “brilliant” instead of “ingenious” (many thanks to Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Merlin, Primeval, and all other quality media imports from The Island). I said it about swipe-able, refillable parking meter cards. I said it about, more than once. I said it somewhat tongue-in-cheek about the first set of oncoming xenon-powered headlights that half-blinded me into nearly causing a 14-car pileup (Get it, brilliant? Lights?). I said it about various Pampered Chef dry and wet measure products. And I even said it about disposable toilet seat covers.

There’s a UNCF commercial on TV today that promotes minority education by showing many of the ingenious inventions that “started as ideas from the minds of African Americans,” and concludes by saying, "support minority education today so we don't miss out on the next big idea tomorrow." I have done absolutely no due diligence to verify who actually invented any of these things. The inventions in the commercial include the traffic light, the elevator up-down indicator lights, the lawnmower, and other such integral parts of our infrastructure and daily lifestyle.

I reacted badly to this commercial, mostly because the music is annoying. Really annoying. Especially when you’re watching a few shows on Hulu, and the same commercial plays during Every. Single. Commercial break. Also, I haven’t seen any commercials about the amazing things that “come from the minds of silver-spooned WASP DINKs,” so it seemed a little bit like a one-sided campaign. As such, my first reaction was to be annoyed that the commercial seemed to imply that without the black men and women who invented these things, their inventions simply would not exist, and that we would miss out on future discoveries.

I calmed myself down by reminding myself that although educational opportunities are not equal across racial barriers, inventing something is about seeing a need for something and filling that need, and therefore has somewhat less to do with race and more to do with motivation. Take away someone who invented something, and eventually, somebody else, whatever race they are, will invent something that meets the same needs (assuming the needs are real).

But something about the commercial still bugged me. It took me a while to figure out: I thought it was trying to say that everything important that has been invented recently was invented by an African American. If you watch it, you'll see that it obviously wasn't trying to say that, but from that mindset, I perceived something pretty ironic embedded in the commercial. Yes, an African American invented the stop light. Yes, stop lights are extremely important. But how about the car? Electricity, perhaps? Yeeeeeaaaaaah.

Yes to the elevator indicator lights. How about the elevator? Yes to the lawnmower. What about grass? (Okay, in fairness, that one goes to God.)

Now let me be clear about something: no matter what race or gender an inventor is, they’re all more innovative than I am. Had all the earth’s invention been up to me, I would have found a way to slap together the internet (complete with Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, and online banking), while mowing the lawn with a large pair of scissors.

If you're a geek, then my post doesn't end there; rather, there is still one more invention-related commercial that you should see. It’s the Intel commercial set in a break room with a handful of Intel employees that go all star-struck when Ajay Bhatt, co-inventor of the USB, walks into the room in slow-mo, to some truly inspired guitar riffs. He humbly signs someone’s laptop while attempting to eschew the praise being heaped upon him (including his co-workers / fans showing off Ajay Bhatt t-shirts and notebook scrawlings). The first time I saw that commercial, and realized that they had just showed me an actor playing one of the men who is partially responsible for my being able to back up my entire hard drive in under two hours to a device that costs less than tickets to a U2 concert, I not only cheered out loud, I also nearly peed my pants.

The commercial concludes with the extraordinarily profound statement, “Our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars.”

That’s brilliant.