Sunday, September 28, 2008

No. 8

I had hoped Saturday's bike ride would be a cause for greater celebration, but it's not.

On Saturday I finished the Headwaters 100, a bike ride originating in Park Rapids, Minn.

It was my second stab at the bike ride, which has three different routes, one approximately 45 miles, another approximately 75 miles. Guess what the third route is.

This bike ride has been on my calendar since June, but things change, and had it been rainy and miserable on Saturday there was no chance I was going to bike 100 miles. Upon arrival in the Park Rapids area on Friday afternoon it started to ominous sign.

But the rain cleared out overnight and gave way to clear skies on Saturday. It was about 50 degrees when I started the ride at 8 a.m., better than I remember it being in 2002 when I previously tackled the Headwaters 100.

And the high temperature for the day was forecast in the upper I had little to complain about. The only drawback to the day: there was a decent breeze out of the north. But given a choice between Friday evening's weather and Saturday's weather, it was no contest.

And despite a breeze out of the north, the longest northerly stretch of my 100-mile ride was early in the day, which is always appreciated when you bicycle. If you're going to fight the wind, fight it early rather than late.

The ride is named for the state park north of Park Rapids, Itasca State Park. It's the home of Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Clever name, eh?

After about 30 miles the ride leads you into the park, where you loop around the lake on a 15-mile road before exiting and traveling through the rolling hills of the greater Park Rapids area, periodically passing other lakes. It's a bit challenging of a ride because of the rolling hills, but there aren't any killer climbs, so I can't complain about the route.

The final 12 miles are mostly flat, as the ride finishes on an old railroad bed trail. When I hit the rest stop at mile 88 I felt like I was already finished, because the last 12 miles were relatively easy, and I knew they would be.

While it was a bit cool through the morning hours, it was far from miserable. There was never any doubt I'd finish the 100-mile ride, unless a freak physical or mechanical breakdown sidelined me prior to the finish line, but that didn't happen.

I admired the fall colors occasionally, cursed the cool autumn air that kept my nose running most of the day and regretted that I would not be reaching my goal of 2,008 miles at the end of the day, as I was about 250 short at that point. It's no small task completing 100 miles in a day, and that's reason enough to celebrate, but I still have work to do, given the lackluster August and September I've had on the bicycle...due in large part to repeated mechanical problems. But that's another story for another jukebox.

Despite my less-than-ecstatic mood, it is the first year I have pushed myself to complete two century rides in one year. Why did I do it? Why will I push myself harder in 2009? I'm insane, and I'll go to my grave living that way. To paraphrase somebody I no longer speak to, or respect, conformity is one of the greatest disservices you can do to yourself. I botched the quote, but you get the idea.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Holy shammy!

I made another 10-day cameo at the Minnesota State Fair this year. I worked the same job as last year, and every night I had achy feet to prove it. Unlike last year, I didn't keep tally of the bizarre T-shirt encounters I had. There were a few, but somehow I wasn't as amused as I was last year.

But I was amazed...amazed that the dudes at the nearby shammy booth didn't lie to people. Last year I watched two hucksters tell people, hour after hour, that "I can't do this for everyone, but for the first X people that buy a roll of shammies at $20, I'll throw in a second roll of shammies absolutely free."

I never heard them suggest otherwise last year, nor did I see it. It was two rolls for $20 plus tax, which meant a lot more money coming in than if they were selling them at one roll at $10 plus tax, or one roll at $21, I suspect.

News flash: There's a nationwide shammy shortage. Forget the war, forget the economy, people can't get a roll of shammies at their local fair.

The fair started out like any other, with the hucksters selling two rolls of shammies day after day. It was the same cast of characters as last year, but one thing was different.

People need shammies now more than ever.


There's a commercial I've never seen, evidently, and it's hawking shammies in 27 inches of living color. (I see the infomercial for Slim n' Lift body shaper all the time, dammit.)

That commercial, which I am told has nothing to do with the State Fair hucksters, has raised the demand for shammies at fairs across our great nation. In Stinktown the shammy hucksters were out of product after the first weekend.

In Minnesota they made it to day 10 before the supply ran thin.

The hucksters talk as if their company is selling the shammies featured on the commercial, and they have a new banner for their booth, clearly associating their product with the shammies seen on TV. Whether they're associated with the commercial or not, demand for their product is better than ever. I couldn't believe how many people were fascinated by the hucksters as soon as they saw the banner in their booth. I guess if I saw a demonstration for Slim n' Lift I'd stop, too.

On day 10 of the 12-day extravaganza I saw something I never thought I'd see, one roll for $21. They were throwing in some lame shammy sponge absolutely free, but for the first time in my two years of state fair merchandising, I saw the hucksters cut the offer down to one roll.

The booth was so desperate for product that the owner was importing shammies of different colors, indicative I suppose of a different supplier. The green and pink and blue and orange and fuscia shammies didn't last that long, however, as sales remained brisk.

What puzzled me was that by late Saturday night, the hucksters were back to selling two rolls for $21, as if they stemmed the tide.

But by day 11 it was clear the end was near. They were back to single-roll sales, for the most part, although they inexplicably went back to two rolls for a little while. Occasionally they were throwing in any random square of shammy they could find to make the deal sound sweeter than it was. Bottom line, they were still moving product at one roll for $21.

The state fair Nazis don't like their vendors to pack up early, so the sales pitches were cut back to one per hour instead of the non-stop six per hour the hucksters normally did. That helped extend the supply into today, day 12, but they still sold out of their last few hundred by mid-afternoon.

So why not sell all those rolls at $21 each? Me thinks its simple economics. The wholesale cost of those things has to be damn cheap. People are more likely to respond favorably to a great deal rather than a great demonstration. When they see one roll of shammies for $21, a lot of people probably figure it's not much of a bargain, even though the average family will save about $100 in paper towel purchases per year (allegedly). But when there's a second roll for that same $21, two friends can split the cost of two rolls, and feel good about their purchase. Or dad could buy an extra set for the family cabin and feel like he's getting a great bargain in the process.

If the rolls were $10 plus tax, a lot of people would only buy one, but the buy-one-get-one-free gimmick ensures many people are committing $20 to the life-saving shammies. It's marketing brilliance. Sell people two of something instead of one and increase your profits exponentially. What a country.

A country with a shammy shortage, no less.