Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Misc.

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.

Southwest

I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.

What Is Happiness?

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

Brilliant writing and perfectly delivered. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about “happiness.” In particular, is not happiness simply a willingness to accept contentment? we’re happy in a moment, there’s nothing else worth pursuing, because to pursue something more, is to give up the happiness we have.

Google, “how to be happy.” You’ll find no shortage of results. One of the most referenced answers to that question is the book “The 9 Choices of Happy People”, by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The first choice is, to recognize that “intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy.” Simply put, you must the “decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.” If you will, being happy, is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose not to.

I don’t know if I buy that. It feels more akin to the famed “Serenity Now” Seinfeld episode from 1997. In it, George’s dad, is advised to say, “serenity now” ever time his blood pressure starts to boil. It’s a way to control the anger, let it go and in essence, choose to be happy. Of course, it only works temporarily, because you can only suppress a feeling for so long, before it bubbles to the top and one’s true feelings are expressed.

But, I feel that’s a surface level analysis of happiness. What’s had my brain working over time is the notion that perhaps part of the reason for a lack of happiness is we’ve never truly learned or been taught, how to be happy.

What if happiness, were a skill, in the same way that learning to sail, fly a kite or play a guitar, were a skill. What if you could teach people to be happy. If happiness were a teachable skill, we could be measured on our ability to achieve happiness, in the same way we evaluate someone’s proficiency in learning Spanish.

But, if it were a teachable skill, it would also be an optional skill. For example, I have no interest in learning to surf, but you might. I’m no more, nor less an individual for not wanting to learn.

If we take the Don Draper speech at face value, happiness is actually a bad thing. It leads to complacency. It makes us comfortable and in doing so makes us vulnerable to someone else who’s not complacent…not content.

Draper on Happiness

To be clear, there’s a massive difference between things that make us happy and having happiness. A single thing, statement or look can make us happy. But, happiness is the state of being happy. And, that, is a critical distinction. Happiness is about being perpetually happy. Is that possible? Should it be aspirational? I don’t know, but I tend to think no.

The happiest people I know have never achieved happiness. They just aren’t wired that way. They’re constantly chasing the next thing that makes them happy. It’s the journey, not the destination. The destination will never be reached. I tend to find a closer kinship with these people than those who claim be in a state of happiness.

If you find me in your Fantasy Football League, you’ll hate me. I’m never satisfied with my team. I’m constantly tinkering with it…looking to trade something for something else. Each successful trade makes me happy. But, I have no idea what the final team configuration should be, thus happiness is not remotely possible.

I certainly have more questions than I do answers. But, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe:

  1. Happiness shouldn’t be an end goal
  2. Happiness can’t be taught, but you can be wired to simply not sweat the small stuff (aka serenity now)
  3. There’s greater satisfaction in starting from a moment of no happiness and then achieving a temporary state of happiness, than there is in simple being in a constant state of happiness

For such a high interest topic, there’s little to no resources that address if happiness is a skill that can learned and if so, how do you teach it. There’s no shortage of self help books that explain happiness is a choice…as if, you can flip a switch and instantly go from whatever state of mind you’re currently in to a zen like state of happiness. Perhaps, if that were true, we wouldn’t need the books.

Don’t Dig A Hole You Can’t Crawl Out Of

Will Rogers

Will Rogers was an incredibly funny guy. But, as most people know, there’s many a truth in jest. In a 1964 edition of The Bankers Magazine, he eloquently stated

Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

It’s funny, but it’s spot on. A riff on Will’s astute quote would be, if you dig yourself into a hole, it’s on you to dig yourself out.

As children, this is a fairly easy concept and those of us who’ve found ourself in holes, know all too well, that there’s a right way to approach the situation and a wrong way. I think a key element to this is that you have to take accountability and proactively look to pull yourself out of the hole you’ve dug. As a kid, I was constantly digging holes. Frankly, I’m convinced, I kept digging them deeper to see if I could keep rescuing myself.

Knowing how to dig yourself out, as a kid, is fairly easy. Clean your room? Yep, good start. Take out the trash? Doesn’t hurt. Apologize? Damn straight! It’s fairly simple. But, the key…the often overlooked key…you can’t wait for your parents to tell you what to do. Granted, the first few times, they might need to, but eventually, if you’re perpetually digging yourself into a hole, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to recognize there’s a blueprint for getting out.

  1. Recognize the situation – there are often clear signs, you’ve dug yourself into a hole
  2. Accept the accountability. In fact embrace it.
  3. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do to get out.
  4. Take stock to think through what needs to be done – avoid a wide overreaction. There’s a temptation to completely do the opposite of what you’ve already done. Often times, that doesn’t fix things; it makes them worst.
  5. Fix it, quickly.

I’m sure there’s some other minor things, but the above is a good start. Ultimately, it’s about accountability and desire. You have to want to make it right. You have to want to think about, how to make it right. And, then, you have to make it right.

10 Things I’m Absolutely Digging Right Now

Mr Jump!

Every so often, I like to give props to companies and products that I’m enjoying, so that others may enjoy them too. No rhyme or reason to the items on the list, just a bunch of things I’m a fan of, right now.

  1. Parker’s Heritage Promise Of Hope: Simply put, the best bourbon I’ve ever had. Good luck finding it though. If you do come across it, buy it by the glass, the bottle or the case.
  2. Stance Socks: Just love them. Smart marketing move by the NBA to partner with them as the official sock provider. Yes, the official sock provider. In particular, I have found these to be the best snowboard/ski sock I’ve ever owned.
  3. Mr Jump: It’s an addictive game. Addictive. I can’t stop. It’s frustrating, unrelenting and rewarding. It’s also FREE. Go get it, now.
  4. Stratego: My 6 year old son, John, got me hooked. He wanted Stratego for Christmas, so his sister picked it up for him. I’d never heard of it, let alone played it. After downloading the app and practicing, I was an instant fan. The board game is equally as much fun.
  5. Nike Cortez Shoes: I’ve always loved the Cortez. Was really excited when Nike brought them back last year. Picked myself up a pair late last year, in Obsidian (aka Navy Blue) and I have to say, I’m a huge fan.
  6. The Grinder: Rob Lowe at his best. The humor ranges from dry to side-splitting. I have no idea how far this show can go, but I’m hooked.
  7. Iwachu Cast Iron Omelette Pan: I love cooking. Never had a legit cast iron pan. I know many people hold Lodge pans up on a pedestal. I have to say, this pan is pretty stellar.
  8. Title Boxing Club: Last year, I joined the Title Boxing Club, in the West Loop. Was always intrigued by boxing and joining a gym, but it took me til I was 36, to finally do it. The boxing club experience is great. I’m sure my location and the instructors there, have a lot to do with making it fantastic. If you’ve been looking for something low impact, moderate to high cardio and total body, join a Title Boxing Club, in your area.
  9. POC Lobes Goggles: I feel like goggles aren’t given enough focus. You buy warm gloves. You buy warm socks. You buy a solid helmet. And then, all too often people under invest in their eye care. Love these goggles. They rock. I really love the fact, if the lenses get damaged or if you ever want to change them, you can….simply, easily and relatively cost efficiently.
  10. Mechrider C6: Yep, I got a hover-board. Yes, I know it doesn’t hover. I’m ok with it. This one doesn’t catch on fire or blow up. I confirmed it with them and the review sites. They use legit Samsung batteries. I’m a fan. My Mechrider rocks.

I’ll be back next quarter with a new list of things I’m absolutely digging on.

Live Like You Were Dying

Fear, it’s a powerful motivator. We’re all afraid of something. Snakes, spiders, heights, etc.; take your pick, there’s emoting out there we fear. Mine, is getting old. When I say, getting old, I don’t mean aging. I don’t fear a slower metabolism, grey hair or wrinkles. If anything, I welcome those changes. I mean, I have you seen Clooney these days? He’s 54, with salt and pepper hair, wrinkles and the guy looks great. Nah, aging is something I embrace, But, getting old? Yeah, that scares the pants off me.

You don’t have to be “old” to be, well, old. Some of the oldest people I know are young in age. When I think about getting old, it’s in the way, that Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, famously said, “I’m too old for this shit.”

That statement, is the pure embodiment of what I fear. It’s the idea, that you can no longer do something, because of your age. Too often, after time has slipped passed us, we turn the idea of a bucket list. As I’ve written before, I have no interest in a bucket list. I don’t want to wait til the end to try and capture some semblance of what was acceptable in my youth and make it something that I cross off the list.

I would prefer to take the approach outlined in Tim McGraw’s hit, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Instead of waiting til the proverbial end to capture the energy of your youth, I’d rather, have that energy, every day. Bud Light’s 2015 Super Bowl campaign, “Up For Whatever”, absolutely nails this concept.

Call me to go sky diving? I’m in. Text me at 2 am to grab tacos? I’m in. Delta has a killer deal on tickets to Beirut? Yep, I’m in. I genuinely believe, what makes aging so challenging, is that we forget to keep living. We manage things. We keep things in perspective. We’re more measured. We play it safe. Thanks, but no thanks.

My fear is to grow old. Every day, I work to make that fear, an irrational thought, by choosing to live every day, like was dying.

The Jerk To Value Curve

We’ve all worked with a “jerk” or “asshole”, if you prefer. A commonly stated and referenced quote on the subject is, “A lot of people say don’t fire great engineers — but they’re wrong. It only takes one asshole to destroy an entire team.” The prevailing thought then, of course, would be, “you need to fire the jerks/assholes in your organization, regardless of how brilliant they are, in order to be successful.”

Of course, this statement, is quite easy to disprove. I submit the following geniuses, who also happened to be well documented jerks, for which, if removed from the organization, it’s clear the organization would be significantly worse off.

Steve Jobs
Michael Jordan
Jeff Bezos
George Patton
Thomas Edison
Bill Belichick
Benjamin Franklin
John D. Rockefeller
Jackson Pollock
Bill Bowerman
Pedro Martinez

I can go on and on, listing brilliant people, who were complete and total jerks, who were directly responsible for the successes of companies, teams, governments, the arts and humanity. Of course, when you bring up anyone from this list, especially Jobs, the response back is, “well that’s an outlier.” That may be true, but outliers are also the ones that we look at from the sidelines and wonder, “damn, how did they do that.”

This is not to say that we should aspire to be jerks or that we should tolerate jerks or that there is some pride to be had in being a jerk. But, it is to say, that the over-simplified, popular refrain of “organizations shouldn’t hire jerks and should fire all the jerks” is at best, misguided and designed for link-bait.

I see it as something a bit different. I think, it boils down to value. You simply can’t “out-kick your coverage” when it comes to being a jerk (perceived or real).

Jerk To Value Ratio

We’re generally accepting of a jerk so long as their level of jerkiness doesn’t outpace their value to the organization. We’ll accept Jordan’s jerkiness, so long as he keeps bringing home NBA titles. We’ll tolerate Patton’s indifference to “management” so long as he continues winning battles, taking back towns and increasing troop morale. Steve Jobs can a maniacal, heartless, condescending jerk, so long as he keeps inventing products like the iPhone that move the world and shareholder value.

We’ve seen this play out time and again across sports, politics, companies and life. Jerks, like it or not, are part of the success of organizations. The key however, is hiring the right jerks and putting them in the right roles, so that they enhance the organization, not tear it apart.

But, before all of you jerks start clapping, remember, your jerkiness can never be perceived to be worse than your performance or the potential performance of a replacement.

Rules For Being A True Fan

Jordan Dunks

Some time in the early 2000’s Bill Simmons wrote a fantastic article, titled, “Rules For Being A True Fan.” It’s a masterpiece. Seriously.

Before going any further, in this post, read the article, in its entirety and then come back over. Done? Good.

What I loved about his article is that it truly got to the heart of what being a fan really means. It’s about loyalty, tradition, history, suffering, celebrating, misery, hope and faith. It’s also very logical. Being a fan, is not the same as being a fanatic. The true fan roots for his/her beloved Cubs, but knows they aren’t winning a World Series, this year. A fanatic throws logic out the window and proclaims, this is the year, the Cubs win it all.

Over the years, I’ve referenced Simmons’ article often. It’s the perfect mic drop for having a debate with another sports junky. In recently re-reading it, I realized, that while still a masterpiece, it was dated. It needed to be updated to reflect the modern sports world that we live in.

I think it needs some updates to reflect the modern sports environment. Specifically:

Bill’s Rule #1: “You can’t purchase a “blank” authentic jersey from your favorite team with no name on the back, then stick your own name and number on the jersey … well, unless you want to be an enormous dork.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: With free-agency, one and done and players being traded left and right, I think it’s actually better for a fan to get a jersey with their own name on the back or to buy a retro jersey of a player that’s iconically tied to that team. For example, a throwback Bird jersey never goes out of style. As a Bulls fan, while Scottie got traded to the Rockets and Jordan left for the Wizards, the reality is, I never stopped being a fan. But, updating your jersey collection to reflect the current roster of a team, could bankrupt you these days. A Bulls jersey with my name on the back, never goes out of style and it always reflects that I’m a Bulls fan, for good and for bad.

Bill’s Rule #13: “You can follow specific players from other teams, but only as long as they aren’t facing your team. For instance, it’s fine to enjoy the Brett Favre Experience if you’re a Jaguars fan … just don’t get carried away and start making a scrapbook, collecting all his football cards and so on. That’s a little sketchy. And you can’t purchase his jersey under any circumstances.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: We need to broaden this rule. You can’t say, I’m rooting for my team in the playoffs, but I also hope another team does well, just because I like a player on that team. For example, as a Bulls fan, I can’t both root for the Bulls in the playoffs and root for the Spurs, because I like Duncan. One team. That’s it. This become woefully apparent, when you’re both rooting for you team and an opposing player, because you like him.

Bill’s Rules 18/20: “If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team. None of this, “The Bengals weren’t very good when I was growing up in Cincy, so I became a Cowboys fan” crap.” and “If you hail from New York, you can’t root for the Yankees and the Mets. You have to choose between them.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: A slight modifier is needed. If you live in a city that has multiple teams in the area, you can pick none of the above. For example, let’s say you live in the NY/NJ/PA tri-state area. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that as a south Jersey resident you could root for the Eagles or as a Central Jersey resident, you root for the Rangers and so forth. The reason I’m pushing for picking none of the above, is it allows you to play the role of the heel. And we all need a heel.

Simmons Rule 19: “Once you choose a team, you’re stuck with that team for the rest of your life … unless one of the following conditions applies:…”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: We need to add a bullet that outlines what happens with a particular player causes such shame on a franchise, that it’s completely ok to abandon ship. Lets call this the BALCO rule. If you were a Giants fan, it’s ok to leave because of Bonds. Ditto with A-Rod. Or Pete Rose. Or what happens if your team drafts Winston? Electing to root for another NFL team, if you were a Ravens fan, following their handling of the Ray Rice situation, is something I could understand.

Beyond those edits, I’d like to add a key, new rule. I’m going to call it the Lebron Law. You can root for a team, that’s not your team, so long as it is with the intent of watching someone so hated/despised, lose. This works on a lot of levels. For example, rooting for UNLV against Duke, because you don’t like Laettner. Or rooting for any team, even a rival team, if they’re playing the Cavs/Lebron. Or, my personal favorite, rooting against any team Lindros was on, because he was a dick and you never want to see him get the satisfaction of raising The Cup.

You may be wondering, so who do I root for and why?

Baseball: I’m an Atlanta Braves fan. Some context…I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1979. I was raised by my grandfather and my mother to be a Mets fan. My dad, being raised in New England was a Red Sox fan. I went to Mets games as a kid. My favorite player was Lenny Dysktra. I rooted for “nails.” I had a signed glove. And I cursed the Mets when they traded him to the Phillies for Juan Samuel, in 1989. By the time they traded Dysktra, I was living in New Jersey, but had not yet entered my formative years. As an angry 10 year old, I vowed to never root for the Mets. My dad, the Sox fan, asked who I would root for, then. The petulant and stubborn child I was, lead me to pick the worst team in the league, the Atlanta Braves. Surely choosing the worst team in the league would show the Mets how upset I was. How did I even know about the Braves? Well, if you recall, TBS had a huge deal with them and broadcasted every single game. It made becoming a fan, at 10, quite easy. I’ve never wavered since 1989. I lived with the Braves misery thru 1990, the breaking of my heart over and over from 1991 thru 2005, save the 1 World Series win in 1995.

Basketball: The Bulls. It’s always been the Bulls. Jordan was my favorite college player. He landed on the Bulls in 1984 and the rest is history. Ironically, I don’t have an MJ jersey, but I do have a throw back John Paxson one. Outside of MJ, he’s my favorite player.

Football: Go Giants. We grew up on Parcells, rooting against Montana, Loving LT, Simms and Bavaro.

Hockey: Rangers! Hated the Devils. Grew up on Gartner, Amonte, Graves, Leetch, JVB, Richer and couldn’t believe it when Gretzky joined us. I celebrated Messier bringing us the cup in 7 and long to see a cup raised again!

Taking Simmons’ rules, I pass the test. The only potential grey area would be by Atlanta Braves choice. Although, I’m taking his passage about “formative years” as the supporting rationale.

What do you think?

My Top 10 Whiskeys You Have To Try

There are no shortage of lists that attempt to outline the best Bourbon, Scotch or Whiskeys on the planet. Some will use quantitative analysis. Others skew to qualitative. That’s the thing about a good Bourbon, Scotch or Whiskey; everyone has a different opinion, because everyone’s taste profile is different and everyone value’s different characteristics. My wife, when I first met here 3+ years ago, swore by her love of Jameson. To her, it was in fact, the best Whiskey in the world. Today, she wouldn’t be caught dead drinking, let alone owning a bottle of Jameson.

A photo posted by Adam Kmiec (@adamkmiec) on

Over the past 3 years, I’ve tasted more whiskeys than I can remember. I think that’s a good thing. I’ve tasted rare and hard to find Whiskeys. I’ve sadly tasted cheap and horrible tasting Whiskeys, like Fireball. I’ve had great tasting and cheap Whiskeys; a rarity, but so satisfying when it happens. Some of these Whiskeys are great for mixing, some can and should be had neat, while others taste better with an ice cube or drop of water. That’s what I love about Whiskey; there’s no right or wrong way to drink it and they all taste different.

Before I go any further, it’s important to understand that every Scotch, Bourbon and Rye is a Whiskey. But, not every Whiskey is a Bourbon or a Rye or a Scotch. So when I say, “My Top 10 Whiskeys” you’re going to see Bourbons, Ryes and Scotches mixed together.

So, with that said, here’s the best of the best, based on my tastes, preferences and palate.

W.L. Weller 12 Year: Made irrationally famous because Julian Van Winkle said it was his favorite and it was then shown to have the same mash bill as the famed Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, it’s a gem. But, all that hype made it hard to come by. At $25 a bottle, it’s a perfect example of great Bourbon, not having to be expensive. Good luck finding a bottle though. Even on Craiglist market, this $25 bottle will sell for nearly $100. W.L. Weller 12 is my go to bourbon, when I want something neat or with a cube. I never use it as a mixer.

Four Roses Yellow Label: At $20, it’s a steal. Yes, it’s like they’re paying you for it. I love Four Roses Yellow Label. My wife loves the more expensive Single Barrel. Four Roses is what is my must have bourbon in an Old Fashioned. It’s smooth and balanced.

Michter’s 10 Year: Another, impossible to find, great bourbon. If you see it in-store, it’ll retail for $85. On the secondary market, expect to pay $200. Where Weller and Four Roses are incredibly smooth, with virtually no finish. Michter’s is smooth, with a pungent nose and a complex finish that sneaks up you. Love this bourbon. No ice needed. Serve neat.

The Glenlivet Archive 21 Year: The first Scotch to make the list. I went back and forth between this and The Macallan 21. Both are phenomenal. But, The Macallan is nearly twice the cost at $300 a bottle. The Glenlivet 21, however, can be had for $140. Yes, that’s expensive. But, it’s so freaking good. Smooth, no bite and big flavor. If I could afford it, I’d be drinking this every day.

Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year: The first and only Pappy to make the list. I have the 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 year. The 10 is raw and unfinished. Not my style. The 12 year “Lot B” is good, but isn’t something I’d drink neat or on the rocks. It’s very nice for livening up a good Old Fashioned. The 20 I really love. It doesn’t get enough love out there. The 23 is the hardest to come by. That scarcity, I tend to think, clouds people’s judgement and evaluation of the Bourbon. Personally, I think it’s too aged. But, the 15, yeah, it’s just right. It’s so full of flavor, but not overpowering. I can sip on this all night long.

Yamazaki 12 Year: For a while I was really into the art of Japanese Whiskey. Where the USA and Scotland favor single malts and blends are considered cheap, Japan views blending as a way to be creative and develop unique flavors. I like Hibiki 12, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Yamazaki 12.  Everyone who samples my bottle, remarks at how incredible it is. A different Yamazaki; one finished in a Sherry Cask, was recently anointed the title of Best Whiskey In The World.

Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year: I really like Bulleit. I don’t love it neat. I don’t love it on ice. But, I really like it in a Manhattan, Mint Julep or Old Fashioned. There’s something about it’s taste profile that makes it the perfect compliment to so many other ingredients. It’s the classic team player on a sports team. Bulleit isn’t the leader or the best player, but without Bulleit, you just don’t win.

Basil Hayden: This was the Bourbon that got me started into dark spirits. It was the first Bourbon I ever ordered. There’s many similarities to Basil Hayden and Bulleit 10. They both have a certain lack of refinement. They have an edge. But, where as Bulleit has too much edge to be something I drink neat, Basil Hayden, when in the right mood, is definitely something I can enjoy with a cube.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: Received this as a gift and was instantly blown away. Cask Strength Bourbon has generally proved to be just too powerful for me. Too much bite, too much finish. Even as much as I love Four Roses, their 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Cask Strength is just too much for me. But, for whatever reason Angel’s Envy has figured out how to give you something powerful, but not overpowering. This, my friends, will keep you warm on cold winter nights.

Larceny: In all my Whiskey sampling, I realized I prefer wheated Bourbons over rye Bourbons. The wheat is smoother, with less bite than rye. Again, palate, is personal. You can find this gem for about $28 at most liquor stores. If you’re just getting into Bourbon and can’t find the W.L.Weller 12, this is a great introduction into the world of Bourbons.

Beyond the top 10, some other Whiskey’s that I’ve sampled that are worth your time as you explore would be Lagavulin 16, Kings County Bourbon, Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14, Whistle Pig Rye 10 and Makers Mark (original). All are interesting, unique and different.

Taste is personal. That’s the beauty of Whiskey. There’s something out there for everyone. These be my favorites, but your’s could be something else. Get out there and start sampling.

On Food

I love a good meal. I love food, but I’m not a foodie. I can appreciate the effort, thought and creativity that chefs bring to a dish, but I won’t value presentation over substance. All sizzle and no steak, does not, a good meal, make. A good friend of mine, who loves food like me, but is definitely more on the foodie end of the spectrum recently asked for recommendations for a place to eat at in New York. Specifically he wanted “Something new and exciting that takes food in unexpected directions. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it has to be unique and different.”

I love the bar he set. But, quickly the conversation turned into a who’s who of New York restaurants. We of course had Nobu, Eleven Madison, Momofuku and the like. These are great restaurants. I’ve eaten at several of them. But, just like a designer pair of jeans, part of what you’re paying for and part of what skews your pov on these places are the name. Instead of being the name on the label, it’s the name of the chef. Why stop at Nobu? Let’s add Per Se, from Thomas Keller or Daniel or Le Bernardin. It’s now that these aren’t great places, but when I want a food adventure, I think of adventure in the way Anthony Bourdain sees the world, not the way the Michelin group hands out stars. You’re in New York, maybe the best city in the world for food and we end up with a list that reads like Business Insider’s Top Restaurants of New York list, which is basically a shrunken down version of the Michelin Guide.

Ultimately, there are only 3 things I want in a meal at a restaurant:

  1. I don’t want to leave hungry. I’m serious. The problem with so many “high-end” or Michelin rated places is they trade flash for substance. I get foam, which while beautiful, doesn’t exactly fill the belly. I once ate at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis, which while lovely, left us so hungry that we went to McDonald’s after we left. Thankfully, the dinner at La Belle Vie was paid for with a gift card…a $300.00 gift card, but hey, a gift card.
  2. It needs to be something I can’t make. Yours truly, can grill a damn good burger, but I can’t make the burger at Au Cheval, a burger so amazing, it’s life changing. I can make a great smoked brisket on my Green Egg, it’s not even remotely as good as the brisket from Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. What I love about this filter is that not only am I introduced to something that’s unique, it inspires me to cook something different.
  3. The overall experience needs to be worth getting off the couch and not ordering in. With platforms like GrubHub, Postmates and TaskRabbit, I can get a steak from Uncle Jack’s in NYC delivered to me, if I wanted. But, eating that steak, at home, is not the same as eating it at the restaurant and having Uncle Jack’s legendary service, killer Old Fashioned and deep fried, chipotle bacon, fresh from the kitchen.

I don’t think my bar is high, but it surprisingly difficult to find places that satisfy all 3 things. For example, Alinea, considered the greatest restaurant in the world, is great on #2 and #3, but woefully under-delivers on #1. I’ve been there twice and both times I ended up eating at Portillo’s on the way home. Yes, I’m serious. On the other end of the spectrum you have a place like Lugo Caffe in New York City, which has never sent me home hungry and creates a deep fried Lamb Shank that can’t be copied, but doesn’t offer a great or unique experience.

With that said, in no particular order, here’s my top 10 list of food places, across the United States, that deliver on my criteria.

  1. Katz’s Deli (New York, NY)
  2. The Slanted Door (San Francisco, CA)
  3. L&B Spumoni Gardens (Brooklyn, NY)
  4. Table 52 (Chicago, IL)
  5. Brasa (Minneapolis, MN)
  6. Morimoto (Philadelphia, PA)
  7. Franklin’s BBQ (Austin, TX)
  8. Crif Dog’s / Please Don’t Tell (New York, NY)
  9. Aureole (Las Vegas, NV)
  10. Rye (Louisville, Kentucky)

And more specifically, just so you don’t think I punted on the original question from my friend, these were my recommendations for places that provide “Something new and exciting that takes food in unexpected directions. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it has to be unique and different.”:

  1. Fette Sau – this would take you to Williamsburg, so right off the bat, it’s a new experience. You get legit BBQ, that while not as famous as Dinosaur, is outstanding. You wait in an alley to get in, but you can drink while you wait. The fantastic selection of bourbon almost makes you wish the wait was a bit longer than it is…almost.
  2. Ajisen Noodle – There’s 3 locations, but the best and most legit of the bunch is in Chinatown. You can’t get more authentic than Mott Street. They’re located at 14 Mott Street which is just a few doors down from the iconic 8 Mott Street arcade that at one point in time had the famous Tic Tac Toe chicken. The food is simple, in that there’s not a lot of options, but what’s there is tremendous. In my opinion and the opinion of many other more credible sources, Ajisen has the best ramen noodles in the country.
  3. Tacombi at Fonda Nolita – First, visit the site. Look at the scene that is Tacombi. Yes, that’s a VW van in the middle of the restaurant, serving tacos. Only in New York. Oliver Strand of the New York Times said it better than I ever could “Tacombi at Fonda Nolita doesn’t feel like a restaurant as much as an art installation, a gallery with a taqueria set up in the middle of a concrete garage just off Houston Street.” It’s a completely transformative experience.

One of the things I love about food is how passionate people get about the subject. What I love, could be something you loathe and what you think is exceptional, I might find to be “meh.” Food is a personal thing. Similar to music, there’s more than enough options to go around, to satisfy everyone’s palette.

 

I Want To Believe

By every definition of the word, I’m a mutt. In the classic representation of what it means to be part of the melting pot, that is America. My maternal grandmother is Puerto Rican and Spanish (from Spain). My maternal grandfather is Arabic and Yemen. They brought together a household that balanced traditional Roman Catholic ideals and Muslim beliefs. Yes, you read that right. Then you have my dad’s parents. For as long as I can remember, they argued over whether they were Austrian or Polish. If you know anything about Poland’s complex history, you can understand why that was an argument for 20+ years. The birth certificates of my grandparents said Austrian, but they and I, for a period of time, spoke Polish. My dad and his family were quite Catholic, though my dad had a much more liberal and worldly view of religion.

Don't Stop Believing

Think about that. A farm boy from New Hampshire somehow found love with a Puerto Rican, Spanish, Middle Eastern girl from Brooklyn. If that’s not America, I don’t know what is. I will tell you this, family get togethers were always amazing. Only with a diverse family like mine could you have kielbasa, rice and beans, paella, hummus with pita bread and baklava at the same dinner table.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I had friends who were Jewish, Arabic, Spanish, German, Asian and more. My kindergarden seemingly mirrored a United Nations meeting. There was diversity like nothing else I’ve ever seen in my 34 years walking and traveling this Earth.

In 1986 we moved from NYC, the great cultural mecca of the world, to the suburbs of NJ. Now NJ itself isn’t small, but the town I grew up in was Vernon, NJ – population 20,000…diversity, virtually nonexistent (95.1% white).  To say I experienced a culture shock, would be an understatement. I’d also be downplaying it, if I said, I faced some racial prejudice. I was called a SPIC, camel jockey, sand nigger, dot head, porch monkey and a host of other names. I fought when ignoring the barbs became too much. I went to therapy to discuss my anger and resentment. I resented my parents for moving me to the middle of nowhere and for not being able to make the hate from others go away.

There was a period of time when I simply tried to hide my cultural heritage. I embraced KMIEC (said Kim-yeche), a clearly white-European name and I shunned all the other parts of my family that made me, me. It’s fair to say, I had some awkward adolescent years.

In high school, things changed a bit. I was an athlete who had brains. I was never part of the popular crowd, but I also wasn’t shunned by them. For what it’s worth, I think that’s the perfect sweet spot to be in during high school. You can be you, without the pressures of being who the popular crowd expects you to be. I finished in the top 25 of my class and had scholarship offers from MIT, Columbia and Clemson. All great schools. I chose Minnesota. I chose it for 3 reasons:

  1. It was the furthest away from where everyone else I grew up with was going to be attending. Most of my peers were staying on the East Coast, with the majority attending schools in the Boston area.
  2. It had a great Business program.
  3. They gave me nearly a 100% full scholarship.

Let me focus on the scholarship. Come college admission season, I exploited every ethnic loophole that existed. While the majority of public scholarships are distributed to “white” individuals, it’s no surprise that the majority of “need based” scholarships are given to minorities.  I knew how the system worked and I maximized the system to my financial advantage. I graduated in 3 years and with zero college debt, despite attending The University of Minnesota as an out of state resident. A big part of graduating debt free was a benefit afforded to me by University for being an “outstanding minority” who wanted to attend The Carlson School of Management. That’s right, my minority status netted me a nearly 40% reduction in total tuition fees. Add in the scholarships I earned, that were only possible, because of my minority status, and my tuition, room and board was essentially 100% funded.

This was the first and the only time I would ever characterize myself, on a formal piece of paper, as a minority. Upon graduating, I felt ashamed. I questioned whether I’d earned the right to attend the university, on my own merits, or if I was merely someone who fit a quota. This shame and self doubt propelled me to always work my ass off. I believed and still believe, that while I may not be smarter than you, I will outwork you. I try to instill the same work ethic to my kids.

While working at a large agency in Chicago, during the dot com boom and bust, I was advised by a Sr. leader that I should make sure my file indicated I was Hispanic, African American (Egypt is in Africa ayer all) and/or some other minority status. I asked why? She remarked, it would protect me during layoffs. The company would never eliminate a person of color like me. I’m dead serious. This was a real conversation. When I explained to her that I had checked the Caucasian box, she shook her head and was aghast that I would eliminate the potential opportunities, advancement and protection that my minority status would have afforded me.

I’ve been working full time since 1997. I’ve never checked a box other than Caucasian. I want to believe that the world is fair. I want to believe that race, color, gender or creed don’t play a role in hiring. I want to believe that companies only hire the best candidates. I want to believe companies only fire or let go the worst candidates. I want to believe.

Fast forward several years and apparently as a person of color, I was supposed to vote for Obama. I didn’t. My mom basically called me a traitor to my race. I tried to reason with her; explaining that I voted for a candidate based on their beliefs and policies, not their gender (I voted Hillary in the primaries) or race. She would have none of that. Obama’s win was supposed to demonstrate to me and my children that a presidency was not of reach for a mixed race family like mine. I quipped, well, seeing as we’ve never had a female president, I guess my daughter can never dream of being one. This was clearly not something we were going to see eye to eye on.

Yesterday, when it was announced that the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on racial preferences in university admissions, I was supposed to be irate. I wasn’t. The color of my skin (a golden brown) should not afford me a benefit, an extra consideration, a better chance or higher likelihood of something happening. My skills, my work ethic, my desire and my contributions, however, should.

When I got engaged (the first time), my mom explained to my fiancé (a blonde hair, blue eyed, Norwegian, from Minnesota), that she would never understand the sting of racial prejudice that may one day be placed upon her future children. She based that point of view on the inability of my father, the 6 ft 1 in Polish Chemist from New Hampshire to understand the pain I suffered growing up in Vernon, NJ.

She might be right. She might not.

What I do know is that my children are taught that nothing is given to them, there are no handouts and every day they need to work harder than the last. As I look forward 10 years, when my daughter is 17 and ready to apply to colleges, I may be faced with an interesting conundrum – apply as a minority (gender, race, etc.) and open up a world of financial aid options or file as a non-minority and potential pay more long term. Dollars and cents vs. stubbornness.

I want to believe that in 10 years, it won’t be a conundrum, because we will have evolved as a people, culture and society. I want to believe that in 10 years, we will neither be granted nor suppressed opportunities because of our ethnic makeup. I want to believe that instead, we will be afforded opportunities based on the content of our character, the effort we have put in and the value we bring to society.

I want to believe.