Requiem for a Video Store

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On a Friday night, when I was a kid in the 90s, my entire family would get in the car and go to a store, called Video for You. It was a tiny shop filled to the brim with all kinds of movies. Horror, romance, action, or anything else you could possibly think of. The shelves went from floor to ceiling with thousands of titles. The clerk knew who we were and would greet us on the way in.

My brother and I were complete opposites. He loved action movies about ninjas and I wanted to watch fantasies. We would scour every shelf looking for the perfect compromise. Maybe a ninja that goes back in time? Or a knight that trained with ninjas? My dad hated to watch “kiddy” movies and would veto anything without a real plot. The clerk would eventually help out with a recommendation we could all enjoy together.

The other day I realized that no new families will have that experience. They won’t get in the car to go to a video store and they won’t go to the frozen yogurt shop next door afterward. It will be too much of a hassle to go out and find the perfect movie for the night when they get Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime directly connected to their TV. There won’t really be a need to argue about which movie to watch when you can play the second and third choice back to back.

When my brother and I argued, it was because we might never get the chance to watch the other one. It might not be available for rent the next time or we might have forgotten the title by then. A missed opportunity. The stakes were higher. Now you can just add it to the lineup and watch it right after. There’s no need to argue over the perfect movie for the night. You can watch anything and everything without ever leaving your living room.

Some of you may think, you’re reminiscing about the 90’s? And video stores? They went out of business for a reason. Wait until you’re 40, 50, or 60 then you’ll really understand how much the world changes. Just because I’m only 26 doesn’t mean I can’t notice the differences.

The 90s weren’t that long ago yet the world has changed a lot.

When I was a kid, computers were a new thing. My family was one of the first to get AOL. It took a full 5 minutes to sign in and pull up your email. There were pop up ads every 15 seconds and no such thing as Wikipedia or Facebook.

Now we get frustrated if it takes longer than 30 seconds to set up a computer and downright irate if a website doesn’t load in 10.  The world is moving faster than ever and we’re becoming more impatient.

With limitless information and entertainment at our fingertips, will people value things the same way they used to? Will they bother remembering who the 32nd President was when they can look it up online in 5 seconds?

Millenials are the last generation to grow up without an abundance of technology.

No one had a cell phone in elementary school let alone an Instagram or Twitter followers. Youtube was barely popular. Facebook was only for college kids. Amazon didn’t exist.

What did we do in the dark ages?

We had to talk to each other at dinner and humor our parents with a description about what happened at school instead of checking feeds on our phones.

And we went to video stores.

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ZenKaiKon

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One of my goals for the Wander List was to go to a comic convention. Ever since I was a kid, I loved all things fantasy. It started out with the works of Roald Dahl and Frank L. Baum. I would spend hours reading about how Charlie took over the chocolate factory or how Dorothy crash landed in Oz. The fascination has continued over the years with Lord of the Rings and all the Comic movies that have come out lately.

I’m so on board with Marvel making a new movie every 6 months.

The kids at my high school weren’t into nerdy things. It was just before the “cool nerd” trend. I considered myself a closet nerd. Only behind closed doors would I obsess about vampires and magic wands.

A friend invited me to work at Zenkaikon, an anime convention in Lancater PA, so I jumped at the chance to finally go to one.

The drive was under 3 hours from New York so it wasn’t a bad trek down there. Lancaster was a very nice little colonial town. All the buildings were brick and marble, which made it look like it was straight from a story book. The hotel was right in the downtown area close to a few restaurants and touristy type places. The weekend was cold though and I spent most of it inside the hotel.

The convention was very interesting. I’ve never seen so many people meeting about a single topic or boys dressed in drag. Is it considered drag at a convention? I never figured out the answer.

Honestly, most of the time there I was pretty uncomfortable. I went from being the closet nerd to the one too cool to be there overnight. With my friends, I’m the expert about Game of Thrones and at the convention I was an amateur. Being an introvert, it wasn’t that easy to make small talk with so many strangers.

Here’s me looking awkward when I didn’t know how to start a conversation.

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Yet the enthusiasm was infectious. I had more fun playing video games there than I had in years.

Most of the weekend, I was playing Artemis, a virtual flight simulation modeled after Star Trek (one of my favorite old sci fi shows.

There were 6 stations set up for different positions (Captain, Engineering, Communications, Science, Helm, and Weapons). The way it is set up, people can’t see the information on each screen so you have to communicate to get through a level and navigate the ship.

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IT’S SUCH A FUN GAME.

No one had ever heard of it before so it was a lot of fun watching new players get so excited. This 12 year old kid sat in the room for hours helping new people learn the jobs and often jumped in as Captain to help them out. One of the old timers, directed the level with the same authority of a real leader of Star Fleet.

Another game they had was a huge projection of the old Sailor Moon arcade game.

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The nostalgia it invoked reminded me of my brother and I going to an arcade with a couple dollars in quarters. We would be so excited and play as many games as possible. We never had a lot of money, the time would fly by, running back to our mom to ask for a couple extra dollars.

Overall, I’m glad I went. It was a really different experience from what I’m normally used to and it’s always good to change it up. If I ever went to another one, I would go with friends that I knew a little better. It was kind of awkward to be alone when most of the other people knew each other.

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Drive by Daniel H. Pink

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The past couple weeks have been slow moving with writing new content so I decided to get back to the Road’s roots and read some new non-fiction.

Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, was a concise and straightforward look at the different types of motivation for individuals.

For years, businesses and governments have operated under the assumption that people do not want to work and need to be strictly controlled to maintain progress. Leaders developed principles based on the basic needs for survival. If you complete x amount of work, then you receive y reward. Older generations accepted this practice and the regular 9-5 routine was established as the foundation for a workplace.

Over the years, social scientists have studied the productivity of the carrot/stick system and found that after a certain baseline, extra money does not produce more or better work. The results were the opposite. Since the workers were distracted by the thought of a reward, they produced lower quality work. In the following sessions, they were much less engaged without the bonus incentive. Contrastingly, people that were not offered any compensation were more engaged and produced much better work for longer periods of time.

New companies have experimented with the expectations at work and found that the less rules they give employees the more efficiently they are able to complete their work on time. If a young mother has the option to leave work at 3pm to watch her child’s soccer game, then she feels more likely to make up the work during the rest of the week and as a result will produce more than if she had to adhere to a strict schedule. Not all workers are willing to commit to the new way of work, but the ones that remained were much happier and less likely to leave the company for a new job offer with more money.

Pink argues that people produce their best work when they are motivated by an internal drive to master something and are held accountable. Mastery, defined as an impossible level of perfection that cannot be achieved, as an end goal allows the individual to progress in slow incremental ways. Most people that have become very successful are masters of their craft. There is a reason why Meryl Streep is nominated for an Academy Award almost every year. She clearly seeks to master the different aspects of acting and incorporate them into her work.

Most people assume that artists and entrepreneurs should be driven and master their craft, yet most people don’t expect the same from themselves. It seems like the younger generation is changing this idea as more people pursue lives with meaning or businesses that partner with a charity. These ideals would have been very rare 50 years ago. Now it’s not too uncommon to hear about a friend of a friend that quit their Wall Street job to work for a non-profit or take off a year to backpack Southeast Asia.

We’ve started to realize that money really cannot buy happiness. Cliches are usually true! Exchanging your individuality and autonomy for a big paycheck doesn’t mean a lot when you don’t even have the time or energy to spend it at the end of the day.

Of course, it’s a generalization. There are still plenty of people that want the dream car, trophy wife, and white picket fence. Yet there are many more people seeking to make a difference in the world and expanding the idea of what a “dream life” looks like.

It’s the main reason why I started the Road Less Written. There are so many people that are unhappy on a a daily basis and I didn’t want to become one of them. I didn’t want to drown in a sea of knick knacks and overpriced fine china.

At the end of your life, what does it all mean? Are you going to remember how much you love that big screen television or the time you went on an impromptu road trip with your best friend?

Money should not be the main factor that drives us. As people we’re naturally inquisitive and creative. When I was tutoring, I never met a kid that wasn’t. It’s part of our DNA. And yet when most of those kids grow up they become adults that hate their jobs and resent their choices and smother the dreams of their kids.

You have to make a conscious decision to escape that cycle and pursue what really drives you. It can be something simple like having a family or big like inventing a new product that will change the world. Everyone has different values and goals for what they would like to accomplish.

 

What drives you?

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Salsa Dancing in Harlem

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It’s been about 2 years since I moved to Harlem. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I moved here. I grew up in a very white neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where ethnic meant someone that wasn’t blonde. The neighborhood here is so multicultural and the lighter your skin color the more you stick out. You never know what to expect walking down the street.

At the Harlem Children’s Center, there are free salsa classes on Thursday night. One time I went by myself to check it out. Let me preface this by saying I’m not that white. My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Italian so I grew up in a house with a lot of arguing and cooking, usually over loud music playing. However, I didn’t grow up with nearly the same Spanish influence as people from the neighborhood.

Even though it was an open class, a lot of the people there clearly knew how to salsa dance already. Not only did they know the steps, they could spin backward and forward and all over the room. The entire time I was gasping for air and trying not to trip over my feet. Even though I can dance all right at a club, I was barely keeping up with the 40-50 year olds that knew how to move.

About halfway through the class, the instructor told us to free dance with partners and get into the music for a while. The class portion was over, but we were welcome to dance around and practice for another hour until we had to leave the building.

At that point a five foot tall Mexican man decided he was going to help me. He took me to the side and showed me the same pivot. Over and over, turn on the ball of your foot. It’s a snap, you shouldn’t fall over. You need to keep your balance.

He spoke rapidly in a mix of Spanish and English getting frustrated that I wouldn’t understand him. As I’ve explained before, my family is Puerto Rican so I’m all too familiar with Spanglish shouting about what I’m doing wrong with my life.

“You’re not sexy!” he repeated.

“I’m not sexy?” I asked him.

“No you move like a noodle. Hold yourself up.”

“I can’t move like this?” I moved my hips side to side even more noodle like than the last time.

He sighed and demonstrated the way a real salsa dancer would move. I tried to follow. He spun me and got annoyed when I didn’t keep my torso straight, ignoring the fact that I was half a foot taller than them. An hour or so later, I finally started to get it better. Pivot and snap. Don’t lean to once side. If you move quickly you don’t fall over. He was delighted, well exasperated, but mostly excited that he had turned me into less of an embarrassment.

On my way out, he told me to practice at home so I could get better and they would be there on Saturday for another class.

Honestly I learned more from him in that hour than I did from the instructor, who decided I was a lost cause in the first 5 minutes.

When I try to think of any similar situation from my hometown, nothing comes close. The great thing about New York City is the sense of community. In Los Angeles, no one feels connected. Most of the people moved there for work and stayed for the sunshine. You drive around alone in your car and only talk to people you know.

NYC is the opposite. Even though it’s stuffy and crowded and loud, the people that were born here will die here and they can’t imagine life anywhere else. Everyone is thrown together on the streets and subway so they’re forced to interact all the time. They are not as rude as what is shown in movies or old episodes of Law and Order. In my experience, the brash comments usually come out of a concern for newbies.

“Get out of the way!”

“What are you doing?”

“You’re dancing like that?”

You’re a stranger in their land. They expect you to follow their ways and are quick to whip you into shape. At times, it’s unexpected and aggressive.

It’s really unlike any place else. Yet I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

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