In-N-Out vs. Whataburger: Toeing the Political Line

burgers

It’s an election year. Things are about to get rough, guys. If you think the country is divided now, give it another five months. The political and social issues we’re being faced with are too pressing for any of us to ignore, and shouting and sarcasm are a lot easier than discourse.

No one is completely right in just about any situation, hence, you know, democracy. The scary part about politics is that certain things are definitely wrong, in a moral sense. The fight against such wrongful things are worth the effort, frustration, and perhaps persecution you might face from strangers or friends.

But there are two kinds of fights. The fight to eliminate what you consider to be morally corrupt is one of them. The other is the fight to be right about something because of a growing distaste for those you consider to be wrong about that same thing. The latter shouldn’t be as common as the former, but it probably is. Even worse, it might be just as exhausting, infuriating, and derisive. When someone disagrees with you passionately about something you truly feel to be true, anger is the most immediate and overwhelming emotional reaction.

And so, hamburgers. 

Whataburger vs. In-N-Out

Friendships have likely been pushed near the brink of destruction. Over what? Two establishments that serve food so delicious that maintaining the optimistic nature required to accept that we live in a world where they both exist goes against the cynicism so deeply entrenched in our very beings. Instead of living in that world, we pose the question: Which is better?

There are only two. Some people might throw Five Guys into the conversation. Personally, I would disagree with those people, but for the sake of argument let’s say we’re exclusively dealing with restaurants where you can get a burger, fries, and a drink for less than $10. Perhaps Steak and Shake deserves an honorable mention, but I mean come on, we’re all adults here; they’re fighting in a different weight class. You’ll get a lot of McDonalds defenders, and I don’t have much to say to those people besides a brief plea that they find some self-respect. You’re better than that. That’s the kind of blatant disregard for values and general safety analogous to thinking a hateful reality star should be the most powerful man in the world. 

There’s Whataburger, there’s In-N-Out, and there are a bunch of other chains fighting for third place. The anger towards one of these two is always rooted solely in a deep love for the other. 

As with most national debates, region bias is a big part of starting the conversation. In-N-Out might have the advantage in this regard. For centuries Americans have traveled West in hopes of treasures they’ve never before experienced. In-N-Out is a product of California and we associate it with palm trees, beach vacations, and generally relaxed vibes. If you live there, it’s a sense of pride. If you’re visiting it is required destination to mythologize about with less-traveled peers back home.

Whataburger exists only in the Southern regions of the United States, primarily Texas. Historically, the reputation of things that exist only in the South haven’t had the best track record. Southern Pride– towards anything– is generally off-putting to outsiders. For myself, growing up in Texas, I took for granted what Whataburger meant to me until I went to the midwest for four years of college. It was like giving up on a girlfriend before realizing how hard it would be to live without her. Luckily, she took me back.   

The reason I jumped back into her arms so graciously is because of the versatility. While In-N-Out’s menu has about six words on it, Whataburger has a nearly overwhelming abundance of quality options from a regular Whataburger with cheese to an A1 Thick and Hearty Burger to a Patty Melt to a Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich on Texas Toast. And that’s to say nothing of the breakfast. The beautiful, fresh, served from 11:00 pm until 11:00am breakfast. Fluffy eggs generously layered in taquitos with bacon and cheese. Flakey biscuits sandwiching honey butter chicken strips. Whataburger breakfast might not cure your worst hangover, but it will make you wonder why you ever turned to alcohol to drown your sorrows or celebrate your accomplishments in the first place when this was available as the alternative.

Such a selection isn’t available at In-N-Out, and I don’t want to hear about a secret menu. If you think ordering your fries “animal style” makes you unique then you need to develop a more interesting facet to your personality.

But this is about the burgers. It always was. And that’s where it gets tricky, because they are both delicious. I’ll admit that in terms of consistent excellence, In-N-Out might have the edge. I’ve probably had a burger from Whataburger that was 10 percent worse than its typical standard. In-N-Out has never wavered from burger to burger. It also has a signature sauce, but Whataburger typically has better cheese. Both have buns that begin the mouth-watering process pre-bite.

In recent years, In-N-Out has expanded to other regions including the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As a current Dallas resident I live where both restaurants are available to me. In other words, paradise. If you’re looking for a conclusion, this is the best I can do you: Burger to burger, it is a matter of taste, and location aside, will differ from person to person. HOWEVER, if I could only eat one for the rest of my life it would be Whataburger because of the variety of high standard selections. 

I believe that determination, while perhaps slightly biased by sentimentality, is totally reasonable and thought out to the point that you probably think I’m an insane person. Past verbal attempts at this discussion have ended in shouting. The above is proof that they didn’t have to. 

The emotions of being right usually come from proving someone else wrong, and all this does is entrench both sides in their beliefs for reasons that have little to do with logic. The topic never really matters when you hate the idea of disagreement. Look down your Chipotle Burrito towards a card carrying Qdoba fan and the rage will actually be visible. A round of fisticuffs will surely be penciled in directly following both participants’ food comas.  

If the other side of your argument leads to legitimate suffering or wrong-doing towards a person or people then the collateral emotions that come out of the debate are necessary. If not, maybe what you mean to be having is a conversation. 

-Jonny Auping

 

 

 

 

Star Wars, Spotlight, and Escapism as a Constant

I have yet to decide whether I’ll be eating Milk Duds or Sour Patch Kids while I watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters. The Venn Diagram of people who file W-9 forms and know which color (red) Sour Patch Kid has the best aftertaste is admittedly small, but that won’t really matter when I’m sitting in that theater. As soon as an attendant hands back my Star Wars ticket stub, I’m granted the luxury of leaving things like taxes, adulthood, and responsibility in the hallway.

Immediately, individual and collective problems are galaxies away from me.

Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s telling of how the Boston Globe uncovered atrocities in the Catholic Church, was probably the best film of 2015. I didn’t bring candy to my seat when I saw it in theaters. It didn’t occur to me, like how it wouldn’t occur to me to wear a basketball jersey to a job interview.

So I wonder: If we see The Force Awakens to escape reality does that mean we see Spotlight to come to terms with it?

Star Wars might be the most famous example of fantasy escapism in modern history. Its seventh installment comes at a time when there’s plenty to want to get away from. A radical terrorist group has the whole world living in fear. Mass shootings have become commonplace. A reality star who campaigns with hateful and offensive diatribes has a seemingly realistic chance of becoming the most powerful man in the world.

The Force Awakens sends us to two different worlds: the world of Star Wars where Jedi Knights fly spaceships and the world of nostalgia where we look back on a specific time and romanticize it for not being now. We’ll already know some characters and we’ll be introduced to new ones, and the story will go on for our sake. The Dark Side will once again materialize itself. The Force will apparently wake up.

We’re supposed to be offered escapes during the Christmas season. We’re allowed the comfort of knowing that Leia never forced Han to sell his old ride or his favorite vest. New creatures, droids, and villains will provide us with a sense of wonder. It’s up to J.J. Abrams to effectively nail the conflict and drama of the story, but even falling short of expectations would effectively spark thousands (millions?) of backseat filmmakers who deep down understand that, when it comes to a franchise like this, critiquing the product is ultimately part of the larger product being sold. All of these things are distractions, and don’t we deserve them?

Spotlight takes us back in time 12 years, but it only pulls us closer to the world’s problems. The movie follows the four-person “Spotlight” team of the Boston Globe in the entirety of their investigation of the Catholic Church. The film takes on the life and feel of the story as it develops; when the Spotlight team is trying to determine if Cathloic priests are abusing children it feels like a small movie that maybe you heard some good things about. When their focus shifts on trying to figure out how many Catholic priests are molesting children and how far the cover up reaches it suddenly feels like a colossal film, the type we might see a teaser trailer for 18 months before its release.

The stakes are high in Spotlight and every scene is pleading for its characters to expose real evil, perpetrated on innocent children. The story’s arc doesn’t have much to do with defeating evil. A victory comes from acknowledging it.

So, the question again: If we see The Force Awakens to escape, would we merely see Spotlight to become educated by attractive actors?

That notion might be giving us too much credit. It’s all the more relaxing to sit down in front of the new Star Wars movie with some popcorn, take a deep breath, and think about how we earned this two-hour break from reality after the year we’ve had. The truth is, though, that we spend almost every spare moment we have partaking in escapism. It’s why we go to bars, play or watch sports, read literature, glue ourselves to a Netflix screen, or go on vacation. Any time not spent trying to fix our problems (personal or societal) is spent trying to forget about them. 

On a recent Channel 33 podcast, Bill Simmons implied that the impact of the Boston Globe’s real life story on the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal was partially diminished in Boston, where Simmons was living at the time of the story, because it was published during the foundational moments of Tom Brady’s unlikely rise to superstardom as the New England Patriots’ quarterback. In theory, people talked about Brady instead of talking about child molestation. This might sound ridiculous, but it also sounds like escapism. It’s human nature, and it can be dangerous.

Oddly, this is also why we see Spotlight: for it’s entertainment value. Whether through superb acting or clever writing (usually both) every single scene contains high intensity, so much so that you might actually feel physically tired after the film.

Spotlight evokes an appreciation for the power of journalism and the determination of truth in the face of scandal. All of this is important, sure, but that importance doesn’t fluctuate when communicated in a bland or uninspiring way. We choose to watch a version of it told through Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams because, suddenly, it’s riveting. How it affects the way we look at the world once we step out is ancillary.

Star Wars, good or bad, will feel worth the hoopla of seeing it in theaters because it will take us so far away from where we are, if just for a few hours.

From beginning to end, Spotlight is a great movie, and ironically, in being such, is an escape. It keeps us close, though, and it invites us to bring our ideas and experiences into the theater with us. More importantly, it asks us to start acknowledging the things outside that theater.  

-Jonny Auping

 

 

Thanksgiving’s Most Overrated Foods

Thanksgiving. America’s favorite holiday that celebrates America’s favorite pastime–rapid consumption of calories. 

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving will always be burdened by two inconvenient truths:

  1. Everything you were taught about the first Thanksgiving is shit.
  2. Confining your entire extended family to one living room is shit.

With these truths in mind, the importance of the Thanksgiving meal itself multiplies. This is a holiday for eatin’, and your only goal is to ensure the eatin’ is good.

To ensure you don’t ruin Thanksgiving and possibly the entire dynamic of your family, I will happily bestow upon you my personal list of Thanksgiving’s most overrated foods:

Green Bean Casserole

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“Hey honey?”

“Yes dear?”

“You know what would really compliment these savory mashed potatoes, these rich, delicious pies?

“What’s that, honey?”

“The worst vegetable of all time, but we make it really fucking creamy for some reason and crumble up some stale Funyons on top”

I was not at the Thanksgiving dinner when green bean casserole was first added to the menu, but I am confident that’s how history’s darkest day played out.

I will never understand why green bean casserole has a roster spot on Team Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole is the worst. Green bean casserole told the teacher she forgot to collect the homework. Green bean casserole starts most of its sentences with “I’m not racist, but…”. Green bean casserole claps all the end of movies. Green bean casserole thinks Ben Carson has some good ideas.

Cranberry Sauce

cranberry-sauce

Does anyone actually eat cranberry sauce? I feel like cranberry sauce is placed on the table just for looks–a charming bowl of dark red mush, nothing more than a festive garnish.

When dinner is done, the turkey carcass is exposed, the mashed potatoes linger as starchy grains of sand, the bread basket is barren…and the cranberry sauce completely untouched. Actually, somehow there’s more cranberry sauce in the bowl than before. God felt SO bad for cranberry sauce, he made more imcuately appear in the bowl, hoping to get your attention–and you still ignored cranberry sauce. AND you ignored God.

Rolls

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Rolls are what you eat when you’re still hungry, but the only food left is the green bean casserole and the cranberry sauce God made.

Turkey

Cal-Seething-Nov-21-HandTurkey

You wait and wait for the mecca of the Thanksgiving meal to be served. The capital city of Thanksgiving Town. The Christmas of Thanksgiving dishes. Finally, your darling mother walks in the room, displaying a perfectly cooked turkey.

“I spent five hours basting this turkey, and it’s cooked to perfection”, your mother proudly claims, and you think, “cool mom I’ve done a lot of shit in my life too just set the bird down”.

 You take a few pieces of dark meat, a few pieces of light meat. You penetrate the turkey with your miniature trident, slowly lifting the meat into your mouth and introduce it to your hot, wet, single friend, “taste buds”.

And it tastes sooooo…..turkey-y.

It’s just turkey. You knew how it was going to taste, you eat turkey like once a week. And it’s alright I guess? It’s just turkey. It’s a  white meat that taste and looks an awful lot like chicken. It’s just turkey.

Sorry to ruin your holiday, but come on. It’s just turkey.

Flubber

Ugh mom stop serving Flubber at Thanksgiving nobody likes it why cant we be a normal family.

The Hypocrisy of Saying No

Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Seek Shelter In Makeshift Camps In Jordan

In 1909, a 26-year-old carpenter and his wife arrived in New York City as immigrants from a country that, 106 years later, is a topic of global debate. Shortly after their immigration from Syria to the United States, this couple had a daughter, and eventually, this daughter had a son, a son that become a comedian, and then an actor, starring in a wildly popular “show about nothing”.

In the 1950’s, a Syrian man fled the Middle East as political protests spiraled out of control. Seeking refuge from the turmoil, he traveled to the United States, eventually landing in Wisconsin. Here, he fell in love with a German-Swiss Catholic woman, and, eventually, this couple had a baby, a boy, a boy who grew into the man who made phones as smart as he was, who made computers accessible to all.

Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Jobs highlight our country’s collection of citizens whose family arrived via Syria. These individuals–all of them, not just the ones of fame and fortune–helped shape our country into what it is today.

To deny war-weary Syrian refugees access into our country is to deny the American narrative, to deny our country’s history and foundation–yet that is exactly what the governors of 20+ states and political leaders across the country have just done.

In addition to their astonishingly low levels of empathy, these are governors and statesmen that proudly declare their commitment to the ways of Christianity, though they are seemingly oblivious to the hypocrisy they foster by shutting the door on the needy and the helpless, an act that is a direct violation of the word of God.

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Indiana Christian governor Mike Pence, known Evangelical and purveyor of homophobia, a man already well-versed in religious hypocrisy, has requested state agencies cease all work currently being done to help settle Syrian refugees.

Cincinnati mayor John Cranley has made similar requests, despite being one month removed from a speech declaring his desire to make Cincinnati “the most immigrant-friendly city in the United States.” 

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and son of Indian immigrants, issued an executive order preventing Syrian refugees from being resettled in Louisiana.

As acts of terrorism plague Middle Eastern nations, I am reminded of the breed of terrorism currently plaguing our own nation–mass shootings, which continue to occur on a weekly basis, often by white people, always by males. These shootings occupy our headlines regularly, yet nobody stands up and declares every single white male a terrorist threat. Nobody declares the actions of the Dylan Roofs, the Adam Lanzas to be the acts of all white men–they acknowledge these individuals as anomalies, dark souls who desperately needed mental help. When it comes to Muslims, however, a group made up of over one billion people, we are so quick to claim that each practicing and non-practicing member of the religion is eyeing the extermination of our lives, our families, our nation.

Why are Muslims judged by the worst of their kind, while we judge our ourselves only by our best?

This is not a plea for tolerance towards ISIS or any fanatical group that uses a false guise of religion to purloin the gift of life. This is a plea for tolerance towards those who have suffered at the hands of this wretched hive of humans most frequently.

The Syrian refugees are not inherently evil—they are desperately attempting to elude those who are. Indifference towards their fight is its own brand of hate.

 

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”
– Elie Wiesel

 

 

Straight Outta Kauffman: How the Kansas City Royals Made Me a Cubs Fan

Stories For Sunday is lucky to have a guest post from Joe Valentine. Read it, share it, find him and tell him it’s good so that, maybe, you’ll see his stuff here again sooner than later. 

I knew my girlfriend, Linda, was a Kansas City Royals fan before we started dating; it’s one of the first things she tells people when she meets them for the first time. The George Brett pine tar incident and the ’85 playoff run were her bedtime stories, and she still complains about the decision not to re-sign Johnny Damon in 2000 (who even knew Johnny Damon played for the Royals?). So I knew even before she asked that we’d be taking the 10-hour overnight Megabus ride from Chicago to KC, to be there, amongst her people, when the Royals played Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants in 2014, even though we didn’t have tickets.

After an especially wild wildcard comeback, the team had gone on a tear, demolishing better-on-paper teams with a Murderer’s Row-like batting order, fearless small ball base running, and a lights-out bullpen that genuinely believed it could hold any team scoreless in innings 7-9, and often did, all the way through Game 6 of the World Series. Linda, who had, in years past, proclaimed, “If the Royals win the World Series, I will burn my own house to the ground,” could not miss their coronation or the celebration to follow.

In a bar in Kansas City’s Westport district, I watched Linda and her brother shed unabashed tears after Salvador Perez took a clunky, uncommitted hack at a high fastball in the bottom of the ninth inning, resulting in a routine popup that ended the most entertaining playoff run I’d witnessed. The 2014 Royals created a compelling Cinderella story, only it ended with Cinderella getting caught in the rain, splashed with muddy gutter water from a passing car, and then mugged on her walk home because her carriage had turned back into a pumpkin before she could leave the ball.

“It was ours,” Linda said. She was in pieces, and she wasn’t alone; it felt like the entire bar was weeping into Boulevard beers.

And then, over the next few weeks, those same sad fans seemed to come together to form a citywide group hug, like Whos after the Grinch stole their Christmas, both grateful to have had a chance to win it all and universally willing to live and die by the immediately created “unfinished business” tagline, simultaneously licking their wounds and licking their collective chops for the start of the 2015 season.

The next month, locally-owned Boulevard Brewery released a limited edition beer–“Crown Town”–to commemorate the Royals’ playoff run, and it had officially ceased to matter that they hadn’t won. Linda’s dad waited in line for multiple hours multiple times to make sure each of his children had a bottle. Linda’s family is a microcosm of a community in which Royals baseball matters. Like, really matters. It’s annoying until it’s inspiring. It’s corny until it’s enviable.

I remember feeling impacted by that passion: a genuine, authentic love for a game and a team. It stood in stark contrast to my own depleted interest in my hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, who had, in two decades, provided me with precious few incentives to continue expending effort on fandom. Until very recently, existing as a Cubs fan required a skin of cynicism, a laugh-at-yourself mentality, and an obligatory sheepish smile after proclaiming, “Next year will be our year.”

Sure, there were signs of life during seasons leading up to 2015: an ownership and management change, planned renovations to the dilapidated (though admittedly still endearing) Wrigley Field, whispers of mythically talented prospects panning out, including now-superstars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. My dad, after a lifetime in want, finally became a season ticket holder while I was living just a few blocks from Wrigley Field.

Still, requiring an excuse for your loyalty is taxing and, for me, the inevitable result of so much laughably poor baseball was that I simply stopped caring. I stopped investing energy into hope and expectation. Over a series of annual closet cleanouts, I donated all my Cubs shirts to Goodwill. In two seasons spent living within spitting distance of the stadium, I didn’t attend a single game. I stopped being a baseball fan.

Writing this, I realize that Cubs purists do exist (including my own cousin, a golf course greenskeeper who spends full days on a riding a lawnmower dreaming about the champagne he’ll pop when the Commissioner’s Trophy is finally ours), diehards who would label me a bandwagon fan. To them, I’d simply contend that sports are pain. God forbid I opt out of voluntary sadness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t remember the sheet of loose leaf I’d pinned to my bedroom wall and used to keep a running tally of Sammy Sosa’s 1998 home run count (innocently oblivious to the 40+ pounds of pure muscle that differentiated that version of Sammy from the guy in the rookie card I kept in a protective case and mounted on the same bedroom wall). It wasn’t that I threw away the Cubs hat I’d slept in for weeks during the summer of 2003, sweating and itching and afraid to take it off and jinx a streak. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss having something to talk about on the phone with my dad. It was just that sports are pain, and after I stopped blaming Steve Bartman for all my problems, after several seasons without a pulse, after an increasingly snide, hip young demographic had successfully overrun the Lakeview neighborhood where I lived, I tapped out.

Linda and I moved from Chicago to Kansas City in July, a change that coincided with a lot of really good baseball. Shortly after we moved, we bought $10 tickets (ludicrously inexpensive relative to the cost of living to which I’d been accustomed) to a packed Friday night game and, even in 95-degree heat, the energy of the Kauffman Stadium crowd was palpable. That night’s win saw the Royals extend their division lead to a comfortable 12 games.

Back in Chicago, a buzz was beginning to burgeon about the way that Brawny Man/Yukon Cornelius-hybrid Jake Arrieta was routinely making the NL’s best hitters look like beer league softball dads in the batter’s box, and about how the North Side had its own lights-out bullpen and a succession of swingers who were putting bat to ball seemingly on command.

Still, I maintained a practiced degree of ironic distance from the suddenly-fun-to-watch Cubs. Fandom requires vulnerability––as I’d witnessed firsthand after last year’s World Series––and I wasn’t ready to put myself back out there following the slow, miserable decline into irrelevance I’d experienced over the previous half-decade. Now that I lived in the Kansas City, a town so fully committed to its baseball team that it supports an entire industry of clever custom Royals-related t-shirt printers, I felt that if I were to commit myself to the Cubs and mean it, they’d better not embarrass me. If I were going to talk the talk, Kyle Schwarber had better walk the walk.

Then, on September 28th the Cubs played the Royals. As a result of my fringe fandom, I was unaware that the Giants’ loss two days prior had helped the Cubs secure a spot in the NL wildcard game and was still under the impression that a win mattered. I’d never taken so much as a controversial step onto Linda’s sacred turf before, and so after a routine groundout resulted in my yelling “Suck it, Lorenzo Cain!” and her throwing the remote at me, we finished watching the game from separate rooms. I couldn’t lose my Joker grin after Chris Denorfia’s pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning sealed the game, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time Cubs baseball had made me smile. It made Linda miserable, and that in and of itself made me happy, not because I find joy in my girlfriend’s sadness, but because she actually feels this stuff. The Cubs made her feel something, and I know that’s real.

The next day, my barber said to me, “The Cubs are the Royals of 2015.” Linda’s dad asked whether my dad could secure any extra tickets at Wrigley in the event of a Cubs/Royals World Series. A co-worker came by my desk to tell me, “Your Cubbies are looking good this year.” My Cubbies? In a town where baseball is talked about seriously, people were seriously talking about the Cubs, who finished the regular season with a better record than the Royals.

Jake Arrieta was terrifying and unstoppable in the wild card win over the Pirates. In a particularly satisfying Division Series, my Cubbies laid waste to a Cardinals team whose fans never resist an opportunity to stick up their noses at any mention of their division rivals to the north (If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, you’re a Cubs fan? Why?” in my four years at Saint Louis University, I’d be losing a lot less sleep over student loan debt). “The Royals of 2015” was looking more and more like an accurate prediction.

Inevitably, the Royals were the Royals of 2015. I mourned the sweep and elicited extra boo’s toward a Mets team onto whom I’d projected a totally unwarranted villainous persona as I sat in right field for all 14 innings of the Royals’ victory in Game 1 of the World Series. And on Sunday night, I put on a clever custom Kansas City t-shirt (the impeccably classy “Turn Your Head and Kauffman”) and jumped around amidst a champagne shower in the streets of Westport, showing up to work two full hours late the following morning wearing sunglasses and chugging Alka-Seltzer from a travel coffee mug.

In 2015, I enjoyed the MLB playoffs for the first time in a long time, maybe ever.

It felt good to watch every game, to have an opinion on every player. It felt good to realize that I still remember the rules, the strategies. It felt good to achieve what I’d recognized in Linda’s family, and perhaps what I’d coveted all along: a comfort in saying, “Next year will be our year,” totally non-ironically. It felt good to celebrate in a city that was so ready to celebrate, to take care of unfinished business. And it felt good to watch the Kansas City Royals absolutely dismantle the New York Mets, whom I’d grown to despise, because there’s only one kind of person who vilifies an opposing team: a fan.

Joe Valentine 

The Grantland Generation and the Lie We Chose To Believe

 Grantland tricked a lot of young people into becoming writers. I’m one of them. Call us the Grantland Generation.

Grantland launched the summer before my senior year of college. In short time, what they were trying to become—what they eventually became—was clear. They were good, thoughtful writing, focused on developing specific voices into diverse content. It would be romanticizing Grantland to say that providing those things filled a gaping hole in the market. Great, nuanced writing, about both sports and pop culture, existed before and after them at publications with similar goals.

What Grantland did was make that work appear mainstream, cool, sharable, and discussion worthy to not just the pretentious or unrealistically informed. Mickey Mouse was putting his backing behind Grantland, and a conglomerate of that size has an ability to legitimize a venture as industry simply by association. Writing—writing about things most young people already love—represented a sect of ESPN, that we chose to believe was equal to any other sect of ESPN, because why would we stop to think otherwise? To a tremendous amount of young writers, Grantland was massively influential in their decisions to call writing a career. That may seem silly to older generations of writers and readers because four years is barely even recent history, but to those of us in our twenties it’s the most informing and impressionable period of time imaginable.

What Grantland did for writers my age was create a similar construct to the one that made so many sports fans in the nineties and early 2000s (and even now) idolize Stuart Scott, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, and other SportsCenter anchors. They had dream jobs. Grantland came along and, all of a sudden, being a writer didn’t seem like the starving artist livelihood that being a painter or a poet appeared to be. Grantland had an office that ESPN paid for, and great writers hung out there. It created an ideological shift that cool, funny, serious, and weird writing was a career field. The Grantland Generation didn’t need to get a job at Grantland. We just assumed we’d get a job at a place-like-Grantland, because once you freelance enough, a Bill Simmons-type will notice you and you’ll become a specific voice for a much larger vehicle.

I was never published in Grantland, and that fact doesn’t bother me. I’m proud of the places where I’ve seen my work. I can say truthfully, that some of the writers whose names I’ve been published alongside are probably my greatest sources of satisfaction in my career. And working with some of my editors has been like taking free throw lessons from Steph Curry.

Sure, Grantland writers inspired and influenced my writing. I wouldn’t have chased down a story on Johnny Manziel’s hometown if I hadn’t studied the writing of Bryan Curtis. I wouldn’t have started a column called “Tuesdays With 2 Chainz” if Shea Serrano hadn’t made me laugh so much. I wouldn’t have reported on the world’s largest podcast conference if I hadn’t read Molly Lambert on the world’s largest porn conference. I wouldn’t have published joke emails to Ryan Gosling’s restaurant (and Justin Timberlake’s, and Mark Wahlburg’s) if Rembert Browne didn’t make me realize that being silly won’t make people discount your intelligence. I wouldn’t have learned how to write about basketball and make it sound like I’m talking about it with my friends if I hadn’t read Chris Ryan and Jason Concepcion.

But I had inspirations elsewhere, too, and there was incredible, versatile writing outside of Grantland. Too much to begin to name, in fact. Look around and you’ll find it, and love it. But Grantland convinced me, and countless other, that there was an industry to support the size of this writing community. It didn’t take much convincing. We believed it because we wanted to.

We’re writing now. Not at Grantland, but we’re writing, and it’s hard. Not just for the reasons it should be hard, that is, because writing anything is a painstaking, vulnerable task. No, it’s hard because not quite enough people care, and less pay.

Grantland’s death—more specifically, the way Grantland died—is first and foremost sad for the great writers who lost their jobs. But for the Grantland Generation, it was a punch to the stomach, because Grantland didn’t have enough financial support, and was so unimportant to ESPN that it could exist at 10:00 AM and be a memory at noon. I think a lot of us young writers liked to pretend that maybe every Grantland writer was making six figures while totally aware it was just a fantasy we used to justify the less-than-lucrative work we were doing ourselves. Now, we realize, the majority of those writers are not just unemployed, but now competing with us for jobs and space in a room we already could barely fit in.

To an older generation of writers, the demise of Grantland is surely just another reminder of the nature of a tough business with no guarantees. To us, to those that came into writing in a world where Grantland already existed, it’s a shattered illusion. It’s a look behind the curtain to see that the Land of Oz is actually controlled by Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.

So in a way, Grantland lied to us. Or maybe we just lied to ourselves. It doesn’t really matter.  Many of us, and perhaps some Grantland staffers, chose to see Simmons as an Ari Gold-like figure, running around town protecting his talent (a reference and analogy many writers would probably shudder at, but I have a feeling Simmons would appreciate). But that’s not how this industry works, and ESPN was never all in. Advertisers care less about Time On Site and more about clicks, which is a bad thing for anyone putting effort into each thought. 

So that mindset led many of us not to a career, but to a life of hoping that the most recent invoice comes through before rent’s due. But the reveal of the illusion doesn’t actually change anything except for our own realizations. The landscape isn’t all that different, but it feels more intimidating. The odds were always stacked against us, and some of us are just now realizing the gravity of that.

This came in a month stretch when I was having increased difficulty getting paid for what I considered good writing (as if it’s ever easy). My gut reaction to this, to all of this, is to write, and to write more than I already do, which will be no easy task. Even if that doesn’t make sense. Even if I don’t get paid or pieces go to waste, unpublished.

Trying to be one of many people contributing good, thoughtful writing out into the world isn’t a job just because I want it to be. You don’t just get health insurance because you write every single day.

But I’m going to keep doing it. I think a lot of other people just like me will too.

“You are meant to play the ball as it lies, a fact that may help to touch on your own objective approach to life.”

-Grantland Rice

Written by Jonny Auping

Draft Rides: Daily Fantasy Uber

The year is 2019. President Trump has successfully built a $140 billion wall at the border, but people desperate enough to pay $2,000, trust their lives in the hands of a “coyotaje,” and abandon everything except for the clothes on their back still try to flee to Mexico.

Draft Kings and Fan Duel are the only entities that are keeping the economy from collapsing on itself. Lives were ruined, bank accounts were depleted, and relationships were destroyed when Vice President Gronkowski infamously dropped the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LII, sending the millions of Americans who drafted him into economic desolateness. Somehow only Prime Minister Goodell knew not to draft him. Sadly, all forms of economic aid have been abolished, although each year Americans can still qualify for entry into one free Draft Kings or Fan Duel tournament when they enter the promo code “HANDOUT.”

But things are not as grim as they may appear, fellow Americans. While many of you have stopped trusting your money with Daily Fantasy Sports, there is now a new way to change your life for the better.

Daily Fantasy Uber.

Do you Uber every day? Do you know which Uber drivers can navigate from West Hollywood to Pasadena in record speed? Or which one will find the perfect spot to pick you up at Madison Square Garden after a Knicks game? Think you can put your knowledge on the line against other Uber experts?

With Draft Rides you don’t have to worry about suspended licenses or getting stuck rooting for one Uber driver all year long. There are no year-long commitments. It’s simple: Just enter a contest, pick your driver, and win big.

You can enter tournaments for 5-15 minute estimated rides, 15-30 minute estimated rides, 30 minutes to an hour estimated rides, or go big with our daily million-dollar hour-plus contests. Draft Rides will monitor your driver as they go to pick up their customer so you can keep track of where they rank.

The scoring can vary from contest to contest, but our most basic scoring is as follows:

-Driver arrives to desination 1/3 more efficiently than their estimated ride length= 75 points

-Cold water bottles offered to customers = 5 points

-Coconut water bottles offered to customers = 10 points

-Speeds through yellow light = 15 points

-Doesn’t leave for 10 minutes because their Uber app “is being weird” = -10 points

-Plays Taylor Swift = 5 points

-Talks about Taylor Swift = -5 points

-Provides AUX chord for customer to play their music = 10 points

-Murders customer = -74 points

-Smells good = 5 points

-Smells bad = -6 points

-Pitches customer his/her idea for a new app = -10 points

-Pitches customer his/her idea for a new app using the term “Uber but for…” = 15 points

-Is actually a Cash Cab = Between $25-$1,000

-Is actually a Taxi Cab Confession =5 very sad points

-Drives customer through fast food drive-thru = 25 points

-Has a DUI = -50 points

-Gets a DUI = -100 points

-Is former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders = 100 points

-Is former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee = -100 points

So that’s the basic scoring. Pretty simple. Sure, most of the people that set up the scoring and compete are Uber drivers themselves, but we don’t really understand how that’s a conflict of interest. So, act now and enter promo code “INSIDER” to get 5 dollars towards your next entry. 

Jonny Auping