Thursday, February 28, 2008

The 100 Coolest Things of 2007... 10 to 6 (and among other things, a McLachlan vs PM Dawn showdown)

“When you get married, things will slow down a little bit”… “When you get settled in your new home, life will slow down a little bit…” You’d think these things stand a chance of being true, but its lies, all lies.

The 10th Coolest Thing of 2007… Nikki Brown
Nikki and I have known each other for probably close to 8 years now, me having met her when she was an illegal high school student, and I was a Valleydale Baptist Church (a yet unnamed SBC fellowship) who kept my distance, lest I be named Brinks Part II. (old joke there)

Anyway, we hung out only in big circles and group outings, but in 2007, it was The Year of the Nikki. You could say it was Harry Potter who brought us together, as we bonded tightly over Harry and the like, especially in the days leading up to the release of “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows”. Beyond that, we just became… well, good friends.

Me and my friend Nikki.

She’s great, with a great big warm smile and a great spirit and heart.  She's awesome.  __________________________________

So, you might have heard that I have taken the management position of the Starbucks on 20th Street & University, in downtown Birmingham. It was offered to me a few days ago, though when I say “offered”, its not as if you can refuse a store when its presented to you. While not my ideal situation, notably because 1) its downtown, and I hate downtown, and 2)parking sucks, its still a great store. The team is top notch, and I’m not walking into a rehab situation, one where I have to rebuild the store—I just have to maintain it.

Sadly, though, I leave Starbucks Cahaba Heights. I take great pride in the fact that I’ve help build that team to what it is, truly one of the best teams in this area, even the state. The team is cohesive, the team is excited, the team is ready to be the best. You might have heard that Starbucks across the country shut down last night for three hours for training… there is a reason for that.

For a while, Starbucks said they were the best. They were better than anyone else, when it came to retail and coffee, and for a while, they were better than anyone else. Well, over time, Dunkin’ Donuts got better, McDonalds got better, retail grocery coffee got a little better and so on, and all the while, while Starbucks is saying “we’re better!”, they weren’t. We weren’t.

So we decided to do something about it. We decided to get better. So I led our team in three hours of intensive training on exactly how to pull a perfect shot of espresso, on exactly how to achieve the perfect foam in a pitcher of milk, and exactly how to make a perfect customer connection. There’s more to making a beverage than just pulling a shot and pouring in some milk—there’s adjusting the grind, there’s timing the shot, there’s utilizing the shot before it dies, there’s aerating the milk just right, there’s plunging the steam wand into the milk at just the right time, there’s looking the customer in the eyes, saying thank you, knowing their name, wishing them well, asking how they are doing… this is what we did last night for three hours.

So if you need a great Starbucks Experience, then head to Cahaba Heights, where we’ll make it right. And better. At least until next week… then head to University and 20th Street, where we’ll make it even better.

The 9th Coolest Thing of 2007… “Enchanted”
What a great flick. I mean, seriously. I was actually looking forward to it, the more I saw the previews, and this would be a win two-fold… first , the Lovely Steph Leann really, really wanted to see it, so by taking her, I would be a rock star. Secondly, the movie looks really funny, so while making her happy, I get to enjoy it too.

Narrated by Julie Andrews (natch), it starts out animated (and like the Disney princess movies, with a storybook opening) and shows us Princess Gisele doing the normal Disney Princess things, almost self-mocking really. She’s singing, the animals are responding to her, she’s waiting for her dearest love to come and find her, while the Prince is strong, cocky, riding a horse and singing about how great he is, and how he will find his love. Tricked by the evil Queen Narissa, Princess Gisele is pushed down a magical well, only to come out on the other side…

…in New York City. Enter the gorgeously hot Amy Adams, in full wedding dress, playing the live action Gisele, who is, of course, wonderfully confused. Enter Patrick Dempsey, playing the real life executive Robert, father of the precious Morgan, and fiancée of the almost as good looking Nancy, played by almost as good looking Idina Menzel—you may remember her from the movie “Rent”, though most of my readers probably haven’t seen “Rent” (Scotty Latta did say he could relate to the gender bending Angel, not necessarily Angel’s life, but the internal struggle within to be himself in a world that asks you to be someone else… hey, he said it, not me)

Look! A reason to put up a picture of Amy Adams! I'll take it!

Anyway, the Queen, a delicious Susan Sarandon, shows up, wreaks havoc, as does the Prince, a hilarious James Marsden. In one of the funniest scenes ever, the Prince is singing atop a bridge… he hops down onto the path, in mid-song, only to be run over by a bicycle race. I laughed for a long, long time. This is one of those great movies that I look forward to watching again and again, and has a real shot at being in the Dave100, the 2012 edition.

So, on my DirecTV tonight, after watching all the shows I needed to watch--Survivor, American Idol, Celebrity Apprentice--I came upstairs to blog a little. As I flipped on the tv, I was met with quite a quandry. On at the same time... "DieHard 2: Die Harder"... "The Rock"... "Independence Day"... all incredible guys movies, all with lots of explosions, all with great casts, all movies featured in the Dave100. What do you do?

I lobbyed. I watched "The Rock" the other day, since it was on, but you can't really watch this movie too many times. Ed Harris, David Morse, legendary actor Bokeem Woodbine, Nic Cage and of course, Sean Connery. Then, there's "Independence Day", with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. "Shut up about the fat lady, you're obsessed with fat ladies, just get us out of here!"

Ultimately, I decided on "DieHard 2: Die Harder", partly because it features Fred Thompson, and this was perhaps my grief over Thompson's loss in the presidential race.

Also, you can't go wrong with Bruce. Did you know that General Esperanza is from the fictional country of Valverde, the same fake country used in Ah-nald's "Commando"? The first "DieHard" was actually supposed to be a sequel to that movie. Who knew?

The 8th Coolest Thing of 2007... Dave Ramsey
Live from Financial Peace Plaza, its the Dave Ramsey Show, where debt is dumb, cash is king and the paid off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice. I am your host, and this is the best in talk radio, service oriented talk radio, talk radio that matters.

And yes, I did that all from memory. Its hard to listen three hours per day, and in fact, I can't remember when I listened to a whole three hour, same-day show, though getting it on podcasting allows me to listen to multiple shows at a time.

Dave's just the man, really. He was a millionaire by his mid-20s, went bankrupt because he didn't know how to use his money wisely, and started all over again, making smart decisions, saving, investing and NOT using credit cards. Now that Steph and I are pretty much one single payment away from being debt free--except for the house we just bought two weeks ago--its entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking to listen to the people who call in now.

People with thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and no concept of what to do with it. It kinda cracks me up to not only hear people who pull in $200K or more per year be completely saddled with so much debt, they are overdrawn at the bank, but also to hear Dave Ramsey say, simply, "You make 200 thousand dollars per year. I just can't feel sorry for you!"

Various websites and columns criticize his methods, including many that say "debt is not wrong!", and you know, debt may not be inherantly wrong. I mean, perhaps its okay to owe other people money. But he speaks to more than just debt... he speaks on how to handle your money. Its not so much paying off all your bills, its changing your habits and lifestyle so that when you get money, you make smart choices with it, and one day, yes, be completely debt free.

Just like you wouldn't take diet advice from a fat doctor, make sure your financial advise comes from someone with money, not broke people with fancy cars and 14 credit card statements per month.

What would it be like to not owe a single person or company one single thing? Of course, we'll always owe the power bill and water and cable and monthly utilities... but to have a thousand or more dollars per month that you previously dedicated to Chase Visa, to Discover, to Fannie Mae Student Loans, to Citi Card... now just used for whatever you want. Save. Retirement. Give some away. Save for that big screen tv and pay cash for it, so when you get it home, its yours.

The other day, I heard a guy call in who makes about $40,000 per year... and he had a $900 car payment per month. And all I could say is... "That's not me. Not anymore."

By the way, "DieHard 2: Die Harder" ended, and I managed to catch the end of "The Rock". Its worth it just to hear Nic Cage say, "That's how that s*%& works!!"

And, due to the coolness of DirecTV and satellite, even though I missed "Independence Day" on Encore a little while ago, its just coming on now on Encore West. The downside to DirecTV is that sometimes I'm roped into watching crap like "Deep Impact". And if ever you want to watch crap that involved Tea Leoni (a crappy actress), a list of B-grade actors (including Favreau, Ron Eldard, Dougray Scott and Leelee Sobieski given crappy roles), a comet hurling towards the Earth (a crappy plot outdone by "Armageddon") and Morgan Freeman (a cra... well, he's actually a really good actor, but he's alongside all the aforementioned crap), then "Deep Impact" is your crap.

Tonight, kicked off of Idol was The Yeager(meister), Alaina "The Gap", Robbie Carrico and Alex Andrea Lushington. I could've done without both Robbie and The Yeager(meister), though the latter had a cool nickname, but I liked both The Gap and Alex Andrea.

My favorite thus far? Brooke White. She's a very Carly Simon like singer, and I like Carly Simon quite a bit. KD Malloy is still the hottest, but I would probably buy a Brooke White cd before anyone else. That's not saying I'd buy a Brooke White cd, mind you.

Out of six seasons of American Idol, I own two Idol cds... the one from Pickles, and the one from McPhee. Both are not bad, really. I also have iTunes copies of Taylor Hicks' and Daughtry's cds, the former being not all that great, and the latter being really good. Oh, and Carrie Underwood's first cd is fabulous. Jason Roberts says that Clay Aiken's music is really good, but I just can't buy into it.

The Tie for the 6th Coolest Things of 2007... "How to Save a Life"/"Over My Head (cable car)" by The Fray
Every year, there seems to be a song that makes my top ten, as if its my favorite song of the year... perhaps years later, I still am enamored with it ("Black Horse & the Cherry Tree" by KT Tunstall, the 3rd coolest thing of 2006), and sometimes years later, I grow tired of it, and am not as taken by it as before ("Behind These Hazel Eyes" by Kelly Clarkson, who ranked 6th on 2005's coolest)

This year really is no different... both of these songs are magical, really, and I can't decide which ranks 7th and which ranks 6th, so I guess I'll just tie them at 6. The Fray is a Denver based band that has been around for a few years, and started out like most bands do... playing locally, trying to get radio play, releasing some self-titled EPs and such, and they worked their way up.

"Over My Head (cable car)" is just so darn singable. "I never knew... I never knew that everything was falling through..." is such a catchy tune, and now that you've read that, its in your head. On the other hand, "How to Save a Life" mostly caught fire because of play on "Grey's Anatomy", but also spent some time played in "Cold Case" and "One Tree Hill", and is also a fantastic tune.

Because of its media popularity, there are actually five videos to this song--the original, the Grey's Anatomy, the original redux, the September 11th version and the Katrina version.

Truly, it all comes down to the piano and vocals of the lead, Isaac Slade. I also remember Scotty Latta saying something on his old Rammer Jammer site about how much he liked The Fray, back before all this Fray momentum began. He always was a trendsetter.

What more can I say? I love these two songs. Tied for 6th on the Coolest Things of 2007.

Do I put newer songs on my favorite songs list? I used to. But not anymore. Blame that on Duncan Sheik.

I had this theory back in the day that any song had to be at least two years old before appearing on my mental Favorite Songs list. I figured that any song should be heard over and over to ensure that I don't get tired of it. This point was proved when "Barely Breathing" came out in 1996.

I loved that song. It was cool. Duncan Sheik and his guitar had this cool sound, this guitar rock sound and the song was just... well, awesome. I would turn it up when it came on the radio as I drove to Montgomery to work from Troy (I worked at The Disney Store in Monkeytown)... "I am barely breathing, I can't find the air, don't know who I'm kidding, imagining you care..."

My favorite song at that time? "I'd Die Without You" by P.M. Dawn, followed closely by "Piano in the Dark" by Brenda Russell and "Not the Only One" by Bonnie Raitt. I considered fast tracking Duncan to the top five, but decided to wait. I was never one of those people who had a different "favorite song" every week, so I refused to make "Barely Breathing" a favorite song after being out only a few months.

And I was right. Within a year, I tired of the song. Quickly. It just got old, fast. Even ten years later, it's just so-so for me, one that I might keep on if I can't find anything else. So, still, sixteen years after it came out, "I'd Die Without You" still holds my top spot... but just barely.

Over the years, Sarah McLachlan's "Possession" has gained much ground, working its way to the top to not only equal P.M. Dawn's superb song from "Boomerang", but in some ways surpass it. Still, Brenda Russell stays in 3rd, Bonnie Raitt in 4th, and "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears is in 5th, but that #1 spot is a toss up.

Its time to take a stand and make a decision. What should it be? In one corner, from the album "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy", its "Possession" by Sarah McLachlan, currently at #2, having been there for about 8 years. In the other corner, Dave's #1 song, ever, having held that spot since August of 1992, for over 800 weeks, 15 years, P.M. Dawn's "I'd Die Without You"

Follow the links. Listen to them both. What do you think?

Man, that felt good to get that off my chest.

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