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Walking Down The Street in New York – Revisited January 30, 2009

Posted by Robert in Humor, Not Political, Social Commentary, Travel.
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5 comments
Fools!  You should have left home earlier!

Fools! You should have left home earlier!

In one of the earlier posts on this blog, I made an attempt to give some helpful hints to would-be visitors of the fine city of New York, in order to make their trip here more enjoyable.

Specifically, I gave insight on how best to navigate the sidewalks and get to where you’re going without A: Killing Yourself and B: Pissing off the locals.

I felt that I covered the topic in a fair manner and hadn’t thought much about it since I had originally written it.  Then today I was emailed by wordpress and asked to approve a comment from a Fred Berkins in California.  This is the comment.

Dude,
one could also argue that if you are arriving late to work everyday (whether that be because of tourists or not), then you need to set off earlier.

As for the comparison to driving down the road, it’s not really the same is it. It is illegal to stop in the middle of the freeway, it’s not however illegal to stop in the middle of the sidewalk though.

So actually, it’s YOUR PROBLEM !

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Well said, or should I say right said, Fred.   Clearly the entire city of New York is simply late all the time and should really take a collective look at their morning routines.  Maybe self evaluation is the key to making the sidewalks of this city easier to navigate.

I also appreciate your keen ability to correctly identify flaws in logic.  You’re right, sidewalks are nothing like freeways.  People can stop walking on sidewalks without fear of being pulled over.  You might also notice that instead of people driving cars on sidewalk, as they would on the freeway, they prefer more humble methods of locomotion like sneakers or loafers.   Gosh, now that I think of it there’s no helpful lines pained on sidewalks either, as there are on highways to indicate lanes and such.

Boy, thank goodness you came along Fred.  For the first time in my life I’ve seen the folly of my ways.  I should really look inward to find my happiness.  I shouldn’t expect people to adapt to their surroundings.

Because you know what they say don’t ‘cha Fred?

When in Rome,  F%*k Rome.

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The Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama – A Political Odyssey January 21, 2009

Posted by Robert in inauguration, Music, Not Political, Politics, Travel.
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We woke well before dawn, determined to be on one of the first metro trains out of Silver Spring station.   Our plan was to get to the National Mall before 5am so that we could have great placement for the swearing in ceremony of our 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama.   We were on a mission, one we were determined to complete no matter what stood in our way.  And between the trains, people, gates, police, automobiles and the bitter cold,  it was clear very early in the day that this wasn’t going to be a walk in a national park.

Democracy gets up early.

Good Bloggers Never Sleep

The snags started almost as soon as our train pulled out of the station.   Our operator came over the PA system and pleaded with us to make sure that we didn’t block any of the doors on the DC Metro as the doors do not operate like elevator doors.  That is, they do not re-open completely if something gets in their way while closing.  They just open back up a tiny bit and then close again.  If someone repeatedly stops them from closing, the train has to be completely shut down and all passengers have to be off loaded and get on the next train.  Our operator informed us that the train directly before ours had to be off loaded because there were to many people holding the doors.   After a few minutes stopped on the tracks, he came back on and said that another train in front of us had to be off loaded as well, and we were going to be receiving all the passengers from both these trains.

Strap-hangers... or pole-grabbers as it were.

You can probably guess what happened next.   When we arrived at our next stop, not one person got off.  Instead about 3 times as many people as were already on the train attempted to board.  We were quickly filled to capacity but more still attempted to enter and proceeded to, you guessed it, block the doors.   This was the first time I realized that these strangers around us might actually be capable of getting a bit violent.  When the people who were blocking the doors refused to get off and wait till the next train, a few people shouted at them angrily.  One man said “If this train get shut down, i’m gonna knock you the (expletive deleted) out!”

Gladly, the doors did eventually close and the train began moving.  We arrived in DC a few minutes later, greeted by the most crowded station i’ve ever seen at 5 in the morning.    We made it through the throngs of people and up to the surface, greeted by the beautiful site of the Capital Building.

The Capital Before Dawn

It never even seemed like we made a conscious decisions as to which side of the capital to walk.  We just went to the right.  I now realize that the day could have turned out completely differently if we had chosen the other path.   In choosing the north side of The Mall as our entrance, we were told by several different police officers that they wouldn’t be opening the   gates into the mall until 7am.  We fount a large crowd of people waiting to walk through the tunnel onto the National Mall at 3rd and Indiana.

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So there we waited, convinced that we were in the perfect spot to get on the mall in a good spot.  Boy were we mistaken.  After 7am rolled around and nothing happened, people started getting antsy.   We should have been suspicious when we couldn’t get onto The Mall  as soon as we arrived.  Everything we read from the official inauguration webpages said that the mall was open at 4am.

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We stayed at that entrance until about 7:45, when we were told that they were going to begin letting people in 50 at a time.  By then there had to have been a crowd of at least 10,000 people and that might be a gross under-estimate.  After doing the math and getting almost trampled by people trying to leave the giant group of people, we decided to adjust our strategy and make our way to the south side of the National Mall.

It was a long walk around The Capital made longer by the fact that so many streets were closed to pedestrian traffic.   Then began the pattern of being told by the police that the entrance was only a few blocks away.  First it was 4th and Independence,  then 7th, then 10th, then 12th.  When we got to 14th and Independence things got very tight.  It’s a very unnerving feeling to  be on a public street that would under normal circumstances be completely open and airy and have that street become so crowded with humanity that you can only move by shuffling your feet.  Couple that with the collective desire of the entire crowd being only to get to a place where they can truly feel like they would bear witness to this historic event.    People were getting frustrated because the lack of information coming from those in uniform was surprising.  They began hoping over the barriers to the National Mall.  Some guards tried to stop them, but when there are thousands of people trying to get somewhere, there’s little you can do without coming off as overbearing. It was clear that Washington DC wanted to present an atmosphere of tight security that didn’t cross-over into something resembling marital law.

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The streets became so engorged with humanity that for a second I wondered if all this trouble was worth it if we were never even going to make it into The Mall.  That’s when the crowds finally opened up and we were for the first time all day, able to see people actually being able to enter The Mall freely.  People were literally running out of the crowded streets toward the Washington Monument.  It was a moving and surreal sight.

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No, you're not.

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We entered the mall over 5 hours after we had set foot in DC and immediately walked to the base of the Washington Monument.  We hung around there for a bit taking photos and marveling at the sheer number of people gathered.  It became clear that we weren’t going to get a great view of any of the large screens that had been set up, so we decided to move a little further towards the front of the World War 2 Memorial.  There we stayed for the length of the inauguration ceremony.

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There was plenty of love from our neighbor to the north.Many moments of the swearing in were particularly moving or memorable for me.

Any time that Barack, Michelle or either of their girls were shown on screen, the crowd would go wild.

When President Bush was mentioned or shown on the screens, the crowd would break into choruses of “Nah Nah Nah Nah. Nah Nah Nah Nah. Hey Hey Hey. Goodbye!” or “Hit The Road Jack.” Perhaps a tad juvenile yes, but still an incredible thing to witness.

Rick Warren’s invocation was heartfelt and moving in my opinion.  I was very curious to how the crowd would receive him as the decision to have him deliver the blessing was not met with overwhelming approval especially from the homosexual community.   But the crowd seemed cordial if not genuinely appreciative of his blessing.

But the main event did not disappoint.   President Obama’s oath of office was short, sweet and very moving.  Even if the secretary choose not to read the oath but recite if from memory.  The president paused several times because the secretary was incorrectly reciting the oath for him to repeat.  But it felt like a touch of imperfect humanity, something that has permeated throughout this campaign, thankfully.  It’s nice to know that  for a town that likes to take itself so seriously, events can still show their beautiful imperfections.

Obama’s speech came in at about 18 minutes.  It was very well received with the crowd, especially the parts about not sacrificing civil liberties for temporary safety or our standing as a world leader for   I’m paraphrasing of course, but it was all in there and it was nice to hear the words coming out the mouth of the president for once and not just those whom some would label as defeatist or apologist.   It really seemed like our leader’s ideals were in line with our own. At least it did for myself and those around me in The National Mall today.

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

Inaguration Week – Ben’s Chili Bowl – The Ultimate DC Expirience January 20, 2009

Posted by Robert in inauguration, Not Political, Travel.
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Well, after yesterday’s concert. We met up with friends in Silver Springs, MD and had a nice quiet evening.  After a nice long sleep-in, the discussion of what to do with our day.   Smithsonian?  Holocaust Museum? Monuments and Memorials?

No.

With the promise of spectacularly bad-for-you food and an adventure, we decided to travel to DC’s hip and happening U-Street for a bowl of the good stuff at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Barack and his family apparently get free food here for life (also, Bill Cosby). The walls around U Street were covered with some great street art.

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We arrived at Ben’s at about 3pm and were greeted by a line snaking out the front door and around the side of the building down an alley.   We asked a guy waiting in line right outside the front door how long he was waiting, and were told “about an hour and a half.”   A good follow up question should have been “Oh, and how long was the line when you started.”  But I didn’t think to ask that.

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The guy right behind us in line managed to score  actual tickets to the swearing in ceremony.  He traveled from Las Vegas by himself to attend.

While waiting in line, we were constantly being approached by various people selling memorabilia and collectibles emblazoned with the president-elect’s face.  Some of the more unique offerings included an Obama figurine that was also an air freshener and  a cd of some of Obama’s speeches over original house music.   Haunting indeed.  I couldn’t resist purchasing that one.   I’ll post some of the  better tracks later.  There were also plenty of police officers around.  Like, 10 guarding the outside of 1 Chili joint, so if you had any concern that they didn’t have enough security in DC, I think they have things covered.

We’re so close to the front of the line we can taste it.

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We finally made it into Ben’s after about 2 and a half hours outside.  My feet were frozen and by then it was dark out, but the atmosphere and aromas that permeated that place were well worth the wait.   The juke box was blasting old soul music and the entire staff was friendly and singing along to everything.   The guy at the door was doing a good job of keeping the line moving, and  the people behind the counter kept things going smoothly.   I ordered on large chili with cheddar to eat in, and  2 to go.   Those are coming back to Jersey for reverse engineering.

Even after all that waiting and my feet being so cold that I put my gloves on over my socks, it was so worth it.   We could have done anything today.  We probably could have hit plenty of sites in the 4 plus hours we spent waiting for and eating chili.  But somehow, it just fit the day.

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Thanks Ben’s.

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Yes, we can. Yes, we have. Yes, we will. November 5, 2008

Posted by Robert in Election 08, Not Political, Politics, Social Commentary.
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3 comments

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Congratulations to Barack Obama, the 44th President of The United State of America.   I had the privilege of watching the results from Rockefeller Plaza in Mid-town Manhattan.   It was absolutely packed to the gills with humanity.  Yes, it was overwhelmingly a Democratic and Pro-Obama crowd, but if you were there it seemed like more than that.  The word catharsis comes to mind.

Congratulations to John McCain, who ran a strong race and gave a moving and unifying concession speech.  He gave me hope that the John McCain that I grew to love and admire 4 years ago is still in there somewhere and will hopefully reemerge as a stalwart of the senate that all Americans can look to for a cool head and an honest opinion.   His party did not let him be himself during this election, but now that it’s over, I hope he goes back to answering only to himself.   That’s the McCain I loved.

Tonight, my wish was granted.  Now lets see if we, the American People, can stand up and answer my prayer.

In closing…

On The Eve of The Election: An American Prayer November 4, 2008

Posted by Robert in Election 08, Not Political, Politics, Social Commentary.
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3 comments

vote

Good Day America.   I write this post not as an amateur political pundit or an avid supporter of Senator Obama’s Candidacy or a wack-job, bed-wetting liberal.  Although I know that depending on who is reading this, you will inevitably group me into one of these 3 categories.

I write this as an American, in prayer.   Not a hypothetical “prayer” either.  An actual prayer that I will be praying tonight to the being that I call God.   The Catholic God of my childhood if you want details.   The same God that I’ve prayed to thousands of times before, be it the night before a spelling test in 3rd grade or for the recovery of an ailing loved-one or for a friend that I knew was going to be in harms way for a while.

I won’t be praying for the victory of a particular candidate,  God knows who I’d prefer to see win the Presidency and he knows that I feel very passionate about it (if you’re offended by my referring to the Judeo-Christian God as “He” my apologies.  Feel free to replace it with whatever 3rd person pronoun you prefer).  My prayer tonight will be for my country.  A country that I know will be in desperate need of some long overdue healing come Wednesday morning (at the very earliest).  My prayer will be very simple and very short.

Despite what you think about  the way this country has been handled in the days, months and years since George W. Bush was elected by electoral vote,  you would be hard pressed to point to a president that will leave office with a more divided country.    People are angry.  They are angry because they see a country that deem it unnecessary to provide equal and adequate health-care to all citizens.  They are angry because they see a country that allows women to terminate their pregnancies for reasons legally.   They are angry because to them, large sections of the country do not seem to have enough pride in our nation’s military.  They are angry because they see a country that is capable of rigging elections.

Whether or not any of these concerns are well-founded is up for debate.  What is not, is how bad this country needs to heal.   I don’t care if you live in Birmingham, Alabama or The Upper West Side of Manhattan Island,  you’ve undoubtedly overheard people talking about this election and what they plan on doing if the person they don’t want to win, wins.  You’ll hear everything from “I’m moving to Mexico” to “Well the Republicans/Democrats are already cheating so it doesn’t matter.”

I’ll be honest,  I am worried about what will happen to this country if Barack Obama loses.   I am in stark disagreement with Senator McCain on most issues and I haven’t exactly been vague in my criticism of his choice for his running-mate. To be brutally honest, she scares the ever-living hell out of me.   But what worries me more is the prospect that no matter which candidate wins, this country is going to continue to hate half (give or take) of itself.

Therefore, tonight I invite you whomever you are to join me.   Before you fall asleep tonight I hope that you will take a moment and say a prayer or wish upon a star or talk to yourself.   Just give a thought for this country and remember that even if the side you want to win doesn’t, that doesn’t mean this country is incapable of bettering itself.

In case you’re wondering, my prayer is only one word long.

Unity.

John McCain is old and blah blah blah… and HOLY CRAP THE PHILLIES ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!!! October 16, 2008

Posted by Robert in Not Political.
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2 comments
It will be a cold day in hell before I acknowledge the new logo.

It will be a cold day in hell before I acknowledge the new logo.

For the first time in 15 years the Phildadelphia Phillies are going to the World Series.  Those who know me, know that I gave my heart to the Yankees sometime in college after meeting a large man with a big forhead.  But I’ve never stopped loving the Phils and I am absolutely beside myself with happiness that they’re going to the Fall Classic.

My only worry is that Mitch Williams will find a way to ruin this again.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again.  God-damn Mitch Williams.

Empathy. Let’s all give it a try, shall we? September 9, 2008

Posted by Robert in Not Political, Social Commentary.
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I respect your right to be on fire. I myself, choose not to be.

I respect your right to be on fire. I myself, choose not to be.

I’m taking a break from political commentary for a post.   I’m sure you’d be upset if the stuff wasn’t coming at you from every corner of television, the Internet, radio and ‘gasp’ printed news outlets.  But I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking lately, and I wouldn’t be doing my URL justice if I didn’t take at least one post out of all these politically charged ramblings to speak some truth, or at least what I consider truth.

True thing the first: No matter what happens in November, a crap-ton of Americans are going to be mad.  Really mad.  Really, really mad.  Like so mad that many of them will consider (at least in empty statements uttered to equally mad friends) that they’re moving to another country because this one is broken.  People will be mad because they feel like they’ve already figured out the perfect way to run this country/planet and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.

True thing the second: Right now, you’ve inserted yourself in one of the two roles that I’ve just described.  You’ve either placed yourself in the role of the person who knows what is correct for this country, or you’ve placed yourself in the role of the person who feels the rest of the country is against you and somehow there is some confederacy stacked against you and those who agree with you.

True thing the third:  You are both those people.

Why then is it so hard for us to understand that there are other opinions out there besides our own?  Why do we seem to be completely unable to respect another persons right to disagree? Why must we fear different perspectives?

Simply put, we no longer seem to place any value on empathy.  It’s almost as if it has become a character flaw, like if you for a second try and empathize with a person or group who completely disagrees with your views, than somehow you’re betraying your beliefs.

We spend far to much time surrounding ourselves with people and things that reinforce the things that separate us.  If we’re fundamentalist Christians, we hang out with fundamentalist Christian people and attend fundamentalist Christian schools.  If we’re atheist, we spend our time surfing the internet looking for sites that reassure us that we’re on the right side of the ideology debate.  If you’re liberal, you read liberal blogs and listen to liberal pundits.  Conservative, you surround yourself with books offering unending “evidence” that can make you sleep easy at night knowing you’ve placed the correct label on yourself.

No matter what labels we choose, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that we come into as little contact with those who would disagree with us as possible.   But that begs the question, what is more important? Identifying yourself as a believer Or the belief?

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, only a right or wrong response when someone else gives a different answer.  That’s why your homework for this post is to sit, think, and acknowledge that you are both the person with all the answers and the person with all the opposite answers.  You are the liberal and the conservative.  The fundamentalist and the progressive.

That’s where the empathy comes in.  Murder, war and torture do not stem from conflicting beliefs. They stem from a cultural lack of empathy or, as I prefer to call it, extremism.  We’ve seen what the absence of empathy can do in every culture on the planet, from 9/11 to Darfur to Abu Ghraib Prison.  We’ve also been warned about this folly from every major religion and philosophy, from charity toward “the least” of your brothers to “The Golden Rule”.  These are not new ideas, they just seem to be the easiest to forget.

We must learn that to exist is to co-exist.  Or to put it another way…

Inconsiderate August 13, 2008

Posted by Robert in Not Political, Social Commentary, Travel.
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6 comments

Lady, this isn’t your living room. There are people on this train who would like a seat.

You stay classy, lady on the train with your shoes off.

Update: Yes, I did take this picture myself.  No, I did not ask her what her political affiliation was.  I won’t venture a guess because I’ve certainly met people capable of doing this on both sides of the spectrum.

Lessons for New York Tourists: Vol. 1 – Walking down the street. July 26, 2008

Posted by Robert in Humor, Not Political, Social Commentary, Travel.
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6 comments
Can you spot the tourists?

Can you spot the tourists?

Hello America.  It’s me, every single person who comes into Manhattan every day in order to conduct business and earn a living.  I wanted to take a moment out of my very busy day to welcome you to our city.   I know you’ve wanted to visit for a while now and I’m so thrilled that you picked today, the day that I’m running late for work, to do so.

In this post I’m going to offer you some friendly advice.  You see, we New Yorker’s aren’t as ruff around the edges as we are made out to be in Law and Order.  In fact, most of us have never killed our mistresses.   We know full well how important the tourism industry is to our fair city.  That’s why we’ve learned to co-exist with you, our inexperienced guests.

We do however have one request, get the hell out of our way when we’re walking down the sidewalk.   I’m serious.   There is no faster way to get one of us to cut you (we all carry blades) than to stop short and make us  adjust the velocity at which we are moving.  You see, we know exactly where we are going, we do it every day.   We understand that you probably do not.  We don’t care.  That happens to be your problem.  But it’s you’re lucky day, because I’m about to let you in on a technique that when followed, will make sure that you and your family can navigate the city and not piss any of us off.

It’s quite simple really.   Manhattan sidewalks work a lot like what you would call “roads” back in your neck of the woods.   As you’re walking, every time you wish to do something, just ask yourself “If I did this while driving in a car, would I piss the guy behind me off?”.   If the answer is yes,  chances are you’re going to anger the guy walking behind you.   For example, let’s say you’re driving 65 down the highway and you decide to stop abruptly and stare at something on the side of the road.   Well, that’s pretty much exactly what you’re doing when you stop right in the middle of the sidewalk in Manhattan.   At any given moment there could be a thousand people on the same block as you, and they all need to get somewhere.    Manhattan is such an easily navigable city because  it’s basically laid out in a grid and everyone walks briskly to get where they are going.   In fact, if it wasn’t for your tourists, the locals would move around so efficiently it would resemble something out of an Orwellian dystopia.  Only an AWESOME Orwellian dystopia, one where all the tourists are dead.

Anyway… I’m getting sidetracked.   What is the solution, you ask?  Keep moving or get out of the way.   We know that there are lots of shiny things in all the windows and we know you can’t tell if that’s 5th avenue or 7th you’re walking toward, but when you get there, you’ll know and you won’t have to turn strangers into enemies in order to find out.   If you do need to stop, just pretend you’re driving again.  Make your way to the right side of the sidewalk and stand next to the wall.   There you’re free to check your little map, look at the sneakers that you can’t buy back at home or even chat with the friendly punk rock homeless kid who’s sleeping next to a dog and is just trying to get a bus ticket back to Portland.   See, it’s that easy.   You get to explore the city at your leisure and I get to not hate you forever.   We both win… mostly me.

Some parting hints:

Streets in midtown Manhattan are mostly one way with a few exceptions.  If you’re walking with traffic down a one way odd numbered street (ex. 49th Street) the Avenue’s will go up in number (5th, 6th, 7th).  Obviously the opposite is true of  even numbered streets.

Broadway is not straight up and down.  I can’t tell you how many of you people can’t find Broadway because of this fact.  Broadway runs diagonally and looks like the slash key on your keyboard under the delete key.   It crosses 6th Avenue at 34th street.  Therefore if you need to get to Broadway and you’re on 6th avenue south of 34th street follow the traffic on an even number street, you’ll be walking east.  If you’re north of 34th street, follow the traffic on the odd numbered streets.

Never pay more than $1.50 for a street hot dog, $2 for a pretzel or knish, $4 for a gyro and $5 for a meat and rice platter.  Any more than that and you’re getting hosed.

I hope this little lesson has been helpful and condescending.  It was meant to be both.  Tune in for the next lesson where I teach you the art of using the damn subway without looking like an idiot.

If you wear one of these, we know you're a tourist.

Bonus Hint: If you wear one of these, we know you're a tourist.

The American Vampire League July 24, 2008

Posted by Robert in Not Political, Television.
Tags: , , , , ,
13 comments

I work in the exact center of mid-town Manhattan. Any given day I am offered leaflets or advertising postcards from no less than 10 people. Usually I do what any non tourist would do and ignore the sad sacks. After all, what could possibly be so interesting.

Well, today that changed. I don’t know if it was the engaging t-shirts the people were wearing or… wait, did here shirt say “Support the Vampire Rights Amendment”? Sure enough, the people were giving out postcards and buttons in support of an organization called the “American Vampire League”. Now the marketing guy in me was exited. “Did I get in on the ground floor for a new viral marketing campaign?”

Yep. Turns out the swag is a not so subtle marketing stunt for a new show on HBO. So far they have a few videos posted on YouTube and a Facebook group. I haven’t found out any details regarding the show itself, but the website linked at the bottom of this post is the supposed official site of the AVL.

I’m very excited about whatever show this is. I LOVE all things vampiric. My favorite movie is the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi and I’ve got a cherished original theater poster drawn by Edward Gorey of a run of the play in NYC in the 70s.

I’ll post more details when I can find them. For now, here are some pics of the swag.

UPDATE:

Well, I’m not quite on the ground floor as much as I thought.   Apparently the viral campaign has been going for a bit longer than I thought.   If you’ve seen any of the Tru-Blood commercials on TV, those are part of the same viral marketing campaign.  The campaign is for an HBO show called “True Blood”.  It premieres on September 7th and it’s from the guy that brought you “6 Feet Under”.   I now have very, very high hopes for this show.  I’ve posted a few more links to some of the related sites.

True Blood – HBO Official Site

Tru-Blood – Synthetic Blood Substitute

Blood Copy – Vampire News

American Vampire League

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