Going Visiting

Throwing it back to 2014 when the homie Jean-Paul came to visit me in California.

On any given Saturday or Sunday when I was a young boy who counted his age in single digits and fractions, my father would pile me and my mother in the car and take us to visit a relative I had no idea how we were related to. “We’re going to go see [insert Aunt and Uncle here].” A phone call may or may not have preceded one of these jaunts over hill and dale to some nondescript house on the outskirts of Rochester in western New York in the 1970s. All I know is that anyone even close to my age usually made themselves scarce during these visits leaving me resigned to an afternoon of boredom rivaled only by Sunday evenings tormented by Lawrence Welk and the cast of 60 Minutes at my Aunt Carole’s house.

I’m not talking about those regular visits to my dad’s aforementioned sister’s house in Scottsville or to my grandmother’s brother Bob’s house in Henrietta. I had seven cousins in reasonable proximity to my age to play with during those house calls. And I am not talking about visits to see children, parents, or grandparents living out of state. No, I am talking about the random excursions to see people my parents barely knew.

The family tree had no meaning for me then. I’ve become the keeper of it now even though I was adopted and have since discovered some of my biological relatives. My father was bloody awful when it came to explaining how you were related to anyone, and if he did explain it, I have long forgotten those genealogy lessons. My mom was Korean, so there was no tree to explore there at the time, at least not one that had any names. I know now how I was related to the people we schlepped to see even though the memories all blur together in a malaise of uncomfortable furniture, unfriendly dogs, and candy dishes filled to the brim with dusty “mints” that chewed like antacids and tasted like stale toothpaste they don’t make anymore.

If you spend any time on social media, Facebook, in particular, you’ll see that there is a movement afoot among younger generations to disavow toxic relatives, eschew societal and familial norms, and create their own versions of what they define as “family.” Gone are the days of accepting people just because you’re related to them and chalking up their bad or toxic behavior to idiosyncrasies and eccentricities and waving them away. Younger people are more independent and left to their own devices and proclivities these days whereas my generation didn’t have a choice.

Made it a point to visit my cousin Judith who was living just outside of London at the time during a trip to England in 2014.

[This blog has some great statistics on the practice of visiting relatives: https://www.areavibes.com/library/visiting-family/]

As the decades have passed, fewer people attend church on Sunday, kids are busier than ever with sports and other extracurricular activities. We thought we were go-go-go in the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s kids don’t have time to sit down for five minutes and then it’s off to soccer, baseball, martial arts, and God knows what else (if they’re not strapped to a gaming chair for hours on end). My generation, Gen X, is the “whatever” generation. Hell, half the time when some news organization makes a graphic or a meme surfaces discussing the major living generations, Gen X is left off, and we’re okay with that. But we’re also the generation that got dragged to see these random relations and the generation of we’re not gonna do what our parents used to make us do.

All of these things got me thinking. Does anyone go “visiting” anymore? And again, I am not talking about your annual Turkey Bowl with the usual suspects on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve at grandma and grandpa’s, I’m talking about the impromptu trips to the far-flung twigs of the family tree. Before I could go off half-cocked on this topic like I did when I erroneously reported the premature death of the American picnic, I thought I would do some actual research. I had a long Facebook messenger talk with my cousin Brenna who is in her early 20s, and I threw the question out to a Gen X group I belong to on Facebook. The answers I got back surprised me. They were all over the place, as individual as the people who answered my query.

Some people had become the ones who received visitors, some still went visiting as they did as children, for others the practice died when certain relatives did, some said their loved ones lived too far away or that they had moved too far away, some became antisocial hermits in their old age, while still others held fast to seeing the same folks every year for the holidays. Some are just too busy. As for Brenna … she is split down the middle between two schools of thought.

“I have such strong family values and going to see family still is really important to me. I always loved when family came over or when we went to go see family growing up, so when I got older and was able to drive myself places I was SO excited to go see my grandparents and meet my cousins and aunts/uncles for lunch/dinner/coffee and such. They would ALWAYS make a comment about how I’m the only grandchild that visits,” Brenna said. “I’m very much at a point where I don’t go to family functions that I don’t want to. If a specific person is too toxic or something and I know I won’t enjoy the event I’ll just skip it.”

Before leaving California we visited family friend Rita on a regular basis.

I had really thought the practice was dead. I guess I was wrong. Maybe because I left home at 18 and haven’t really spent much time in my hometown since, maybe because as a kid I hated those car trips and boring, lazy weekend afternoons playing with my own toys on some musty old throw rug while listening to my parents swap stories with relatives they hadn’t seen since the last funeral, maybe because I thought I couldn’t be the only member of my generation who felt this way, it had to be an extinct facet of family life.

I had another thought while I was contemplating all of this. What about those of us who left and really never went back, not in any meaningful way anyway? I think it’s a longer discussion, but what I will say is if you ever do leave home, don’t expect anyone other than your immediate family, and a few very close friends, to ever come to visit. You find out very quickly how much you actually mean to people when you relocate a significant distance from your hometown. It’s a strange phenomenon. You are always expected to go home. But when you invite people from home to come to visit, the dog seems to have eaten their homework. I was fortunate to travel for work for the better part of 20 years and I had the opportunity to meet up with cousins and friends in cities across the country. And as an only child, and as I get older, my very tight circle of friends is more family now. But, when I had the chance to go to London in 2014, I made it point to visit my cousin Judith.

Thomas Wolfe famously titled a novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, and there seems to be more than a modicum of truth to that, I have found that so much has changed in my hometown that it’s nothing like I remember in some regards, yet some things have remained eerily the same.

And that seems to be the case in many regards with my brief exploration into this topic. The more things change, the more they stay the same, meaning I’m sure there were just as many people 40 years ago who went visiting, those who didn’t, those who were made to, and those who weren’t. I just think fewer kids are dragged off to places they don’t want to go to see people they don’t know, and that’s okay by me.

Talking Sports, Entertainment, Inclusion, and Reminiscing About the Good Ol’ Days with Multimedia Producer Carlos Koustas

People are put in your path for a reason and everything happens for a reason – trite and cliche I know, but in this particular case, both things are true. Eighteen years ago I met a young videographer who just happened to be an injured college football player. He took an internship with me and what has followed is one of those lifelong friendships that bridges gaps in communication only such friendships can. He has gone on to become a successful producer in the comedy world and I couldn’t be more proud of my friend and former colleague. Please, if you will, listen as Carlos Koustas and I bridge one such communication gap.

Talking Digital Sports Journalism with My Oldest

My oldest son and digital multimedia sports journalist Will Turner joins me on this episode of the Get the Knaak podcast. Listen in as we chat about the crazy non-stop world of sports news, the disparity between men’s and women’s coverage, great voices in broadcasting, and much more. There are now six ways to listen to the Get the Knaak podcast: Audible, Amazon, SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play!

Chris Ingalls and I Present Our Own Hail and Farewell on the Latest Episode of the Get the Knaak Podcast

Check out the latest edition of the Get the Knaak podcast as my good friend and old Navy buddy Chris Ingalls and I offer our own Hail and Farewell to entertainers we’ve lost during the last 12 months, and discuss the state of TV, movies, books, and music, heading into the New Year!

Check out episodes you may have missed or see where else you can Get the Knaak.

Dr. Pepper Marketing Campaign Comes Full Circle

Okay, bear with me here. I love football, college and professional, always have and probably always will. I worked for an NFL team for 20 years. Part of the landscape of sports is advertising. It’s inescapable, it’s what keeps the lights on. I also love good storytelling, and an art form that has arisen in the last 20 years or so is the cinematic television series. No advertising campaign has captured both of these things as well as Dr. Pepper. Now, I am not a particular fan of the beverage myself. It’s an occasional treat. Sure, there might be a can or two of Diet Dr. Pepper in the fridge right now, but still, not my favorite, and I hardly touch pop anymore anyway.

Dr. Pepper was at the forefront of catchy advertising back in the 1970s with their “I’m a Pepper, you’re a Pepper” jingle-laden TV spots. Also in the 1970s and 1980s, Miller Lite capitalized on the popularity of beloved sports figures with their “Tastes Great, Less Filling” ad campaign featuring the likes of Hall of Fame Head Coach John Madden.

Fast-forward to the 2010s and college football. For decades, the NCAA, the media, and fans grappled with the lack of a playoff format to decide each season’s National Champion. The Bowl Championship Series replaced an arbitrary, somewhat biased, and subjective bowl and poll system, and the College Football Playoff superseded the BCS in 2014.

Enter Larry Culpepper.

As the NCAA was on the verge of adopting the College Football Playoff, Dr. Pepper introduced us to Larry Culpepper, an affable stadium soda salesman (played by James M. Connor), who claims to have invented the College Football Playoff. He even had a diagram drawn on a cocktail napkin as proof.

In 2018, Dr. Pepper “retired” Larry Culpepper and took us to a town called Fansville, a place enamored with all things college football, and of course, Dr. Pepper. There was only one problem, no Larry Culpepper. To say the new campaign was met with venom would be an understatement. I was one of those who did not like the new concept, and I thought they did Larry Culpepper dirty. For nearly five years, we had grown accustomed to Larry hawking Dr. Pepper and extolling the virtues of the National Championship-deciding formula he supposedly invented.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Even as the Fansville concept improved, I would still occasionally tweet at Dr. Pepper’s official account (as if I don’t have anything better to do) and ask where Larry Culpepper was and if they were going to bring him back. They’ve had plenty of opportunities and windows to do so.

As for Fansville, I didn’t care for it much at first. My initial reaction was something to the effect of, “What the hell is this?” But as the concept evolved and the storytelling took wing, I have grown to enjoy it quite a bit. There are core characters, comedy, drama, even a bit of science fiction and horror. It pokes fun at some serious topics and parodies life’s big moments, suburbia, rivalries, and sports tropes through the lens of a small college football town. Even Joe Theismann has lent his talents to the campaign. A mythos and lore have developed around Fansville. Yet, it’s been missing something. Larry Culpepper.

Each commercial is treated as a long-form commercial for a television show, and each commercial is a condensed version of said show. In one of the current season’s installments, there was a perfect opportunity to bring Larry back and it didn’t happen. As the commercials follow a TV show style and format, the latest is the “season finale” of Fansville, the characters struggled with their place in the universe, their own reality, and their fate in the dreaded “offseason.” Just before a moment of self-realization, the camera pulls back to reveal that Fansville exists, Krampus style, in a snowglobe. You see a hand, a Dr. Pepper visor, and a pair of sunglasses on a table next to the bauble. Larry Culpepper’s hand, sunglasses and visor.

It has taken quite a while for Dr. Pepper’s Fansville story arc to get to this point, four years to be exact, typical length of a college degree program perhaps. I don’t know if Dr. Peppper planned this all along or this is a nod to those of us who liked the Larry Culpepper character and didn’t care for his undeserved end. Just as Dos Equis ruined the Most Interesting Man in the World campaign, with a college football tie-in interestingly enough, they at least shot him into space. Larry Culpepper got no such send-off.

But I do know this, Fansville exists in Larry Culpepper’s snow globe, and however Dr. Pepper got there, this is pure marketing and advertising genius. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes now.

“Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too …”