Jimmy Buffett, Cleveland, and the Promise of Utopia
Plus finding common ground with a stranger in El Paso
This post is from my newsletter The Crunchwrap. (Subscribe here. It’s free!)
Happy fake spring and welcome back to The Crunchwrap!
This week, we’re talking about kindness (sorta), digital stalking (sorta), and Crunchwraps (definitely). It’s March 28 — the 87th day of this nutso year, also known in some corners as Wiestmas because it’s Dianne Wiest’s birthday. (I don’t know this for a fact.)
I have to admit I’ve never really appreciated what Jimmy Buffett has brought to American culture. This might be influenced by the fact that someone I dated my sophomore year of high school made me a Jimmy Buffett mixtape to take with me on the March of the Living — a two-week educational trip around the Warsaw Ghetto and the death camps of Poland. The tape, long since lost to time, may have even kicked off with Buffett’s highly trayf-ish anthem Cheeseburger in Paradise. (Not exactly the best bus-ride-to-Majdanek music! But maybe that’s a story for another time.)
ANYWAY, this week, Nick Paumgarten went deep into the heart of Buffett darkness and wrote thousands of words (funny! touching! revelatory!) from one of the growing outposts of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities in the United States. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, in part because he really nails down the essence of Buffett fans (d.b.a. Parrotheads) as they settle into their golden years. If you never caught the NBC show 30 Rock’s parody of the Buffett life (Unwindulax), here’s a quick snapshot of it from Paumgarten’s dispatch:
Men with guitars set up outside someone’s garage, and the golf carts appear out of nowhere. Commence the beer pong. Pool parties, poker nights, talent shows, toga parties, pig roasts. Cigar-club meeting, group renewal of wedding vows, a pub crawl in old St. Augustine. Oktoberfest this fall had a “Gilligan’s Island” theme; “Hoodstock” was hippies, Fireball, and multicolored jello shots. The golf carts zip and swerve.
What struck me though were the themes of a paradise with unspoken codes, the elements of an offbeat utopia. And part of that fantasy generally means a life without politics. As the head of Margaritaville Holdings explained:
“It attracts people — and this may sound corny — who have a set of common values. Those values are rooted in this attitude. A person created that attitude. But whether or not you feel connected to that person, it’s not physics. It’s, ‘We’re interested in meeting other people. We like to have fun. We don’t want to be overly political. We like the idea of being happy.’”
Throughout the piece, there is this thread of aversion to real world complications. Yes, there are some people who break the politics protocol. And yes, as we find out, there are also consequences to this allergy to reality. But it’s almost relaxing by proxy to imagine that kind of community actually succeeding.
Speaking of which, Friend of the Crunch Kathy Gilsinan had a great dispatch from Cleveland for Politico on Friday about the far-reaching effort to turn “kindness” into a combination of local brand and public mandate for the city called Kindland. When reached for comment, however, several Clevelanders more or less said that the idea was stupid and naive. From the piece:
This kind of response underscores just how difficult it is in today’s America to find any “unifying national value,” even a local one, even one as basic as the “do unto others” stuff we all hopefully learned in kindergarten. As the Kindland initiative heads into its third year with a new advertising push and programming in two major school districts, I went to Cleveland to see if a “kind” city might become a laboratory for national healing, at least to some degree.
Check out the rest here.
Yesterday, before several intense things happened, an essay I wrote for Vox went live. The gist of it is that last April, a stranger in El Paso accidentally signed up for the Walgreens loyalty program using my email address and I’ve been getting emails about their purchases ever since.
Seeing their shopping lists (bologna, Marlboro Reds, blackberry wine, baby medicine) offered a unique window into the world outside my own, which was especially important during the more isolated days of the pandemic. I had a very good time writing it and I hope you’ll check it out!
For millions of college hoops fans, these are days of heartbreak with March Madness separating dozens of teams from their dreams of championship glory. (Hugs to all you St. Peter’s fans out there.)
This time of year, a lot of footage emerges of players in tears (graduating seniors in particular) explaining the camaraderie that develops when you play basketball for free with a group of your friends. In 2016, after his final game, Boston College center Dennis Clifford was asked what his favorite memory of playing college basketball would be, he broke down and said, Going out to eat.
It may seem like a weird answer, but it really hits at those small, trivial rituals that becoming meaningful after the grind of games and practices. The video is making the rounds again, so I thought I’d post it here:
Snack of the Week: The Breakfast Crunchwrap
This week, I was up and out in the world early enough to revisit one of my all-time favorite items (obviously): The Breakfast Crunchwrap from Taco Bell.
Eggs, hash browns, cheese, and either bacon or sausage or steak (or all/none of them), wrapped inside a lightly toasted tortilla, it’s the perfect vessel to sink your morning into a sodium-filled haze of bliss. If you haven’t tried it, I endorse it as well as the lunch/dinner/2 AM version with the highest possible marks.
That’s it for this week’s Crunchwrap! See you out there fam.