Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pepsi Throwback - the sequel!

I don't drink Pepsi. But I made an exception for last year's Pepsi Throwback, the real sugar original formula stuff that they only produced for a limited time.

It's back! And in a different can!

I found it at Target, of all places, in Valley Stream, NY. It was amazing last time how many people were finding my blog in Google searches for where they could buy this stuff. Why doesn't Pepsi just make this their regular drink? I'd buy it all the time and I'll bet a lot of other people who never drink Pepsi would too.

I'm not gonna talk too much about the taste, because I did that in my earlier post about it last year. But if you're wondering, it tastes like a cleaner, lighter, less aftertastey version of Pepsi - basically more like what a cola should taste like. UPDATE: I finally did an actual A/B taste test with a can of regular Pepsi and a Pepsi Throwback, and I'm happy to say that the taste difference is definitely real and not imagined. The aftertaste difference is huge.

Even though I'm a child of the 70's and 80's, I wasn't a fan of the new Throwback can originally, which is based on the can of that era. In fact, from what I remember (and can find in Google searches), it's almost exactly the same as the design on the old-style heavier metal cans from my youth, just printed on a newer-style aluminum can.

But as I sit with one next to me here (a finished can that I'm too lazy to get up and dump in the trash), it's starting to grow on me again. It's a strong-looking can. Iconic. Familiar. The regular, modern Pepsi can? Garbage. Each successive re-branding has been worse than the last. Pepsi should go back to this design - it is unmistakable in a store. I spotted the case at Target - one of only two left, I might add - from the opposite end of the aisle. The regular Pepsi surrounding it was just a sea of blue store-brand looking stuff.

Here are both of the Throwback cans side by side. I'm actually a fan of the first run can too, even if it does use the current Pepsi font for the "throwback" and even if the can is blue. But that's what that font should be used for - a subtitle, not a main logo. (I find it interesting that Pepsi switched the verbiage from "natural" sugar to "real" sugar - I wonder if there's any significance to that.) I did like the 1950's logo used in an updated form like that - I thought it was an example of what a modern Pepsi can could have looked like if the company hadn't completely eschewed either its roots or any sort of logic.

I've also been looking for Mountain Dew Throwback, which I understand tastes even more different from the modern version than Pepsi Throwback does. But I haven't found it yet. Probably a regional thing - Mountain Dew's a lot more popular in the south, so that's probably where all the Throwback goes. Oh well.

2ND UPDATE: Mountain Dew Throwback found! At the same Target in Long Island. How's it taste? Like it did when I was a kid... when it was my favorite soda. I always thought I just grew out of it, but no, it really changed. The regular modern stuff is very, very heavy and sweet. It's also neon yellow. They've amped up the syrup quantity per can, maybe in an attempt to mask the corn syrup aftertaste with other flavors. Throwback is surprisingly a lot lighter (in both taste and color). It's still very sweet, but it's a lot less offensive to those not looking for an "extreme" soda - which is what Mountain Dew has become. Mountain Dew Throwback just tastes like a really good, really flavorful citrus soda. Which is what it used to be.

Pepsi really needs to make this regular Pepsi and Mountain Dew (cans and all), and just ditch the current stuff.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

About that Rockstar post...

2 1/2 years ago, I wrote a little post about my time at Rockstar Games. It set off a shitstorm of controversy for a little while (including articles in Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal), along with around 250,000 page views on my blog in the span of 36 hours. I still get lots of email about it - mostly asking where it went. A couple days ago, apparently a group of Rockstar San Diego spouses released their own "open letter" expressing similar sentiments about the working conditions there, and a bunch of sites started linking to my now-defunct post on the internet archive. And people started commenting on it again around the net, in the often ill-informed way that internet commenters do. And the volume of emails I've been getting about it started going back up. So maybe it's time for a little followup.

Anyway, that's already one answer down - that's where you can read it. I'm not going to link to it directly because I don't need to be giving it any more link juice. But go ahead and search the internet archive if you want.

I've answered most of the other questions people regularly ask in various other places, but I guess I may as well gather them all here so I can just start pushing out this link in response to any further emails I get.

Q: Are you the "former Rockstar NYC staffer" mentioned in this MTV news story?

A: No, and I don't know who it is either. I was not the only one who felt the way I did about working at Rockstar, so there are probably a lot of people who would give quotes like that if you asked them. But I don't even know what the hell the "Eye of Sauron" is, so that's definitely not something I would say.

I haven't done any interviews about this, so nothing you see attributed to anonymous sources is coming from me.

Q: Why did you take the post down, and why so long after the fact?

A: I left the post up through the initial rush because it was getting a lot of media attention and I didn't want to look like I was bowing to pressure. (Actually, I was not under any - nobody in any position of power at Rockstar or Take-2 ever contacted me, probably because they knew that everything I said in the post was true.) But the thought did cross my mind to take it down as early as the hour that I posted it, when I saw the links starting to come in. It was a little scary how fast it all happened.

Approximately 2 months after I posted it, when things had calmed down a bit, I checked my site stats as I often do and I noticed something that freaked me out a little bit. Somebody from within Rockstar was systematically clicking the links to my post from every story that had been written about it all over the internet. And they were doing it repeatedly. It was like they were gathering evidence. The particular pattern of what they were doing, combined with it being so long after the post had gone up, scared me. I took the post down, knowing that it was probably much too late if any legal action was coming, but I just didn't see any real need to keep it up any longer anyway - I figured everybody who I actually wanted to read it had by then.

Q: Why did you write it to begin with?

A: For personal reasons, really. I like to write and it was a subject that just seemed like it'd make a good blog post. I wasn't trying to make a big news story out of it, and I sure as hell didn't do it for profit. Not that I think there'd have been anything wrong with that if I had.

Q: Did the legal action you feared ever come?

A: No, though I suppose there's nothing preventing it even now if they wanted to be real dicks about it. I don't believe there's any basis for legal action - everything I said was true. There was no slander or libel. I was very careful about that. A lot of my former co-workers said I didn't go far enough. Re-reading the post now, I actually think that even the opinions were pretty balanced, and no facts were incorrect or invented. But you know, companies sue people all the time just to be assholes. So I still worry a little.

Q: Do you regret writing it?

A: No. It was an interesting experience, afterwards. That's what life's about.

Q: How did it "blow up" the way it did? Do you know how it spread?

A: I'll just say that it originated within Rockstar.

Q: Have you talked to the Housers, Terry Donovan, or any of the other directors at Rockstar since writing the post?

A: No, and I doubt I will. But Sam Houser did say some things about me and my post in the Wall Street Journal article, so he was obviously among the many Rockstar employees who I saw in my site stats reading it.

I don't honestly have any bad feelings towards them personally. In fact, I'm sure they're fun guys to hang out and get drunk with. They always reminded me of my rowdier college roommates.

And no, I don't know where any of them are today or how to contact them, including JG.

Q: Have you talked to anyone else you worked with at Rockstar since writing the post?

A: Yes, all the time. We grunts all stick together :) Most of us have gone on to bigger and better things. Several of us now own our own businesses.

Q: Has Rockstar or Take-2 ever contacted you in any official capacity about the post?

A: Never. Maybe the last part of my post taught them something they'd forgotten.

Q: Do you know if anything has changed at Rockstar as a result of your post?

A: Nope.

Q: Do you regret working at Rockstar?

A: No, and I never said I did. I said I wished the company was managed better. Do you regret being an American just because you don't like the government?

Well, hopefully that covers it - those are the questions I've gotten just in the past few weeks.

Oh, and to answer a few of the dumber forum posts I've read - no, this was not my first job; yes, I am older and more experienced than you (in more ways than one); and no, most jobs are not like that one was. If you believe otherwise, be my guest and allow yourself to be a doormat for the rest of your life. See how far you get, how happy you are and how long you live.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Go CoCo!

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.



New York Ramen: Rai Rai Ken

Now this is a ramen shop.

New Yorkers have an odd idea of what a ramen place is supposed to be, which is not surprising I guess, in the same way that it's not surprising that the Japanese have an odd idea of what a pizzeria is supposed to be. Different cultures. But I wasn't too impressed with Ippudo or Setagaya, which are two of the trendier ramen places in the city (and also among the more expensive - surprise!), and which both serve food that's a little disappointing with an ambience that's hardly authentic. No doubt Ippudo is the most popular ramen place right now, and it's not that it's bad... but it's not like a real ramen shop.

Rai Rai Ken, which has apparently been around since before any of the trendy places opened, is like walking into Tokyo. Some people complain that it's small and cramped - which it is - but that's just part of what makes it real. It's one long wooden counter with stools, and barely enough space to sideways-walk by. One tip: do not sit at the counter to the left of the front door - there is no room to eat there! It's like eating in coach on an airplane.

Both times I've eaten at Rai Rai Ken, I've had the curry ramen. My last time there was the first time I've ever finished an entire bowl of ramen, broth and all. I'm not sure those who haven't had real ramen understand how much food this is. It's approximately like eating an entire box of spaghetti, plus the water you cook it in and about eight meatballs.

So what makes Rai Rai Ken so good? Whereas Menchanko-tei has an overall fine balance of quality ingredients, Rai Rai Ken is almost all about the broth. Most ramen aficionados will tell you that the broth is the most important part. I agree that it is the most important individual ingredient. I still think Menchanko-tei's noodles are better, and their pork and vegetables are tastier and maybe a little fresher, but Rai Rai Ken has hands down the best ramen broth I have ever tasted - in New York or Tokyo. Now, the caveat there is that I've only had the curry ramen, but it was just a beautiful broth, even to look at. Such a rich color and thickness, and you can see just the right amount of melted pork fat forming a glistening layer on top. In terms of taste, none of the individual flavors of the pork or curry are lost, and there's just the right amount of spice. Yum! I can't stop eating it.

Rai Rai Ken also has great gyoza, which is another important measure of both the quality and authenticity of a ramen shop. (Ippudo doesn't even have gyoza, which I found unforgivable.) Rai Rai Ken's are obviously homemade and have a lot of vinegar and some kind of herb that I can't quite identify. They're a taste explosion. They're also served piping hot straight out of the frying pan, so do yourself a favor and let them cool down for a minute.

Go early or go late, because this place is jam packed at rush hours. We've gone at about 9PM both times and still had to wait for a seat. It's usually a pretty short wait - most people seem to know that you don't sit and chat at a real ramen shop - but be prepared to stand outside for at least a few minutes. And don't forget to pick up a point card when you're done!

Rai Rai Ken
214 E 10th St
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 477-7030

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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