The boozification of Starbucks

January 13, 2018 § 1 Comment

Coffee didn’t used to be part of cycling. It had nothing to do with it, period. I remember being out on some ride in the middle of nowherecentraltexas with the Dicksons and Fields … you think anyone ever suggested stopping for a cup of coffee? Or an espresso? Water and a coke and a candy bar, let’s roll.

Fer fuggsake, we didn’t even know what espresso was. Coffee was bad tasting watery black shit that came in a big can called Folger’s and you drank it in the morning to wash out the taste of your hangover.

I still remember my first Starbucks, in an airport circa 1999. I had been in Japan for years and was making a brief trip back to the States, and I think it was in the DFW airport where I wandered up to the counter, attracted by the sign and the giant word “COFFEE.”

“Seems like a thing,” I thought. “What will those crazy Americans think of next?” I stared at the menu like a monkey perusing a calculus textbook. “May I help you?” the lady asked.

“A coffee, please.”

She waited. “Would you like an espresso drink, sir?”

“Sure,” I said.

She waited some more until it became clear I was lost. “How about a latte?”

“Uh, okay.”

“Tall, grande, or venti?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Shots, bigger is more shots.”

I thought about that for a minute. “Can I just get a small coffee? It’s too early for shots.”

She nodded and made me what I later learned was a Tall Drip. Small coffee = Tall drip. Got it.

When fancy coffee came to town

A few years ago I was riding with Marshall Perkins, who is about a hundred. He knows the history of cycling in SoCal better than anyone this side of Ted Ernst. “Marsh,” I said, “when did coffee come to LA cycling? Was it always a thing?”

“Nope,” he said. “I remember the first time we ever stopped for coffee on a bike ride was in the late 70’s. Before that no one drank coffee as part of biking. It was a little joint in Santa Monica, I think, made espressos, lattes. Then after a while it kind of became a thing.”

LA was years ahead of Texas, naturally.

Of course nowadays you can no more ride without coffee than you can ride without air in your tires. And I’m pretty okay with that, not being a fan of riding on flats. But yesterday after the Flog Ride we wandered into Starbucks to grab a quick cup and noticed that they had just rolled out a new campaign, “Blonde Espresso.”

I roast my own beans in a frying pan and I know that any bean that might be light enough to be mistaken for a blonde is gonna taste like shit. But for a marketing name, it was pretty good. It was supposed to make you think of … what?

When crafts collide, or the boozification of covfefe

It didn’t take much ogling to figure out what they were selling, and it wasn’t sex. They were selling booze, or rather they were selling the image of booze. The subliminal messaging was astounding: Blonde is a variety of craft beer as we all know, and then the ads said “straight-up” and showed the coffee being served in proper shot glasses.

Along the back wall all of the syrup flavors were arranged in bottles, just like the hard alcohol in a bar. And the coloring, black and yellow, was exactly like in a Miller Genuine Draft ad.

Of course it all makes sense. There are millions of people who get up in the morning and the hardest thing they will ever do is make it to 10:00 AM, when they have their first drink and all becomes right with the world. That’s how it is when you work 14-hour days, counting the days to retirement, working your ass off to pay for things you can’t enjoy because you’re working to pay for them, a slave to status and buy-buy-buy clickbait, leading to double-margarita lunches, nightcap dinners, and a bottle of Jim Beam in the worksleep cubicle. And I guess the boozified coffee makes it seem like you’re cheating the clock and getting a little nip at the very top of the morning. In fact, the imagery makes you want to add a splash of whiskey…all a coincidence, I’m sure.

I ordered a double blonde espresso, and it tasted good. Lots better than the usual motor oil flavor that Starbucks is famed for, but not nearly as good as the beer I used to love knocking back well before noon. I wasn’t sure what to think about the boozification, other than to acknowledge that the marketing was pretty slick. But I did end up ordering a second round. For old time’s sake.

END

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The eyes have it

January 12, 2018 Comments Off on The eyes have it

I finished racing Telo on Sunday, changed, and hopped in the car for the drive to Santa Barbara. A few days passed and I got ready to ride again and couldn’t find my riding glasses. “Have you seen my cycling glasses, honey?”

“No. You had them at Telo, though.”

“Probably in the back of the car somewhere.”

“I’ll run look,” she said, and she did, and she came back in a few minutes with my cycling glasses, all right, but the frame was split in half along the top. “You left them under the hatchback and they broke when you slammed it shut.”

These were my SPY Quanta prescription riding goggles, the best eyewear I have ever had. My eyes are very bad and you can’t ride a bike and survive for long at all if you can’t see, and see well. The Quanta was the first wide-screen frame that could accommodate my ridiculously thick prescription.

My awful eye history

I’ve had bad eyes ever since I was a little kid. I always used to fail the eye test in class because the school nurse thought I was “clowning.” She’d set up the chart with the big, giant, monstrously huge “E” at the top and all the little tilted ones getting smaller and smaller as you went down.

She’d call name. “Davidson!” and the class would titter because they knew what was coming as I did it every year.

“First line?” the nurse would say.

“I can’t see it,” I’d say, and the class would break out in howls as even a blind person could see that huge, giant, monstrous, whomping “E.”

I was a cut-up and made bad grades mostly because of my personality, but also because I could never see the blackboard or anything on it. I think I did pretty good, especially in math, considering that.

When I was thirteen we were driving along US 59 in Houston one Sunday on the way to a movie. In Texas every ten feet there is a 400-foot tall billboard along every freeway. “What does that say?” I asked my mom as we passed right in front of a sign so big you could have read the print on Mars.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, which everyone knew meant that I wasn’t serious at all.

But later at the movie my parents noticed for the first time that I was sitting on the front row like I had been doing since I was six. Afterwards my mom asked “Why were you down there on the front row?”

“I’m always on the front row,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I can’t see.”

The next day I was sitting in the office of Dr. James Key, ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. It was my first real eye test ever. I remember what a nice guy Dr. Key was, and how he had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Afterwards he said, “You don’t really see much of anything at all, do you?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“We will fix that,” he said. And he did.

The day I put on those first eyeglasses it was amazing. The world was so filled with sharply defined objects! The colors all had edges! You could read from a long way off! And I could figure out whether my shoelaces were untied without having to guess.

MMX to the rescue

From that day on, my cycling glasses became the most important article of clothing I owned, and many years later my SPY Quanta glasses were the gold standard for eyewear. If you rode with me even once since 2012 I was wearing those glasses, which were developed and designed by my friend Michael Marckx while he was the CEO at Spy Optic. He went on to develop some of the best cycling glasses ever made by anyone, anywhere, during his tenure, but none worked for me like the Quanta simply because it could handle my thick lenses and had a ridiculously wide field of vision that didn’t distort at the edges.

I stared at those poor broken frames and thought about all that we had been through together: Crossing continents, hitting the pavement, chewing through incredibly bad weather and rough roads … those were the cycling glasses that had kept my eyes safe and had kept the road in front of me focused and clear. All of those things were nice to reflect on but what really struck me was the incredible generosity of which I’d been the beneficiary, because Michael had given me those glasses with the prescription lenses as a gift.

In fact, he gave countless sets of glasses to friends and grifters, most of whom never bothered to say thanks or who thought that because they raced for an amazing masters team of 50+ grandfathers they were somehow entitled to expensive eyewear as they “promoted the brand,” i.e. wore the glasses. Unlike the traditional frames that Michael also designed, these were built to protect your eyes and your face. And that’s exactly what they did, more important to me than any wheel, any frame, any drivetrain, any bicycle outfit.

What was funny is that I never wanted the glasses in the first place because I had no idea how transformative a great set of frames could be. Oakley had just come out with a narrow, razor-band style of glasses that could hold my prescription but that provided almost zero width of vision; they were like looking out of a gun turret slit, and I’d shelled out almost $400 for them. I was dubious that these new glasses would be an improvement, as simply having prescription sunglasses was revolutionary for me. Until then I’d cycled in John Lennon frames, with every manner of grit and shit getting around the lens and into my eyes.

In fact, with those John Lennon specials, every couple of years I’d have to go to the eye doctor to get pieces of steel surgically removed from my cornea, tiny bits of grit and road detritus that got blown into and lodged into my eyeball surface. The Quantas took care of that once and for all.

But Michael is nothing if not persistent, and when the Quantas showed up and I put them on, well, everything really did look different. If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be wearing those crappy Oakleys because, cheap-ass. And of course I wondered how many other people had been the beneficiary of his largesse, how many other people with significant eye problems had found an amazing solution thanks to this and some of his other phenomenal designs.

As I wondered what I was going to do, I rummaged around in my Random Bike Shit Drawer, and there in the back was another pair of glasses. Quantas. Worn maybe twice. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket as I took them out and tried them on; perfect fit and perfect prescription.

Thanks, Michael.

Quanta cycling glasses

Cracked by the hatchback!

Quanta cycling glasses

Long and faithful, hardworking friends!

END

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Flat earth theory

January 11, 2018 Comments Off on Flat earth theory

My wife rides a road bike with flat pedals. It’s interesting to watch how people react to that. Rather, it’s interesting how reactions are so uniform.

“You need clipless pedals.”

“Why don’t you get some riding shoes?”

“You are losing so much power.”

“When are you going to ditch those flat pedals?”

“You’ll go so much faster with clip-in!”

And etc.

Most of the people who see fit to comment on her sad state of pedal affairs know that we are married and that I ride a bike a lot, so it’s kind of curious that they don’t run that through their filter, like this: “She’s got flat pedals, but she’s married to Seth so she probably knows about clip-in pedals, so there’s probably a reason …”

But no.

The reaction is uniform and knee-jerk: “Are you going to get clip-in pedals tomorrow? Or today?”

I wondered why people care which pedals she uses. The ostensible reason is that she will pedal more efficiently and therefore go faster. But that’s a bad explanation; the last thing that a new cyclist should do is go faster. New cyclists should go slower and learn to control the bike at lower speeds. Physics aren’t linear when you fall off your bike. Incremental increases of one or two mph result in much greater force when you fall off, and therefore greater injury. Telling beginners they need to go faster is like telling new drivers they need to go faster. Huh?

And from a psychological perspective, why would you want someone to go faster anyway? Doesn’t that mean they will beat you? You should want them on the worst equipment possible, in fact, eating nothing but peanut butter and ice cream five times a day.

The biggest reason people want you on clip-in pedals, I think, is because without clip-ins, you look like a Fred. This means two things: If you’re riding with me, and you’re a Fred, then I’m a Fred, too. Or it means that riding with you reminds me of when I was a Fred, and it’s a lot more comfortable to think I was born knowing how to drape myself coolly over a 100% carbon bike that is all carbon and made of pure carbon rather than to remember that, yeah, I used to not know anything, either, and I looked like it.

And of course in road cycling there’s the fashion element, where people instinctively shun those who are clearly unfashionable in an activity where the way you look is oh-so-important.

With regard to safety, everyone should start with flat pedals and most people should never leave them. On a road bike there are too many instances where taking your feet off the pedals will keep you from crashing. Anyone who thinks that you need clip-ins to climb well should have seen Josh Alverson or Stathis Sakellariadis shred the Donut Ride the times they rode it in sneakers.

And a bit of Internet reading confirms that the idea that clip-in pedals somehow yield huge improvements in pedaling power is not true. At best, the differences are negligible. Tellingly, the athlete in the power test confides that he still wants clip-ins because they help him when sprunting for peak power. Not sure that has any meaning at all for 99.999% of all people on bikes.

I’ve used both, but prefer clip-ins for a very particular reason.

And I’m not telling why. At least not today.

END

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

December 23, 2017 Comments Off on Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

There are lots of kinds of cyclists, but only two that matter: Those who can change their own flats and those who cannot.

Of course there is even a third kind, those who can mostly change their own flats but play hell changing the flats of others. I’m that kind. One time Tink and I spent an hour on the side of the road at the Glass Church while I tried to get her tire back on the rim. Another time I drove out to help Peg and Michelle fix a quadruple flat, and all I can say is that I’m glad I brought half a dozen tubes and a floor pump. My standard for pro tire changes is high; Gus Bayle, Jay LaPlante, Gerald Iacono, Kenny Lam … people who make the most devilish job in the word look like nothing at all.

Recently I have taken on a new training charge, my wife, and suffice it to say I am not a good teacher. Nor am I patient. However, she is very enthusiastic and has marked off every Friday from now until 2057 as our Coffee Ride Day. Today was one of those days, and it started off great.

Like most new riders she wants to ride every day, each day more than the day before, but unlike most new riders she has the Grinch That Stole Bikemas living at home (which is bad) and he is also riding with her (which is worse), so many of the pitfalls awaiting most newbies have a wooden stake driven through their heart and lungs immediately. The other day as she got ready to go out for her ride I growled “Don’t ride.”

“Why not? I planned it and have been looking forward to it all morning.”

“Don’t ride,” I said again, wondering what had been unclear about it the first time.

“Why?” she asked.

My first answer, “Because I said so,” got discarded in favor of something much more diplomatic. “You are tired and need to rest. Two days, no riding. Rest = Get stronger.”

She didn’t understand but took my advice, so when we started this morning she was peppier than pep. “I feel peppy!” she said.

“Ungh,” I grunted.

After a while we were going up the Monaco wall. It is horrible, long, steep, avoided by everyone, and no place for newbies. She had dropped back a ways so I circled around. “You okay?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said between deep gasps. “I feel peppy! Slow but peppy!”

And she did look peppy. And slow. At the top I suggested we stop for an ussie. That’s when I noticed her completely flat rear tire. “You know your tire’s flat?”

“It is? I thought I was just slow.”

“You were.”

“Can’t I make it home?” She had climbed the entire wall on the rim and we still had a long climb plus Whitley-Collins plus a bombing descent before we were home.

“Yes, but we’re not going to.”

“Are you going to fix the tire?”

“Yes,” I said. She got that glow of a damsel in distress about to be helped by a valiant knight-errant, and I started to feel less grouchy and semi-useful until I tried to get the tire off the rim. The tire was brand new and part of the Fuji Supreme she had bought from Performance Bicycle, and I suppose the “supreme” in the name referred to the “supremely tight” fit of the tire on the rim.

A close inspection revealed a tiny thorn that took forever to prize free with my fingernails, one of which cracked then snapped off. Then the work began with a flourish of my tire lever and a few well placed curses as the tire refused to peel away. It eventually came off, but I knew that this was simply the prelude, and getting it back on would be impossible. Half an hour later the tire was mounted. She looked at the massive puddle of sweat that had drained off my face onto the pavement. “Are you tired?” she asked.

“Sort of.”

“That looked a lot harder than when you were riding your bicycle.”

I didn’t say anything except “Fuck!” because as soon as I twisted the C02 canister, all the air leaked out of the pinch flat I’d created when I had remounted the tire with my lever.

“Let’s go!” she said happily. “But it doesn’t look any different.”

I shut up some more and pulled out my own spare tube. “Let’s try that again.”

“Are you doing it so I can practice? I don’t think I can do it. Look at all that blood on your hands.”

I kept on shutting up and got the tire mounted. Then there was that split second of fear where you wait to see if the air is going to come leaking out again. It didn’t and the tire inflated.

We rode home. “You are such a professional,” she said. “And you changed it so quickly!”

“Hmmmm,” I said.

 

 

 

END

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It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas

November 30, 2017 Comments Off on It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas means … new bike.

Christmas means … new wheels.

Christmas means … new carbon, all 100%, made of pure carbon.

Have you noticed that no one is reminding you how many shopping days are left until Christmas, though? Have you noticed that there’s hardly any Christmas music playing at the mall? That the eight reindeer of the Apocalypse and the jolly old elf are nowhere to be seen?

No tears here, that’s for sure. I’ve been a Grinch for years and would like nothing better than to go through November and December without being punished by Christmas sales and holly and jingle bells and Christmas culture. I haven’t entrusted my happiness to a non-existent, mythical elf for decades.

However, if you think that the extinction of Santa means that you won’t be mercilessly hassled to go buy even more 100% carbon, you’re wrong. And if you think that the sudden disappearance of the Santa pagan and his musical trappings is a result of some greater corporate sensitivity to the fact that we live in a diverse and multicultural and poly-religious society, well, you’d be wrong again.

You see, marketers woke up one day and realized that the worst thing they could possibly do was put a time limit on shopping, because although it stimulated a mad rush up to December 25, thereafter things got deader than a Fleetwood Mac concert after 8:00 PM. Wouldn’t it be better if the sheep could be trained to not simply spend more, but to spend longer?

Yes, it would!!

So they put some arsenic in the reindeer feed, took the old redcoated fellow out behind the sleigh shed and smothered him with a pillow, and got down to the real business of Christmas, which has always been business. Using Black Friday as the new secular holiday marker, following it with Black Friday Weekend and then by Cyber Monday, and then keeping the phrase “40% OFF!” going full bore (selected items only a/k/a Shit You Don’t Want), American retail has finally found the solution to the Christmas Conundrum of “How do we initiate a shopping orgy that starts way back at the end of October and doesn’t finish until February?”

The only bit of Christmas music I heard at the mall the other day was “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which I think was written and sung by Mozart.

Santa is dead. Long live Santa.

END

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Dancing in the dark

November 17, 2017 Comments Off on Dancing in the dark

Yesterday was new bike day, which is always a sad day for me. It’s sad because once again I have to admit that after decades of riding on numerous bikes, they all feel more or less the same.

No, that’s not right. They feel exactly the same.

Whenever I read about some dude who has hopped on the “new, improved 2018 model” of the Whateverbike, and about how it’s stiffier and turnier and snappier and peppier and sprintier and climbier and time-trialier and aeroier, and about how the dude figured all that out in a 30-minute test ride out in the parking lot, all I can do is look in the mirror and say, “Wanky, you are a bicycling failure in every regard.”

So new bike day is always a stinky disappointment, and yesterday was, too. I had reluctantly climbed off my Cannondale Super 6 Evo All Carbon Bike Made From 100% Carbon because I had ridden it for two years and Team Lizard Collectors had an amazing team deal on a new Fuji bike that was almost like getting it for free except for all the money I had to pay for it.

My old roommate in college, Robert Doty, used to have a maroon Fuji, and we rode all over Austin and San Marcos and his parents’ home in Paris (Texas), him on the Fuji and me on my Nishiki International. My brother Ian’s first road bike, and the bike that got me into cycling, was also a Fuji, a black one. So I had some history with Fuji and was really looking forward to the disappointment.

After I picked up the bike at Veloworx in Santa Monica I took the new Fuji and the old Cannondale over to my trusty mechanic, Boozy P., for a quick swap. Boozy P. has lately gotten out of the bike business, but he was home from work and allowed as he could do a bike build for me if I didn’t mind waiting around. I didn’t.

He got to work right away, which meant taking out a couple of tools, putting the Cannondale up on the stand to haul out its guts, and then cracking open a tall boy to get him through the rough spots. Pretty soon we got to talking about bike racing.

“Destroyer wants to do a Telo Sunday, starting in January,” he said.

“Telo’s been on Tuesday evenings for the last 30 years.”

“Yeah but the course is so busy now with cars and shit. Place is empty on Sunday, and ever since Norris moved off to a log cabin and quit the Wheatgrass, there’s no decent ride on Sunday. Plus if we do it on Sunday morning we can do it all year and don’t have to deal with the time change.”

So we talked about that for a while, and then talked about some other things for a while, and pretty soon the sun had gone down. Boozy P. isn’t fast, but he isn’t slow, either. He’s methodical. And a big part of his method is working through those tall boys, because from my vantage point in the grease-stained chair it looked like he was only about halfway done with the bike but 100% of the way done with half a dozen tall boys.

Every once in a while Boozy would drop a handful of small parts on the floor and they’d roll away, completely invisible in the inky darkness, but he has the night eyes of a cat I guess and he’d pick up most of them on the first stoop.

“What about the other ones?” I asked.

“I think I got ’em all. And if I didn’t we’ll find out later.”

After a while it was plain old night time. I could barely make him out, much less the black Fuji frame, but we kept on talking, and he kept on draining the tall boys until he finally said, “I think that’s got ‘er.”

“I’m scared to ride it,” I said. “You just put the danged bike together in the dark.”

“Nah,” he said. “There’s still plenty of light.”

I held my hand up in front of my face and couldn’t see anything. “Maybe,” I replied, “but not on this side of the globe.”

We went out into the parking lot, but it was so dark I couldn’t even test ride it. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “I can put these things together with my eyes closed.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, “because you just did.”

The next day I took out the new bike and the shifters shifted, the brakes braked, and the handlebars didn’t fall off. Boozy P. had put that bike together tighter than a Republican plan to cut taxes for corporations and raise them for poor people. But I was disappointed anyway. That ol’ bike wasn’t any different from my Cannondale.

END

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Sock it to me

October 23, 2017 § 37 Comments

The first time I met Diego, he must have been around fourteen. His dad Joe had brought him along on the Man Tour, a ridiculous odyssey of geezers riding five days from San Jose to Los Angeles, flatting, falling, complaining, getting indigestion, getting road rash, getting saddle sores, getting achy, and having the best time this side of a fresh box of Depends that we were ever going to have.

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Diego’s signature move each day was to collapse on a bed, unable to move, where he was essentially force-fed enough nutrients to make it through the next day. We were old and our prostrates were leaky, but we were still able to cover more ground faster and recover quicker than a little kid.

A couple of years passed and youth put age in its place as Diego became one of the fastest riders in SoCal, eventually landing a spot on the Hagens-Berman team and planning for a career in Europe. Along the way he became an Eagle Scout, because, you know, why not? More important than any community service or academic achievements, he also set the KOM on the Switchbacks here in Palos Verdes. Way, way more important.

After a brief stint in Belgium where the distance from home, poverty wages, brutal competition, lousy weather, unfamiliar food, and daily risk of life and limb convinced him that SoCal wasn’t so bad after all, Diego came home, put the $12k bike racer dream out to pasture, and embarked on a new  venture–his clothing company, Base Cartel. The ethos behind the clothing, in addition to quality construction, is a design aesthetic that focuses on the sights, sounds, and cultures of Los Angeles. Not being a designer myself, and only vaguely an imported Angeleno, I’m not sure what that means, but his stuff certainly looks great.

I can’t otherwise comment on Diego’s bike clothing line other than that it looks sharp and the people who wear his kits say great things about it, people who are pretty critical when it comes to cycling apparel. I can tell you that bike riders and bike racers in the South Bay love to support a hard-working young man whose business is community based and devoted to all things cycling. It’s refreshing to see a small business flap its wings and get off the ground, supported by friends, family, and personal relationships.

What I can comment on are Base Cartel’s socks. It was well over a year ago that he gave me a pair of his Pro Mesh socks to wear. Of course, even if they had fit like a plastic sandwich bag and felt like sandpaper, I would have gone ahead and purchased a couple of pairs to help the kid out. But I wouldn’t have bought more than thirty pairs for my own personal use, and I certainly wouldn’t have bought over 500 pairs to give to friends and as prizes for the La Grange Cup if they weren’t amazing beyond any words.

Pro Mesh sock, how can I describe thee? Thou art soft and comfy beyond any reason or rhyme. Thou grippest my toes in a loving embrace and leave nary a chafe or raw spot, no matter how tightly I lace down my shiny white dancing shoes. The first few times I wore these socks I thought, “They’ll be falling apart after the fifth wash. No way that anything this delicate and soft and smooth can last.”

But in addition to a softness and form-fitting nature that makes you want to snuggle with them between the covers, whisper sweet nothings into their cuffs, and bring them pancakes in bed, the socks are crazy tough, no, they’re Wanky tough. I don’t know what the secret sauce is that they pour into the Base Cartel socks in China or wherever the socks are brewed, but it is at least one part frog’s wart for every cotton/polyester fiber. That’s how magical these things are.

Of course, knowing that you’re supporting locally grown talent adds to the comfort, too. As it should.

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