An article on CNN’s website, explaining why McDonald’s doesn’t sell McRib sandwiches year-round, spurred an idea. (First, I’ve never had a McRib sandwich and have no interest in trying one; but that’s beside the point.)

Actually, I’m impressed with McDonald’s rationale. It’s a marketing ploy based in large part on the concept of scarcity; scarcity tends to build hype, making an item attractive. On the one hand, that sort of manipulative behavior pisses me off; corporations should not exploit customers’ vulnerability in such matters. But on the other hand, I have to acknowledge that it’s a brilliant marketing tactic. [I have this love-hate relationship with successful marketing strategies; I loathe the corporate greed that marketing embodies, but I love the intellectual business acumen marketing can demonstrate.]

But I haven’t gotten to my idea yet. Okay, let me get to it. The idea is to create a travel route across the United States, with a four-day to five-day stop in carefully selected cities and towns. Before arriving in each city or town, I would take out ads in the local media in which I would promote a “limited time offering” of some  gimmicky special fast-food that would have some special significance to the location. I would then prepare large quantities of this gimmicky item to sell at my pop-up “food truck” (for lack of a better term). I would be sure my ads note that the food will be available for only a few days, but will be back (again for a very limited time) in a year or so.

After I have collected and counted my money, I will pack up and move on to the next location, taking great care to pump up interest in my next food product with heavy advertising. I can envision enormous sales of my super-special products: tamales in one town, hot dogs in another, ćevapčići in yet another, etc., etc. From town to town, I might simply modify some of my more popular items. For example, if my lamb-based hot dogs (which I might call “Sheep Dogs” as part of the marketing plan) were especially well-received in a community in which lamb is consumed in large quantities, I might create lamb-based ćevapčići sticks, flavored with vindaloo spices, in a town with similar meat consumption and a large population of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. You know, marketing. Market research. Quantifying the customer. All those markety things. What might I call those lamb log sort of things? “Sheep Spears.” That might work. Might not.

As I consider this idea, it occurs to me that the concept may have been born as much out of my wanderlust as my intrigue with food-focused marketing. Today’s idea may simply be a somewhat softer expression of yesterday’s exercise in abject location-locked frustration. I wonder whether I’d get tired of traveling from town to town? Maybe. But if I were to pack as light as I’d like, and had ready access to a washing machine and drier (or a clothes line), it wouldn’t be such a challenge. Of course I’d want each town to have a seedy bar where everyone is friendly and welcoming; though I’d want to be comfortable in absolute isolation when I desire it (which would be quite frequent, I think). And the motels would have to be cheap, clean, and comfortable. I would hope these towns would have libraries, too, with quiet rooms where I could go do research on the demographics of the next town.

It occurs to me I’d like to have places where people can sit and eat, under umbrellas, after they buy from me. Maybe I would give them discounts if they bring their own utensils; you know, bowls or plates and forks. That would add to the unique environment and would save me money and time in clean-up. “Bring your own bowl and spoon for a $0.50 discount on John’s Hot-Head Chile!” I’ll have to work this thing out, of course, before I launch my cross-country tour. Where I’ll go, what I’ll serve, how I’ll get my products, where I’ll store them, where I’ll cook and the locations from which I’ll serve. And all the rest.

Like so many other of my ideas, I think this one may be one of those that I call my “launch and leave” endeavors. I’d love to get it started, but I’m afraid my interest would wane quite fast. The way it does with almost everything in which I’m interested. I get sidetracked. I lose interest; or maybe it’s passion I lose. Whatever it is, the spark or the ember or the burning flame gets quenched and I’m left with the ashes of an idea that no longer seems particularly appealing. My enthusiasm ebbs until it finally reaches bottom. It happens fast, too, like the tides of the Bay of Fundy.

I don’t have the personality to promote this idea. I couldn’t do it on an ongoing basis, anyway. I can’t present a cheerful presence when I don’t feel cheerful. You have to be able to make people feel good about buying from you. And you can’t do that when your facial expressions betray depression or boredom or hopelessness. My face suggests I’m in the midst of those emotions even when I’m perfectly content. The face of a serial killer itching for his next victim. No one’s ever told me I have that face, but sometimes I look in the mirror and am frightened by who I see; I can’t call the police because I might be held for observation. “He said he was afraid the guy in the mirror was going to kill him,” the officer would tell the judge. And the judge would say, “I’d cut you loose, sir, if only to get another taste of your ćevapčići sticks, but I can’t in good conscience risk letting you go, only to learn later you’d been murdered.”

It’s not funny, really. I think many of my ideas are, or could be, million-dollar endeavors, but they would require intense, long-term follow-through. I can lose interest in a sneeze half-way through the experience, so I’m afraid I am condemned to be on the lookout for my ideas being implemented successfully. I watch as someone else becomes wealthy enough to buy an isolated Pacific island, while I imagine myself sitting by the side of the road with a flat tire outside Valentine, Nebraska, stranded and broke. I might like Valentine, Nebraska. I might not.

I understand that the post office in Valentine, Nebraska gets enormous increases in mail volume around Valentine’s Day as people send their materials there so they can be postmarked “Valentine.” If that can’t excite me, nothing can.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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