I used to travel half the year. Many trips were to oddball places, so I flew on oddball airlines. As a consequence, although I have pro-league air miles on my scorecard, the total is diluted because my frequent-flyer miles are split between seven airlines.
One of my big accounts was with U.S. Airways, which, after bankruptcy, after shoving their pension obligations off to the federal government, announced that if I -- and this goes for everyone else in my affinity cohort -- did not fly on one of their wretched airplanes within the next 18 months, they would void my frequent-flyer miles.
This only reinforced my view that airplanes are for long-distance travel only. The hassle of getting to and being in an airport, the overbooked flights, lost luggage, laughable on-time records, prison food, all of it served up by workers who are paid too little and have too much power -- a toxic combination that causes them to hate their customers -- means I'll drive or take the train for any trip less than 600 miles.
A few months after my airline's extortion announcement, there came to my attention, by way of United States commercial mail, an offer to trade my airline miles for magazines.
Suddenly, I realized I had no idea what was going on in magazine world. After all, I'm vaguely connected to magazine world in the sense that I write and magazine writers write too. I really should know a little more about what my brothers and sisters do over there on the magazine side of the planet, so, on the spot, I decided to hoist the flag and acquire magazines. Actually, I could use an update. Other than the New Yorker, my magazine reading has been zero since the Internet came to town.
So, with a feeling of righteousness and of doing good works, I made my way down the list of magazines and checked the box next to: Esquire, Maxim, Backpacker, Newsweek, Jet, Vanity Fair, Guns & Ammo, The Economist, Lucky, ESPN, Interview, Aquarium Fish Magazine, Harpers Bazaar, Log Homes Illustrated, Swap Meet Magazine, and for the hell of it, a daily subscription to Variety, which, I note, goes for $300 a year.
Fuck you, U.S. Airways.
Six weeks later, like stragglers trying to catch up to a defeated army, my subscriptions began to arrive. In that same way, when you go back to a place you lived 20 years ago and see with new eyes all the changes that have taken place, changes that people living there now don't notice, I saw magazines as they were and as they are now.
I can report that general interest magazines have mutated into sinkholes for the culturally illiterate. Playgrounds for the incurious. From Newsweek's cover stories on health tips for seniors and what's new in cancer treatments to Esquire's seven ways to tie a tie, the 400-word cover article about nothing in particular is king. There's been an explosion of photographs and shriveling of editorial. A champion of the form is Maxim, which appears to have taken a stand that they don't need editorial; they're going to fill their pages with glossy ads, period. You have to admire that. And, of course, there's the always reliable Guns and Ammo. I simply picked up where I left off.
The rest took space in my mailbox. I glanced at their covers on the way to the dumpster, save for one...Variety. I found sports news there that I didn't see anywhere else.
A while back I wrote a column about unknown sports leagues. One was the USA Rock Paper Scissors League. It was a joke -- I mean, the league was real, but it was a joke in context of what people think of when they think of professional athletic leagues. I put this league as one step above betting on which of two chickens will lay the first egg.
Last month Variety informed me, "ESPN has signed on to televise this year's USA Rock Paper Scissors League championship.... The second annual national championship tournament...will take place May 12 and 13 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.... ESPN programming and acquisitions director Ilan Ben-Hanan said... "Nearly everyone has played Rock Paper Scissors, so it will be interesting to see the strategic skills displayed by this elite field of competitors...."
Again, Variety scooped with, "A. Smith & Co. has sealed an exclusive deal to head up production for the nascent Rocket Racing League -- think Indy cars, but with rocket fuel and in the sky.
"Shingle topper Arthur Smith, the former head of Fox Sports Net and a CBC Network Sports vet, has already put together a plan to televise the sport, which would involve the planes competing across a race track in the air."
Nothing about the Chargers, though.