It is finished

2014 started as a great year. Flew to Birmingham, saw the bowl game, partied hard with the Vanderbilt faithful, saw a bowl win, flew home in triumph with Aloe Blacc echoing from my headphones as I swaggered down the concourse. That was January 5 and everything looks like it was coming up perfect.

The next day, it all went to hell.

On a personal scale, it was plenty bad. Terrible health for loved ones. Jobs applied for and not gotten. My own health issues. Vanderbilt loses a coach and staff so Penn State can get right, and his replacement is godawful and returns Commodore football to its usual place in the world. And then the wider world: Russia getting horrible again, Ebola breaking out, an American public and politics that gets ever more stupid by the year…there seems to be a consensus that across the board, 2014 was a dismal and disastrous year that we’ll all be better off to see the back of.

I had hopes that 2014 would be a comeback from the awfulness of 2013. Instead, in so many ways, it just got worse. It’s not a sustainable trend. This year, the good things I wrote down to remember were pretty much the only good things to remember.

There are signs that next year could get better. There are finally changes coming at work. My distant relations (well, the most trying one) are improving their behavior. We did get a national championship in baseball for Vandy and another world championship for the Giants locally. The Warriors are good, the Dores are better than expected, my new iPhone is working well, I’m on a train to Los Angeles for the Rose Parade and Disneyland…

So resolutions: same as ever. Hard shutdown on Tuesday nights. Not so much with the soda, or the snack machines, or the fast food. Exercise more. Ride my new bike for recreation. Try to see the good. Worry less about existential things and the wider world. Make an effort to do more with friends and socialize with other people. And since giving up on the NFL worked so well, take a long look at whether college football needs the same treatment. The things you love don’t every time love you back, and when they don’t, you have to consider how healthy that relationship is.

And if possible, make this the year I actually play the piano and follow soccer. Because those could be fun.

Bout That Life

Tonight I caved and bought a six-pack of Coca-Cola Life. What is Coca-Cola Life, you ask? As far as I can tell, it’s a transparent attempt to get Coke product into Whole Foods. Do the checklist: HFCS replaced with cane sugar? Check. Aspartame and ace-K and sucralose replaced with stevia extract? Check. Glass bottles instead of PET plastic or aluminum? Check. 8 ounce containers with green labels? Check. There’s nothing in here that couldn’t go on the shelf at Whole Paycheck, and that is as significant a development as the revelation that Diet Coke with Splenda only existed because Wal-Mart wanted a Splenda-based diet soda to market.

So…the great shift to organic purity has finally hit the biggest soft drink in the world. How does it TASTE though?

To be honest? It’s a little strange. The mouthfeel is almost hollowed-out, sort of: this is a blend of sugar and stevia and the actual sugar content is reduced by more than a third from standard Coke (and slightly more relative to the glass-bottle Mexican Coke that is indispensable to life in California). In a way, it’s a recreation of C2, the abortive reduced-calorie offering from a decade ago, which used HFCS and various diet blends to halve the caloric contents while still maintaining more or less the classic Coke taste.

I took the liberty of testing it out on the wife, who is genetically sensitive to bitter flavors and as a result eschews all artificial sweeteners. She could still taste the stevia bitterness, but much diminished, and allowed that given the option she would take this over Diet Coke or Coke Zero. So that’s a step in the right direction. I’d be happy to keep it around myself, just because an 8 ounce shot is a lot closer to the classic 6.5 ounce “nickel Coke” of the 20th century. Even if this one costs closer to a dollar than a nickel. Portion control is easy when they do it for you for a fee.

It’s going to be an interesting experiment. Can the Coca-Cola corporation move their flagship beverage in a healthier direction? Will the market force them to? Will anyone but annoying affluent white people glom onto this? Is there an audience beyond people like myself who are just a bitch for any form of soda marketing? Ask me later, I’m finishing this six-pack.

The Final Insult

Tennessee gets sent to the Gator Bowl. With a record of 3-5 in conference and 6-6 overall, they are at best the 10th of 12 bowl-eligible teams. And yet, they’re off to the same bowl that snubbed Vanderbilt last year when they went 4-4 in conference and 8-4 overall. We sank to the bowl in Birmingham, which now winds up with a 6-5 Florida team that didn’t even reschedule a non-conference game washed out by weather.

Nothing in the SEC – not your performance on the field, not your performance in the classroom, not your ability to stay out of legal trouble, not the quality of your performance in any other sport – matters as much as how good you were at football in the 1970s. That’s how we can go 8-4 in back to back years and play one bowl four miles from home and another in Birmingham while that school to the East can go 6-6, get bowl eligible for the first time in four seasons, and vault to a bowl four spots above where its standings would suggest.

I don’t know where else we could go. I think the inherent nature of the playoff system and the burgeoning of 12 and 14-team conferences means that nowhere else can be that much better. I certainly don’t much care for the prospect of being the 14th team in the ACC or the B1G. Ideally, I’d love to see the world set back as it was in 1990 for college football purposes – no bullshit about conference title games (we’ve had a playoff since 1992, if we’re honest about it), no automatic tie-ins below conference winners, and nothing but a mythical national title at the end, rather than some half-assed combination of polls and computers and committees to do the same thing with a veneer of scientific respectability around it.

Fuck it. More than ever I’m thinking the Ivy League might have been the place for me: no postseason at all, no football scholarships, just ten games to line up and sic ’em and to hell with what anyone else wants to do. There’s the dream, and if it means an end to the SEC run for Vanderbilt, so be it. Georgia Tech certainly hasn’t suffered by departing.