old daughter asked me the other day whether I was born before
email. "Yes," I confessed. Then she quickly followed
up: "Where you born before plastic?" "No,"
I said, "I was born after plastic but before email."
Satisfied that she had placed me within the structure of the history
of the world, she went back to her weekend play.
truth here. That this tribe and not that tribe controls Kabul
isnít the kind of thing that changes our lives, so itís hard to
understand the hysteria. What really drives forward the data of
history as we know it are the products we use in everyday life,
things like the computer, the DVD, or the CD burner. These simple
and so-called petty economic concerns not war and politics are
what define progress and distinguish one generation from another.
Thus it is
extremely newsworthy that baby bells are suffering because everyone
is cancelling his second phone line, what with the advent of high-speed
internet access. Turns out that the second-phone line shtick was
big business for these little monopolists. Other ominous signs
include the tendency of college kids and even small business choosing
the cell-phone only option, just like they do in the Third World.
Now, tell the truth: isnít this more interesting than the latest
squabbles between the Taziks and the Pashtuns in that other planet
we call the Middle East?
talk about the trends that really matter, the first one concerning
fast food and the second one dealing with the color of our teeth.
There are revolutions taking place in both sectors that will transform
our lives within the next twelve months.
revolution begins at Arbyís. Thatís right, that old fuddy-duddy
of a fast-food outlet, founded in 1964, that hasnít been even
been in the running during the wars that have pit Burger King
against McDonaldís. The idea of a hot roast-beef sandwich was
big stuff in the 1970s but itís been downhill ever since.
the market hysteria of 1998, the Triarc Restaurant Group (which
also own T.J. Cinnamons and the Pasta Connection) suffered startling
blows, with the value of the invested dollar falling by half. In 1999, Arby's captured only a 3.9 percent of the fast-food market.
Does anyone really look forward to an Arbyís? Itís only what you
eat if you canít find any other outlet where the drive-through
lines are short.
Now to the
big news: Arbyís revolutionary "Market Fresh Sandwich."
It may be the greatest sandwich you have ever tasted, and this
is not hyperbole. Whoever came up with this sandwich, first introduced
in May 2001, is a genius, a person who thinks completely outside
the box, as they say. It is radical departure from everything
that has ever defined Arbyís, or fast food itself, for that matter.
no warming lights, no greasy buns, and no wilted lettuce. You
open the wrapper and itís a deli-style wrapper to
find a magnificent meal, a thing of beauty, stack high with all-fresh
ingredients. It comes on whole grain bread, and contains real
swiss cheese, sweet red onions, and fancy honey mustard. With the first
bite you will swoon with delirium. You have finally found the
perfect lunch, a sandwich to rival the best New York deli at fast-food
prices (under $5).
that, but thereís no waiting. The sandwich is sitting right there
for you to pick up in an instant. It comes in four varieties,
and every one is fantastic: Roast Beef and Swiss, Roast Turkey
and Swiss, Roast Ham and Swiss, and Roast Chicken Caesar. To insure
quality, the company decided in favor of a national distribution
of the ingredients, on solid grounds that they didnít trust the
quality of local produce.
I was so
astonished by the quality that I did an informal look around the
restaurant to see who else had ordered this item. It turns out
that more than two-thirds of the patrons had the Market Fresh
on the table, and just talking to a few people, it was clear that
they had the same impression I had, that this is an incredibly
has started a second round of national promotion for this item,
based on interviews with real customers. If this takes off, and
how can it not?, think what this could mean for the whole industry.
McDonaldís will have to follow suit, then Burger King, then Wendyís,
and then everyone else. Still, in the end, Arbyís will remain
the leader, simply because they were first past the post.
and deli chains are going to suffer some serious competition.
And the political left, which has been fulminating against the
great American hamburger for a decade, wonít know what to do.
The "fast-food nation," as the title of a book by some
leftist prig puts it, will be eating a completely different product,
supplied in the same capitalist manner that put the hamburger
on the map.
One can never
tire of watching with amazement at how the market responds to
consumer demands with new innovations. Thus, we come to the second
example of the great revolution of our times: teeth-whitening
strips, as introduced by Crest this past summer. A box costs
between $30 and $40.
strips contain hydrogen peroxide, and are worn on the teeth for
30 minutes at a time, twice a day for two weeks. They turn your
teeth pearly white, thus achieving every consumerís dream that
has been promised but never achieved by the toothpaste industry
for 30 years. The effect lasts for six months and then you have
to do it again. They are now available in every pharmacy, and
they have become so popular that they are put in the check-out
stands at grocery stores.
first appeared to me about a month ago, when someone Iíve known
for years smiled and I noticed that his teeth were incredibly
white. I happened to comment on it, and he revealed the great
secret. Then I was at the flower shop and noticed that the check-out
lady had sparkling white teeth. Then I began to take greater notice,
and saw that every student at the university library was walking
around with super-white teeth, and everyone seemed oddly smiley.
Now the South
is a smiley place to begin with, but these strips have made it
even more so. You wonder if these strips could even enact something
of a cultural revolution in crabby places like New York and Detroit.
We all know that when you laugh the world laughs with you, whereas
you cry alone, but soon the whole world will have every reason
to smile as widely as possible. Soon, stained teeth could become
odd and even regarded as unsanitary. Thus the advent of teeth-whitening
strips could be as revolutionary as the invention of deodorant
I know the
neoconservatives and state builders say concerns like this are
"petty." They would rather us live a world where people
think only about building the warfare state and sacrificing for
the common good, where we huddle up to dream about sending our
youngsters off to fly bombers and kill enemies of the nation state.
Not I. To me, the great society is one that loves inexpensive
deli sandwiches and the whitest teeth in the history of the world,
and relies on voluntary market cooperation to get them.
I envy the
generation born after today that can brag that it came after teeth
whitening strips, fast-food deli sandwiches, and CD burners. Iím
willing to bet that six months from now, not even the people of
Afghanistan will speak of the liberation of Kabul from the Taliban
as a decisive moment in the history of the world.