A crime novel that came from a casino visit

One day in the early spring of 2018 I traveled to a rural part of southern Indiana to attend to some family matters. (I live in Ohio, but I’m half Hoosier. My dad grew up in nearby Lawrenceburg.)

I spent most of that day in Switzerland County. You’ve probably never been there. Switzerland County, Indiana looks nothing like Switzerland. In early spring, that part of Indiana, along the Ohio River, can look a little bleak. 

(Portions of the 1988 Molly Ringwald/Andrew McCarthy movie, Fresh Horses, were filmed in Switzerland County. McCarthy said of the area, “There’s the whole starkness up there; it helped the mood of the movie.” )

Southern, rural Indiana is home to several large casinos. I ordinarily have no interest in gambling venues. I ate lunch at the nearby Belterra Casino that day, though, because…there weren’t many other dining options in the vicinity.

My visit to the casino got me thinking: What if a young couple in debt visited the casino in a make-or-break effort to get ahead financially? What if they were lured there by a special offer? $300 worth of ‘free’ gaming chips?

What if their beginner’s foray into gambling went horribly wrong, and they fell further in the hole? Then suppose that a narcotics kingpin offers them an alternative plan…another way to get ahead. 

All they have to do is run an errand for him. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s the premise behind my 2020 casino novel, Venetian Springs. Set in a fictional version of Belterra Casino, Venetian Springs is a story of two down-on-their-luck high school teachers who succumb to the lure of easy money. They soon discover that easy money doesn’t exist. But this is a lesson that may cost them both their lives.

Watch the Venetian Springs trailer below.

View Venetian Springs on Amazon.

Read the first 8 chapters of Venetian Springs here on Edward Trimnell Books.

Horror in Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s main subscription ebook reading program. Kindle Unlimited gives you virtually unlimited (hence the name) reading privileges to a wide variety of titles, for a low monthly fee.

Not every title listed on Amazon is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Literary fiction from the big New York publishing houses generally is not included. You likely won’t find the latest Jonathan Franzen novel in Kindle Unlimited anytime in the near future.

Kindle Unlimited is heavy on genre fiction. This means: romance, space opera, LitRPG, fantasy, and horror.

I have a fair number of horror titles in Kindle Unlimited. I write supernatural horror, in the tradition of Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Bentley Little and E.F. Benson.

And yes (I know this sounds a bit pretentious) Stephen King. I have achieved barely a gazillionth fraction of King’s commercial success. But his formula of character-based, fast-moving horror is always on my mind when I sit down to write a horror tale.

What kind of horror don’t I write? If you want splatterpunk, or “extreme” horror (aka “torture porn”), then you should skip my books and stories. I have no interest in writing horror fiction that is endlessly grim and/or sadistic. My horror fiction is more akin to the campfire ghost story.

Below are the horror titles that I presently have enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. This means that you can read them for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

To view one of these titles on Amazon, simply click on the image of any book, or any hyperlink below.

(Don’t have a Kindle Unlimited membership? Click here.)

Eleven Miles of Night

A college student takes a walk down the most haunted road in rural Ohio for a cash prize. This is a “haunted road” story, basically a tale of being stuck on a cursed country road at night. Ghosts, evil spirits, and hellhounds abound. Also, an evil witch that inhabits a covered bridge.

View Eleven Miles of Night on Amazon!

12 Hours of Halloween

A coming-of-age story set on Halloween night, 1980. This is a tale of supernatural events in the American suburb. A classic horror tale for Generation X.

View 12 Hours of Halloween on Amazon!

Revolutionary Ghosts

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. This coming-of-age horror thriller is sure to please readers who appreciate character-based supernatural fiction with lots of twists and turns.

The basic idea is: the ghosts of American history coming back to haunt Middle America in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial. (And yes, I’m old enough to remember the Bicentennial, although I was rather young at the time.)

View Revolutionary Ghosts on Amazon!

Luk Thep

In early 2016, I read an article in The Economist about the luk thep “spirit dolls” of Thailand.

Manufactured and sold in Thailand, these are factory-made dolls with a unique sales point: each doll is supposedly infused with the spirit of a young child that passed prematurely.

The luk thep are intended to bring comfort to their owners. (They are marketed to childless women.) To me, though, the whole idea sounded rather macabre.

And I couldn’t help thinking: what if one of the dolls was infused with a child spirit that wasn’t very nice? What if that same doll ended up in the possession of an American woman who happened to visit Thailand on a business trip? Luk Thep is a fast-paced ghost tale that spans two continents.

View Luk Thep on Amazon!

The Rockland Horror saga

Spanning a nearly 140-year period from 1882 to 2020, The Rockland Horror is a series about dark events at a cursed house in rural Indiana.

View The Rockland Horror series on Amazon!

Wait! One last thing…

Looking for horror stories you can read online for free?

While I recommend Kindle Unlimited for fans of horror fiction and ebooks, I should also point out that I have a number of horror stories you can read online here for FREE.

From classic ghost tales to creature features, you’ll find a considerable range. Check them out!

World War II historical fiction series now available in an omnibus edition


**Spies, lies, and the race for the atom bomb!**

In 1938, the planners in Nazi Germany know that war is coming. They are eager to acquire the atom bomb.

They are working against Allied governments, operating both in Germany and abroad. (And not all of the Reich’s accomplices are German nationals.)

A group of ordinary Americans and Germans are forced to choose sides. Their choices will lead them into a web of betrayal, murder, and espionage.

Their paths meet in Cairo, Egypt, where the Reich is hunting a fugitive atomic physicist. 

The main characters:

Betty Lehman is a 19-year-old girl from Dutch Falls, Pennsylvania. Her family is active in the German-American Bund. Betty has been recruited to betray her country in the service of the Reich.

Rudolf Schenk is an undercover agent of the German Gestapo. He wants to do his duty. But can he abandon his last shred of conscience?

Jack McCallum is an American treasure hunter in Cairo. He falls for two women: one who is working undercover for the Third Reich, one who is fleeing the Gestapo.

Heinrich Vogel is a physicist who fled Germany for Egypt. He and his young adult daughter, Ingrid, face a daily game of cat-and-mouse with the Gestapo. His goal: to reach Britain or America before the Gestapo reaches him and his daughter!


Note: The individual books will still be available on the series page!

What about Kindle Unlimited?

THE CAIRO DECEPTION BOXSET will also be available to read in Kindle Unlimited.

Click here for a Kindle Unlimited trial membership.

Southern Ohio’s Dead Man’s Curve

Not far from where I live, there is a stretch of Ohio State Route 125 that has been dubbed Dead Man’s Curve

The spot is just a few miles from my house, in fact. I’ve been by there many times.

According to the urban legend, if you drive this section of rural highway a little after 1 a.m., you might see the faceless hitchhiker. From a distance, this male figure may look relatively normal. Once you get close, though, you’ll see that he has no face.

Sometimes the hitchhiker isn’t content to stand there by the side of the road and watch you. There have been reports of the phantom actually attacking cars.

Creepy, right?

Yeah, I think so, too….

Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio State Route 125 has a long and macabre history. Route 125 is the main road that connects the suburbs and small towns east of Cincinnati with the city. But much of the road (including Dead Man’s Curve) was originally part of the Ohio Turnpike, which was built in 1831. (Andrew Jackson was president in 1831, just to put that date in perspective.)

That section of the Ohio Turnpike was the scene of many accidents (some of them fatal), even in the horse-and-buggy days. The downward sloping curve became particularly treacherous when rain turned the road to mud. Horses and carriages would sometimes loose their footing, sending them over the adjacent hillside.

In the twentieth century, the Ohio Turnpike was paved and reconfigured into State Route 125. In 1968 the road was expanded into four lanes. 

As part of the expansion, the spot known as Dead Man’s Curve was leveled and straightened. (As a result, the curve doesn’t look so daunting today…unless you know its history.) This was supposed to be the end of “Dead Man’s Curve”.

But it wasn’t.

In 1969, there was a horrible accident at the spot. The driver of a green Roadrunner—traveling at a speed of 100 mph—slammed into an Impala carrying five teenagers. There was only one survivor of the tragic accident.

Shortly after that, witnesses began to report sightings of the faceless hitchhiker during the wee hours. (The hitchhiker is said to be most active during the twenty-minutes between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m.) There have also been reports of a ghostly green Roadrunner that will chase drivers late at night. 

Oh, and Dead Man’s Curve remains deadly, despite the leveling and straightening done in 1968. In the five decades since the accident involving the Roadrunner and the Impala, around seventy people have been killed there.

Is there any truth to the legend of Dead Man’s Curve?

I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that I’ve heard many eyewitness accounts from local residents who claim to have seen the hitchhiker. (Keep in mind, I live very close to Dead Man’s Curve, and it’s a local topic of discussion and speculation.) Almost none of these eyewitnesses have struck me as mentally imbalanced or deceitful.

I know what your last question is going to be: Have I ever driven Dead Man’s Curve between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m. myself?

Uh, no. But perhaps I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll let you know in a subsequent blog post!


Hey!…While you’re here: I wrote a novel about a haunted road in Ohio. It’s called Eleven Miles of Night. You can start reading the book for FREE here on my website, or check out the reviews on Amazon.

You can also start reading my other two novels of the supernatural in Southern Ohio: Revolutionary Ghosts and 12 Hours of Halloween. 

Check out my FREE short stories, too….many of them have macabre elements.

And stop back soon! I add content to this website every day!

Flexible hygiene standards and the GenX childhood

Suburban parents nowadays worry obsessively about their kids catching something. Some parents even carry around little packages of sanitary wipes, so that they can sterilize surfaces in advance of their progeny. As if an American kid is going to catch Ebola at a birthday party.

This obsession with a germ-free childhood is a recent invention. GenXers grew up in an environment in which germ theory was understood, but not always given much consideration.

It was not uncommon in the 1970s to see kids passing around and drinking from the same bottle of soda. Maybe someone wiped the mouth of the bottle clean before they handed it to you…but probably not. Nor could you easily object. To express too much fastidiousness about the casual exchange of bodily fluids would have been regarded as fussy, especially among boys.

The childhood tradition of becoming “blood brothers” was mostly obsolete by the 1970s, but it happened. In that era before AIDS, no one worried about mixing blood, either.

We were sometimes told to “wash our hands”, but that carried its own dangers. School restrooms were unhygienic by today’s standards. They were often equipped with creaky cloth towel cabinets, in which the same towel roll was recycled again and again. (Twenty-first-century versions of the cloth roll towel cabinet are reasonably sanitary, I am told. But the ones you would typically find in a public school restroom in 1978? Not so much.)

Was this lax approach to juvenile hygiene a good thing, or a bad thing? Arguably the proof is in the pudding. The majority of us made it to adulthood without expiring from any communicable diseases. I am now in my mid-50s, and I rarely get a cold. So I suppose there is something to be said for naturally acquired immunity. 


The story of Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin formed in 1968, the year I was born, and disbanded in 1980, when I was twelve.

I was therefore too young to become a Led Zeppelin fan while the band was still a going concern. But Led Zeppelin was still enormously popular when I discovered rock music as a teenager in the early to mid-1980s. Lead singer Robert Plant, moreover, was then launching a solo career, and making use of the new medium of MTV.

Most of my musical interests lie in the past. I admittedly lack the patience to sort through the chaotic indie music scene on the Internet, and I shake my head disdainfully at the overhyped mediocrity of Taylor Swift. When I listen to music, I listen to the old stuff: Rush, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, and a handful of others.

Led Zeppelin is very close to the top of my list. I listen to Led Zeppelin differently than I did in the old days, though. The lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” sound less profound to me at 55 than they did when I was 15. I now appreciate Led Zeppelin when they’re doing what they did best: raucous, bluesy rock-n-roll that had only a hint of deeper meaning: “Black Dog”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir”, etc.

And of course, reading remains my first passion. I’m still waiting for an in-depth, definitive biography of Canadian rock band Rush. (I suspect that someone, somewhere is working on that, following the 2020 passing of Rush’s chief lyricist and drummer, Neil Peart.) But a well-researched and highly readable biography of Led Zeppelin already exists: Bob Spitz’s Led Zeppelin: The Biography.

At 688 pages and approximately 238,000 words, this is no biography for the casual reader. But if you really want to understand Led Zeppelin, its music, and the band’s cultural impact, you simply can’t beat this volume. I highly recommend it for the serious fan.


View Led Zeppelin: The Biography at Amazon

JFK, Marlene Dietrich, and the problem of the aging Lothario

Eleanor Herman’s Sex with Presidents: The Ins and Outs of Love and Lust in the White House, is well worth reading both for its historical content, as well as its human interest angle.

In this book you’ll learn about the honey trap in which Alexander Hamilton was ensnared. There are the requisite chapters about Warren G. Harding and the Nan Britton affair. Eisenhower’s unconsummated sexual liaisons with his wartime driver, Kay Summersby. (Apparently, Ike was impotent by the time he became involved with the much younger, statuesque Summersby.)

Needless to say, the chapter on John F. Kennedy is among the most lurid. There are the expected entries about Marilyn Monroe, and the two White House secretaries nicknamed Fiddle and Faddle.

But there are also some surprises. According to this book, JFK was into partner-swapping mini-orgies involving other men, too (Note: not with any male-male contact, though). And of course, threesomes with two women.

While most of JFK’s conquests were on the younger side, not all of them were. When German actress Marlene Dietrich visited the White House shortly before JFK’s death, Kennedy decided that he had to have her, too.

Dietrich, born in 1901, was sixteen years older than Kennedy. She was then already in her sixties.

Dietrich quickly decided that she would not turn down a chance to romp with America’s youthful, charismatic commander-in-chief. But there was one caveat: “I was an old woman by then, and damned if I was going to be on top.”

Dietrich later reported that the encounter did not last long. JFK was fast out of the gate, according to various reports.

Marlene Dietrich in 1951
JFK in 1961

Speaking of age: JFK died at the age of 46, when he was still in middle age and still in his prime. He is frozen in amber as a youngish, good-looking man.

For as long as he lived, JFK was irresistibly attractive to women. But even during his lifetime, he showed signs of what would now be called predatory behavior. He often manipulated women into sex, and occasionally plied them with alcohol and drugs. Some of his partners were far too young for a grown man in a position of power, even by the standards of that era.

What if JFK had not been martyred at the age of 46? What if he had served out a presumable second term and died of old age? A normal lifespan would have placed Kennedy’s death sometime in the 1990s or the early years of the twentieth century.

We can assume that at a certain point, the women would no longer have been quite so willing, and JFK would have met with more resistance. For JFK, sex was more than a mere biological drive. He was clearly compulsive about it, and regarded it as an extension of his power.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine JFK, had he lived, being embroiled in a sordid late-life sexual harassment scandal, not unlike those that befell both Trump and Biden. (Joe Biden was accused of sexual harassment, too, both by Senate staffer Tara Reade, and seven other women. But the mainstream media chose not to dwell on these accusations. Make of that what you will.)

Like many Americans who are too young to remember JFK in office (he died five years before I was born), I grew up thinking of Kennedy as a mythic figure. I attended Catholic schools, and a portrait of JFK hung in at least a few of my K-12 classrooms, right beside portraits of the Pope and several of the saints.

But keep in mind: had he not been martyred in 1963, JFK would have been just another former president in his golden years.

I might also note that Donald Trump had no shortage of willing female partners in his 30s and 40s. In those days, Trump was not a controversial septuagenarian politician, but a glamorous tabloid billionaire. Many women wanted to be with him. The difference between a celebrated ladies’ man and a reviled lecher is often a matter of time and changing fortunes.


John Cheever and the fictional limits of realism

I read John Cheever’s short story, “The Sorrows of Gin”, as part of my English lit curriculum during my junior year of high school. Published in 1953, it struck me as a pretty good story when I read it thirty-one years later, in 1984.

At some point I decided to acquire a collection of John Cheever’s short stories. John Cheever, who lived from 1912 to 1982, wrote a lot of them. Most of Cheever’s stories were originally published in prestige outlets like The New Yorker.

An omnibus edition of Cheever’s short stories, The Stories of John Cheever, came out in 1978. I acquired my copy sometime early in the twenty-first century; but it remained in my TBR pile until just a few weeks ago. Almost 40 years after I first read “The Sorrows of Gin”.

John Cheever

I did not enjoy most of the stories in this book. They didn’t offend me. (That is difficult to do.) Nor was the sentence-by-sentence writing necessarily bad. To be blunt, I found the majority of these stories to be a tough slog.

The problem isn’t the age of the stories. John Cheever and I are not exactly contemporaries, but he was actively writing within my lifetime. Cheever was younger than both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, two writers introduced to me in the same, aforementioned high school English class. I still enjoy rereading This Side of Paradise and The Old Man and the Sea from time to time.

For that matter, I recently read Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield all the way through for the first time. I was spellbound the entire time.

Dickens (1812-1870) died 98 years before I was born. Dickens and I are from different temporal planets. Dickens was also British, and I’m American. And yet, Dickens’s skill as a storyteller transcends those boundaries of time and culture. I suspect that readers will still be enjoying Dickens a hundred years from now.

My problem with Cheever is much more fundamental: we seem to disagree on what makes a good story. Cheever spent all of his life among the New England Brahmin class. He seems to have made this blue-blood environment his sole source for stories. This was a core element of Cheever’s brand, in fact.  During his lifetime, he was known as “the Chekhov of the suburbs”.

One can certainly find good stories in the suburbs without bringing in contrived plot devices like serial killers or mafiosos. (F. Scott Fitzgerald more than proved that.) But writing compelling stories about people preoccupied with what we now call “first-world problems” is difficult to do well.

And Cheever did not do it particularly well, at least in my reading. His stories plod along. It isn’t that nothing happens, but it takes a long time for something to happen, and you have to wade through too much repetitive dialogue to get there. And the something that happens usually isn’t all that surprising or revelatory.

I have this same difficulty with quite a few of the mid-twentieth-century authors who were already regarded as literary giants by the time I was old enough to read their books. Not only Cheever, but also Saul Bellow, Upton Sinclar, and others.

These authors clearly had no stomach for the speculative work of their contemporaries like H.P. Lovecraft or Ray Bradbury. Nor were they interested in crime fiction. They didn’t even people their fiction with daring, outlandish characters like the Great Gatsby or Amory Blaine. They just gave us ordinary people doing mostly ordinary things.

Realism was their overarching creed. Realism, when taken too far and too literally, degenerates into a verbatim transcript of real life. And when that happens, real life is more interesting. Why wouldn’t it be? And therefore, why even read stories at all? Why not just listen to the news, or to your neighbors’ gossip? At least then, you might have a personal stake in the ordinary happenings and goings-on.

That said, uncurated realism in fiction is occasionally interesting. I still like “The Sorrows of Gin”. I regretfully can’t say the same about the remaining bulk of John Cheever’s short stories.

The 2023 Ohio heat wave

My K-12 education ended almost four decades ago.  For me, summertime has long since lost its significance of time off.

I don’t waterski, and I don’t enjoy picnics.

I don’t like summer’s insect outbreaks and highway traffic jams. Summer is also the season when local officials make a game out of inconveniencing motorists with road construction projects. Some of these are necessary, no doubt. Others are surely pork-barrel, make-work projects.

Oh, and I don’t like hot weather, either.

What can I say? Summer sun, bah humbug. I’m an autumn kind of guy. Give me that glorious stretch of cooling weather and shortening days that runs from late September to early December here in Ohio.

This summer has been particularly miserable because of the global heatwave. The Southern USA, Italy, and Japan have all been hit hard.

This summer has not been particularly brutal in Ohio—until this week. Temperatures in the 90s are forecast through the weekend. We get some relief on Monday, with the mercury falling to the low 80s.

Then there’s only one week left in August, the last full month of summer.

The end of summer 2023 can’t come fast enough.

Kansas and the perils of creative indecision

Kansas was one of my favorite bands while growing up. But this was always something of a minority viewpoint. Sadly, Kansas is a band that never reached its full potential.

Kansas, like the Canadian rock trio Rush, always had an intellectual, progressive streak. Kansas always wanted to make rock music “something more”.

Here’s an example: the band’s debut, self-titled album contains a song called “Journey from Mariabronn.”

What the heck is Mariabronn, you ask? That’s a reference to German-Swiss author Herman Hesse’s 1930 novel, Narcissus and Goldmund.

Highbrow, yes. But a little too highbrow for popular music. Even in the artistically indulgent 1970s. How many 16-year-olds—either then or now—are conversant in mid-twentieth-century German classic literature?

Kansas basically had two commercially successful albums: Leftoverture (1976) and Point of Know Return (1977).

Leftoverture contains the spiritual rock anthem “Carry On Wayward Son”. This song brought the band mainstream success. This is also the Kansas song that non-devotees are most likely to recognize.

On Point of Know Return you’ll find “Dust in the Wind”, another Kansas song that still gets a fair amount of airplay.

That was about it, as far as commercial success went for Kansas. Although the band soldiered on for years (a version of Kansas continues as a going concern today), the group never became another Journey or Foreigner.

Kansas’s songs are well-thought-out, often to the point of being abstruse. In short, most of the group’s music isn’t immediately accessible to the casual listener. And that’s a fatal flaw in rock music, where the competition is fierce, and audience attention spans are notoriously short.

Kansas was also riven by an internal philosophical dispute. Founding member and chief songwriter Kerry Livegren became a born-again Christian in 1979. He often infused Kansas’s lyrics with quasi-Christian themes.

The other members of the band weren’t on board with this new direction. Many of Kansas’s albums during the 1980s (Drastic Measures (1983), comes to mind here) contain songs that aren’t really enough of one thing or another. This isn’t explicitly Christian music, but it wasn’t mainstream rock—or even progressive rock—either.

The last Kansas album I bought was Power (1986). Kerry Livegren had left the band by this time, and the remaining members cobbled together an album that was imitative of the commercial rock music that was popular at that time.

Power contained a few worthwhile songs. But by this time Kansas had simply become too unpredictable as a musical entity—even for fans like myself.


Feeling in the mood for some old music? Shop for Kansas vinyl albums and CDs on Amazon


The jogging craze of the 1970s

If you think that the 1970s was only about disco, pet rocks, and stagflation, you’d be wrong. The 1970s was also the era when our modern fitness and exercise culture was born.

It started with jogging. After taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter became the world’s most famous jogger. (Carter was a lifelong fitness buff, which might explain why he’s lived well into his nineties.)

Many American adults followed Carter’s lead. Jogging became somewhat trendy. I was just a kid then, but I remember seeing all the adult joggers on the streets and sidewalks.

Viewed from the perspective of 2023, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about jogging. But that was then, and this is now.

Go back to the 1960s or the 1950s, and the conventional wisdom was that grown adults didn’t engage in deliberate exercise. Your great-grandfather may have mowed the lawn on Saturday and your great-grandmother may have walked to the A&P. They almost certainly didn’t jog. That all began to change in the latter half of the 1970s.

Zantigo: better than Taco Bell, killed by PepsiCo in 1987

One of the great tragedies to befall American civilization in the last thirty-odd years is the victory of Taco Bell in the Mexican fast food wars. As anyone who remembers the 1970s and 1980s will tell you, we once had a far better option.

I’m talking, of course about Zantigo. The Zantigo restaurant chain was founded in 1969 and quickly expanded. There were once more than eighty Zantigo locations in the United States. In 1977 or 1986, it was much easier to find a Zantigo in Cincinnati, Ohio than it was to find a Taco Hell, er Bell.

Zantigo was simply better, in the opinion of almost anyone who was alive in the 1970s and/or 1980s and was, therefore, able to try both. No one gets excited about a trip to Taco Bell. But a trip to Zantigo was actually a decent dining experience, by fast-food standards.

I especially miss the Zantigo Cheese Chilito. Many aging Zantigo fans will tell you the same thing. (Zantigo’s bean burritos were pretty good, too.)

I don’t exactly hate Taco Bell.  A lunch at Taco Bell still beats going without lunch entirely. But I will never go out of my way to eat there. I eat at Taco Bell maybe once or twice per year. I used to eat at Zantigo multiple times per week.

Like I said, Zantigo was simply better.

So what the heck happened?

Zantigo was the victim of PepsiCo, in a manner of speaking. In 1986, KFC owned Zantigo, and RJR Nabisco owned KFC. PepsiCo bought KFC, and in the process acquired Zantigo.

(If you’re having trouble keeping that chain of ownership straight, don’t feel too bad. Such was indicative of the merger mania that prevailed in the 1980s.)

Zantigo might have survived the PepsiCo acquisition, if not for the fact that PepsiCo already owned Taco Bell. The corporate number crunchers at PepsiCo decided that it would be more efficient to only keep one Mexican fast-food chain. And so of course they kept the more mediocre one, and killed the good one.

PepsiCo’s destruction of Zantigo began in late 1986. By the end of 1987, Zantigo was a thing of the past.

In most cases, Zantigo restaurants were simply rebranded as Taco Bells, with Taco Bell’s inferior menu and ingredients. The two Zantigo locations near my house became Taco Bells as 1987 came to a close.

Such was the end of a great era in Mexican fast food. Zantigo, 1969-1987, RIP.

Hollywood on strike, and the economics of streaming

I hope you weren’t waiting on the edge of your seat for the next season of whatever to drop on Netflix or Paramount+. In case you missed it, both the actors guild and the writers guild are now on strike. This brings the production of any scripted movies or television shows to a screeching halt for the duration.

Does the blame lie with greedy studio execs? Snowflake screenwriters and actors? Or perhaps something more complicated…

Remember what happened to the music industry once it went full Internet. In my (pre-Internet) 1980s youth, MTV played music videos, because record companies funded them. Music videos were free advertising for albums, after all. Millions of teens (myself included, in those days) watched those MTV videos, and then we rushed off to Camelot Music or Peaches Records & Tapes to buy the latest Def Leppard or Michael Jackson album.

Then people stopped buying albums. They haven’t bought albums for decades. Music is now delivered almost exclusively through streaming services.

This is why there is no 21st-century equivalent to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, etc. The economics required to invest in new, groundbreaking rock acts simply isn’t there anymore.

This is also, by the way, why MTV no longer plays music videos. The album-driven economics that funded the 80s-era music videos no longer exists.

Def Leppard, “Photograph” (1983)

So all we have nowadays is way more Taylor Swift than most of us can handle without gagging, and lots of struggling indie bands that may never get the capital necessary to take off. They’ll scrape by on the pittance of streaming fees, and a few tee-shirt sales. You’ll never hear of most of them.

That was what Full Internet did to the music industry. The economics of movies and television were slower to shift. In the 2000s, while the music industry was being decimated by online piracy and the beginnings of the streaming industry, people were still watching television in the pre-Internet ways, and they were still flocking to cinemas.

Then we all became addicted to streaming.

I’m not pointing any fingers here. I have a subscription to Netflix myself. For about $20 per month, Netflix delivers unlimited, high-end scripted content. No more movie tickets to buy, no more pay-per-view for the latest movies.

Oh, and no pesky commercials, either!

That’s a pretty sweet deal for the consumer, but it’s a lot harder to make money (and fund content) that way. Most of the streaming services are losing money at present.

The writers, actors, and studio execs haven’t yet adjusted to the reality of streaming economics, as the entire music industry was forced to do about two decades ago.

So what happens next? The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the studio heads will eventually come to a settlement. They are all in this together, whether they like it or not, and these are, by and large, people who want to keep doing what they’re already doing. Jennifer Lawrence is not going to “learn how to code”.

But if the history of the music industry’s decline is a reliable guide, the current strikes will have consequences. And you won’t like them.

The Golden Age of Streaming has likely crested. Some of the most interesting shows of recent years—Stranger Things, The Last Kingdom, even Yellowstone—will be replaced by cheaper-to-make, more repetitive fare.

Are you sick of superhero movies yet? How about superhero streaming series, too? Sick of Taylor Swift? How about a Taylor Swift streaming biopic?

(I don’t even want to think about that, but I may have no choice.)

This summer will likely mark the beginning of the streaming decline. There will still be streaming content, but it will be less innovative, less engaging, and not nearly as good as it was during its golden age.

After all, that’s what happened to the music industry once it was struck by the economics of streaming. That’s how we got nonstop Taylor Swift, who would have been regarded as a moderately competent lounge singer in the more musically diverse 1980s.

‘Ozark’ and microtension

Unlike some people who write books, I’m not hostile to television, especially good television.

And Netflix’s Ozark is very good television. I’m now binge-watching the series, and I’m already in the fourth season. 

I’m sort of dreading the end of the fourth season, because that’s all there is! Netflix has already announced that there will be no fifth season of Ozark.

Here’s the premise of Ozark, briefly stated. Marty Byrde (played by Jason Bateman) is a Chicago-based financial advisor. Despite being a whiz with money, he’s never quite been able to keep his head above water.

Then Marty is courted by the Navarro drug cartel as a money launderer. After extensive discussions with his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), Marty reluctantly agrees to the proposition.

But Marty’s old college friend and business partner, Bruce (Josh Randall), makes a fatal mistake. Bruce attempts to cheat the cartel, by skimming some of the laundered cash. 

And as we all know, cheating Mexican drug cartels is never a good idea. The cartel eventually finds out what Bruce is up to. Cartel operatives show up in Chicago. They execute Bruce, along with his fiancée, and the father-son trucking company owners who were also involved in the theft.

Marty witnesses the massacre. Needless to say, he is shaken…but alive. Continue reading “‘Ozark’ and microtension”

The bygone, venerable 8-track

Members of my generation lived to see plenty of changes in the ways popular music is consumed. We were born in the golden age of the vinyl album. As adults, many of us are learning to cope with streaming music services.

Throughout most of the 1980s, the audio cassette tape was the most popular means of buying music and listening to it. When I see nostalgic Facebook posts about physical music media from the 1980s, the cassette tape is most often the subject.

But there was another musical format that was already dying out as the 1980s began, but which was actually quite good, by the standards of the time. I’m talking about the venerable 8-track tape. Continue reading “The bygone, venerable 8-track”