Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

09 November 2016

It's Not My Fault, I Think

Confession:  For a brief time in my life, I worked in market research.  

In those days, we didn't have what are now called "social media".  And only the computer geeks were using the computer networks that would later help to form the basis of the Internet.

So we did our work with paper and telephone surveys. The former were mailed or given to people, while the latter--then as now--reached people while they were eating dinner, or at some equally inconvenient time.

The money was decent.  So why did I leave it?  No, I didn't have any sort of existential crisis or moral pangs.  And I didn't get bored:  After all, in what other kind of work can you learn such interesting and useful facts as people's consumption habits?  At the time, interestingly, people in Puerto Rico bought more Cheez-Whiz and Hawaiians purchased more Spam per capita than anyone else in America.  And the average New Yorker--surprise, surprise--bought more Wonder bread than anyone else.

Egad!  Had I known that such data would be stuck in my cranium all of these years later, I would have quit even sooner than I did.  But I left market research, in part because I went and did other things that, I thought, were closer to my own talents (such as they are) and passions. The biggest reason, however, for moving on to other things was that I realized my MR job was the most profound waste of time in my life.  I still feel that way about it.

On that job, I learned that simply asking people questions wasn't the surest, best way to get accurate, much less truthful, information about people.  We all know that there are those loves, those passions, that dare not speak their names.  To this day, I don't know what led me--or anyone else with whom I worked--to believe that people would always tell us what they wanted, liked or felt.  Sometimes they wouldn't.  Sometimes they couldn't.

I found myself thinking about my MR experience after I heard the election results and the disbelief of the pollsters and pundits.  Surely, they told us, Trump hadn't a chance:  He was too vulgar, too sexist, too fill-in-the-blank.  He had no government experience; running a company or hosting a reality TV show isn't like presiding over a country.  As if people were thinking in such terms!

Their surveys and algorithms (Was that the theme music for a certain campaign in 2000?)  couldn't detect something I've noticed while riding my bike.  

From Regated

I wish I'd photographed the lines of "Trump" signs posted on front lawns along the Connecticut, Westchester and New Jersey streets I rode last Friday and Saturday.  Some of them stood next to signs calling for Hillary's incarceration.  

Through the past spring and summer, such signs sprouted, like fungi after a rainstorm, with increasing and alarming frequency, along my bike routes on Long Island and even in parts of this city, the bluest of the blue.   

Of course, being on the road, I saw plenty of "Trump/ Pence--Make America Great Again" bumper stickers.   And, let me tell you, they weren't all on pickup trucks:  I even saw one on a Prius, of all cars!   

But what if I'd presented some pollster or talking head with photos of Trump signs and bumper stickers, or other evidence of Trumpmania I observed?  Would they have paid any attention to me?  Somehow, I think they wouldn't have, any more than the market researcher I was would have listened to someone who actually spent time in clubs, dance halls and the like in order to determine what music people were listening to.  Or the store manager who can tell you what is selling and what isn't.  

So, even though I didn't take those photos or otherwise record the evidence of Trumpophilia I saw from my saddle, I guess I'm not responsible, after all, for his election.  Or so I'd like to believe.


  1. I was struck, last summer, by the overwhelming percentage of Trump signs I saw in rural Washington State. Rural areas put him over the top in Wisconsin. However, my own theory is that he won because he was born and bred in New York, while Hillary came lately from Illinois by way of Arkansas. Do Chuck and Donald play golf together?

  2. Steve--Actually, I think more rich and famous people play golf with "The Donald" than we know.

    You mention the rural areas of Washington State and Wisconsin. I think the fact that he had so much support in such areas is the reason why his victory surprised the people who were supposed to know better: They don't pay attention to those areas.

  3. A little late on this comment, but...

    Up here in this corner of northern Europe, after Brexit and the results last Tuesday, the American and British expats are finding themselves in the same boat. The black humor joke here among us is that everybody is sewing little Canadian flags on the shoulders of our jackets.

    I had one newspaper editor call me up on Wednesday and offer her condolences.

    These are dark times. Brexit went through because of the pro-Brexit faction feeding false information to the electorate. Hate crimes are alarmingly on the rise in the UK. You don't have to feel so all alone...


  4. Leo--Well, at least that editor offered her condolences.

    When I went to work on Wednesday, it felt the way the city felt in the days just after 9/11: Everybody looked shell-shocked, and some cried. I'm worried about myself, but I'm even more worried about some of my students: I'm sure that at least one would be murdered if he or she were sent back to his or her birth country.

    Also, in the wake of the elections, there has been a lot more bullying, among adults as well as kids, here in the US.