Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Don't Know What I Don't Know

I don't think of myself as a particularly perceptive man; I like to think I have a pretty good grasp of exactly the sort of things that I don't know, and don't try to pretend that I do.

I don't know, for example, how the restaurant industry works. I try to put all of the moving parts in my head, and all of the approximate costs, and yet I see empty restaurants stick around forever, I see crowded restaurants go under, and I can't make heads or tails of what makes success and what doesn't. I more or less assume that chain restaurants need to be X% profitable (not just profitable) or they pull the plug, and I assume that most mom and pop outfits are actually distributing meth and that is why they hang around. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

Likewise, I don't know how the economics of commercial radio works. I assume their major portion of profits come from advertising, and I also know that DJs generally don't make much. Plus they have to pay royalties and (I'm sure) licensing and...all sorts of things, and then I get a figure in my head of how much a thirty second spot has to be and I can't imagine who would buy it at that price. But then again I predicted when one radio station was about to go under when they started randomly doing "extra" breaks for a string of ads in addition to the regularly scheduled ad breaks, so who knows?  It all just seems like a well-oiled Ponzi scheme based on skeleton crews and sweaty Christina Aguilera singles.

I don't know how road constructions crews operate. On the one hand, I try and give them the benefit of the doubt: road work is hard, unforgiving physical labor in (usually) intense heat. I sure as hell don't want to do that. And most of it requires skill; it's not just digging ditches. On the other hand, about 90% of the time one or two people are working and about twenty-five people are standing around doing nothing. And then they work on one mile of road for four months and then the next mile--where they are doing the exact same thing--takes, like two days. I know you can't judge how a crew operates based on the twenty seconds you see them on the way to and from work each day, but there's enough of a pattern that I can't figure it out. Part of me thinks it's all part of some featherbedding scam, and another part of me thinks it's magic.

As with most things, while I don't know how all these things work, I also don't think I want to know. Sometimes mystery is a good thing, even if it's something as mundane as why we've heard Steely Dan three times today when you might hear them once a week, tops.

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