Before I discovered the Tempus Fugit almost five years ago, my battles with Dame Insomnia, my losing battles with Dame Insomnia, were fought on the promenade that runs between the East River on one side and the FDR Drive and the Harlem River Drive on the other.
Whenever “She Who Must Be Obeyed” would visit me, I would throw on whatever clothing was appropriate for the weather and take long night walks, usually heading uptown into the hundred, to see what I could see and, mostly, hear, amid the clamor of the city, the gurgle of the water which, I believe, connects you to the greater gods of life.
On every walk alongside the river, I would see small groups of Puerto Rican fisherman standing on the promenade. They stand, some quietly, some noisily, in small clumps of two or three or four, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and hoping for some piscine accompaniment.
These men, and they are almost always men, are nearly as permanent as Easter Island heads. They’re out in the rain and wind and searing heat and ever-present monoxide with their long rods fishing for blues or stripers or weakfish or blackfish or porgy or, even, an eel.
In all my years of walking by, I’ve twice or three times seen someone make a lucky strike and haul in something alive. The guys who line the pier at 107th seem to do better with their crab pots and chicken necks. I’ve seen them reel in blue claws, but not very many and not very often.
The other bit about fishing in the East River is this: I’m not sure you’d want to eat anything you did finally catch. Though the water is cleaner than it’s been for decades, it is still a viscous murky mess, more on the order of the consistency of hot and sour soup at a cheap Chinese restaurant than something you’d want to take a meal out of. Even on the most glistening of days, if you follow a piling into the water from the surface, you don’t get more than seven or nine inches below the surface before the wood disappears into the filth.
Still, with cigarettes suspended from their lips hanging by mere spittle like George Raft in an old Warner Brothers’ gangster flick, the Puerto Ricans are out there. With optimism, they fasten their rods to the cast-iron barriers with bungee cords to hold them against the fierce onslaught of a blue. And they attach to the ends of their rods little bells that will tinkle interrupting their hard-earned roadside naps when a strike happens.
They are out there at four in the afternoon and out there at four in the morning. They persist even during howling winter storms where there isn’t a fish to be found anywhere from Hatteras to the Georges Bank. It’s being out there that matters. Out with your Carling’s Black Label and portable radio, listening to the Yankees come from behind and take a twin bill against the Tigers of Detroit.
I worry, to be clear, that our industry has become like those Puerto Rican fishermen.
We try to hook customers by any means necessary. And keep casting our lines into the turbid darkness. We bait with CRM, then we toss in programmatic, and syndicated, and broadcast, and pre-roll, and you name it.
And nothing seems to work.
Not a nibble.
But we’re out there night after night, day after day.
Maybe just for the hell of it, after all.
The thing no one wants to say—most certainly not the men hanging out by the water is that no one and no-thing catches fish in the East River.
The thing no one in our business wants to say—most certainly not the certified “smart people” (the ones who know all the tricks and angles and get paid the seven-figure salaries) is that virtually no one and no thing nabs consumers these days.
Only one thing moves and persuades them. Make creative that is interesting, fun, motivating and likeable.
Throw everything else back.