Only the Best

From the Stool

Only the Best

Have you ever met anyone planning a surgical procedure who didn’t feel his or her doctor was the best in the country, or at the least in the state where the operation will be performed? It is reassuring to believe the person doing the cutting is the best, and while under optimum conditions may be. A bad day is still possible even for the best and most are not even close.

Peyton Manning turned the ball over four times, three interceptions and a fumble in his second game back with the Broncos against the Falcons, unprecedented in his entire career. John Elway and the team have guaranteed Manning $100 million for four years to get them to the Super Bowl on the assumption that he is still the best. In game six he stormed back in spectacular fashion.

People whose children gain acceptance to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Williams and Brown, unless legacies, can declare their kids will get the best education available and have earned it.

For the vast majority of kids for whom an elite college is not possible, parents often develop “an only the best” scenario for a particular course of study at an otherwise ordinary institution. Hotel and Restaurant Management, Culinary Science, Animal Husbandry, Massage Therapy often acquire “best in class” status even at community colleges with less than four- year programs.

Very few people are content to buy an ordinary car, but only a small percentage can afford to pay for high-end luxury vehicles. Whether a Kia Sportif, a Dodge Ram pickup, or an S-class Mercedes, the automobile industry has done a brilliant job in declaring “best in class” for every category and subcategory from small value to midsize and full size sedans, to small SUV’s, full size SUV’s, crossover SUV’s, large SUV’s, from high performance to low performance sports cars, from the Beetle to the Mini, from the Corvette to the Porsche 911, each with its own carefully crafted emotional suck.

You shouldn’t have to feel ordinary or deprived even if your only goal is cheap transportation. Possible exception might be the plain vanilla minivan. Mercedes, however, introduced its R-class sport wagon (read minivan) several years ago, which with options sells for over $80,000 and screams, “only the best”.

There are only a handful of truly five star luxury hotels – St. Regis, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, and perhaps a few others almost exclusively located in major urban centers and very pricey, exclusive destination resorts. The hospitality industry, like the car people, has done an extraordinary job of slicing and dicing. Hotels, budgetels, motels, inns, suites, extended stay residences, and timeshares, like fast food chains can cluster cheek to jowl and all do maximum business.

In and around major airports and on highly traveled interstates it is not uncommon to find a large group including a Motel Six, Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard by Marriott, a Residence Inn, Embassy Suites, Comfort Inn and Suites, a Crowne Plaza, a Hyatt, a Radisson, a Ramada, and a variety of Hiltons, most franchised but some corporately owned.

Very complex rewards, honors, and point systems are intertwined with airlines, car rentals and banks engineered to generate loyalty to its often not so unique brand. Each claim to be the best for what they do for the price: free breakfast, workout facilities, pools, sometimes bars, and fewer restaurants. All but the full service hotels are more likely to offer menus from a variety of local restaurants that will deliver, than provide a facility to feed you more than breakfast.

The restaurant business dwarfs all other industries combined in their claims at being the best in class or offering the best in a particular category. Never imagined living long enough for Five Guys to be Zagat rated. Virtually every street in America has an eatery, most locally owned, that boasts of having the best pancakes, pulled pork, pizza, gyros, curry, subs, fried chicken. Thai, Armenian, Korean, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian – the best corned beef hash, roast beef hash, hash brown potatoes, tomato soup, onion soup, cream of mushroom, corn chowder, clam chowder, fish chowder, lamb stew, beef stew, oyster stew. Even outright dumps claim to serve the world’s best Chicago styled hot dogs, Italian beef and sausage sandwiches. Surprisingly many do for the patrons with enough courage to try.

Overlay the hundreds of thousands of national and more often today international restaurant chains from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Culver’s, Five Guys, In and Out – each having built their massive sales often around a single item which they claim to be the best – the Big Mac, Whopper, Monster Thick Burger, Butter Burger, unfrozen old fashioned burgers, steak burgers, juiceless burgers, and burgers where the juice runs down your chin and over your shirt.

An almost limitless number of family restaurants from Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, Friday’s, Bob Evans, Denny’s, Original Pancake House, P. F. Chang’s – to steakhouses like Longhorn, Outback, Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s – each claim to offer the family the best from biscuits and sausage gravy to ultra high priced bone in strip sirloin.

While I’m loathe to inject personal preference in this column, beyond politics of course, there is no question in my mind that the best food in the world is Italian. Whether in New York, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, Beijing, Santiago, Amsterdam, London, Berlin or Nice – the best restaurants are Italian. Only in Italy is it impossible to buy a bad meal.

Americans are conditioned to believe they are wearing the best jeans, running in the best shoes, hitting the best golf ball, drinking the best booze, and living in the best neighborhood. Teenagers, if you accept the latest statistics, are sexually active earlier than ever before, and I imagine they believe their first experience is the best, even when there is nothing to compare.

Best seller lists are loaded with books claiming to identify the best beaches, mountains, forests, deserts, casinos, resorts, trains, subways, stadiums, and even public restrooms. All of the major cruise lines claim to offer the best food, living conditions, and on board entertainment, while sailing only to the best destinations.

I read a great deal of popular fiction, particularly in the mysteries and thrillers category, and don’t believe I have encountered one title that was not on the #1 New York Times Best Seller list. All politicians, particularly state and local, claim plans to provide all citizens with the best schools, roads, public transportation, air and water. All insurance companies promise the best rates, car sellers the best deals, and retailers the best prices.

Every ten years or so super stars emerge in a major sport and for a period of time are declared the best ever. Kareem, Magic and Bird – supplanted by Michael, now threatened by Kobe and Lebron. In tennis Rod Laver for thirty years, acknowledged the best until Sampras and Federer. Now Nadal and Djokovic are asking for consideration. Unitas, Namath, Staubach, Marino, Young, Favre, Manning, Brady, Brees – each for a given period or a particular statistic at one time declared the best. Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Norman and Woods, each in their own time the best ever.

The science and technology of equipment, coaching, nutrition, and conditioning has changed dramatically in almost all sport, and for the better. Would Federer have won seventeen majors with the tiny wooden racquet used by Laver, or Nicklaus, eighteen majors with the same sticks in his bag used by Hogan? Woods dominated golf for most of his career as perhaps the only top player to hit a 300+ yard drive consistently. Today there are a dozen or more, tall, strong twenty-five somethings able to hit 350 yards or better. During the recent Ryder Cup at Medinah many of the top pros hit their four or five irons (Dustin Johnson six iron) on a 240 yard par three requiring a 230 yard carry to get over the water. I wonder if Bobby Jones or Hogan would have used a driver.

In a few sports like boxing and soccer little has changed save diet and conditioning, perhaps explaining why Pele and Joe Louis are still considered the best ever. In sport, as there is always a winner and a loser, it is easier to qualify the best ever designation. Marino never won a Super Bowl, Sampras never a French Open.

In many areas like art, motion pictures, theatre, literature, personal preference dictates the best as there is no absolute standard. I agree with Jack Reacher that Harry Truman was our greatest president but I am sure there are a few who would select Harding, Grant, and perhaps, God forbid, W.

People with this writer’s penchant for action films might designate “The Magnificent Seven”, “Rambo I” or “The Expendables” best ever status overlooking “Gone With the Wind”, “Citizen Kane” and “My Fair Lady”.

For those who believe that the Golden Age of Rock ended in 1970 giving best ever status to the Isley Brothers original “Twist and Shout”, The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man”, or The Beatles “Hey Jude” seems right and proper. For the young who have grown up with Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, L’il Wayne, and Kanye West, anything older is prehistoric drivel.

I lack the strength to analyze the subtleties and nuances used to determine best in class or award winning status where wine or women are concerned – best body, aroma, fragrance, packaging, legs, lips, hair, breasts and for a few like Jennifer Lopez and Bridgette Bardot, ass. Many vintners believe that their product is fine art, to be judged only by the true connoisseur. Those old enough to remember the twenty-year old Bardot lying face down nude on a towel in the opening scene of “And God Created Woman” might be forgiven for ranking her ass alongside the Mona Lisa, the David, and the Sistine Chapel.

As From the Stool has been largely dormant for several years I am uncertain who if anyone reads it. As Only the Best is the first truly open-ended column in the collection would welcome comments from anyone interested in editing or adding to the discussion.

Would be remiss, as a recent first time Grandfather if I didn’t close by saying without hesitation, that the twenty month old, Benjamin Bloom Daly, is the brightest and best looking baby on the planet.