Baffled by the proliferation of designer sticky buns, blue-corn tortilla chips and gelato valued at its weight in gold, we turned for insight to Robert B. Settle, a San Diego State University professor and student of the wanton cravings of baby boomers.
Settle is a co-author of "Why They Buy," a newly published study of the psycho-social impulses that send consumers hurtling through places like Horton Plaza.
He's come up with a few truisms that could shoot a shudder down the shapely yuppie spine:
- When money's tight, buy goat cheese. Settle calls this principle Cheap Thrills: "When they're under financial stress, they tend to buy luxuries--high-priced, small-ticket goods like premium ice cream and gourmet chocolates. . . . I think it has to do with the baby boomers' upbringing, like they're entitled to it."
- Then there's what Settle calls Compensatory Buying, the affliction of those born too late to afford a town house in the Golden Triangle. The spirit of CB, says Settle, is, "If I can't have my own home, at least I can have the best Italian pasta machine that money can buy."
- Scrimp and splurge: Baby boomers will clip coupons and pinch pennies on routine meals, car services, "things that aren't socially visible." Then they'll drop hundreds on Perry Ellis raincoats, videocassette recorders and other high-tech toys.
It ain't pretty. But Settle is understanding.
The '60s shattered baby boomers' faith in institutions, he says.
The real estate crunch tricked them out of a home. Now, industrial and economic shifts uproot them regularly. When life is uncertain, reach for the Dove Bars.
"People seek human satisfaction from their purchases. That's why they work," Settle said in an interview from his San Diego State office.
"Better to spend it on Godiva chocolates than to go into debt."
"Think of a quarter as being an inch," says Sallye Sickman. "We know that there are 63,360 inches in a mile. So there are 63,360 quarters in a mile of quarters. It's actually 52 rows with 1,200 quarters and one row with 960 quarters. That adds up to $15,840."
Sickman is a statistician of quarters and logistician of the Children's Hospital "miracle mile" to be laid out on a slab of indoor-outdoor carpet in Grossmont Center on April 3 and 4. The aim is to raise money for the hospital: $15,840, to be exact.
Last year, the hospital ended up with a Miracle Four-Fifths Mile.
"We had to hire two armed guards to guard it because it was close to $13,000," Sickman said. "Then, we actually took shovels and shoveled the quarters into bags, and we had an armored car pick them up and take them to the bank to count them.
"It worked out so well, we're going to do it the same way this year. Because it was so hokey! The thing is, it's hokey but that's a lot of money."
Now, the Chico Cup
Beyond the cozy perimeter of America's Finest City, some astute souls are actually drawing a comparison between a bunch of boozy blowhards propelling toys across a beer trough to the race for the America's Cup.
So tonight, on the back patio of the Madison Bear Garden in Chico, Calif., 100 miles from the swells and whitecaps of the blue Pacific, a phalanx of frat brothers and others will don Chico Yacht Club T-shirts and host the Chico Cup.
The competing yachts will be built of balsa wood, fitted with cocktail-napkin sails and launched in a steel beer-icing trough. Using chimney bellows, contestants will skipper their vessels down six feet of high seas, around a tiny buoy and back again.
Starting gun: 9 p.m. That's Pacific Standard Time.
What About Showers?
Starting in mid-March, Oceanside will host California's first Fantasy Fitness Center, a kind of high-tech health club-amusement park.
Each weight machine is to be equipped with a "personal coach"--synthesized voice, 1,000-word vocabulary and computerized face on a screen, according to advance billing.
This coach gives you its undivided attention; even if you want it to, it won't go away.
Later, your entire workout is to be printed out on a computerized printer before you retire to an "alpha chair" in the "mental fitness auditorium."
There, ensconced in a cushioned chair among recessed speakers, skiing and tennis footage scud by on a 10-foot screen.
As a final touch, the center is to have a verdant reception area, including a mountain retreat with a glowing fireplace.
There also will be waterfalls, a small jungle and macaws. Living, breathing macaws.