My last business trip was a junket to Seattle last February. I remember texting Tara from the airport, struck by all the people wearing masks. 

Nobody in Pittsburgh even imagined wearing a mask yet. Seems like a millennium ago.   

I remember getting side-eye from people back home when I told them I’d been to Seattle. Same side-eye you’d get when you coughed or sneezed in the grocery store during the early days.  

That’s also when our business started booming. We were, literally, the first ones to have data on how consumers were reacting. Two-thousand people were joining webinars I did every week. Seriously. Two-thousand people. For a freaking webinar.

By the time the other data jockeys caught up, we were prognosticating on what would happen when things started reopening. We’ve been leading ever since, if I do say so myself. 

That’s also the last time I got a haircut. Until last week. 

I bet our kids I could make it until I was vaccinated. And I did. But not before growing one hell of a hockey mullet. Twelve months in, I could finally pull it into a respectable ponytail. Now it’s all gone. 

So, I guess the pandemic is over. 

Well, not really. 

It may never be entirely over. Variants will likely bounce around ad infinitum. Smart people – selfless people – will probably still wear masks in tight places like airplanes for longer than anyone wants to admit. Years, I’d wager. I’m super-claustrophobic (long story) and masks are torture after about a half hour. So, that sucks. C’est la vie. 

For now, I’ll celebrate the parts I can put behind me – like using conditioner for the first time in my life then, like clockwork, forgetting to rinse it out and having to get back in the shower after drying off. Or spending entire meetings awkwardly tucking my hair behind my ears.

But enough about my hair.

Because I’m doing a guy trip this weekend, my first such excursion since November 2019. We’re going “trout fishing,” which is Appalachian for “drinking beer and playing poker.” 

Which means I’m probably in rough shape while you’re reading this – including the large swath of you who don’t read it until opening your work emails on Monday mornings. It’s a three-day-recovery kind of weekend. 

Getting old blows.

Being vaccinated (and mullet-less) doesn’t.

Here’s what we’re seeing:  

Consumer confidence is doing things I’ve never seen before. Our Economic Sentiment Index fell an unremarkable half point over the past two weeks, but that’s not the story. It would have been way down were it not for our job metrics. Over nearly a decade of staring at these charts, the lines almost always ran in basically the same pattern or shape. Until about St. Patrick’s Day, when everything changed. Confidence in the job market has been blazing, while confidence in buying a new home is plummeting. Everything else is just wobbling – or down just a little, lately. Now to figure out what it all means.    

Oh, but be on the lookout for the “I” Train. A lot of economists and finance experts will tell you they’re not worried about inflation – either because it’s not really happening or, in some ways, it could be a good thing for the economy. I’m definitely the dumb guy in the room on that stuff. The problem, however, is that most consumers think they know what inflation is (higher costs) and they think it’s bad. Perception may matter more than reality if people start changing their spending patterns as a result. Stay alert. 

Travel is getting ready to bounce back. For the first time since long before the pandemic began, a majority of Americans say they are planning to travel somewhere in the next month. Half of those folks – or 1 in 4 Americans – are planning to fly. Over half of Americans in every age group, except 55+, say they would feel comfortable traveling right now. Just in time for summer. Book your flights while you still can. 

I’m selling all my baseball and football cards and you should too (after I do). There is little clearer proof of the bursting wallets of many Americans right now than the market for sports cards and other collectibles (physical or virtual). Jerry Rice rookie cards are going for $20,000. Jordan cards are fetching two commas. And it’s not just the ultra-wealthy playing the game either. Younger adults, still sitting on stimulus checks and lower expenses, are buying and selling cards in record numbers. It has to be a bubble though, right? Sell while the sellin’ is good.

The recent recall of Peloton treadmills could be a drag on the entire brand. After a wave of injuries on Peloton treadmills – and one tragic death – the company enacted a major recall of their running machines. And, while Peloton’s treadmill business is a step-sibling of its much bigger bike business, the news appears to be rubbing off on the parent brand. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have a lesser opinion of Peloton since the news, and that jumps to nearly 30% among people who are aware of the details of the recall. These things do tend to fade, so long as they don’t become a recurrence. 

The plant-based meat category is still wide open and I still have no interest. Tyson, of chicken fame, announced the launch of new plant-based meat products and 1 in 5 Americans (none of whom are me) are interested in trying them. Nearly 60% of people who like the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat Burger say they are willing to give it a try. This tells us that the early entrants in the category haven’t built very strong barriers. Bigger, more trusted brands (like Target) have a big opportunity to grab share here (just not from me). I’m still waiting for meat-based plants.  

More studies this week:

Here were our most popular questions this week:

Answer Key:  Way underrated; Tito’s; Of course, I’m Gen X; Nope; Never.

Hoping you’re well.

JD