It has been six weeks since the Hallmark Christmas movies finished their annual parade across our home’s televisions. As I understand it, we have another six, maybe eight weeks before they start up again.

My wife loves those movies, and I don’t mind them so much in the background. I kind of enjoy seeing if they can do something creative with the several trademark elements that get recycled through the scripts each year. The baking competitions, the romance, the saving the family business … and the queen of the Christmas movie plots, which this year I dubbed, “Lady, you ain’t EVER getting back to that big city.”

A recurring moment involves our fish-out-of-water heroine trying to order a latte in the local diner. The owner at the counter chuckles. Our heroine realizes Splenda is considered a bit exotic here, and “soy milk” is literally a phrase with no meaning. She pays for her black coffee, picks up a couple of sugar packets, and her small-town acclimation continues.

Having been up and down the aisles of the AHR Expo this year, it sure looks like the HVAC industry is doing the same thing, but in reverse.

What do I mean? The technology moved forward, as it always does, but more than a couple of booths featured another development to attract traffic: baristas and bartenders. I don’t think the bar setups saw all that much action.

But customized caffeine? That seemed to draw a pretty good crowd. We all know the evolution of coffee in America. What was decidedly European not too long ago would become a fancy option and, eventually, a familiar part of everyday domestic life. Sure, it happened with the help of piles of marketing money, frequently larger piles of sweetener, and a conveniently addictive ingredient, but still.

So here we are in 2019, where a savvy exhibitor will make sure that HVAC contractors who developed a midafternoon habit back home won’t have to skip it at the show. That’s just good manners. By the way, have you seen our latest product …

Not everything that works well in Europe has enjoyed such crossover success, of course. A couple of our editors visited the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and tasted an Italian beverage that happens to share a name with yours truly. I think the description I heard in the press room the next morning was something along the lines of “the worst thing I have ever tasted.” In my defense, this Beverly drink is an aperitif. It’s supposed to be really bitter, and served with a little orange slice and some appetizers — not by itself out of some soda machine. Aperitifs are an old tradition in Italy. I don’t think the concept has made much of a dent stateside, apart from certain Italian or upscale restaurants back in this or that metropolitan area.

Then again, modern electric air conditioning used to be the domain of manufacturing. Mini splits used to stick to garages and warm regions. Even a forward-thinking homeowner used to answer her landline to confirm a maintenance appointment and would walk across the room to change the thermostat.

All of that has changed. Over a slightly longer arc, indoor comfort has followed the same path as coffee. Some technologies have gone from common only overseas to novel/niche solutions to just about mainstream. Texting is becoming the new calling for customer service. People no longer hear “macchiato” and think you’re mispronouncing the guy from The Karate Kid.

Yes, there’s (big) money in taking people to visit a simpler, semi-mythical small town origin story on TV around the holidays. But that’s despite — or maybe because of — the fact that here in real life, if it pleases us, what once was fancy often finds a way to become the new normal.

That’s good for business, unless that diner owner won’t even consider an espresso machine.

Now, who’s ready for that aperitif?

Publication date: 2/4/2019

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