Kohler, WI sits sandwiched between farmland and road houses, slightly west of Sheboygan. It's deposited in an area once so thick with trees that early white guys had to use Indian trails to get their Manifest Destiny on—before growing tired of all that and chopping everything down for the paper mills.
Flush forward a bit, and in comes John Michael Kohler, a 19th century Austrian immigrant who pitted his teutonic rationalism against the rough midwestern terrain. Pristine rows of flowers and trees, picturesque houses from a hundred years ago. Golf courses. A massive foundry. Up sprung Kohler, a perfect company town, cranking out perfect metallic things at a perfect rate, from hog scalders to the Numi toilet, and now, the next generation of Sheik-like hygienic excess: the VibrAcoustic tub. Kohler flew, drove, and coddled me all the way to the middle of the middle of nowhere so I could experience the thing. It was surreal.
Welcome to the product junket, an all-expenses-paid PR pitch masquerading as a trip that we, as a rule, do not participate in. Junkets make us feel icky; they compromise our objectivity. But like some sort of journalistic influenza, junkets are everywhere—tech, sports, cars, and of course, gadgets, maybe the most crooked of all trades. This is a peek inside of the industry staple that produces everything from exotic car-test cover stories to exclusive interviews with company execs. This was my first trip into the corporate gravy pit, but it certainly wasn't the first offer: skiing trips to test jackets, luxury towers in Shanghai to leer at desktop computers. It is the science of corporate control. At any given point, the companies you buy things from are giving writers vacations on corporate home turf: perfectly choreographed, all-expenses-paid commodity lapdances that attempt to produce Manchurian Bloggers. It was my turn. The VibrAcoustic looked cool! And come on, it's not like we could have a bathtub review unit sent to our office.
And Joe must have been drunk or something, because he said I could go.
But why had Kohler even emailed me in the first place? Was this a mistake? Had I been mistakenly placed on the masthead for Plumbing & Hydronic Contractor News Magazine? (A real thing, and no, I am not qualified to work there.) No. It all came back to an event last year in which I sat upon the Zeus toilet—and wrote about it more effusively than most people propose marriage.