Thursday, October 19, 2017

How Big Box Stores Are Driving Us To The Internet

Change. We all hate change. And yet, like it or not ... whether we plan for it, design it if you will, one way or another things do change. For several years now, it has become a kind of media mantra ... we are letting our fingers do the walking across our keyboards instead of than using our feet to walk at the mall. Business magazines say in 5 years 1 out of 5 malls will close in the United States. Many already have. I live a mile from one that closed a few years ago. It looks like some kind of beached whale dead in the desert. The signs are everywhere ... talked about on TV, magazines, newspaper articles and of course on the Internet.
   Macy's is closing 150 stores, J.C. Penney's is on the brink, Sears announces that they may not survive in one year or maybe two. While you can call, and I did, you even have to book your Amtrak tickets on line. We won't even talk about the havoc with the travel business!
   So you might ask, where do we shop?
  That's avery good if not loaded question. The grocery world was rocked when Amazon announced that it was purchasing Whole Foods Markets, better known as Whole Paycheck Market. What? Amazon the company that pretty much put retail book stores out of business buying one of the priciest chains in the country? I can't wait to see.

... and the cupboard was bare!
Must have been a good sale or?
was it Black Friday
   Going to my local Walmart yesterday after not finding all I wanted at Aldi, what I saw, on a Monday afternoon was pretty grim in groceries and for that matter, the rest of the store.

   There were lots of things in the store but obviously the things that people were wanted were not, they were already gone and from the looks of things not soon to be replaced. And sometimes, what was left you wouldn't have wanted anyway. Well, Walmart has part of the mantra right; if they don't have it you really do save money; there's nothing there to buy! This was not the only part of the store that was bare, or we used to say in retail ... ragged.  Their pharmacy department is simply a disgrace. What I have pictured here is nothing new. It always looks like this. And when you inquire it's like the three monkeys ... hear no evil, see no evil, talk no evil. In several minutes of inquiry no one knew anything.
    Would you drive there for this? Save you time and gas, 

    look for it online. It is always there, somewhere and
    probably cheaper.
   What is their plan? How are they going to reverse the slide that is rapidly moving from a trickle to a flood? It certainly won''t be stores such as this.
   Before I hear some grousing, these photos were taken Monday afternoon after a normal school weekend. You can only guess what it would look like after a holiday weekend. Around one bin of budget DVD's three, yes 3 "associates" were counting (mostly chatting) a nearly empty bin. All around them were similar scenes.
   Its this kind of behavior that has customers flocking to the Internet. What they order is always there, the items should be of the highest quality or that company is doomed and often it can be delivered on the same day! What's not to like? Sitting in a robe on a chilly morning or a dark wintry night with a cup of tea or coffee, munchies at hand shopping. The world and just about everything in it is available and you don't even have to leave the house.
   Here is just a sample on Amazon of the choices you can make ... electronics where you can have Alexa place your order, food, books, movies, music and more, much MUCH more.
   Are we lazy or just so stressed for time that at least for now this seems to be the solution? I will say one thing, another run to a store like this and I might be ready to give it a try.
   However, it was just a few years ago that Walmart was the biggest retail store in the world. Tales and studies showed how when a Walmart entered your town just about every local store closed because they couldn't compete, mostly on price or variety. (Which begs the question just how much variety do we need?) There were also studies made on how to compete and win against Walmart but not many listened. How many small folksy stores have you entered where not one employee even acknowledges your presence? If they don't at least greet me I won't buy a thing. Yet I will return to a store that has given me good service. Even if its more expensive. I have learned in my long life that price and quality are usually not compatible. I have also learned that good "enough" and reliable  with inexpensive brands, think Casio over Rolex, often works just as well. Is a Rolls Royce really all that much better than a Chevy Impala? Consumers Reports doesn't seem to think so. The current Chevy Impala rated a 95 out of a 100 while a Rolls Royce costing over 10 times more is merely ok.
   Internet sellers had better do their homework too. Walmart, General Motors and just about every company around has been the big honcho at one time or another but was soon eclipsed. In the 50's GM had 56% of the American car market. They told us that "what was good for GM was good for the United States." Now it's good for Toyota who battles Volkswagen for largest carmaker in the world. Similar mantras were espoused by the big banks. After 2008 they are universally hated and many might agree, they need to be broken up. Walmart was the biggest retailer in the world. A visit to your nearest one may tell another story. Microsoft seemed invincible and yet they have lost the smartphone market, and while healthy in some product lines have had massive failures in others.
    Apple stores are fun. You can use every single

    item they offer and advice is free. Big Box stores
    will have to make coming to their stores compelling
    to a younger generation.
  I, like most men, shop when I need something. I usually don't linger. I can't think of many stores that lure me in and keep me in. The Apple Store is one and while I don't hunt or fish Bass Shops and Cabala's keep me in just to browse and oftentimes buy things I spotted I realizing I could use items that I had never seen before.
   I read recently that the newest Nordstrom's won't have clothes racks. Instead you will meet a clerk who will somehow find out what you want and show you those items, like a personal shopper. That could work. A customer would have a meaningful relationship with a clerk and a store. I remember that when my ex had a shopper at Nordstrom's she got real deals and was well dressed. I remember a local men's store that was like that as well. I would walk in and my usual clerk would show me what he thought I would like. He was rarely wrong either. I miss that.
   For me, the only downside in this new shopping age is that whatever I buy online seems to appear as ads in my Facebook stream. I resent that invasion of privacy. Its bad enough that there are many times more ads than ever before, now, we are subjected to additional ads based on what we purchased. What I purchase is my business and doesn't need to be shown to the world. I never buy from these ads. What I buy, either in the store or online is initiated by me. I make it a point to never click on Internet ads.
The new rating service
   When you walk the aisles and see empty pegs or shelves or nothing where there should be something, I wonder if retailers calculate their lost sales. How much did they lose because the product their master plan calls for is simply not there? Are low wages, lack of living hours for benefits worth it? Possibly this is the secret to COSTCO's success. While they may not carry the same things all year what they have is plentiful and when gone something new and worthy takes its place. Getting hired there is difficult ... few quit. They get good wages and benefits. Employees work hard and are rewarded for it. But even Costco is moving more and more onto the Internet. Where will it end, if ever?
  Some big box stores like Lowe's or Home Depot will most likely continue. Freight alone on a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood would cost a fortune. But stores like BEST BUY better watch out. I have yet to walk into one and see things that actually work. And when you ask to see and use a working model there aren't any ... ever. The batteries are always dead, its not plugged in or there is a working model on the wall but none on the shelf. Yes you can see TV's in action but what about a phone, camera, some kind of player? I gave up on them years ago.
   If I read about something, and I know I am not the only guilty one, I go to Amazon and read the reviews ... and not the good ones either. I zero in on the 1 or 2 stars. What are their experiences? Why the bad rating? If is something I can live with I either order it there or if I can't wait the 2 Prime days will return to the store, assuming, of course they have it and I don't have to wait.
   Retail is rapidly changing. Retailers need to reinvent themselves like the original Macy's did in the 1880's. Their concept was to put everything you needed in one place rather than walking to a variety of different stores. Empires were built and put many small independent businesses out of business. The paradigm is occurring again. Change is the order of the day and so could be their demise.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Do You or Does ANYONE Ever Read the Ads On the Internet or Anywhere Until You Need them?

After watching 8, yes 8 ads in a row on TV the other night I sort of exploded. If I remember correctly from my days in Journalism school, the airwaves are public ... PUBLIC and media of any kind has to pay for their use. However, since the rules seemed to have relaxed from those "Golden Years of the 60's" where no one could own more than one type of media in any market, advertising seems to have exploded. Sadly the 1976 movie NETWORK seemed to see the future and it was glum. Remember the reporter shouting out the window, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore?" I do. And, I am.
   One of the worst, as I have noted before, is CNN, definitely not the Cable News Network but the ANN ... the advertising of news network. "Pardon us as we interrupt this ad for a bit of news." And trust me, it IS just a bit before the ads resume. What is even more maddening is that we have to PAY to watch all this as they rake it in the cable door and from the advertising door. How sweet is that?
Classified ads ... the way you sold
things before Craigslist or 100
other Apps on the Internet today
Newspapers don't
show you the newest ad fad;
advertising half sheets that
fold over the front page
extending to the back. I make
 it a point to NEVER buy
that product.
  Which brings up the topic in my headline ... do you or anyone you know ever look at or click the ads that seem to have gotten worse on the Internet,  ever? In fact, what about those on TV or the sides of just about every vehicle it seems, billboards, the newspaper, junk mail? In fact, I have made it a point to never buy any product from the half sheets the  Desert  Sun  covers  the front
page here with here in the desert. Enough is enough. 
   We are now subjected to 8 minutes of ads on every 30 minute show, four more than in the 60's. They go on and on and on. In fact, at least in California, the infomercials that were once the domain of late night TV are now shown on CBS, NBC and ABC during the evening news. And they are not any shorter either ... droning on and on with and "Wait there's more..." Time for a beer, a snack or pee break, they are that long. 
   In 1967 I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a B.S. in Journalism, Advertising. The rules were much different and extremely strict. But, as we saw on 60 MINUTES the other night, money literally turns the crank in Congress. I applaud CBS and the Washington Post for making everyone aware of who buys who and why. As we now know, just as with the obesity epidemic, drug companies and their distributors with crooked doctors have turned pills that help many of us manage pain in an addiction that few can shake. I have no doubt that is what happened to the 5th Estate too. There is just too much money and few can turn it away.
You can't even ride in public transportation without ads. If
 there were an emergency you don't even know where to look

Ads literally cover the Internet. How many have you clinked
for "more" information? 
Home page on Yahoo. Now that Verizon bought
it there is no doubt going to be more ads, not less.
  In those days we designed ads by hand ... literally! We were expected to create advertisements that looked like they were printed ... no small feat. If you watched the series MAD MEN it was pretty much done like that. Other aspects were also similar like the martini lunches wooing new clients. I would literally spend all day Sunday working on my presentation for Monday. India ink, scissors, glue and whatever I could use became close friends.
   So, I know something about advertising. Yes, there were ads in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth but not with the intensity of today. I find it disconcerting to see ads in my timeline from say Amazon that reflect something I just purchased from them or anyone else for the matter. You can't get on a "home page" anywhere without it looking like this; your home page looking like Times Square. How can you even find anything? I never could and soon gave this kind of thing up. Since I reopened my Facebook page I find it hard to tell if its an ad or something posted by someone I know.
   And I have a message for Zuckerberg too. He better read Marshall McLuhan's THE MEDIA IS THE MESSAGE. Anything that carries a message disseminates, no matter what the media you are sending a message and that message makes you a media company.
   What makes it worse is that other than in your own home with the TV, radio, Internet off, no magazines or newspapers, advertising is everywhere. People are paid to cover their cars with ads, highways are sponsored by companies, you can't see a billboard that isn't either an ad or sponsored by someone. I can remember the 1984 Olympics in L.A. It was an advertisers dream. No one remembers it was the first and probably one of the only Olympics to make money. Every event was brought to you by someone and it wasn't the Olympic Committee either. I wonder what the Greeks of around 500 B.C. would have thought of that? Maybe they could have afforded to buy the athletes some clothing.
   I can hear it now, here's this grumbling old man complaining. Nothing is free. Someone has to pay for our "free", more often not so free, TV, Internet, etc. You have an ever increasing cable bill, if you have a landline there are the nagging robocalls, the cell phone costs money and the list goes on and on. And I ask, how much is enough? Really? I understand the profit principle ... I had my own business. Would advertising be more effective if there was less of it? What if advertisers paid more for each ad that aired fewer times? How many people do you turn off by overkill rather than underkill? Wouldn't you rather see fewer ads and have time to consider them rather than one after another that when they were done you find you couldn't name one!
Grocery store ads I look at.
   The only time I ever look for something is when I need it, be it a new car, tires, food at the grocery store and for fun the real estate ads that out here in the desert are the majority of the newspaper with not one but multiple inserts of million dollar homes. What about you?

  I guess what I'm asking is ... how much is enough? Do we need to be assaulted, yes ASSAULTED at every point in our day by advertising? And personally I find ads such as this (above) on my Internet pages that are, well, offensive. They are something I wouldn't want to both see or read about. There are other forums for this, not there.
   There seems to be just about nothing we can say or show on TV today. I remember when CBS canceled the Smothers Brothers over their use of the word "Damn" and their views on the Viet Nam war. Then, when Walter Cronkite came back from a tour of the Viet Nam War and said on the air, the war was lost that very comment changed both the discussion and conduct of the war.
   Maybe it time for the public to fight back against the increasingly dollar based advertising world. After all, life is more than greed and money ... or is it?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chicago, Chicago ... What a Hellava' Town!

An argument is that Chicago thinks of itself as a country

Before I retired I would make a yearly pilgrimage to Chicago representing an outdoor furniture manufacturer for the Annual Casual Furniture Show. I started I guess in the 90's and continued until I had to bow out in 2007 after some serious medical issues and retire. I, of course, missed the 2001 show as I was waiting for the Super Shuttle to pick me up for my trip to Chicago from LAX, September 11, 2001. As I watched the second plane hit the Trade Towers in NYC on TV, I called them and cancelled the pick-up to their great annoyance. When asked why I explained what I was watching and said I didn't think anyone would be flying that day. She agreed.
   So, its been about 11 years since I have been there. I so enjoyed my visits and would make a point of going to one of its premiere attractions ... The Art Institute, Sears Tower, Field Museum, walking the Miracle Mile. Now, I would be able to do just about anything I wanted and didn't have to deal with the numbing boredom of a trade show, a demanding client, or rooming with someone I may not have liked.
   As a news junkie, I could also not ignore the years of violence that has seemed to rock this city since my last visit. While there were dicey areas then, you simply avoided them and enjoyed the sites. However, as we soon discovered, there is a kind of tension, a seeming lack of patience or courtesy that displayed itself over and over again wherever we went.
You take your life in your hands crossing the street!
   Having just studied the laws regarding drivers here in California for my drivers test, believe it or not, pedestrians have the right of way ... always. Imagine my shock when, as we were crossing clearly marked street corners, drivers turning right would whip around us ... not once but at every corner. There simply was no patience of any kind. One night a woman driver kept angling around me as we walked across a clearly marked crossing with a light that said we could walk. I have never seen such driving ... anywhere. If a car delays a nano second at a green light a horn will sound - not just one either. This is a city that drives by its horns and speed and impatience.
   As a kid I remember a Disney cartoon where Goofy, playing a kind father and husband became a kind of beast the minute he got behind the wheel of his car. His antics were funny to me as a child but are not so funny as an adult crossing the street. In Chicago Goofy comes to life.
   We did enjoy ourselves though but quickly learned to gauge drivers. On our first night after getting lost using the WAZE app on my iPhone that was taking us who knows where even though we wanted the Congress Hotel, we gave up and hailed a taxi, we walked and walked. After not walking much on the train we made up for lost time going up Michigan Avenue and over to Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain. My friend enjoyed the sites and while crowded to me with people and skyscrapers I am sure it is nothing like say Shanghai.
Morning on Lake Michigan
    The next morning was beautiful ... springlike in fact. I have been there where you wore short sleeves one day and the next dressed like an eskimo as it was 17ยบ outside. We had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe and decided to hit the Art Institute. There were a few pieces I wanted him to see and explained that it was big and we could stay a few hours and move on.
   We left at closing and I don't think saw 10% of the art there. Luckily they had information desks to help you find rooms of art you were looking for. It was fun and for me, wonderful to see old favorites ... Seuret's AFTERNOON ON THE GRAND JATTE, Van Gogh's SELF PORTRAIT, Renoir's TWO SISTERS and many many more.
Yummy Superman and
Blue Moon
Ice Cream at Kilwin's
   Hungry after missing lunch, we had a nice meal and as we approached the hotel noticed a candy store, Kilwin's. We went in to check out the chocolates and were given samples. Too sweet for him he went over to check out the ice cream. Intrigued I ordered "Blue Moon" that left my mouth blue and he ordered "Superman" that had streaks of blue, red, yellow and green. Not sure exactly what the flavor was but it sure was good.
Chicago's Miracle Mile on Michigan Avenue
  No trip to Chicago is at all complete of course without a visit to the Miracle Mile and its tony high-end stores. I was surprised at the changes though and saw that the old Sun-Times newspaper building was replaced by a new Trump Tower, quite a feat considering the small footprint right on the
The new Trump Tower replaced
the old Sun-Times Newspaper building
Chicago River. Some of the mega stores were gone but many remained with new ones added and we looked but didn't buy. I mentioned that he should look here as he might find some 
deals for similar items at the Cabazon Outlets near Palm Springs. Its fun to look knowing that you can't or don't have to buy. Having only carry on suitcases one doesn't have a lot of room!
   I had been told to take the boat architectural tour and so we did. Our guide knew everything about every building and it was fascinating. Just about every high-rise design was used in Chicago, a city that started the trend with Louis Sullivan who built the first steel framed skyscraper.  He was also mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright considered by many American's finest architect.
   I had several places I wanted to eat at but discovered you can't go home again. Carson's For Ribs, one of my favorites had changed the menu and no longer offered draft beer. Berghoff's was still there after a hiccup and closing, and the German food was good but we would miss the Oktoberfest festivities. Meals were good with several places chosen at random surprisingly good.
   On one of my visits the city was adorned with cows decorated by artists that after a certain time were auctioned off. This trip there were fiberglass police dogs everywhere decorated by famous and not so famous artists that would be auctioned and the money given to the police department. It was fun finding them and seeing how different one dog could be from another even though the fiberglass shape was identical!
Fiberglas police dogs adorned the city. Various artists painted them and soon they will be auctioned off with proceeds
going to the Chicago Police Department

 One of the neat things about Chicago is its sculptures and fountains. There are several fountains and sculptures that demand your attention and are fun to watch day or night. 
Like a giant silver jelly bean the Cloudgate is a popular site!
 There is also the awesome Cloudgate a gigantic Stainless steel jelly bean sculpture that you can look at and walk through the effect is almost hypnotic as you negotiate through the crowds looking upwards trying to see and oftentimes lose your balance as you try to walk through.
   The first fountain that comes to mind is the grand olde dame of Chicago fountains, the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, almost across the street from our hotel. It is worth seeing during the day and at night for its light show!
During a sunny day you can spot a rainbow

  It is hard to say which is the best time to see it ... day or night but the truth be told, each time offers its own rewards for viewing. The night scene shown here got us quite wet when the wind changed directions! This photo doesn't do the fountain justice as I have some videos taken with my phone that show it in all its glory!
An amazing sculpture of water and light
The Crown Fountain
  Another amazing fountain, best seen at night, is the Crown Fountain that shows a face at each end that seems to change from a woman to a man and back again. Three sides change color with water running down them but the faces face each other and at some point water is spit from their mouths. It has a kind of prurient attraction.
  Chicago is definitely a city for walking. Michigan Avenue has museums south of the Chicago River. You have the Art Institue, one of the finest museums in the world, the Field Museum with all kinds of bones, stones and the like, the Shed Aquarium with it's collections of fish. North of the River there is fine shopping, malls, and restaurants. You can walk alongside the river on Wacker and then there is State, Lasalle and Wabash that include shopping and several fine and famous restaurants.
   Friends had urged me to take the architectural boat tour of the city. Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper. Louis Sullivan was the first architect to use a steel frame covered with a facade freeing the limitations of height. Sullivan was the mentor of an even more famous native son, Frank Lloyd Wright who changed the way we looked at living quarters forever. I encourage you to take the tour and see some of the finest buildings ever built. We took the tour just below the Michigan Street

Bridge. Our guide was a font of information enlightening us not only about the buildings and why they were built but how their uses changed over the years. Utterly fascinating.
   Another event we just happened to stumble upon was a wedding being held on the steps of the Art Institute. The bride, groom, pastor and a gaggle of people including passersby stopped to watch this. On consideration I thought, why not? If this is one of your favorite places go for it.
On the Navy Pier, this new addition, a 200 ft.
Ferris Wheel, was only two weeks old!
   Another place that is fun is the old Navy Pier undergoing a transformation for its next 100 years. Many people do not know the Ferris Wheel was an invention for the 1894 Chicago World's Fair, their attempt to rival the 1889 Paris World's Fair with the Eiffel Tower. The fair was to show the world the city had recovered from it's fire, a fire that destroyed over 66% of the city.
Your hardy travelers with their buddy
Sue, the Field Museum's T Rex!
   We had a wonderful visit, partially planned and partially whatever we stumbled upon. I do believe you can to often overplay.
   Chicago is a great city designed for its citizens but one can only wonder, as with any large city, at what price. There is a tension here that is not the normal mid-western kindness and generosity.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

62 Hours On Amtrak From Palm Springs to Chicago

When my friend from China told me he wanted to see more of America during his recent visit,  I thought about it and since he doesn't drive gave him three choices:
   1. Fly to New York City and stay a few days
   2. Fly to Boston, see the sights then rent a car and drive up through New England to see the fall colors
   3. Take the train from Palm Springs and go to Chicago, stay a few days and fly back

   When I discovered though that the train trip was a 60 hour trip told him we would need to discuss this a little more.
   Trust me, I was surprised he picked the train, a trip I have always wanted to take to say Detroit, also buy a new car and then leisurely drive home on Route 66! However, in China the trains are pretty special and fast, something I stressed to him he would not find in America. He noted you don't see much from a plane and so I dug into the train trip, ordered tickets, made hotel reservations, booked our flight home and, well, considered it would be an adventure. It was without a doubt! Would I do it again! Ya betcha!!!
Other than sand and sagebrush
this is about all there is!
   A trip to the local AAA office said that I would have to make my own Amtrak reservations. They didn't do that anymore. They could arrange the flight home and hotel reservations. I figured I could do that. After a call to Amtrak and getting the information on the cost of a coach seat vs. a sleeper decided that I needed a bed. 60 hours is a long time in a seat and while comfortable is not a bed. He agreed and I booked the berth.
   While freight trains chug by it seems almost hourly passenger trains don't. I wanted to leave September 26th but was told the next train would be the 28th, leaving at 12:35 am. Really?
   On a hunch I drove out to the Palm Springs station to just see where it was. People talked about it but only roll their eyes when I talked about leaving from there. If you ever saw Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" there could be no better description of the station or its location. I gasped and wondered how will it know to stop? When I sent him a photo of the station all the people in his office looked at it and asked, "Where is the station?" Its that desolate and forlorn.
Yup! The Palm Springs Amtrak station. Luckily there
were several other customers waiting on this bleak platform. 
The weather was lovely so ... we waited for the train.
   I panicked and called Amtrak and said, "there's nothing there! Only a tiny locked building and I guess a platform. How does it know to stop? DO I need to wave a flashlight standing on the tracks? And, how will I get there?" She patiently explained the train will stop, and they have an arrangement with Lyft. Download the App and you will be all set. Luckily I called at around the time we would have to leave and noted that there were far more drivers for Lyft near midnight than I ever imagined. And, as a new customer I got a $5.00 discount on my first ride!
   My friend arrived taking the Fly-A-Way bus from LAX to Union Station and we drove home from there. He was excited about the upcoming trip to Las Vegas, and after returning leaving a day later on the train. Luckily we arrived in Vegas a week before the shooting.
    On the appointed evening, after a hectic day of preparation including me taking the written driving test again before my 72nd birthday in a few days, we texted Lyft and within minutes he was here to pick us up. The Lyft driver was great. He was a night owl and liked driving at night. We were there in under 15 minutes but it the dark of night we might as well have been heading to the moon. It is, yes, DARK! Luckily more people arrived to board the train.
   As we waited, several of the riders were getting text messages that the train was delayed. Again, And yet again! Finally, an hour late the train arrived and I thought, OMG, its only 100 miles. I just drove it. At this pace we won't get into Chicago until Monday, if then? One of the riders explained that the tracks are owned by the freight companies and passenger trains must wait for freight trains. We learned later that is exactly what happened. 
   We didn't have time to think about it as the conductor looked around and said, Alan? I waved and he told us to follow him. He led us to the last car and to our berth ... the beds already made up and we, squeezing out of our clothes, crawled into our berth / bunk beds. It is very cozy but soon we were roaring along and it rocked us to sleep. I was exhausted.
Our menu. And YES,  the food is that good! 
   The next morning we struggled back into our clothes ... intimate doesn't describe the close quarters, but we got ready and went to the dining car. It turns out when you book a berth you also get your meals included, something I didn't know. That turned out to be a great that we enjoyed!
   We had worried about food and you don't stop long at any station on the way. So they seat you with others and when they gave us the menu explained we could pick anything we wanted as it was included in our fare.
   Breakfast was delicious. ALL the meals were excellent. They had just included mussels in the menu (the waitress said we were the first) and my friend ordered them. When he gave me one I was, to tell the truth, stunned. They were that good. The salmon was delicious, the steak done perfectly. We did not suffer. Even the desserts were good and we could get all we wanted. Everything is included except beer and wine. They had Stone IPA for me and Coke for my travel companion so we were happy campers ... not such an unusual analogy either.
At a stop from the berth car.
   In the dining car you meet a variety of travelers and one couple had been on all four of the routes from the west coast to Chicago. There never was cross country train travel in the United States. It was done one time only. Passengers had to disembark either in Chicago or at the Mississippi and change trains and stations. Two leave from Los Angeles taking different routes, one leaves from San Francisco and the final and, we were told, the prettiest route leaves from Seattle on the northern route.
Our 62 hour home ... away from home!
   Your berth is converted into a cabin during the day and you can sit and watch the world go by. Our original porter was excellent in helping us make the transition but from Austin on we were on our own. When this got boring, we could go to the observation car and really see the world go by. As we discovered Friday, there is a lot of Texas out there and it was cloudy and rainy the whole day. The excitement of that day was when someone was caught smoking pot on the train five minutes after we had made a 
You get a great view of the world and
a ring side seat for drug busts!
stop where smokers could get out and well, smoke. So at the next town the cops rolled up to the stopped train and two K-9 dogs were brought onboard. California might have shrugged at it but Texas is not a place to try such stunts.
Sunset on the Texas Eagle
   The view though is oftentimes breathtaking! We saw amazing clouds and some beautiful sunsets.
   On one dark night looking out my berth window at night in bed, I could clearly see Orion in the pitch black sky.
   Saturday dawned clear and sunny. I was able to see the arch in St. Louis and my final shot showed the state capital clearly through the arch that even cast a shadow on the capital. Of course the mid-west is so different than the Palm Springs desert and we were surprised to see so many puddles of rain that had come and gone by the time we arrived. Texas was not dry this year. 
   The weather was supposed to be nice in Chicago and was in fact warmer than we expected. We had traveled in sweatpants and a variety of shirts.
   The other big surprise was that there was a shower. Now that, WAS an adventure. You are luckily in a small cubicle so you can't fall far as you literally rock back and forth trying to scrub yourself. As one wag described this to us, coal, wheat or soybeans don't care if the track is bumpy. In any event the views can be breathtaking! For me, it certainly was better than having to drive.
View from our berth as we traveled through Texas
    Another pleasure is that you get to meet people, especially in the dining car. One couple had taken all the routes to Chicago and was considering routes east of the Mississippi. A single woman was a frequent traveler on the train and had traveled just about the whole system. We all agreed that if you are not in a hurry it s a wonderful way to relax and see the country. Cities are not so pretty but once out the countryside takes on a beauty of its own.
The St. Louis arch and state capital
   Our last day dawned clear and sunny and around breakfast time we reached St. Louis. We came around a bend to find the arch there gleaming in the sun. Watching it as we continued past it I was able to capture an amazing photo of the state capital seen beneath the arch. It made for a wonderful photo and was until Chicago an amazing view.
   While the trains are slow during the day, often held up by freight trains, they roar at night. You are swayed as the dark world flashes by. Unable to sleep a bit after a potty trip, I looked out the window of our berth and saw a pitch black sky filled with stars. Orion shown in all its glory over us as we rocked along. If you have never done it, there is something soothing listening to the clackety clack of the wheels roaring over the track.
Entering Union Station with Chicago in the background
  Soon we were in Springfield, IL and we knew our time was short. So was lunch. You could get a sandwich, hot dog or macaroni and cheese. The macaroni, a comfort food for the Boomers seemed fitting. Soon the city of Chicago appeared and shortly after that we reached Union Station, a few hours late but we were in no rush.
At Chicago's Union Station!
  Would I do it again? Oh YES! However, as my traveling friend pointed out, its much faster in China and the tracks are not so bumpy.
   Traveling by train also has many perks. Usually you land in the city center so no long trips from the airport. You get to carry two pieces of luggage, two personal items and no one weighs them or sniffs them either. We could bring snacks, drinks and as we discovered, until he was caught, pot! Coach seats are cozy, recline, you have electric plugs, trays and lots of leg room. While a bit bumpy at times it was relatively easy to move around and there were places to go and not just be stuck in a seat. Berths offer even more including a bed. It may not be like the one at home but you can stretch and sleep comfortably We arrived relaxed and ready to take on the city. As we were to discover we needed that relaxation more than we ever dreamed!
   In case you are wondering, I consider planning a trip as much a kind of design as painting. Every aspect, just like writing, painting, creating music, needs to be planned and hopefully worked on just like a great piece of art. However, just like creating, you also must be prepared for the variations you didn't plan for along the way. Often, its these "variations" that make travel even more exciting!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Getting Ready for Dia de los Muertos, or For Gringos, Halloween!

     Oh how I have learned to love color. Dia de Muertos 

     (Day of the Dead) celebrations was a colorful feast for the eyes!

   I became fascinated with all things Southwestern when my Mom moved to New Mexico when I was in college. Born in Ohio but coming to Oregon when I was 5, the influences of Northern Europe and northern United States tend to side on greens, more greens and lots of green. Winters are dark and gloomy, very black and white. There could be fall colors but I remember mostly gray skies and green trees everywhere. The Pacific Northwest isn't all that different from Germany and Scandinavia.
    When she moved to New Mexico during my sophomore year at Oklahoma State, my return to my New Mexican home that May was like she had moved from the verdant green Northwest to the Sahara Desert. It was a shock. Oklahoma was certainly warmer than Oregon but forests were replaced by amber waves of wheat ... and cattle of course. Lots of cattle and corn.
    New Mexico was an unknown. We could see the hills in tones of red, brown, tan and at certain times of the day pink, purple, rose. The Sandia Mountains at sunset turned watermelon pink with deep yet rich purple shadows. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was hooked. That summer, after a class at UNM, we traveled nearly every day. Sure, up high there were forests but it was but an accent to all the earth tones that surrounded us.
    Santa Fe and Taos were colorful but their Old Towns, like the one in Albuquerque, offered Native American, Hopi-Zuni-Navajo and many other tribal arts as well as a wide selection of Mexican arts in colors and color combinations like I had never seen before. I was hooked.
    As for most of us, life gets in the way. I worked for K-mart after two years in the Peace Corps. I came home to New Mexico and eight months later was transferred to California where I have lived ever since.
     Here was the Halloween wreath

      I decided to decorate.
    After a marriage and two kids later, starting my own business, I slowly rediscovered my passion for art. Some would say graphics design was artistic ... and it was but it was not art! I bought a cheap birdhouse at Michael's, got some paints and slowly developed a style based first on Pennsylvania Dutch motifs and learned a few more along the way. One of my favorite haunts was Olivera Street, the original site for Los Angeles, and its mostly Mexican crafts. The explosions of color slowly entered my palette as I continued to visit the shops and study the colors. They certainly were not color combinations I had been trained to use.
   Halloween may be popular to Northern Europeans but Latin cultures honor their dead November 1st and in Spanish is remembered as Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead with a unique and distinctive artistic style.
    I have a neighbor, whom I discovered moving into my new condo, who loves to decorate for Halloween. In fact I have noticed that craft stores have far more Halloween items for sale and that people are spending far more time decorating for Halloween than I ever remember. Wandering the aisle at Michaels I checked out their Halloween offerings. I wanted to decorate myself so checked out the "blanks" that I could decorate. This cutout wreath seemed like the perfect door hanger. I can't remember what I paid for it but probably with my 40% off coupon not more than five bucks. I probably put in $500 in time and effort even at minimum wage!
Laying in the colors.
    Since I didn't just want all white skulls and bones, I checked out a variety of images on Google, to get colors and possible motifs to decorate all the bones with. I decided that leg bones would remain off-white but each skull had to have a color. Ah, but what colors? Looking at many images there didn't seem to be one or two you had to use, there were many.
    This, I discovered was the easy part. However, I also didn't want to introduce too many colors so base colors were often used on detail and designs of the skulls keeping a sort of relationship within the entire wreath. 
Here are the skulls all sketched in!
   The next step after all the base colors were painted was to pencil sketch in the designs of each skull. This alone took an evening as I wanted to be sure each one was different. Back to Google to see what had been used. I then penciled in a different design on each and every skull. Sixteen in all.
    Then, after all this, began the hardest part ... painting in all the details of each and every skull. I used many of the same colors that were used on the skulls tying them all together but making sure that no design was repeated exactly. Mostly using a liner brush I would start with one skull, paint, then move on to the next. I didn't always use the same color on each one and of course had to avoid one with the same base color. 
     Applying the base colors to the 
     other skulls to tie them all together
Colors all in place!!!
   Once I went through the base colors I was free to add all the additional colors I wanted to complement the colors I had already used. I added greens, creams for flower petals, gold and silver highlights, Sharpie liners even red metallic hearts for a big of bling.
   I took hours doing this listening to audio books, watching movies on my iPad or listening to country & western music as I became lost with colors lovingly applied with a #2 liner brush and even smaller and thinner ones to get the detail right.
   Sometimes I smeared paint, the contact glue came out in blobs but finally, I got all the colors painted, Sharpie details in place and was ready for the final step ... creating depth with shadows.
    The final result (the first image in the blog) shows how using shadows gives depth to what would otherwise be a flat image. Not bad but still, flat without any depth.
    I think this shows that you can take a ho-hum something and with imagination and effort can create something that you might never have expected from racks of things hanging on hooks in the craft store. There's still time ... get with it!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!