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Friday
Nov092012

Silver Towne  

This American foundry and numismatic clearing house of rare and precious coins from around the world has been at it since the 1940’s. The initial stock was quietly culled from coins collected in an under counter cigar box, as Leon Hendrickson, part owner of a Winchester, Indiana restaurant, would change out interesting and appealing coins – drawn to the collectible nature of the currency. The hobby parlayed itself into a sizeable showroom and distributorship of coinage, and one of the largest domestic foundries amid a silver boom. Bars and rounds of silver are poured from molten globs in the hollow of glowing crucibles into familiar denominations of one, five, and ten ounces. The maker’s mark of Silver Towne has become almost iconic of the precious metal movement – a miner’s pick, pinging forth with action lines.

Silver Towne also offers assaying and grading services for metals and coins, seeing how the investment and collecting mindsets of both are intertwined. There’s a certain satisfying, self reliant feeling that comes of hefting a five ounce bar in the hand, and balling the fist. Something, perhaps, the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson might articulate. An intrinsic value, demonstrated in raw metal – a .999 purity – devoid of any alienation present in paper, credit, and other promissory currencies.

The Winchester, Indiana showroom is open 9-5, Monday through Friday, and 9-4, Saturday.

Tuesday
Nov062012

Steve Wozniak

Tech Visionaries Wozniak & Jobs

He is an unlikely cult legend, his hulking frame and salt and pepper beard hardly reminiscent of the dangling, shiny carrots normally in the crosshairs of the paparazzi. Which in itself is ironic, as the parade of waifish, chemically destructive starlets is unending; there can only be one man who invented the PC, one man who developed the means upon which we rubberneck the self destruction of fleeting pseudo-celebs. He might be King Nerd and that is complimentary; the geek has inherited the Earth and this very planet would be quite insufferable without his innovations. If anyone deserves to have microphones shoved in his face as he exits a gas station restroom, it’s Steve Wozniak.

Again, calling him a nerd is suitable. This is a man who had a Ham Radio license in the sixth grade. This is a man who was placed on probation for “computer abuse” after developing a device that enabled him to place illegal toll free calls. He is a Freemason who plays on a Segway polo team. “The Woz” had a cameo on The Big Bang Theory as a man-God, and it was not done tongue-in-cheek.

Then again, more suitable than the nerd label is American Icon.

It was in high school that Woz was introduced to Steve Jobs, where the two spent a summer developing a mainframe at Hewlett-Packard. After dropping out of Cal-Berkeley after a year, Woz singlehandedly developed the Apple I (something he and Jobs did to impress members of the Homebrew Computer Club, a very local outlet for home electronics hobbyists). With a revelation deserving of more than inner-circle prestige, Woz and Jobs sold their belongings and used their combined wealth of $1,300 (as well as Jobs’ garage and Woz’s apartment for storage) and Apple Computers was born. Armed with 256 bytes of ROM, 8k bytes of RAM and a price tag of $666.66 (Woz has insisted upon his love of repeating digits, not the conspiratorial Satanism, regarding Apple I’s pricing), the road towards the matrix had been paved. If listening to tunes on an iPod while scrolling this article on a Mac or iPhone, pay homage to the HP scientific calculator that Woz had to pawn to allow this to happen.

Since Wozniak’s days at Apple, the pedigreed savant has been through a plane wreck (a crash in 1981 has left him with anterograde amnesia), a train wreck (Dancing with the Stars), and a whole lot of time to spread his massive wings. At last count, Woz holds nine or more degrees, some labored, some honorary. He has been known to receive prestigious awards-and accept with the same enthusiasm he brings when teaching grade school children in science classrooms. A chief member of the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, Woz has earned equal acclaim for his philanthropic contributions, which would take several issues of this magazine to list.

As for the future, perhaps we are fortunate that Wozniak suffers from amnesia. Because most men with such an esteemed resume would rest on their laurels and sip cocktails on a private beach. But with a brilliant mind and no dial-up speed in his makeup, Woz continues his wifi siege on technology through many ventures. He has already taken the computer from The Flintstones to The Jetsons. The next upload to this story should be an interesting ride.

And perhaps the existence of The Woz will have an effect on society, as well. Football players beware: the prom queen has been seen loitering around the AV Club.

Monday
Nov052012

Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready

Hey, for the money, these pies can’t really be beat. Five dollars might not be what it used to be, as fiat currency gets inflated, or contracted, or eased, or whatever it might be doing in fiduciary terms, but it still scores big with this ready to go meal. Zip in, plunk down a fin, and pick a cheese or pepperoni, and zip out.

The Little Caesars franchise started in a Detroit area strip mall in 1959. Owners Michael and Marian Ilitch, both offspring of Macedonian immigrants, have parlayed that humble baby-boom era pizza endeavor into a panoply of Detroit sports franchise ownerships, including, but not limited to the Tigers and the Red Wings. Since its start, Little Caesars has become a pizza brand vaulted into international notoriety (estimates put the Little Caesars company in the top 5 nationally in terms of pizza chains).

The Hot-N-Ready aspect of the enterprise has arguably mushroomed franchise development, with stores popping up in repurposed storefronts, filling cavities left in the wake of the economic downturn. Dinner rushes see lines of folks, Abe Lincoln bills in hand, filing to the registers as cashier and kitchen staff shuffle hot and ready pies in and out of convection warmers. A sale of a “cheese” is denoted with an announcement to the kitchen: “Taking a cheese!” Another pie fills its place.

Friday
Nov022012

Ceravelo Ascots

The ascot is making a comeback. This suave accoutrement states an almost archaic formality admixed with casual. The wearer – glibly above the fray, and nonchalantly engaged in an event. Devoid of the beet faced ligature present in traditional neckties, the ascot sports a dressy masculine plumage from beneath the unbuttoned collar, and says “Hey, I’m here, and I am having a pretty good time of it. Relax there, uncomfortable tie guy at the table across from me at the wedding.” Perhaps part of a larger 19th century nostalgia trend, the ascot isn’t as obvious and garish as the waxed moustaches, high boy bicycles, and gentlemanly tropes present in steam punk and hipster subcultures.

San Fransisco based boutique Ceravelo has been putting the ascot back into the modern parlance since 2011. The ascots, fashioned from vintage and reused materials, are available in various colors and patterns to suit tastes. You might be a paisley guy. Or maybe a simple stripe pattern. Whatever the choice, the ascot is the intersection of high fashion and a level of cool not had by traditional neckties.

Thursday
Nov012012

700 WLW - The Nation's Station 

Satellite radio is not a bad thing.

Without technology, this article might have been written on a typewriter, which admittedly, I’ve long forgotten how to do. But there is an inherent charm to doing things the way they were originally meant to be done. And while orbiting satellites outside of the Earth’s surface are an impressive way to listen to the radio, one terrestrial king has been transmitting waves like a tsunami across the country (and world) since the days the automobile was still a modern curiosity.

There is a reason they call it “The Big One”. 700 WLW is the biggest of them all.

Also known as “The Nation’s Station”, what is now essentially a radio dynasty owes its foundation to innovative Cincinnatian Powel Crosley, Jr. Crosley was an eccentric type who, at any given time, partially owned: the Cincinnati Reds, a refrigeration business, an aptly named Crosmobile, and a number of investments in then-cutting edge advancements. In 1921, WLW began as a series of 20-watt tests; by 1928, the behemoth was complete, operating at the maximum-allowed 50 kilowatts. This meant that localized radio was instantly archaic; 700 WLW was easily heard over a vast area, covering Florida to New York (and as far as Hawaii). It was quite a pressing issue at the time, especially given the pre-television reliance on radio-imagine waking up in Tallahassee to weather reports of a blizzard in Cincinnati.

Crosley wasn’t satisfied with this unprecedented achievement, and in 1934, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a ceremonial button, 500 kilowatts were unleashed to the listening world. Complaints about the overpowering signal came from as far as Toronto (leave it to a Canadian to spoil the fun, eh?) and the FCC introduced broadcasting regulations due to WLW’s dominance. In a display of American pride, however, WLW amped up the wattage a few times in WWII to send special messages to our troops-literally an imposing statement that rattled the Germans.

Today 700 WLW operates at a whopping 50,000 watts and the station’s impact is fueled by personalities as large as its reach (38 states, much of Canada). All content is locally created. Notable alums include Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels. Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame once worked for “The Big One”, and a few nationally syndicated programs emanate from the station, such as America’s Trucking Network and Live on Sunday Night. The host of the latter, Bill Cunningham, is a regular on FOX News as well as the television host of a national daytime talk show. Occasional personality Eric Deters, a renowned attorney, was recently featured on Dateline NBC and sports fans certainly need no reminder of Al Michaels’ imprint over some of the most important athletic events of our lifetime.

One needs not travel to space to make a universal impact. For “The Nation’s Station” 700 WLW, a little American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit have driven them to be the standard bearer of radio for nearly a century. Besides, should former WLW talent Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone vision of an alien invasion prove true one day, the first thing to go will be those satellites.

Wednesday
Oct312012

Emanuel Steward Boxing's Ambassador 

Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Evander Holyfield. Lennox Lewis. Julio Cesar Chavez. Vlad Klitschko. Oscar De La Hoya.

This is a small sampling of names, united by another name that perhaps is greater than theirs. At first glance one would assume the great unifier to be membership in the boxing hall of fame, which might someday hold true. But the common denominator amongst these pugilistic warriors, the shared DNA that catapulted these gallant fighters into the annals of the sweet science’s storied history, could only have been the legendary Emanuel Steward.

Steward passed recently but the iconic trainer’s lasting uppercut on the sport will prove to be eternal. Steward’s family uprooted to Detroit when he was 12 years old, where he quickly called the Brewster Recreation Center (where Joe Louis and Eddie Futch trained at the time) his second home. This led to an impressive amateur career, where Steward compiled a 94-3 record (as well as the 1963 Bantamweight Golden Gloves national crown). Yet his passion for the ring was trumped by the impoverished economic reality that surrounded his family; Steward became an electrician, foregoing his own dream to help others survive an increasingly oppressed era.

In a collision greater than even “The Thrilla in Manila”, Steward’s love affair with boxing joined forces with his inherent drive to push others forward. A savant of sorts in his destiny as a boxing trainer, what began as a part-time gig in assisting his younger brother’s in-ring exploits translated into unprecedented (and likely forever unmatched) success on the grand stage. Steward’s first champion was crowned in 1980; thirty-two years later, the enigmatic dynamo would finish with 41 title holders notched on his (very championship) belt.

Professional boxing has lost one of the anchors on its version of Mt. Rushmore and the Steward era ended far too soon. Never again will we see another like him in the physical world and his legacy on the sport will forever be, much like his champions, undisputed. And somewhere in the next world, it isn’t too much of a stretch to envision him reunited with Joe Louis, training the “Brown Bomber” for whatever dream match awaits in boxer’s heaven.

Tuesday
Oct092012

Dixon Ticonderoga

When tasked to name a favorite grade school feast, many might cite tater tots or johnny marzetti. Some might recall the tantalizing aroma of tacos as the cafeteria line moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. Still others might fondly reminisce of the wonderment that was Pizza Friday. But if honesty is the best policy, let’s indeed be honest; we chewed on nothing as often as we nibbled on our whittled down, trusted yellow number two pencil.

As did our father and his father and infinitely down the family tree. And the best odds are that the incisor-indented writing tool in our collective adolescent mouths came from Dixon Ticonderoga.

Based now in Florida, the office, school and art supply company was originally founded in 19th century Jersey City. Named after graphite mine magnate Joseph Dixon and New York battleground Fort Ticonderoga, the company has served as the go-to medium of communication, art and scholastics since its inception (“You can’t erase pen ink”, the teacher always said). While online text seems to reign these days, it is impossible to tally Dixon Ticonderoga’s importance over the years. Important correspondence, be it lamenting love letters from two souls separated by war, or a scholarly revelation of math or science, following hours of trial and error, the simple pencil has been both the background and forefront of personal and global history. Before technology made us lazy, a Dixon Ticonderoga made us earn it.

These days the legacy lives on. There is a charm to the DIY factor of life, and it is a model that we have all followed at some point, as will our kids, thanks to the Dixon Ticonderoga. Just remember the cardinal rule: never chew the metallic eraser holder. It’s hell on the teeth.

Monday
Oct082012

Miguel’s Pizza & Rock Climbing Shop

Image Robannz

A trip to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge and Daniel Boone National Forest isn’t really complete without a stop at Miguel’s. This pizza shop has been feeding climbers, hikers, locals, spelunkers, and visitors since 1984, and probably has the distinction of the only pizza parlor and rock climbing shop on the planet. The gravel parking lot is usually filled. Volvos and SUVs and ramshackle Civics (and at least one token VW Bus at any given time) with plates as far flung as Montana, Vermont, and Ontario. Several from Colorado and New York. Most splaying bumper stickers – markers, really – of past outdoor conquests and treks, or allegiances to jam bands. A dancing bear. Some Phish icon. The packed lot speaks to the quality of the place.

The pizza itself is a well-made and unique semi thin crusted pie, and bears a vague resemblance to pizza indigenous to the East Coast, and harkens to eponymous owner Miguel Ventura’s former residence of Connecticut. A heady hint of oregano tops off the pizzas, with a grand permutation of possible additions including chorizo, corn, pasta spirals, rice, beans, tofu, and zucchini; orders are made at a counter flanked by 200 foot coils of specialty climbing rope, carabiners, headlamps, and displays of high end rubber toed climbing shoes. Tables inside are surrounding by repurposed bench seats from school buses worn and frayed from years of use, and patched loosely with red duct tape. The overall ambiance of the place exudes a well worn, comfortable, and inviting feel, and is well in line with the rugged yet inviting ambiance of the Red River Gorge.

Image B.Smaurer

Outside, around back, Miguel’s offers a table area for eating, and a wall of Ale-8 deposit bottles braces against the outer wall of the basement, and clutches of friends huddle over a steaming pizza and soft drinks. A half court basketball setup to the side seems to have a constant game of pick-up, and occasionally hosts tournaments comprised of teams of rock climbers. The 24 hour accessible basement is a tiny cove of a room evocative of a mid nineties coffee shop. Replete with worn paperbacks of Dragon Lance and Anne Rice novels on a shelf, the ubiquitous chess sets in various disrepair, in colder weather the basement provides extra dining space, and also presents a kind of living room for campers.

Image Paradem

Behind Miguel’s one can’t help but notice acres of tents. Some of them appear well established with wooden platforms, blue tarpaulins heavy with leaf sediment, and guy wires anchoring to stakes and trees. Campers can camp for $3 a night, and do – attracting climbers from around the nation and globe, offering a sense of community while they participate in events on and around the numerous crags and rock faces at the Red River Gorge. Amenities include shower facilities, laundry, wifi and computer access, and even cooking facilities. There are also a few bedrooms for rent for around $40 a night. It’s like a modern, rock climbing oriented equivalent of a medieval tavern or inn, offering a sort of one stop shop for travelers and climbers. Miguel’s is an experience, and is almost emblematic of the Red River Gorge.

Wednesday
Oct032012

Restoration Hardware 

In 1979, Stephen Gordon was in the process of restoring his Queen Anne styled house when he discovered that finding authentic, timeless period hardware was about as difficult as building a time machine to zip back to the era when such craftsmanship was dominant. Disappointment turned into opportunity, and within a year Gordon’s home became the site of the first Restoration Hardware.

These days the company has no real estate dilemmas. Typically the anchor store in upscale commerce centers, Restoration Hardware is a purveyor of modern throwbacks, a provider of the accoutrements to an existence that is driven by a refined and classic style. The products inside of a store, from door knobs and hinges to furniture and lighting (and much more), share the rustic aesthetic of 20th century New York. It is a curated tour through the annals of design, a historical journey that breeds inspiration into the capability of our homes. And as classic as the décor they offer, Restoration Hardware focuses on the American tradition of pride and durability in their wares. It is an old but true adage, and simplicity fosters brilliance.

Restoration Hardware operates 87 domestic retail stores while somehow retaining the essence of a neighborhood niche boutique. And in doing so, they help bring our homes to achievement. Unlike cookie-cutter factory styled competitors, a Restoration Hardware home is unique to the owner, the DNA imprint nudged by history’s interior design victors. No fleeting trends or passing fads smuggle their way into a store and as a result, our homes endure as the genuine article.

Remember the days of shag carpeting and aluminum siding? This is life throwing us a commerce mulligan. Restoring the home, restoring the soul. These are the nuts and bolts of what they do at Restoration Hardware.

Tuesday
Oct022012

Haunted Houses 

They literally come to town like ghosts in the night. The lines are quite long and it is ironic because the human condition loathes fear, yet here we are paying for it. With each inch forward we boast of our lack of fear, knowing that our knees are shaking and our words are mere bravado to combat the reality of our emotions. Even though the real world is beyond frightening, we are gluttons for punishment.

We need to know that our dwindling 401K’s and bankrupt home values are not the real fright. Ghosts and goblins await, the real threats to our livelihood. Even MJ’s “Thriller” video could not be viewed without a nightlife. Yet here we are, face to face with the supernatural, volunteering ourselves to a future as surreal as the ditsy blonde cheerleader in a Tobe Hooper film school offering.

We Americans love the haunted attraction.

The venue changes every year but the players remain the same. Ghosts, goblins, monsters and demons seem to follow us from house to house, if you have the cash. The theme might be a prison, a crime scene, an asylum or the morgue; as long as the lights strobe and the fog machine works, we are in a state of manufactured horror. With a concession stand. From this date until after Halloween, we treat ourselves to the macabre; floating heads, detached souls, creepy children and old-timey prophecies. For $5-$40, we lose ourselves to an underworld that seems to have never discovered electricity or the celestial art of “passing over” and leaving this realm behind.

It goes back to 1915, ironic since the original purveyors of synthetic fright would theoretically be haunting us for real now. Imagine that, a haunted house within a haunted house. But it was in the 60’s and 70’s that the Jaycees made the haunted house a moneymaker akin only to Girl Scout cookies. Sprouting up in major Midwestern locales as Louisville and Cincinnati, the holler-for-dollar ordeal has grown into a national tradition. What once began as a scare-fest in Lombard, Illinois, (the longest running haunted attraction in America) has morphed into an industry. Organizers have made a living out of the month long affair, recruiting Hollywood style CGI, attracting committed actors and writing a virtual screenplay for the events that follow. For these promoters, eleven out of twelve months of the year are committed to “the show”.

Of course, there exists “real “haunted houses. One could travel to the upstate New York site that inspired “The Amityville Horror”. One could make a pilgramige to the home of Lizzie Borden, or travel to Bobby Mackey’s haunted honky-tonk in Wilder, Kentucky. But as TV ghost hunters and common sense reveal, no sightings of ghosts occur in these places (aside from the bills in your wallet). But attend a haunted house production in the heartland; scares are imminent.

At least the screams in these places are fun. Six months after the last show, the IRS comes calling. That is a fear we do not pay to see, but pay for greatly regardless.

Oh,how we long for the Bride of Frankenstein.

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