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Friday
Aug312012

Rolling Orange 

Rolling With Model Doutzen Kroese

Rolling Orange, a Brooklyn bicycle boutique/lifestyle outlet, is a company seeking an unlikely revolution: the act of slowing down.

In Holland, city living is revered. Met with the same abundance of population and constraints of time and space as other metropolises globally, the Dutch culture has conquered the traditional city ailments by in fact slowing it down. Through cargo and city bikes, pre-WWII vehicles that provide the strength and accessory components of an automobile, the Dutch have cleared the streets of congestion (and toxic emissions in their skies) by adopting the health-conscious, DIY freedom of biking for transport. Why can’t it work in Gotham? We can’t find a reason and neither could Rolling Orange owner Ad Hereijers. It was this success story that inspired Rolling Orange.

The lifelong city boy runs the company under the concept that everyone should “go into the slow lane and take time to enjoy urban life.” And with the Holland fabricated two-wheelers, which come in an array of stunning bright colors (hipsters fear not-standard black is available as well) and a plethora of configurations and add-on options, the vessel to bring harried New Yorker’s to a lifestyle of pedaled strokes (and away from the cardiac kind) is suddenly stylized and attainable.

Exchanging subway tokens and cab fare for fresh air seems like such an obvious no-brainer. These nightmare expenses could be forgotten with therapy. Riding a bike? You never forget how, and after straddling a Rolling Orange cargo bike, you’ll never want to.

Thursday
Aug302012

Petaluma Supply Co.

In the landmark Charles Schultz comic “Peanuts”, a major arc involves Charlie Brown’s regal Beagle, Snoopy, as the future MetLife spokesdog trains for a wrist-wrestling contest in a California town called Petaluma. It was a charming story that played out in the Sunday morning dailies, just behind the coupons and obits. And it became an American classic.

Petaluma seems to breed American classics on rotation, evident by the Petaluma Supply Co. Located at a crossroads of farm life, couture consciousness and wine country, Petaluma Supply Co. is based 45 minutes north of the Bay area, (.045 seconds on your PC) a haberdashery throwback that seamlessly serves a demographic as eclectic as the neighbors that surround them. Vintage rugged bags, pomade and shaving cream, the found wooden letter opener, perhaps even an original edition of the Boy Scout Handbook-Petaluma is a virtual general store, an environment most un-peggable (though they probably would sell pegs, should they be unique and interesting enough).

The variety is expansive; an item might range from a quirky barn or warehouse discovery to any of its numerous, esteemed brands (Field Notes, Tally & Hoe, Wood & Faulk amongst them). It is a rewind of time, homage to an era when excellence in quality was not a tagline or a boast, but simply something expected and required. They serve as a purveyor of a lifestyle that respects “things”, things that are tangible and fleshy, built from one hand and placed into another.

The “things” that fill the spaces in our lives, vintage in age and timeless in merit. Kind of like Woodstock’s floppy-eared best friend. There must be something in the Sonoma County water.

Friday
Aug242012

High School Football 

As late summer slowly relinquishes her cicada droned grip to early autumn, pockets of the nation are whipped into a Friday night frenzy. High school football - the vanguard of the football season - preceding college and professional by one and two weeks respectively - has a somewhat proprietary lock on Fridays. And the feeling is electric.

Braces of halogen lamps hum, perched atop creosote telephone poles, with swirling maelstroms of insects billowing and dancing in their hot glare. Below, the scene is illuminated in a sublime glow. The 11 on 11 matchup, helmets and uniforms in bold colors - as schools: tethered to pride, pep rallies, homecoming alumni, marching bands, academic prowess, and fight songs battle it out on the gridiron. Civic and community identity and pride is on display, as citizens - folks, really - come out and fill the bleachers. The team, and sense of belonging to that team: tangible and accessible.

A voice, over the loudspeaker, tin sounding in shrill, nasal echoes, announces play by play stats. Naming players as themselves. “Henderson on the tackle,” it might squawk. Or, “Zavelli for a six yard gain.” These players are real. They might be a son, or a friend, or a neighbor. They are all students.

Swarms of teens gather on the “hill” or some grassy area - a knoll, perhaps - to socialize and mingle, while younger children dart and dash in crude, and extemporaneous games of keep-away (inspired, no doubt, by the action on the field). A hint of popcorn lingers in the air from the concession area outward. Parents of players clonk cowbells, and crazed student sections with chest paint and megaphones and vuvuzelas chant war cries in near tribal tongues and posture to the opposing side. These: all part of the experience.

Websites such as MaxPreps and Rivals.com, and nationally scaled rankings from the likes of USA Today have amped up the intensity, and ratcheted up the attention given to these very local contests. In recent years, highly publicized match ups between state or regional powerhouses have landed spots on ESPN, and spawned events such as the Kirk Herbstreit Series. These classics pit unlikely foes from far flung corners of the nation - defying budgetary constraints normally associated with high school sports. Films such as Friday Night Lights, All the Right Moves, and Dazed and Confused further anthologize and mythologize the mystique of high school football.

But maybe all of those things are too much. The allure of high school football remains in that pool of talent, untainted, burgeoning with potential - rallying around a very community, and very grassroots entity. The high school football team.

Wednesday
Aug222012

The Fierce Five

This past month we witnessed a cultural phenomenon. Five young girls of varying heritage and background have taken the world by storm, the flashing bulbs from the moment-chasers in London their send off into stardom. In the weeks that have followed, these five girls have made the late night television rounds, become internet sensations and have inspired millions, the focus of the public eye.

No, this is not an archived story. You are not reading this on a dial-up. It is not 1995 and we are not talking about The Spice Girls.

The Fierce Five are a collective Sporty Spice, though. On the heels of glamorized Olympics prior, this was a squad that was largely unheard of going into the 2012 games. That label quickly changed. The gold medal winning team-Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Weiber, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney-have written their own chapter in gymnastics’ history books, shoulder to shoulder with names such as Retton and Moceanu. And in the process they have become rock stars. A look:

Gabby Douglas, the artistic and graceful gift of the mat perhaps best known as “The Flying Squirrel”, has emerged as America’s Sweetheart. The overall gold champion, she also has become the first African-American to claim such an honor. She is also the first American to win both the individual all-around and team competition.

Kyla Ross, the youngest of the ladies ( “Baby Spice”?) yet an old soul at the games, competing with the grace and poise of veterans many years her senior. Her strong scores in both the bar and the beam in the team final helped position the squad to claim their best-in-the-world status.

Jordyn Wieber, one of the elite all-arounders on the planet. Winner of the 2011 World Title and Senior National champion (twice), Wieber was a crucial component to The Fierce Five’s claim as the top squad on Earth, assisting in bringing home the team gold for the first time since 1996.

Aly Raisman, the fearless, hard charging tumbling specialist. Raisman placed fourth in the all-around, earning a Bronze on the unforgiving beam and looked magnificently golden thanks to her explosiveness on the floor. Keep an eye for her in 2016.

McKayla Maroney, a vault goddess who has perhaps personified the American quest for perfection more than any other athlete before her. After falling during her run, Maroney was awarded the silver medal, an unattainable dream for many. Now drenching the internet in various life forms, a scowl on her face told her thoughts of the event. And a tagline sensation was born; McKayla is not impressed.

As for the future, it lingers in the air like a Gabby Douglas assault on the clouds. Ranging in age from 15-18, The Fierce Five will still be young guns by the next Olympics, just reaching the voting or drinking age depending upon the fierce one in question. Whatever the ladies decide, their tale was written this summer with a happy ending. They are a microcosm of Olympic competitors of the future; world class athletes with lives dedicated to their craft. Media darlings with an inherent marketability. Role models for a generation.

And best of all, The Fierce Five are ours. And contrary to Miss Maroney’s delightfully jaded perception of excellence- we ARE impressed.

Tuesday
Aug212012

Eugene, Shelly & The New Economy 

The trucking industry, according to many reports – both allegorical and factual – is an aging one. Truck drivers of old – the heroic, burly archetypes from the advent and heyday of the Eisenhower Interstate system – those figures that made up the substrates of fictional portrayals in shows like Movin’ On, and films such as Convoy, Any Which Way but Loose (with bare-knuckle fighting Clint Eastwood, and sidekick orangutan Clyde), and, of course, Stallone’s masterpiece Over the Top – are retiring. The barrel chest, pot belly, bearded, bubble vested, mesh ball capped symbolic image of the big rig carrier is fading. Folks equipped and eager to take the long haul – to see the nation on the open road tugging a 18 wheeler – are harder to come by, and as these mythic relics of Americana hung up the CB and dismounted from the cab, the industry has been hunting for drivers. In a June, USA Today article, Paul Davidson describes some of the hardships the industry is facing recently with potential candidates being drawn to other careers, and high turnover rates despite the stultifying economic climate.

Meet the Hoffmans. Eugene, a toolmaker and designer who had been in the manufacturing industry for the better part of a decade, and worked for a company that even afforded him and his wife Shelly a relocation opportunity to Switzerland for two and a half years. The couple relocated back to the United States about a year ago after their time abroad – a sojourn that had afforded them extensive time to tour the continents of Europe and Asia – and a return trip they took across the continental U.S. before resettling in their hometown of Cincinnati. Reentry proved short lived, as the grind wore on.

“Wake up unnaturally early, get ready and skip breakfast. Commute to work in traffic because the office and the neighborhood I prefer to live in are 30-45 minutes apart with traffic.” Eugene recalls of the monotonous dirge of work life.

Shelly, who holds a masters degree in mental health counseling, worked in a field akin to social work. The work itself was rewarding, though often frustrating. The pay, overall, afforded a modest apartment and amenities after student loan payments. Vacation time however was attenuated to a stifling 2 or 3 weeks a year, a difficult challenge for a couple who had caught a healthy strain of the travel bug. “We had been fortunate enough to do some extended travelling, and we had both done very well living out of suitcases, being away from home, and being in close proximity of each other for long periods of time,” he says. The nagging specter of trucking as a team might have been a distant, albeit subconscious thought.

Noticing Eugene’s dissatisfaction, Shelly jokingly suggested that he check out a truck driving school, and if it panned out, she might follow suit, with Roo, their dog in tow. Five grand, and three weeks later, Eugene was a possessor of a CDL, and was out doing training runs between Cleveland and Chicago. Six months later Shelly completed her training, and the couple teamed up on the road for US Xpress.

The sought after daily run, home at night routes were something the Hoffmans were not at all interested in – they were more into the idea of rolling out for three to six week stretches, crisscrossing the nation’s highways and byways as a team – a move that gave them priority in terms of company equipment. The Hoffmans reside in a sleeper cab, replete with kitchenette and bunks, taking turns at the helm, sleeping and resting per DOT regulations, and logging 4 to 6 thousand miles a week. “They find the loads and we run them, and we get paid by the mile (zip code to zip code). You keep them happy they will find better runs for you,” he describes.

So far the trucking couple have zigged and zagged the continental U.S. with routes ranging from Chicago to Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Phoenix, Los Angeles, curious runs in Boston, harrowing escapades in Brooklyn, and points in between. Logistically, a run might include an empty run to a city, then drop off and pick up in a destination city, and off again to yet another. Downtime affords the Hoffmans time to explore. Grab a bite in an obscure diner. Check out a roadside attraction. Sample local flavor in a small downtown area. Effectively delve into the soul of America.

With corporate accounts at Flying J and Pilot, the couple fills up their Freightliner once a day, to the tune of $600 a tank. The Flying J and Pilot stops also serve as commissaries for food, showers, truck maintenance equipment, and other amenities such as video sales and rental – truckers’ staples of books on tape – and even simple arcades and video lounges for general unwinding. US Xpress also sends out repairmen for any roadside breakdown. A flat tire, to something more serious – all covered. And on the road hazards are part of the gig, with “gators”, aptly named serrated sloughs of tire shreds littering the lanes – remnants of a former tire blowout posing a potential for a future blowout, or in the case of the Hoffmans – a dislodged brake line.

The remnants of their apartment have since been stowed in a rental storage unit, and the Hoffmans, with Roo, traverse the nation as a trucking team – perhaps harbingers of an emerging cohort of young couples hungry for travel, and eager to adapt to life in a new economy.

Monday
Aug202012

Hickey Freeman

Rochester, New York, is a piece of the American pie in many ways. Of note, the community was the epicenter of the gentlemen’s booming clothing industry in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Before the dark years, when our interests found a home overseas, one company held its head high in this bustling city. And now that the American spirit is finding its way back to our wardrobe, the same company still holds its head high. Of course, Hickey Freeman never left.

A 77,000-square-foot factory in Rochester, The Temple is Mecca for pinpointed brilliance. Tailors spanning the world converge at Hickey Freeman’s thread- and- needle Mensa meeting  to set, stitch and roll the uniforms of our lives. Each tailor comes armed with an expertise, their endgame unified; to craft suits that represent the very pinnacle of American tailoring. And they exist through a motto, a mission statement, a culture-“Keep the Quality Up”. Simple words that filter through the company bloodline today.

A company that holds their craft to holy standards? Only in America. Thankfully.

Monday
Aug202012

Caswell-Massey

There are few rules in life that are not open to interpretation:

1) Call your mother.

2) Root for the home team, no matter how many premature grey hairs they cause.

3) Smell nice.

Pretty simple stuff, really. And since 1752 (twenty-four years before our states became united), Caswell-Massey has helped Americans with that tricky last rule. The Newport, Rhode Island, based personal care/apothecary is one of the oldest toiletry companies in America. As a perfumery it ranks as the third longest running organization in the world, not bad considering the relatively newborn existence of the United States. It is hardly sheer luck; that golden third rule is a requirement and it takes a special breed of operation to provide such assistance for the better part of three centuries.

Sparing stuffy, historical name-dropping that definitely exists (but would cause the world’s oldest man to scratch his head in confusion), Caswell-Massey, which has one retail store (NYC) and a presence online and in department stores, has been the preferred personal care choice for such iconic modern stalwarts as Jackie O and The Rolling Stones. Their products cater to the elite with one caveat-anyone can join this club. Focused on fragrances, shaving accoutrements, soaps and lotions, the company realizes that some things are essentially timeless. Though it is called personal care, it is anything but personal; Caswell-Massey is a purveyor of arms, necessary weapons in the war of attraction, because at our best, everything we do is for that someone special. A famed, anonymous quote exists as such: “Every guy should give their girl three things-a stuffed animal, jewelry, and one of his sweatshirts, sprayed with cologne.”

It takes no genius to realize which of the three she will cherish most. And since the days of powdered wigs and colonies, Caswell-Massey has had us smelling like roses.

Wednesday
Aug152012

Ron Palillo

Actor Ron Palillo is dead at 63. Best known for his character Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter, Palillo carved a later voice acting career for himself in animated productions such as Darkwing Duck, and Rubik, the Amazing Cube. Horshack, as the lovable geek in Welcome Back Kotter’s high school Sweathog milieu, endeared audiences with his frantic raising of his hand coupled with “Ooh ooh ooh, Mr. Kotter!” as a catchphrase, and his trademark laugh evocative of a geese migration.

Palillo appeared on that old self-referential pop culture bargain-bin known as Celebrity Boxing on Fox, in a matchup against a much younger and larger Dustin Diamond, the man who played the high school dweeb Screech on 90’s high school sitcom Saved by the Bell. There can only be one dork. The fight ended midway through the second round, with Palillo being stopped by TKO.

The Sweathogs & Mr. Kotter

Beyond that blemish, Palillo, through his portrayal of Arnold Horshack, will be remembered for establishing the more outlandish of sitcom foils – paving the way for Diamond’s Screech, Willie Aames’ Buddy Lembeck, and Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel – the awkward, and often obnoxious characters that take a defining role in the development of a sitcom’s essence.

Monday
Aug132012

Axe Cop 

Since 2009 Axe Cop has been breathing fresh life into comics. The idea is relatively simple: take one five year old, and his unadulterated imagination exhumed and exhibited in play, and add one twenty nine year old half brother comic book artist eager for new material, and an organic way to connect with his younger sibling. The payoff: brilliantly fresh characters and storylines inked and drawn expertly.

The main character, Axe Cop, a 1970’s-ish, mustached, square jawed, aviator sunglassed police officer wields a fireman’s axe as his primary weapon. His main partner, Flute Cop, endures drastic morphology as he transmutes from human to Dinosaur Cop, to Dinosaur Soldier, and then into Avocado Soldier, then with the commandeered horn of Uni-Baby becomes Uni-Avocado-Soldier. Obviously. And the duo battle with villains such as Pretzel Head, King Evilfatsozon, Dr. Doo Doo, and the Psychic Brothers who at one time attack our heroes with a set of truck-chucks – a nunchuck-esque flail weapon fashioned from semi-tractor trailers. This electrifyingly creative realm that Axe Cop inhabits would be hard for an adult to concoct, save heavy psychedelic usage.

Malachai Nicolle, the young author, continues to create new and evolving storylines for Axe Cop, often reflecting his growth in imagination, with newer characters such as Abe Lincoln showing up, perhaps indicating an increasing sophistication in awareness of the world (history, politics) and even pop culture (Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter?). These evolutions emerge as innocent and pure observations from the author’s worldview, presenting the audience with a from the hip honesty adult readers wistfully remember and pine for, and an affirmation to younger readers that their outlandishly creative imaginings are indeed valid.

Older brother Ethan continues to maintain a blog and a website, and sketch the undiluted musings from the mind of Malachai. Published by Dark Horse Comics, Axe Cop has bred a new generation of young comic book fans, as youngsters flock to autograph tables at conventions, eager to engage in conversation the Nicolle brothers.

Friday
Aug102012

Warby Parker

Cofounder, Neil Blumenthal

Jack Kerouac changed the way we see the written word. In a smaller dose, he might just be changing the way we see, period.

Warby Parker as a name stems from a collaboration of characters from the great writer’s earlier works. Warby Parker as a company is the revolutionary eyewear collaboration between a tight-knit quartet of friends, hell-bent on creating an alternative to the overpriced and drab eyewear market. Turned off by what they perceived as artificial costs from large companies taking advantage of consumers with nowhere else to turn, the gang at Warby Parker has unveiled a collection of prescription lenses that are designed with a timeless flair and the finest of customizations. Essentially, the eyewear, paired next to a traditionally high end brand, either matches or surpasses the quality and pleasing aesthetic, while costing the consumer substantially less. It is a pricing point technique that has won Warby Parker a growing legion of devotees.

When not saving its loyalists money, Warby Parker is saving the eye health of those who need it the most. Staunch believers in “eyewear with a purpose”, the company strongly believes that the right to see is not only for the fortunate. With millions of people globally bereft of proper vision care, Warby Parker seeks to eradicate the problem by partnering with renowned non-profits to deliver a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair that they sell.

Kerouac wrote “The Road Less Traveled”, another nod to the literary giant that Warby Parker seems to have followed. For a company that plies its trade in the field of sight, Warby Parker’s greatest contribution to the commerce and philanthropic worlds just might be its vision.

Images 2 & 3 Gabriel Boone Photography

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