Wake up and face reality

Hastings video rentals in Santa Fe, NMVideo rental stores - they still exist in North America.

Ear­lier this sum­mer, Heather and I drove down to Santa Fe, New Mex­ico for a short break. We decided to see a movie in the mid­dle of the day, just because we could.  Nice.

The movie the­ater was in a dying mall. And even more dying than the mall was a Hast­ings store, pro­vid­ing books,  music - and video rentals. I won’t launch into why CDs are dying, book­stores are dying, and stream­ing video is the way to see a movie.

But I will talk about opti­mism. The owner of that mall — and even more so — the owner of Hast­ings (http://www NULL.gohast­ings NULL.com/) — should cut their losses and sell now. It will be a loss to the com­mu­nity when they leave. If the own­ers can afford to pro­vide that valu­able ser­vice at a loss, more power to them. But how much do they really value pro­vid­ing that service?

Sim­i­larly, our local gro­cery store had a space with a local cof­fee shop and then a frozen yogurt stand. I knew from the moment they opened each lit­tle busi­ness that they were doomed to fail. Finally, they put in a Star­bucks, and it seems to be doing well. That multi­na­tional chain has the resources to make a really nice shop — as well as huge brand recog­ni­tion. The smaller cof­fee chain and the yogurt chain (or inde­pen­dent busi­ness owner) did not.

The final tale in this list­ing of doomed busi­nesses is a new inde­pen­dent drive-through cof­fee shop on Broad­way in Engle­wood, Col­orado. The own­ers decided to build on the south-bound side of the street. Most peo­ple com­mut­ing to work from sub­ur­bia to down­town drive the other direc­tion. When do peo­ple buy cof­fee? Morn­ing, mostly. This small busi­ness will fail, sadly.

Really shiny

shiny things at michaelsI am embar­rassed at my com­ments about the chain of stores called Michael’s that I made to Heather just after we got mar­ried. I said some­thing about how it was for ladies who were bored and had crafty ten­den­cies — but I prob­a­bly used more neg­a­tive and judg­men­tal words.

We went there recently and I just loved the shiny aisle. (Don’t worry — just see­ing it for a few sec­onds and then three min­utes later insist­ing that my daugh­ter Rachel* see it was enough for me.) But how awe­some that such a shiny aisle could exist in any store.

* (Shown.)

An ode to some wonderful Simple Shoes

Simple ShoesI will miss these Sim­ple Shoes. I bought them back in the mid-1990’s. They have lasted quite a long time. They’ve been com­fort­able and durable. They pushed the style of Con­verse All Stars in a new direc­tion, back when they came out. (The Sim­ple Shoes brand was launched in 1991.)

My friend Gary Cow­man intro­duced me to this quin­tes­sen­tial Cal­i­forn­ian brand. (Gary is a quin­tes­sen­tial Cal­i­forn­ian, though he has lived in Africa for more than 20 years.) So after we left Africa for the first time, back in 1994, I had to pick up a pair. I think I even bought them at a mall in California.

I have had them re-heeled twice. My favorite shoe repair­man (who I’ve never met, as his wife is the shop’s gate­keeper, and I think his com­mand if Eng­lish is lack­ing) even added some rein­force­ment around the inside achilles heel area.

But I finally had to say good­bye. They had become my junk shoes — what I would wear to mow the lawn. But the heel area became so worn out that my weak ankles couldn’t stand the lack of sup­port. They’re on the way to the Good­will. At least I took some pic­tures to be part of my dig­i­tal memory.

Inter­est­ingly, the brand “Sim­ple Shoes (http://www NULL.sim­pleshoes NULL.com/)” has been dead for the last four years. They have had a very suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign (https://www NULL.kick­starter NULL.com/projects/simpleshoes/simple-shoes-help-get-quality-footwear-back-on-you) to get back in busi­ness. (It ended just after I wrote this post. And they got more than four times what they requested!)

Look for Sim­ple again — com­ing soon to a shoe store near you, I hope.

Creativity has its price

creative-bootsI saw these boots in a shop win­dow in Santa Fe, New Mex­ico. They were not, shall we say, my style. But they sparked an idea.

It would be fun to get some old cow­boy boots from the Good­will for next-to-nothing and paint them with an inter­est­ing design, to cre­ate some display-able artwork.

I have a bunch of inter­est­ing (to me) items dis­played in my office. I would enjoy doing this boot project, at some point, to add to my office col­lec­tion of fun stuff.

The price is sim­ply time — and energy. At the moment, time is in short supply.

How to ride a bicycle

Three sim­ple things can make your bike rid­ing much safer and easier:

  1. bike-tip-1Take the palm of your hand and hit the front of your bicy­cle hel­met. If it goes up more than one inch, you need to tighten the strap. Oth­er­wise, if you wreck and land on the front of your hel­met, you won’t land on the front of your hemet — you’ll land on the front of your head.
  2. bike-tip-2Spin your ped­als between 60–90 rev­o­lu­tions per minute. If you are not ped­al­ing that fast, you are hurt­ing your knees and reduc­ing your effi­ciency. All you need to do is select a lower gear. If you don’t want to time your­self, here’s a 5-second video (https://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=4nnzx8buWrs) that shows about how fast that is. No need to be too strict about this. — it’s fine to pedal slower part of the time.
  3. bike-tip-3Lis­ten to your chain. If it’s squeal­ing, it’s not happy. You need to give it some lubri­ca­tion. The best kinds I’ve found are teflon-based lubes, such as this one (http://www NULL.ama­zon NULL.com/Finish-Line-Bicycle-4-Ounce-Squeeze/dp/B002IDZXRM/). They last fairly long and do not attract too much dirt.

Slower than Anything

road construction This is a guest post by my brother, Bill Mer­rill. Thanks Bill!

For most of my life, when I wanted to say how slow some­thing was, I’d use one of the stan­dard phrase “slower than molasses in Jan­u­ary.” In recent years, I’ve switched over to “slower than high­way con­struc­tion.” Accord­ing to our friend the inter­net, the US fed­eral gov­ern­ment cur­rently spends about $40 bil­lion on our road­ways each year, an amount that has steadily increased through­out the years, even in current-year dol­lars. In my own expe­ri­ence, it hardly seems I can drive any­where in any big city with­out encoun­ter­ing one con­struc­tion project or other. (By the way, this was NOT the case in my vaca­tion a cou­ple of months ago in the Benelux coun­tries of Europe.)

It’s not just that progress is so soooo slow on these projects — the aver­age length of a project here seems to be about seven years — but also that there are many times when I drive by the con­struc­tion site and noth­ing is hap­pen­ing at all. There is a turn-around on a free­way over­pass near my credit union branch that’s been under­way for about a year now, and I won­der why it’s not fin­ished yet. Most times lately when I pass the turn-around, con­struc­tion equip­ment sits idle, no sign of life any­where. This can be frus­trat­ing, but I try to be mature about things like this, and not let my frus­tra­tion turn into unpro­duc­tive, use­less anger.

I’m not in the high­way con­struc­tion busi­ness, but I had enough indi­rect con­tact with it ear­lier in my pro­fes­sional life that I sus­pect this kind of sit­u­a­tion is a result of sched­ul­ing issues, or maybe bud­getary con­sid­er­a­tions. The par­tic­u­lar turn-around in ques­tion is part of a much larger high­way project, so maybe the turn-around is on hold until some con­nect­ing piece of the project is fin­ished. And it is cer­tainly not the work­ers’ fault, so it would be totally unfair to be hos­tile toward them in any way.

(By the way, turn-arounds are really won­der­ful things, allow­ing vehi­cles going from an access road to its opposite-direction coun­ter­part to avoid wait­ing through traf­fic lights! They don’t exist every­where, but they should!)

Editor’s notes: 1) Col­orado does not have those turn-arounds, and we wish they did! 2) Bill took the photo at the road con­struc­tion site men­tioned in this post.

It is OK to just look

Sole of Converse sneaker with clear rubberNord­strom Rack is a great place to get qual­ity clothes for some­times way less than list price.

Even bet­ter than buy­ing stuff from there is to just enjoy it — at least in the case of shoes. I love shoes but don’t need any. So as we were shop­ping for some dreadfully-needed run­ning shoes for Rachel (our daugh­ter), I enjoyed just look­ing at other shoes.

I loved this par­tic­u­lar Con­verse model — clear rub­ber with the logo embed­ded under­neath. Way cool.

And even bet­ter than just look­ing was cap­tur­ing it dig­i­tally — for my grand­kids someday.

Treat your body like...

...it belongs to some­one you love.

treat-your-body-well

Self-destructive behav­iors abound. (And I’m far from per­fect.) But I love this say­ing — how often do we treat our bod­ies like we love our­selves? Even more impor­tant, how often do we treat oth­ers bet­ter than our­selves? (See here. (https://www NULL.bible­gate­way NULL.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2%3A3&version=NLT))

If we truly fol­lowed that say­ing, would we shop at Whole Foods to pick up food for that home­less per­son we see on the cor­ner on our way to the office?

(Thanks to Whole Foods (http://www NULL.whole­foods­mar­ket NULL.com/) for their store-window poster.)

The problem of where they should live

aspen-airportPlaces like Aspen and Breck­en­ridge have a prob­lem: peo­ple who work there can’t live any­where close.

Jonathan Thomp­son wrote an arti­cle about this in The Den­ver Post (link (http://www NULL.den­ver­post NULL.com/perspective/ci_28170119/when-living-where-you-work-is-out-reach)). He out­lines the prob­lem far bet­ter than I can — and backs it up with good research.

But Jonathan did not pro­pose any solu­tions. I will.

Part-time res­i­dents in such places should pay a tax to build afford­able hous­ing in close prox­im­ity. That tax should be based on the amount of time they don’t live there. In other words, if some­one lives in their vaca­tion home just three week­ends a year, their tax would be higher than some­one who lives there year-round. Or than some­one who rents out their vaca­tion home dur­ing the time they’re not there.


I know this is the kind of post that many read and take issue with. I’m turn­ing off com­ments for this post only, as it’s one of those things where if you believe dif­fer­ently, I can’t con­vince you of my point — and vice-versa.

p.s. I love Aspen. And Breck­en­ridge. And their com­pe­ti­tion. I took the photo above dur­ing a brief visit in 2007. That’s the air­port just out­side Aspen, which has a greater den­sity of Lear­jets than any other air­port in the USA. (That is not a sta­tis­tic I can back up.)