It’s a luxury

sunset from the athletic club

I had a free week.

I won a visitor’s pass to a luxury athletic club not far from where I work. It was like getting to test drive a Ferrari — something mere mortals like me rarely experience.

If I were to rate the establishment on Google, I’d probably give it 5 stars. But would I ever join? No.

One simple barrier keeps me from making that part of my lifestyle… I can’t afford it.

Yes, it was great to put my clothes in a mahogany-faced locker. I loved the gourmet shampoo and body wash (in two flavors). I liked the fact that I could get a few free initial consultations with a professional trainer, so I could learn how to exercise better.

But for approximately five times what 24-Hour Fitness charges, I can’t justify the hit to our monthly expenses.

Heck, I can’t even justify 24-Hour Fitness at the moment.

Gotta stick with free bicycle commutes.


(I took the photo from the balcony, overlooking the tennis courts.)

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Take time to visit a museum

spider-like antique chair

This amazing spider-like chair currently appears in the Denver Art Museum. It totally reminded me of a Tim Burton movie.

Even if you live in a very small town, at least in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, there might be a museum you don’t even know about. Do a little research to see if there is one down that other street.

I guarantee you’ll learn something new if you spend at least an hour and read some of the exhibit plaques.

Footnotes:

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Can you change a culture?

ad for face masksAny kind of growth for a company or large body of people happens because of culture change. It takes a healthy dose of optimism to start a culture change.

Take MyAir Mask. I stumbled across an ad for surgical masks with printed designs in New York magazine. Their manufacturer would love it if these masks could become part of America’s publicly acceptable sense of style.

The ad touted the masks’ many benefits, including preventing a loss of moisture that is supposed to lessen jet lag. And there is the obvious benefit of preventing airborne infection.

But I just don’t see the USA adopting this sensible fashion accessory.

Though wearing face masks in public is very acceptable in China, Americans are too conscious of wanting to be seen and not have their smiles hidden, even if it means an increased risk of getting a cold.

My optimism would not stretch as far as taking that company on as a client. Would yours?

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Portland

Portland is a crazy place.

(We just returned from a family vacation that included a few days in Portland.)

I knew that I wanted to get to know the city ever since seeing Portlandia.

I was not disappointed.


Plus:
  • Powell’s is perhaps the finest bookstore on the planet. Besides stocking an amazing range of books (both new and used), they have the most incredible array of stuff from interesting water bottles to funky backpacks to weird socks.
  • Food trucks (often food trailers): a huge collection of semi-fast food outlets are all over the Portland, often in collections filling whole city blocks. Wide offerings of ethnic cuisine are available.
  • hipster lampShops: If I were rich, I would have gorged on the incredible variety of clothing, trinkets, hand-made art in many useful forms such as furniture and all manner of hipster-oriented stuff. One of my favorite shops was Boys Fort.
  • Bicycling: In spite of the generally dreary weather, bicycling is a huge part of life in Portland. Bike paths are prevalent across the city, and as our Airbnb hostess explained, bicyclists there often feel like they rule the world, whether or not that is the case.
  • The river: Bike paths go along the Willamette River, allowing you to explore the waterway without getting wet (unless it’s raining).
Minus:
  • Trash: There are very few trash cans around the city. Thus, trash accumulates in all the nooks and crannies. Seattle, in comparison, seems to have a normal amount of places to dispose of your waste.
  • Homelessness: I’m not sure what attracts so many homeless people to Portland. Denver, the city near my suburban home, seems to have a smaller homeless population. I have nothing against homeless people — drug addiction and mental illness are crippling — but perhaps Denver provides more places for the homeless to find a home. Or possibly Colorado has more restrictive laws governing homeless activities (like no sleeping on sidewalks).
  • Maybe a little too much indie-hipster-ness: Though I love supporting small businesses and appreciate creativity, I was almost overwhelmed at the extreme hipster-ness of Portland. One morning, I even wanted to visit Starbucks, believe it or not.

If you can, you simply must visit greater Portland.

Footnote: I only spent a few days there, so these are just a few surface observations.

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You can’t say that

don't talk illustrationAmerican culture has become extremely polarized. If you are even slightly on one side of a fence, it’s very hard to say anything about your issue without getting shut down by voices from the opposing side.

This current political season has made the polarization much worse. Political candidates from both sides of the aisle are harsh and often unreasonable in their criticisms of their opponents. A climate of combativeness has sucked much of the American public into that same negative vortex.

Thankfully, I have become so tired of pre-election politics that I lost my desire to voice any political opinion. I hardly listen to any news, as so much air time is devoted to the same verses being iterated in some hardly-new direction.

I’ll be glad when November 9th hits, no matter who wins.

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Losing touch

magic-sky-control

It’s easy to lose touch.

The buyer of this $200,000+ Mercedes Maybach sedan will think little of paying another $5,000 for a fancy sunroof. (The Magic Sky Control roof will let you change its opacity from fully opaque to clear in a matter of seconds.)

It’s easy for me to cast stones. Recently, Heather and I got new phones that cost way too much. (Our kids have been giving us a hard time, and justifiably so.) Compared to $5,000 for a fancy sunroof, new phones that we use every day for tons of productive (and not so productive) things seems to be sensible.

But when I think about kids in developing countries going hungry — and that a fraction of our monthly phone bill could feed several, I can’t justify this extravagance.

To the Maybach owner, extravagance means one thing. To me, another. But we both need to step back and see the bigger picture. We’re both losing touch.

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Stop vs. Yield

stop-signIn England, there are fewer stop signs per intersection than in the USA. I wish America would follow the UK in this area.

If you see no drivers coming, it saves time for you and the people behind you if you slow down, rather than coming to a complete stop. Slowing down also saves fuel, compared to completely stopping and then speeding back up.

Maybe it boils down to trust. The driving test in England is much harder than in the US. Drivers in the UK are required to be more qualified to be behind the wheel. (There are 2–3 times fewer traffic fatalities per capita in the UK compared to the US.) When I took the driving test in England, it was much harder.

The only downside to having fewer stop signs would be the loss of revenue from traffic tickets. Perhaps local governments could come up with a less predatory way to raise funds.

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What once held value

tiny promotional mug from 1967I love visiting thrift shops. It’s hereditary — my dad did, my sister does, and now my daughter joined the club as well.

Any visit to a thrift shop is a lesson in value. What once held value no longer does. Or in some cases, what’s there never held value for anyone.

Take this little mug, dating back to 1967. It commemorates the participation in an “Advertising Decision Seminar.” There’s no first place — you got a mug just for showing up. It’s the size of a shot glass but shaped like a beer stein — and not good for either use.

Today’s tiny shiny conclusion is that people should consider the value of a gift before investing time and money in the purchase. Don’t sell ice to eskimos, as the saying goes.

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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 — 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.

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Pickups, Cuba and freedom

Paul driving a big pickupAs I was driving a big pickup, I reflected on freedom. In America, we have the freedom to buy as large a vehicle as our budgets (or willingness to take on credit) will allow.

Very few people in Europe drive large vehicles, due to fuel costs, the narrowness of roads and the difficulty of parking something so long. But it goes deeper than that. Many Europeans would consider owning such a vehicle wasteful.

Fuel costs are high in Europe because governments (elected by people, in most cases) have added substantial taxes to push people to smaller vehicles. It works.

Wired recently had an article about the least free country on this planet, North Korea. Citizens there have no choice about which car to drive — nor do they have enough funds to buy any vehicle. The article explores the ideas of how former North Koreans (now living in South Korea) are smuggling in western TV and movies to create a sense of discontent in viewers’ minds. There’s no real evidence that it’s working, though change could take time. China has had a major shift in the direction of freedom during the last 20 years. Cuba is opening up. Who knows what will happen.

With freedom comes wonderful experiences — and also garbage. The smuggled USB drives have shows that introduces viewers to the best and worst aspects of western culture. The change agents feel like the worst shows might shock viewers into some kind of awakening. As an American, I am ashamed about some of the ideas my country spreads to the rest of the planet. But getting small glimpses of freedom may spark a revolution.

Footnote: Those of you who know me understand I would never buy a big pickup. I test drove one as a part of a promotion at the Denver Auto Show. Interestingly, the new Ford F-150 with the smallest engine will have a greater impact on America’s fuel consumption than all the electric Chevrolet Volts combined, due to sales volume.

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