Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Follow Your Donut

I realized that this past Saturday marked the 1 year anniversary of my moving back to my hometown of Aberdeen, Washington... though technically, when I arrived, I didn't necessarily plan on staying for long.

My college friend and bestie, Lisa, and I embarked on an adventure last year beginning in September. For six weeks, we cruised around the country, visiting 33 states, hearing a lot of "you've gotta try the donuts here, they're the best" and diving deep into the old CD collection for such hit makers as NSYNC and the Coyote Ugly soundtrack for entertainment while driving through some dark and empty parts of the country. I figure, today I will present you with some previously un-published iPhone photos from this trip.

On Day 1, we loaded up and headed out. Driving away from our homeland of the Pacific Ocean - not to be seen for months to come.

Montana - This about sums it up. (JK JK MT, I heart you.)

Colorful Colorado! How lucky were we to get to stay a few days up in the mountains near Aspen! I was awestruck by the rocky cliffs and rushing rivers, but I spent most of my time there with my eyes peeled for b-list celebrities and wildly ravenous bears looking for a soggy northwesterner to eat.

I got my first taste of mid-west chocolate milk, straight from the farm. And it only took us an hour of driving up and down the SAME ROAD in Missouri to find the place. Then an hour of us standing awkwardly in their shop area while they gave samples out to a parade of girl scouts - meanwhile kind of ignoring us onlookers/creepers. We eventually got what we came for.

In Chicago, I came as close as I'll likely ever be to a marathon. We admired the runners as they crossed the finish line while lounging on the grass drinking beer.

IHOP in... Cleveland... maybe? Pro tip: Don't eat at IHOP even if you are hung over and McDonald's stopped serving breakfast already.

Niagara Falls! This is a really creepy place. Another Pro Tip: bring your passport and cross the bridge into Canada. Our brains were not fully functioning on this day and we didn't even think about doing this. Let me break it down for you. Niagara Falls, Canada = Las Vegas while Niagara Falls, US = Reno... or more like a boarded up Casino in the mid-west.

Vermont! We ate cheese! We sampled maple syrup! We screamed with delight every time we saw an old person walking down the little streets or another old building or a white picket fence or a cow or a colorful tree or...

Though it wasn't on our original tour plan, we drove over to Portland, Maine just so I could say that I went from Portland to Portland. Get the lobstah roll. You'll love it.

Though we were truly blessed with beautiful warm and sunny weather for 99% of our trip, our time spent in New York City was very very very wet. Also, I wore sandals the entire time. Have you seen how dirty a New York City puddle is? Thankfully our friend Steve took us on his "Free Tour of NYC" which included an elevator ride in a Times Square hotel. Surely, our fellow passengers thought we were clinically insane. Had they never seen three soaking wet 20-somethings giggling while facing backwards in a glass elevator so they can watch as the floor rushes to meet them?

I died and went to heaven in Philly. Playing jenga in an indoor/outdoor German style beer garden, just after our visit to Barcade, a bar full of video games and nerds (yay) and just before our visit to the 700 Club - basically an old upstairs apartment turned super nerdy dance club.

Me and Lincoln.

The car started to become unrecognizable as such... started to look more like a giant rolling suitcase.

I may or may not have placed stickers of my face all over New Orleans/this country. I'm watching you AMERICA!

When in Austin, do as the Austiners do... eat Queso and see a show at Stubb's.

Hollywood. Your bright lights drew me in, but your $9 cans of Rainier left a bad taste in my mouth.

Lucky to be in San Francisco! Even luckier there was only one small earthquake while we were there and I was the only one who didn't feel it - yet I also seemed to be the only one who maintained a high level of anxiety about this for our entire three days there.

After an afternoon of wine tasting and "walking it off" in Napa, we were back in the PNW! Got out of the car at the California/Oregon border to touch some snow. It was very dark and very cold and the mountains there are insanely huge and menacing looking at night.

After a day in Oregon, we trecked it back in the dark to my old hometown of Aberdeen. Filled with my new knowledge of "America: The Backroads" and more time spent in a car than I ever cared to experience again, I gladly unpacked my bags. Somewhere along the road, I realized that all of these places are unique yet the same. East coasters don't know what an Americano or a pumpkin patch is. West coast people don't know how to pay tolls. Midwesterners love frozen custard. But I'm here to say that we are all united by... donuts. Everyone thinks their town has the best donut (or whatever you happen to call those fried pieces of dough covered in sugar).

With this realization, I decided to stay in my hometown, because obviously our donuts are the best.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who's TED?

I was lucky enough to attend the TEDx Rainier conference in Seattle this past weekend. It was jam packed with 30 talks in a single day! As someone who loves exploring new ideas, I was pretty much enthralled the entire time. If you don't know of TED, please go and watch this this and this right now.

Also, as someone who apparently has terrible short term memory, I forgot a lot of what I heard...but the good news is that it is all online! As much as I'd like to dive deep into my thoughts on these talks, it's a little bit late and I'm still recovering from a weekend of sleeping on an air mattress. Below, I've posted each video along with the times for some of my favorite speakers. I hope you'll watch and enjoy as much as I did!

John Sharife (15:00) : Everything worth climbing is a mountain
Phillip Thurtle (35:59) : Superheros
Danny Dover (01:37:07) : Why are you here? Conquering a bucket list.
Cynthia Lair (01:54:11) : Cooking as meditation and love

Best: The New Old Time Chataqua (00:00:01) : The importance of community
Howard Frumkin (01:22:08) : Urban Planning and Habitats where humans can thrive
Gabriel Teodros (02:13:21) : Radical Science Fiction to envision a better world

Jonah Sachs (01:17:16) : How storytelling shapes our world
Roger Ressmeyer (01:30:24) : Fear and Hope

Friday, November 9, 2012

Let's Get Moving

I just went to an Aberdeen Planning Commission meeting to discuss the planning of our downtown area... needless to say, I have some ideas. 

These meetings are a great opportunity to hear about some of the dreams of the people of the community, but here's the thing: I want to see some change... like, now. I'm impatient. I'm not willing to wait 20+ years. Yep, Aberdeen. This is me calling you out. Please note that I'm not actually all that interested in turning Aberdeen into the next Port Townsend. I don't need a fancy street car and I while an 11 mile boardwalk on the waterfront would be lovely, there's a lot of other work that I would like to see done first. More importantly, these things are cheap.

1. New branding and wayfinding signage

Ok, maybe rebranding the town isn't the cheapest thing... but with all of the creative people in this area, you'd think we the city could work something out. I believe it should tie in our history, be colorful (also, much like our history) and be clear and consistent. I love this signage below because it is so simple and yet also attractive. Plus, it's just painted on a cement wall.... doesn't get much cheaper than that. And we've got plenty of walls to paint on.

PS - There must be signs to "Vampires," "Kurt Cobain," "Sasquatch," etc.

2. Graffiti Alley

One of my favorite things about Aberdeen is the alley ways. Aberdeen is a gritty, industrial and sketchy town and I think the alley really exemplifies that (I really do mean this in a good way). I was also recently told that there is one particular alley where it is legal to do graffiti... LEGAL! So, what? You think alleys are scary? Why don't we invest in some lighting and turn it into a cobblestone walk way with back entrances to restaurants and stores and add some nice lighting to brighten it up and keep everyone feeling safe? Honestly, a free graffiti alley way might be one of the most unique things in this town. I've never heard of this anywhere else.

3. Speaking of Lighting

Can we just do something creative like this? It is so clever and also so fitting considering the amount of rain we get here. This would be a lovely way to light up an alley way or community gathering space/street.

4. Make our existing parks and community spaces more user friendly

There is exactly one true park in downtown Aberdeen, and is in a pretty terrible location. Situated right in between two, one way streets (also known as the highway). There is little parking, it's difficult to get to (crossing a highway without a stop light?) and it's loud. Nobody wants to hang out there... you might as well be in a fish bowl. I think it would be nice if sides of the park running along the highway were creatively closed off. Parks aren't meant to just be something to look at, they should be places to relax. Why not plant some trees or build an interesting structure (like the one below in downtown Portland) to block the sound? This also seems like a great opportunity to do some story telling about the area's rich history.

5. Parklets... I'm obsessed!

How did I not know about these already? I want one in front of my store. This seems like such a unique way of adding character and a sense of welcoming to any downtown street! There should be at least one on every block as far as I'm concerned. A statistic they showed tonight is that a 77% increase in downtown seating increased sales by 14%! Since I was previously told that adding a bench outside of my store would only cause more trouble, with vagrants sitting there, I'm pretty glad to have gained this knowledge.

6. Don't ignore us bikers

I'm becoming more and more convinced that bicycles will save the world (also... gamers... but that's another story). I just read today that biking actually increases consumer spending. And I'm sure we all can agree that getting exercise makes us healthier and happier. Also, bikers are just cooler. Also, I think they tend to know more about what's going on in town than the average person since they see the world a bit clearer (ie. not from inside of cage of a car). Listen to them! So, can we get some G.D. bike lanes in this town? And maybe even a bike rack or two. There are NO BIKE RACKS HERE!

Moral of the story... these things need to happen and fast. But I think that's all I've got for tonight... next time I'll fill you in on why I think "Come As You Are" should be our town motto.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Less is More

I recently signed up for Alex Hillman's email list-serve. He's a guy I find super-inspiring and, if you've read anything I've written very carefully, you might have noticed that I mention him frequently. He's somewhat of a community building guru and his perspective is unique. What I find exceptional about him is that he comes across as a hard working guy and a "go-getter" yet he understands that sometimes you have to take what is given to you.

His email this morning included a parable about two brothers working on a farm. One works really hard to help the seeds grow, giving them everything they need... yet he tends to overdue it because he is impatient and believes that if some is good then more must be better. The other brother cares more for the soil and just tosses the seeds, letting them land wherever they want. They both see some growth, but the latter gets a much more lush, albeit more wild and random looking, crop.

I've become so involved in many different forms of community building in the last year and beyond and I can definitely see the tendencies of the first brother coming out of me sometimes. When sales are down and growth is slow, I probably tend to overdue it: Facebook updates, more advertising, more promotions. More, more, more!

I find many conversations I've observed lately, too, reacting to things this way. Let's plan more events! Expand it to a wider audience! Get more businesses here! Surely that will change the way things are.

Well, based on this parable, I'm guessing you know what I'm going to say. It's probably not going to work. I think the average consumer can start to feel strangled by all the advertising and drowned in the flurry of events and promotions. Also, the thing about community is that it's stronger when we all work together. At some point, people have to prioritize how they spend their time and if we give them too much to do, they will start to have negative reactions or will be forced to make a choice and all of us community builders will end up with just a percentage of our potential attendees.

What if we spent more time tilling the soil before we planted more seeds? What the heck does that even mean? 

What I'm taking away from this: Listen and Compromise. You can't force things to go your way. There are always environmental factors that are out of your control. Spend more time creating high quality and well-thought out products instead spending more time just creating more. Give people the opportunity to breathe and form a community in their own time... organically.

I put that photo above because it is an example of how I understand living as the second brother. I am incredibly picky about the art and the things I choose to have in my home. When I have an empty wall, I usually spend a lot of time imagining what I'd like to see there and eventually I get a pretty clear idea. I almost never listen to anyone else's opinion. Then, I spend FOREVER looking for exactly what I want. I have patience and I don't lose sight of the goal, because I want to love what hangs there... especially since I have to look at it every day. The coolest part is that I always find what I'm looking for, eventually, and all of those things I hunted for over time are things I really love and they have real sticking power. They live beyond any trends or changes in taste. 

I'm hoping to build a community like this. One that can outlive any economic trends or "shop local" campaign.