Thursday, November 30, 2006

Shopping: Your Patriotic Duty?

Scenes from my bike trip down the coast.

Red and white stripes of the American flag fit well with horizontal lines of these laminated beams in the store ceiling. I am not much of a shopper so I notice other things, like the architecture of the store building.

Saw this interesting ceiling in a store on my 2006 bike tour down the California coast. I think it was in Manchester, CA.

Makes a good image as people do the Christmas Shopping Season.

Not having kids, I am not much of a shopper.

I remember when I was a kid, I felt cheated if I didn't get as many toys under the tree as my older sister. She got more packages because she had friends up the street. They gave her stuff as well as the stuff we all got from mom and dad.

Now that I am older, I realize that friendships are valuable even if it doesn't necessarily mean more toys.

There is more to life than shopping, but a kid might not comprehend that as easily.

Amazing that shopping is a pastime for many folks. Not much else to do in "small town" America. Not much that's social at least.

On my trips, I keep seeing places that sell hot tubs. They are always selling hot tubs, but there is practically never a place where people gather to use the hot tub.

Imagine what the world would be like if all those hot tub stores where actually places where people went to relax in a hot tub and enjoy conversation with one another. I find the best philosophical conversations in places like saunas and hot tubs.

Places for deep conversation are rare in our society. We usually just find places to buy the hot tub and bring it home as another piece of clutter around the house.

Something more to need maintenance. Something more so the "house can own you."

I can think of more enjoyable ways to meet people than shopping. More intelligent conversations than just repeating the question over and over again, all day,

"Would you like that in a paper or plastic bag?"

Does the store clerk really feel connected after discussing that topic all day with hundreds of folks?

By the way, in answer to that "paper or plastic" question, I surprise some environmentalists by preferring plastic bags. They hold up better in the rain while walking or bicycling. Since mainstream society drives cars, they might not notice the propensity of paper bags to deteriorate in the rain.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Someone's bicycle buried in snow

I took this image back in 1996 during a large snowstorm. Went out walking with my camera. That was a bigger snow than our recent one. In 1996, we had over 3 feet of snow.

Today it is around 8 inches in town and 15 inches in parts of the county. Still a lot of snow for Bellingham as some years it hardly snows at all. Most cars are not prepared with snow tires in this area.

Glad I live within easy walking distance of my job and errands.

The freeway had a big slowdown headed northbound. I was in my cozy room listening to the radio. They were directing people to some back roads, like Colony Road and Ershing Road. Callers had no idea where said roads were. Those are roads I often take on my bike. I guess I know back roads better than people who seldom leave the freeway.

Being able to walk to work, I helped tidy up another co worker's area who wasn't able to make it in yesterday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Stanley Park. Open space near the dense city

Density is a good way to accommodate large populations especially if planning is used to provide open space for breathing room. Stanley Park is a great example of urban open space. I took these images from the Lion's Gate Bridge looking east over Stanley Park toward downtown and the densely populated West End of Vancouver.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Customs house on a lonely road

On my 1995 bike trip to Northeastern Washington State, I came back through part of Canada. Entered Canada at this lonely customs house in the west part of the Okanogan Country. This isn't even the Okanogan's main "Highway 97" crossing. It is along a road between Nighthawk, WA. and the Chopaka area of BC.

The pressure strip made a "ding." The agent looked up from his book, or maybe woke up from a nap, when I arrived.

Like an old filling station.

Yes, Canada is a big country with lots of open space and they are trying to keep it that way. I get a few questions while crossing the border. These questions are mostly aimed at making sure I have plans to come back home to USA. They like to know that my job is waiting for me when I get back.

"Thanks for reminding me folks, I thought I was on vacation."

They say, "Go on through" as they ascertain that I am just planning to visit, not stay.

This remote crossing is different than the multi-lane crossing at Peace Arch. That is along I-5 which is just about becoming one city all the way from Olympia, WA. to Vancouver, BC.

A city with some gaps in between.

Bellingham is just another wisp in that "I-5 corridor swirl" which has been called Pugetopilis before.

As I peddle my bike in this "close to the border" area, many thoughts come to mind, including the subjects in yesterday's post.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Inuit hunting lifestyle may require more geographic space to be viable than typical American lifestyle

Is the world too crowded? Over populated?

Depends on how you want to live.

If every one's lifestyle was similar to that of the Inuit people in northern Canada, the world would definitely be too crowded. Living on the seal hunt, fishing and nomadic lifestyles takes lots of open space. Plenty of elbow room.

If the Canadian north were as densely populated as, say, the state of California, it wouldn't work. There wouldn't be enough fish and wildlife to go around. People would starve.

Some lifestyles, like those of the Inuit people, take up lots of space.

Folks might say the Inuits are "space hogs" even though they don't do that much harm to the environment.

This brings up an interesting point.

Someone can need a lot of space without necessarily harming the environment.

Many of the traditional living patterns on this planet haven't had that big of an impact on nature, but at the same time they need huge amounts of space to survive.

On the other hand, the stereotypical American "drive to the mall" lifestyle does have a big impact on the environment. It has an impact, but the typical American may need less space to survive than the typical Inuit.

Imagine that. Less space.

Yes, it does take some space to drive to the supermarket, find a parking place and pick out the fish from a fish counter, but if the fish is raised in a fish farm it might take a lot less space than if it were raised in some wild stream.

Imagine that. Less space needed for the typical American?

That's counter intuitive.

One hears that if the entire world were to live like Americans, we would need 7 planets the size of Earth. Yes, it is true. Our industrial society does have a big impact on nature. Land used for oil production, parking, subdivisions, agriculture, garbage, timber, mining, whatever.

Still, thanks to technological advances such as high intensity agriculture, we can cram more people into smaller land areas and still survive.

My guess is, traditional cultures like the Inuit of the Canadian North, need a lot more space than we do, even though their impact on the environment is less. They just need the elbow room, so the world is too crowded for them.

How many Earths would we need if we all lived like Inuits; all 6 billion of us on this planet?

That's a good question.

For just about all of the world's history, there were less than one billion people on this planet. When most of the world's people lived as some natives do today, there were very few people.

Then along came agriculture.

How many people can survive off one acre?

That's another "geographical" question.

It depends on the way people are living. Technology and high yield agra-industry can produce more food, per acre, and allow more folks to live on the planet. Things like high rise apartment towers can hold many folks while minimizing impact on the environment.

High rise residential tower and greenery in the well planned West End section of Vancouver, BC. One of the more densely populated parts of the world, but the West End holds its people quite comfortably.

"Car free West End living" could fit more people onto the planet than "sprawling auto centered American lifestyles," or, for that matter, "nomadic centered native lifestyles."

How many people can survive per acre?

It also depends on what type of acre you are talking about. Arctic tundra, or Iowa farm country? Cold ice, or fertile farmlands.

One has to hand it to the Inuit people for being able to survive thousands of years in arctic conditions. It's not like they are living in an area with hundreds of bushels per acre. It would take real talent to survive in the arctic.

So, land use and over population are interesting subjects.

People often debate whether the world is too crowded, or not.

Just remember one thing.

Some people need huge amounts of land, "elbow room," even if they don't have the technology to exploit that land the way modern Americans do.

The world may already be too crowded for these people.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bellingham Logo Scrapped

I read that Bellingham's new logo has been scrapped. It got lots of flack from citizens. Now it looks like the old mayor might be remembered for the logo fiasco. Kind of too bad as he wasn't that bad a mayor. Good on pedestrian and bike issues.

Problem with the logo is that it was too "professional." Tried to boil Bellingham down into a simple design. Slick design elements. This isn't easy to do. Bellingham is a very eclectic city and doesn't lend itself to one theme.

Maybe a place like Ashland, Oregon, famous for the Shakespeare Festival, could have a unifying theme, but Bellingham?

What would it be?

Mount Baker? the waterfront? the university? the folk music scene? Walmart? the freeway? Old Fairhaven? retired folks? students? tourists? greenways?

Or maybe just some simple design elements that don't really reflect any city in particular. That's the problem. It was too professional. With "professional" comes the price tag. $25,000, or so.

Too professional and clean.

The blue shapes in the background were supposed to represent mountains. Maybe the lines were too straight, too clean. They did look like buildings with consistent 45 degree roof lines. People kept saying they looked like condominium towers with a puddle in front. Mountains would be jagged, fuzzy, foggy, furry. With trees, holes, gaps, uneven.

One hears the term "fractals" when trying to get a computer to represent something natural like a mountain. Throw in the random element.

That's eclectic.

Anyway, it's now "water under the bridge." So much for imposing the concept of "branding" on our eclectic world.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Finding the sin absolutely fascinating

Former Congressman Mark Foley, the former mayor of Spokane and now Pastor Ted Haggard - conservatives in the news with gay sex issues.

I once had a good talk with a pastor friend of mine. He was a liberal pastor. We were discussing the fundamentalist Christians who say, about gay people, that they, "love the sinner, but hate the sin."

Well, my pastor friend said, kind of jokingly, "what they really mean is this."

"Hate the sinner, but find the sin absolutely fascinating."

He was a liberal minister, himself. Not a fundamentalist.

On another, somewhat related note.

Hurray Democrats

I think everything, I voted for, passed this time. I voted a winning ballot for a change. People voted my way on the initiatives and also all the candidates, here in the 40th legislative district of Washington State.

Hurray Democrats.

Usually, my vote is against the tide. This time it was with the tide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hope the Democrats can take back Congress

Enough with a culture of greed and all those campaign ads about "keeping your money;" as if money was everything.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Downshifting. My life has always been there

Scroll down for funny sign.

As the pace of the corporate workplace gets faster and meaner, more and more talk of downshifting appears. Life in the slow lane is taking on a greater appeal.

Well, I have lived all my career in the slow lane. Basically, I was never qualified to be in the rat race.

The deadly rat race didn't accept my application!

First I was idling through school. Not doing great, but not doing bad either.

Nearing graduation, I realized that a BA in Geography wasn't a big deal. Many go on to graduate school, but I decided to try the work world for the first time.

Realizing that job experience is important, I decided to start out with what I could qualify for; being a janitor.

The city of Bellingham, where I graduated, has a very competitive job market for professionals. People moving here from all over USA with many years of experience and advanced degrees. They just take what they can find.

This is a place where your waiter will likely to have a masters degree in library science, or something.

I applied for a few "full time" custodial positions and only found "part time" work. It was in a restaurant named Pizza Haven. A custodial position that was actually kind of fun. The boss was sort of a clown. Pleasant to be around.

All my meager bills were paid. In all my working career, I've never even had to collect unemployment!

Around the time I found that part time job, I also found an upstairs neighbor who talked about the virtues of "job sharing."

Part time work. The great balance between being a bum and working to death.

She was a tired secretary who had been in the high pressure world and was mostly burned out.

Was looking for a healthier balance.

She convinced me that my part time schedule was okay.

I had that balance.

Didn't need much money to live on, so the bills were paid, but I also had time.

Lots of free time.

That is when I really got into bicycle touring.

Working part time, I had many free afternoons when I could ride out Mount Baker Highway. Discovered I could go all the way to Heather Meadows and back after my short morning shift.

See below.

Sign near heather meadows says "no swimming or picnicking." Duh, a frozen lake. Sign was there for the 2 or three months per year that the lake thawed. Lake is at Heather Meadows near Mount Baker. Sign no longer exists, last I knew. Picture didn't turn out that well, but a bit of editing helps.

I worked 7 days per week, but some days were only a 2 1/2 hour shift. Other days were closer to 6 hours, but total for the week was seldom over 30 hours.

I applied for full time work a few more times, but even for custodian, the competition was fierce. People with years of experience, training and preference points for veterans got hired. The university, school district and city put you into large cues behind several hundred applicants for only a handful of openings. Other places, in town, tended to be just part time retail outlets.

Still, I was enjoying part time, so I didn't bother applying for more work after a while.

Not only did I get into cycling, I also got into the various art and correspondence projects that eventually lead to this web page.

Eventually, I did worry about not having health insurance, but I was healthy.

Some folks are made sick by the high stress job that they feel they must take, in order to have health insurance.

What a catch 22.

Anyway, that part time job lasted 11 years; just about till the restaurant went out of business. My health outlasted the health of the business.

Before the restaurant closed, I was offered the full time position I have now.

I am on the custodial crew of a YMCA just an easy walk from where I live.

Even has a health plan and a retirement fund.

Still low stress and practically no commute time. It's full time, but a good and fairly laid back environment. Also lots of vacation time. Even the ability to arrange leave of absence, which is good for bike touring.

So my life has always been down sized.

Still, except for some retirement and savings, I have no equity.

No home ownership.

Even when starter houses cost less than a quarter million, I never made enough to qualify for monthly mortgage payments.

Now there are quite a few "homeowners turned millionaires" moving to this area. It's even fueling the local economy as folks can now live off their home equity for many years. This means there is still spending, which props up local retailing even though there doesn't seem to be much local industry.

Luckily there are still affordable rental units around town. A building boom is leading to fairly high vacancy rates.

The little room I live in is much cheaper than most Bellingham units for sure.

This city is becoming a retirement haven.

Our economy equals:

"Go to school, then retire."

How's that for the "work ethic?"

I've been partially retired for years.

One room and no car. No kids, no pets. A bicycle and a computer; that's about all I have.

Who needs more?

People moving here are now seeking what I must have had all along. Still many of them are trying to live in the big homes.

Some end up having to sell and move out when they realize that their home might be their only income source.

It's down sizing and I have been there all along.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vancouver Weekend

Picture shows some colored lights near old BC Hydro Building on Burrard Street.

Just a bike ride away, but it's in another country; Vancouver.

I biked up there on this last weekend before Halloween. Took me around 7 hours from Bellingham. Stayed two nights and went out dancing at some of the gay clubs. The music is much better than I find at bar type places here in Bellingham. I don't go to those kind of places often, but if the music were better down here, I might go.

Places like Numbers on Davie Street have good dance music.

Storefront along Davie Street.