Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Lost Then Found

Once my buddy and I reached Seven Corners in Downtown Saint Paul, a whole new world of treasure hunting opened up. Worn-a-bit, Rag Shop, Salvation Army, Goodwill; they all connotated a certain image in our minds. We knew that was where the poor people shopped, those down on their luck found treasures, and those struggling to make ends meet got things on the cheap. We were none of those; just two grade school kids looking for something, anything of special interest.

My, how things haven’t changed. Now a new generation (for example, my grandkids) has found a juvenile version of Valhalla among the piles of discarded clothing, jewelry, household goods and other assorted cast-off items. For them, it’s a veritable treasure chest of ‘finds’ among the ruins. The locales may be different now but the treasure hunting remains the same.

It's now been given a new name, a new destination and a new game in town. I’m talking about ‘thrifting.’ I know this because all five of my grandchildren are deep into their own personal journey of discovery. It’s the newest hip thing to do among the younger set.

The Revivals store here in Palm Springs, along with Angel View, and a dozen other denizens of ‘gently used items’ fed this hunger for bargain shopping at its very best. These storefront businesses are all vast collections of used clothing, household items, DVDs, CDs, vinyl, and even some eight-tracks thrown in. A few of the stores are now sneaking in brand new items, still under the guise of bargain items. Nevertheless, they all present new surprises upon every visit. Here is a classic case of ‘what goes around’ comes back around.

For the younger shoppers among us, the challenge of selecting old time-tested clothing and other items reflect a period – for them – wrapped in that dark past called ‘our parent’s era.’ Pushed beyond that would be their ‘grandparents’ era’ which is even more mysterious than a description of ‘dark matter.’

Although not born out of financial need, I think this quest for lost treasures reflects the younger generation’s fascination with ancient relics from the past. For them, that would be the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Old band or festival t-shirts are highly prized among that group of scavenger hunters.

Garage sales also present great opportunities for ‘new finds’ but usually in the form of gently used sporting goods, games, furniture, household items, etc. Its remarkable how someone else’s throwaways become someone else’s treasured finds.

Back in the day, my buddy and I would often venture out to the Goodwill Store in downtown Saint Paul out of curiosity more than anything else. I was into reading about World War Two and they always had a treasure trove of old ‘Life Magazines,’ often from the 40s and 50s. My friend, Micky, was more focused on assorted junk he could tinker with.

If the Goodwill store or the Salvation Army didn’t satisfy our thirst for new found treasures, we could always find something of value at the ‘Ax Man’ on University Avenue. The Ax Man was a veritable junk yard on steroids of small, often times, metal objects that must have been cast-off machinery parts from local factories.

A buck would get us both a bag full of small worthless objects we just knew would be useful for whatever silly project we had in mind. Of course, the items were usually forgotten or thrown away shortly after we bought them but the hunt was always the best part of the journey anyway.

I forgot about these generational Dollar Stores until about the mid-to-late sixties, when I was living in a rundown hovel near the University of Minnesota. I would often frequent a Salvation Army store nearby to furnish and decorate my apartment. Then go to the Army Navy Surplus Store on University Avenue and downtown Minneapolis for army jackets, camping gear, etc.

Sharon and I started taking the grandchildren to garage sales, estate sales, etc. when they were toddlers. The Colorado kids especially loved the hunt since their parents seldom, if ever, took them there. Nana’s (Sharon’s) only caveat was that the kids had to do their own negotiating with the owners for whatever they wanted to buy.

Brian and Amy weren’t too thrilled when Maya, Samantha and Spencer came home each time with armfuls of ‘things.’ But, as we explained to them, when we were in town baby-sitting that was part of our routine and the grandkids knew and loved it.

On their last visit to Palm Springs, the grandchildren, accompanied by some of the parents, all made their annual trek to ‘Revivals’ for their fill of ‘had to have’ treasures. No one left without some gem to show their pals at school the following week.

Another hallowed family tradition passed down from one generation to the next.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Losing Their Mojo

Being able to paint any kind of image is one of those precious gifts I don’t have and probably never will. How anyone can take a piece of paper, canvas, metal or other material and dab paint on them to create something wonderful is a talent I admire and envy. So, when I see an artist give up the ship, it bothers me…a lot.

Over the course of last summer, I’ve had several painter friends tell me they’ve lost their mojo and can’t do it anymore. When asked to explain the reasons why, their answers were as elusive as their will to continue painting. Growing older, other distractions, an injury or an ailment; the reasons why are far-reaching and conclusive ‘in their minds.’ They just can’t do it anymore. I guess, it’s a kind of writer’s block for painters.

Half the folks I know on this planet would like to write a book someday. I have several friends who have gotten as far as outlining the books they want to write. They’ve done their homework in terms of their subject matter. They’ve interviewed friends and associates of their book topic/s. They’ve read books on ‘How to Write Books.’ They’ve watched UTube videos and perhaps have even taken classes in novel writing. They’re all set to go. All they have to do…is do it. I guess it’s like writer’s block for beginners.

It’s not just the arts that causes folks to stumble before they even get started. I have a dear friend who used to join me watching the Twin Cities Marathon each year. He would yell and cheer-on the runners as they passed by. Each year, he would remind me that he was going to be in that pack the following year. I told him that was great. I encouraged him and told him that all he had to do was train properly and then do it. He agreed and promised that next year would be that year.

Come the following spring, my friend had his training schedule down in print. He had mapped out his training route along the Mississippi River. He knew how much weight he wanted to lose and the days that were best for him to run. All he had to do…was do it.

But then there was his very hectic schedule as a husband, dad, coach, breadwinner, employee, etc. Things weren’t slowing down in his life and, in fact, were only getting busier. Time had become a very precious commodity. He was having a hard time dividing it up among all the demands in his life. Training for the marathon was important…but.

Now I have nothing but understanding and sympathy for those folks who want to follow their dreams but just can’t find the time. In their heart of hearts, they know what they want to do but everything in the world suddenly seems to conspire against them and their objective.

At some point, all of these folks run smack-dab into the irrefutable truth that there is an enormous chasm between the best of intentions and the actual act of ‘doing something to get there.’ That’s why some of us aren’t as financially comfortable as we’d like to be. We aren’t living the life we imagined growing up. We haven’t accomplished much on our bucket list and still wonder why? The list can go on and on.

I tell folks in my ‘How to Begin Writing’ workshop that there is only one truth to writing. If you want to become a writer, you must first sit down (or stand) and start to write. The painful truth is that no one else can do it for you. No one else cares as much as you do. Life will go on no matter what you decide to do. The easy way out is always doing anything. To try anything involves risk, demand on your time, energy and life adjustments. It’s really as simple as that. And in its very simplicity is the steel tough resistance you must overcome to at least start to pursue your dream; whatever it may be.

I get ‘losing one’s mojo’ and I understand the frustration of those who have experienced it. But there is no alternative to not trying again. If you don’t try, you’ll never know the outcome. If you try and still fail again, you know you tried and have that wonderful option of giving it another shot.

What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Art Around Every Corner

Unlike a lot of cities, Palm Springs and its neighboring communities don’t have just one art district. Perhaps it’s the continuing and encouraged diversity of its inhabitants or the friendly rivalry between cities up and down the Coachella Valley. Whatever the reason, there are artist enclaves scattered throughout the valley and each carries its own special uniqueness.

Art and Palm Springs go together like the blended reaction of alcohol ink spread out on a tupo paper. The area is a strange cornucopia of harsh geography, colorful history and strange transplants who have transformed this stretch of desert into a playground for artists of every ilk.

On the surface, Palm Springs is known as a desert oasis, a fashionable resort town and global mecca for innovative modern architecture. Among the founders of Desert Modernism were Bauhaus-influenced architects Albert Frey and E. Stewart Williams, whose legacies can still be seen in numerous public and private structures around town. But beneath that fa├žade of blue skies and bright white modern buildings is an environment bubbling over with creative endeavors from all the arts.

From the outrageously expensive art pieces on El Paseo Drive in Palm Desert to the rudimentary scratch pieces at the East Jesus outdoor gallery in Slab City, artistic endeavors have taken on every imaginable form and fashion, shape and design, subtle and in-your-face expressions of thought and ideas.

The Backstreet Art district is located several miles from downtown Palm Springs in an old strip shopping mall. There are dozens of artist-owned galleries and working studios which feature paintings, sculpture, photography, jewelry, ceramics as well as space for the performing arts.

A much larger area for artists is located at the Palm Springs Art Museum and north of downtown in the Art and Design District. At one time this area was a barren stretch of boarded up storefronts and half empty motels that offered none of the glamor and cache of old or new Palm Springs. Over time that changed and now the Uptown Art and Design District is a true enclave of galleries, design shops, restaurants and housing for the creative minded types.

The Ultimate in artistic regeneration and commercial display is located down the valley in Palm Desert. El Paseo Drive is a mile long commercial strip that is generations and millions of dollars removed from the mud huts of early painters deep in the desert. It is meant to embody the style and elegance of high society in the desert. This art-strung boulevard houses over 250 retailers, professional services, renowned restaurants and locally owned boutiques. It is the ultimate avenue for anything and everything you never knew you needed or wanted.

Desert art has come a long way from those first ancient petroglyphs through ‘en plein air’ to the rich tapestry of creative talent that resides here now. There are a plethora of art shows, film festivals, world-class gallery and museum events, rotating exhibitions, national touring and locally produced theater, classical to contemporary music concerts, couture fashion shows and architecture and design tours. The Southwest Arts Festival is just one of a dozen or more art festivals throughout ‘the season.’

South of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley lies a cluster of primeval ancient relics of art that confuse, shock and amuse the errant wanderer who happens upon their grounds. I discovered that several years ago when I stumbled upon several enclaves of mystery just south of the Salton Sea.

Down a dusty road from the Salton Sea is Salvation Mountain. This strange collection of painted hills is one of the premiere examples of folk art in the middle of nowhere America. The site has become a mecca for those influenced by and intrigued with this kaleidoscope of painted hills, crude cave dwellings and religious scripture. The cave’s paint can and hay bale construction would challenge even the most daring of spelunkers.

The artwork is made from adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint. It was created by the late Leonard Knight (1931-2014). A deeply religious man, Knight created an art piece that encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses. Knight’s philosophy was built around the ‘Sinners Prayer.’

Slab City otherwise known as ‘The Slabs’ is a snowbird campsite used by recreational vehicle owners alongside squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap.

It’s estimated that there are about one and fifty permanent residents (squatters) who live in the Slabs year around. Some live on government checks, others just want to live ‘off the grid’ and a few come to stretch out their retirement income. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers or toilets and no trash pickup service. Sounds like a dry run for the apocalypse.

Despite the free shoe tree on the way into town and the free library, most of the residents have sectioned off their trailers, tents and sleeping bags with tires, pallets or barbwire. Free is free unless it comes to their piece of the desert then even squatters want their personal space recognized.

No trip to Slab City would be complete without a swing by East Jesus. East Jesus has been described as an experimental, sustainable art installation. East Jesus is a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of services. Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled or repurposed, East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression.

West Satan is simply a suburb of East Jesus. I found the art gallery there fascinating and mind-expanding. It was tripping out without the acid and a glimpse into the lives of those who don’t want to be a part of ‘any scene’ here in fantasy land or the rest of the world.

The high desert communities of the Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Joshua tree continue to attract artists and musicians now as it has since the turn of the century. This is another world of vast nothingness peppered with the sad remnants of past lives. It’s a place where stillness thunders louder than the wind and God did some of his finest paintings. It is a vast virtual sound studio for the creative musician and blank canvas for artists of every discipline.

The area is a mecca for aging rock stars and modern-day bohemians along with ordinary people all in search of a new beginning. It’s the place where people go to get lost and be creative.

Joshua tree and these surrounding communities embrace another form of existence; all of which is surrounded by endless horizons.

Yet as much as time changes the flavor of art, Sharon and I still get to immerse ourselves in the daily show all around us. Each morning, sunlight still dances off of the mountain side and casts imaginative shadows over our lives. It’s like a new show taking place every day and we get to be in the audience and enjoying that celestial talent from above.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Living Forever

Most of us are uncomfortable talking about dying. It’s one of those unspoken topics that we rarely address until unforeseen circumstance force us to do so. Death and dying are the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ that everyone knows is there but refuses to address. Until now.

In the last year or so, the Business Insider web site has highlighted several individuals who have started up businesses whose primary focus is to extend life expectancies into the stratosphere. Usually, these individuals are in their thirties or forties and have a diet that even an ant would not envy. They all claim to have discovered the secret to long life or are on the brink of uncovering the secret ingrediencies meant to help the body and its many parts never grow old or wear out.

Fortunately for those willing to buy their pitch, their version of Valhalla can be found in a pill or liquid form available at outrageous prices in a shop near you or on-line. Not really affordable for the average Joe but if the alternative is to die like the rest of us, it’s a veritable bargain. These dubious purveyors of ‘eternal life’ haven’t yet made their presence well known in the desert but there are similar themes recurring down here nevertheless.

What I’m seeing now in Palm Springs is another trend, not quite as egregious as some of the hucksters on the web, but with a very similar angle. Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley seems to be fertile ground for individuals who like its warm weather, blue skies, and the relaxed atmosphere of this desert resort town. Good times are hinted at around every corner. And many of these same individuals would like it to continue on forever…or as close to forever as possible. They are now a tempting target for these sirens of serenity.

Now this theme of ever-lasting life certainly isn’t new to humanity. Ever since the beginning of time, for those who could afford such thoughts, humans have chased the fountain of youth, the secrets of Shangri-la and the elixirs that promised ‘eternal youth.’ Modern day medical practices proport to address these objectives through a bevy of approaches which address the psychological, familial, societal, ethical, spiritual and biological aspects of overall health. It’s called the holistic approach to medicine.

For years, local medical practitioners have embraced the ‘life extension’ approach to their primary line of work. So too have plastic surgeons, dentists, GPs and other advisers on health adding this line of services to their regular offerings.

Aside from the temptation to over-promise on life-extending therapies, this new/old approach on healthy living and sensible behavior is probably a good thing. I doubt many, if any, of these ‘new’ approaches are really going to change our own genetic timetable marching us toward the end here on earth. But it doesn’t help to get there reasonably healthy and happy. I just don’t think we have to embrace the latest and greatest in life-extending gimmicks to get there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Wabasha, My Old Town

I have a long and curious history with Wabasha, Minnesota. I don’t have roots there but I saw what it did for my wife, Sharon, in terms of solid, grounded values and a wholesome attitude toward life. Hers was and is an intellectual curiosity that went far beyond the classroom and school yard negotiations. It steeled her for life’s ups and down and a burning desire for more. Not bad for a one-horse town, few folks had ever heard about, down the old Mississippi from Saint Paul.

Almost 55 years ago, I met this girl in Saint Paul who was from Wabasha. For the following many decades, we ventured down old Highway 61, one hundred plus miles, to visit her parents and eventually introduce our kids to life on the farm. It was great while it lasted.

Eventually Sharon’s parents retired, leaving their one-hundred-year-old farmhouse and began a new life as ‘townies.’ Wabasha was growing old as they were and seemed destined for the gradual decline that has accompanied the many river town along the Mississippi. Then some strange things started to happen.

For years, small manufacturing plants had come and gone around Wabasha. Their life expectancy seemed to depend on attracting enough workers at competitive wages, the sometimes-foreign markets and capitalization. Then computer technology and the internet began to make inroads into what had been for centuries just centralized job sites.

Back in the early 80’s, I heard rumors about a group of hippies living in the hills around the town of Red Wing who were working for a new venture called Apple Computer. They were writing code for the company and enjoying their rural existence. Sounded fascinating to me.

Unfortunately, when I voiced my interest in such a venture to my father-in-law, he informed me that perhaps Red Wing would do such a thing but it wouldn’t be for Wabasha. His home town had been a grain-milling town for as long as he could remember and would always carry that moniker in his head. Old Delbert didn’t share my vision of entrepreneurship in small towns and I let it go as a chasm between generations too wide to cross. It was never talked about again.

Then a newly formed Wabasha arts group called the Wabasha Arts Council began a series of concerts called ‘Music Under the Bridge.’ One of their first groups was a folkie duo called the Floorbirds. I was smitten with the idea of a concert series in downtown Wabasha. I saw it as a sign of good things to come. Sharon’s mom dismissed it as ‘hillbilly music’ and wasn’t interested. A generational thing again, I’m sure. But the new ideas kept coming. The next one arrived on a six foot wing span.

It sounded like a crazy idea at first. A group of interested individuals met with the city fathers. “Let’s build a center”, they began, “where we can display some Eagles, explain the ecological and biological importance of these magnificent birds and perhaps draw a couple of tourists to town as a side benefit.” The City Council loved the idea and The National Eagle Center was born.

The city came together to plan a permanent waterfront museum in the early 2000s. A 14,200 square foot was designed that now attracts approximately 80,000 tourists and researchers to Wabasha every year.

Shortly, afterwards, new restaurants began to spout up, drawn by the tourist traffic that was extending beyond weekend and spilling over into the weekdays. The County began promoting the many outdoor recreational attractions for the whole of the Hiawatha Valley, extending from Red Wing, through Wabasha, all the way down to Winona. Entrepreneurial businesses soon followed and Wabasha became a ‘happening’ place.

More recently, a new venture called GrandPad is making its mark in the community and on-line. GrandPad describes its mission as making it easier for seniors to connect with family, friends, and caregivers. The company has developed its own tablet and launched a subscription service to support it. All of their live, around-the-clock customer service reps come from folks who live in small towns like Wabasha.

GrandPad says it has connected more than 1.7 million people in 120 countries. The company employs 165 and, to date, has raised $31million to scale its technology, both hardware and software. All of that centered in Sharon’s old home town

I’ve watched Wabasha’s evolution over the decades just as my life evolved and changed along the way. Sharon and I have talked about returning there next summer for a visit to some of the ‘old places.’ Until then, we wish the old proving grounds well in the years to come. Something new, something old, I guess, just like us.