The adventure continues! (Missed Part 1? Start here.)
As I mentioned here and here, I was in Springfield, Missouri last week to catch up with my roaming yoga instructors to complete a missed module of teacher training. Outside the walls of Studio 72, my free time was limited to early morning and evening car rides back and forth from La Quinta, where I chose to rest my weary head.
It was ranked highly by customers on travel websites and the staff very sweetly made the effort to greet guests with sidewalk chalk sentiments, but I was underwhelmed by the rest of the experience: the scripted delivery at check-in (my pet peeve, vs. a free-flowing, natural exchange); unavailable water – for free, let alone to buy (only lemon- or raspberry-flavored for sale); rowdy neighbors in the middle of the night; weak coffee in the morning.
I don’t mean to sound like a nagging bore, for real. I’m sharing because I care about these things and know that a strong brand is one that leaves you feeling fabulous. On leaving La Quinta, I felt “meh.”
But everything changed the second I hit the back roads with my rental car and discovered some extraordinary sights!
First, on leaving Springfield, I passed a magnificent bike fence built by “BYK MAN.” He told me he started it a few years ago when he noticed his little daughter bursting out of the house towards the road to get the daily mail. He thought a few old bikes would be enough of a barricade to keep her safe from traffic, and over time he added more – some he found himself; some he received as gifts from the kindness of strangers.
It’s become quite the conversation starter!
From there, I was eastbound to St. Louis, passing roadside billboards (promoting guns, god and fireworks mostly) and attractions like the Jesse James Wax Museum, a Vintage Toy Museum, and the “Route 66 Rocker,” the world’s largest!
Okay, let’s be real. Who doesn’t love to be called gorgeous? And to be warmly invited to a party and then gifted a sweet surprise?
Baublebar is brilliant.
They’ve cleverly branded their welcome gift a (hashtag) “swatsurprise,” where SWAT stands for Service With Accessorizing Talent, an acronym for their stylist team, always eager and ready to serve up tasty combos of jewels, chains, spikes and beads – to your personal liking.
They’ve also mastered what every great burlesque dancer knows (and builds her business on): the slow reveal; the tease; the art of seduction.
Here’s what I mean: on opening my delivery this morning, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. First, the hot pink and chartreuse, the silky black bag, snazzy striped tissue, and a “Hello, gorgeous” greeting with a gold chain gift.
Then the thoughtful “Do’s and Don’ts” for caring for my new purchase and a sticker of enthusiasm – YAY! – cheering me on, building anticipation even further (and strategically endorsing my decision to support their business). Win-win.
And finally, the full monty. My shiny, perfect Shoshanna Amulet in Opal. Which of course I had to wear immediately and honor with an impromptu photo shoot!
On my trip to the American heartland last week, I did what I always do: I seized the chance to travel as an exciting opportunity to explore!
It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, and it’s increasingly feeling like an area of personal genius. (I always took my sense of adventure for granted and didn’t regard it as anything particularly special, but people tell me otherwise.)
So although I was headed to Missouri because of a yoga workshop in Springfield, Missouri (as part of my teacher training), I opted NOT to fly into Springfield because, in my mind, it’d limit my lay of the land. Instead, I looked for neighboring sights to see, things to do, roadside attractions to visit, weird Americana… anything that would be out of the ordinary with the potential to deliver a novel, non-touristy experience.
In doing some research, I learned about a shrine to the Black Madonna, somewhere on back country roads at the foothills of the Ozarks. Done! Decision made. I’d fly SFO-STL, stay the night at an Airbnb in St. Louis, then drive to Springfield the next morning, stopping at the shrine en route.
But first, St. Louis!
My seat mate on the flight there said his city was well known for the iconic arch, the Cardinals sports team and Anheuser-Busch, but lesser known for City Museum, “a scrapyard playground for kids of all ages, including adult kids.”
Our plane touched down as it was getting dark and although I drove to City Museum as fast as I could, the doors had already closed. Here’s what I was able to see:
From here, I went to Seedz, a lovely little vegetarian restaurant, and then to the Cherokee Arts District before calling it a night. (It was nice to see t-shirt shop STL-Style showing their support for the protestors in Ferguson, MO.)
When San Francisco had its most recent earthquake, Dan and I were down in L.A. (Phew!)
We stayed our first few nights at an Airbnb “Hollywood Bowl hideaway,” which was apparently built in the 20s for silent film actors. For the rest of our stay, we were at the newly opened Ace Downtown.
While at the very trendy Ace, once home to United Artists film studio, we had dinner at its gorgeous brasserie L.A. Chapter one night and headed out to the nearby Bottega Louie another.
Bottega Louie is a (mostly) Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the 12-story Brockman Building, a Romanesque Revival structure built in 1912. It has a lively ambience and decent food – we both indulged in pasta – but the real show stoppers were the pastries and pastel packaging at the take-out Patisserie.
Curious by nature, multiplied by years of journalism and design research assignments, I always seem to be in hyper-active observation mode, taking in the world – and the people in it – with spidey senses.
This of course comes with the risk of me running into things and, more often than not, being late for appointments!
Visually, I’m drawn to colors, patterns, off-beat style and words words more words: license plates, T-shirt sayings, bumper stickers, bathroom graffiti, promotional flyers and found signs – be it a playful turn of phrase, beautiful type, creative spelling or sheer hilarity, intentional or not.
I read culture like a book, and I take detailed margin notes on how we arrange the stuff off this world to suit our needs. Formally, it’s the design of streets, parking garages, highways, houses, parks, retail stores, hotels, eateries and public gardens. Informally, it’s the temporary fixes and ingenious solutions for ordinary problems by everyday folk.
Here on out, as I see ‘em, I’ll be celebrating the latter.
Okay, so most recently, I was on a plane from San Francisco to St. Louis, Missouri, to attend a workshop as part of my yoga teacher training. Once buckled-up in 8C, I struggled to cram my Dasani between the hard plastic seat back and the unforgiving pocket in front of me.
Clearly designed WITHOUT the human experience in mind, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. It’s perfect for a Penguin paperback, tablet device or satin eye pillow, but you’re out of luck if your book of the month club assigned you War and Peace.
Then I looked to my left, across the aisle, and saw something remarkable: an off-duty pilot in a fancy on-duty uniform with his gear hung smartly from metal clips.
I enthusiastically pointed out his ingenuity – how he’d taken a constraint and made it work to his advantage. He blushed a little, shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “It works.”
Don’t you just love it when you have a stellar brand experience? When the service providers get it right? When you, as was my case today, leave the salon feeling like a million bucks?
I believe in sharing the love and passing on good fortune to others, so today starts something brand new: the swoon fest!
Yep. When I personally have a noteworthy service experience or come upon a brand that lights me up like a firecracker, I’m gonna write about it, dammit.
So today. A salon story…
Truth be told, I’ve been a fickle pickle with stylists and salons over the years. It’s my curiosity getting the better of me – and shiny object reflexes. Oooh, a new place downtown. Or aaah, over there, a wizard with the scissors.
I’ve hopped around like a Mexican jumping bean for the past decade in San Francisco, always in search of “the one” who’ll really get me and whip my hair into a sassy, stylin’ fringe or shag or asymmetrical bob. All this ping-ponging around has proven disastrous with my unrequited love affair with long and luxurious. My naturally curly hair (“fine” but voluminous) has instead been in a perpetual state of “growing out,” likely the result of my Aquarian impulsivity overriding my ability to play the waiting game.
But alas, I tried a new place today! Barrow.
Believe it or not, SF psychic Jessica Lanyadoo (who I adore! she’s amazing) recommended I check it out.
No surprise, Eileen did a fabulous balayage (if I do say so myself – sung Jay-Z style) and Michelle delivered with the shears, and then some. (Apparently, she also cuts Zooey Deschanel’s shiny locks!)
But I’m not writing this post merely on account of a terrific cut and color: it was the Barrow salon experience as a whole.
I left feeling giddy, delighted, excited, and full of ideas. The space turned me on. The playlist was impeccable. Instead of a fashion or gossip rag, I was reading a Diana Vreeland biography. In hard cover, red linen. (The library also housed books on Patti Smith, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood and mid-century art.)
For whatever reason, I’ve been pulled into a sweaty Lycra vortex of 80s fitness instruction this week. And I’m not complaining.
First, this radio gem on PRX Remix, an episode of Record Bin Roulette that harkens back to Jane Fonda (my all-time favorite), Cathy Rigby, Jack LaLanne and workout anthems “Jump” by Van Halen and “Jump (For My Love)” by The Pointer Sisters.
Then Jimmy Fallon and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as fitness duo the Fungo Brothers.
Good fun for those of us who experienced this stuff in its hey-day.
A total blast for those of us who lived and breathed it. Enthusiasts like me, who ate it up!
When I tell people I’m a designer, without missing a beat, I always get asked “What kind of design? Fashion? Architecture? Graphic?”
The answer has never been clear-cut.
In the minds of most people, the mere suggestion of design conjures up lush interiors, sleek objects, cool fashion and clean type. It encompasses these things, for sure, but my personal experience as a design practitioner has been idiosyncratic, pushing at its edges.
I’m a journalist who, after years of radio hosting and feature writing, decided to go to design school. I wanted to get my hands dirty in the creative process, rather than continually report on it at arm’s-length.
Ironically, my design education ended up being more conceptual than applied — like a skunkworks exploring “the power and promise of design.” No curriculum per se, just big questions, endless research and heaps of discoveries.
It felt a lot like investigative journalism.
I was reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist at the time, and it became a sort of companion piece to my own journey: seeking new lands for bountiful treasures only to return home and discover it was with me all along.
I came to realize through the sort of design education I experienced that journalism — in its recontextualization — became relevant to me again. It was revitalized with purpose. Renewed with fresh energy.
It led me to writing a book called Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, whose guiding principle was “it’s not about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world.”
The assumption was that design, as a notion, was at risk of being constrained by an aesthetic framing; that its understanding solely as a materially-driven discipline — giving shape to stuff, like furniture and buildings, fashion and typefaces — was all wrong; that design, in fact, has greater potential to positively impact the world.
It was a conceptual exercise that intentionally took the discussion of aesthetics off the table. A design brief, with constraints, that granted permission to temporarily step outside the conventional matrix of design in order to see the discipline with new eyes.
In doing primary research for the book (through my radio conversations with thought leaders, none of them “designers”), I saw for the first time an interconnected future where design solutions emerged from nimble teams of creative thinkers across a whole host of backgrounds — from politics to astrophysics, materials science to microbiology, economic reform to epidemiology.
The design horizon expanded. It was liberating and exciting!
10 years later, I’m still a believer in the power and promise of design. But I’ve grown and stretched and have warmly welcomed aesthetics back into the conversation (another lap of a full circle it seems).
Because I realize now that aesthetics was never the problem to begin with.