Designing Women

Naturally, FH has a bit of a soft spot for companies that go after a niche market. People who go crazy just to make things specifically designed for a very narrow task or object or moment. Sometimes this manifests as genuine garbage: the Clapper, for instance or Tater Mitts. But when the idea is good and the motives are sound you get well executed, targeted design that really helps people out. And sometimes things exit the realm of mere function and aesthetics and become something altogether greater. That's when truly brilliant design becomes so important to society that it changes the character of our collective life.

Pretty lofty aspirations for a design. And when it comes to niche markets, sometimes even when a good design achieves such greatness, the people it is designed for don't know it exists. Or where to find it. And that's where Shop Well with You comes in. This is an organization based in New York that helps to connect a specific group of people--women who have experienced physical consequences as a result of cancer treatment--with clothing and accessories that tailor to their specific needs. The nonprofit believes in helping women cancer survivors to have a positive body image and sense of self. They identify as a body image resource center. They offer lists of places to find clothing tailored to women who are living after a mastectomy or chemotherapy, and also a forum for other women to share experiences and stories about their own battles with cancer and any tips for dealing with the aftermath they find useful. It is a collaboration between the organization, the companies designing items specific to cancer survivors, and the women themselves: a threefold project to benefit a sadly growing niche market of women.

More often than not, I think that significant design that aims to solve problems like these requires the aid of a not for profit organization. Is this just the way it has to be? I feel like design and profit are stuck in this constant tango between huge profitability for design that aims low and low profitability for things we really need. My mom was visiting last weekend and two of her friends have been diagnosed with cancer in the last month. So when Carrie expressed the same experience of her mom's friends increasingly being diagnosed, we felt strongly that we wanted to tell you guys about this successful organization that deals with an incredibly important issue. They are doing admirable work.

At The Drive-In

How are your summer to-do lists coming along? Officially we're only 10 days in, so if you've only checked off 20 or 30 activities then, you're probably still on track. I know, I've been busy busy busy doing sooooo many fun summer things, and like probably way more than you. Pie baking, Sunday bike rides, planning trips to the beach, barbequing, drinking our homemade cold brew coffee, swimming in the suburbs...Not like it's a competition. Or a mean one anyway, right?

Well since we are all playing on the same team, I'm going to help you out. Before July hits, I wanted to give you time to add one more thing to your lists. That way you won't forget and have to scramble in September and do it hastily right before the summer closes for the season. Now look at your lists everyone. Pencils in hand! See there underneath Camping? And above Capture the Flag? You forgot to write Go See A Drive In Movie with All My Friends.

It occurred to me yesterday over brunch (really, as all worthwhile ideas do) and by eight o'clock we had gathered the necessary blankets and chairs, a responsible quantity of beer, $25.00 worth of Trader Joe's snacks and seven friends all piled in and bound for the DelSea Drive In a mere 40 miles from Philadelphia. It is the closest one to us, in case you were wondering, and the ONLY drive-in in New Jersey. A dying art, apparently.

But basically the deal is this: for the price of a regular movie in a plain old boring indoor movie theater you always get a double feature and an entire parking spot large enough to stretch your legs. And by regular movie I mean a regular movie at the theater in my hometown in Wisconsin back when I was in high school. Which is to you, $8. To bring in our arsenal of snack food (beer is sort of against the rules, but for covert operatives, perfectly possible to consume) cost an additional $7 for the whole vehicle. Since we are more or less law abiding, and getting caught risks getting kicked out forever, we weighed the extra dollar a person and deemed it a worthy price. So if your math matches mine, that's a total $9 for that four hours of silver screen.

Now I know, I know, you're practically jumping out of your skin about what movie we ended up seeing. It was a toss up, to be sure. Screen one was Wall-E and Get Smart vs. Screen Two featuring Kung Fu Panda and The Incredible Hulk. Our party (literally!) was split between Wall-E and The Incredible Hulk, and when our lot-switching operation failed, we got as close to the other lot as possible and pretty far from the other cars and just watched the Incredible Hulk from the Get Smart side of the place. You might say we beat the system. But for your reference and to save you any heartbreak at getting stuck in one lot, you're not really allowed to switch lots. Scary reflective attendants with flashlights will get you.

The Incredible Hulk was pretty good, though this stitcher may have dozed off towards the end. Four hours is a very long time to sit gazing at a screen, after all, bargain or no. Wall-E on the other hand was near genius, Pixar sweeping you off your feet with clever cuteness and a pretty plausible base plot involving post-apocalyptic Earth in the year 2700. A part of me, even in this Global Warming enlightened age, can't believe this made it off the shelf as a kid's movie. But I'm pretty happy that it did. The movie supposes that Earth became uninhabitable right around now, and that humans boarded a gigantic condominium mall ship to inhabit until the planet becomes safe enough to live on again. Wall-E was the robot humans forgot to disengage before leaving and he lives a lonely existence amidst the trash heaps, collecting little bits for himself and compacting the rest into little cubes. That's the premise. I will tell you that another major actor in this movie is a little plant, which lefty political theorists wiil tell you, is a very radical thing to find in a movie put out by Disney.

I would like to emphasize that Wall-E is a trash picking robot. They animated him by using real objects that might be discarded and designed him as a machine first, a character second. He carries his little treasures around in an old red Coleman cooler and keeps them in his house, which has grown by the time we meet him to be more of an homage to human civilization. There is also a love plot, if somehow you find that more interesting than a movie about garbage. This movie is rife with adult-level subtleties, only now the joke isn't about mass marketed toys, but wasteful American consumption.

Wall-E will still be playing at DelSea for the next week or so, if you can swing it, and if not, then I would urge you to give it a check box on your list all its own. It's that good.


Blu Blu

This real life animation totally RULES. Just another public service announcement from FH, reminding you that anything is possible.


Yes, Folks.

That's right, we're just changing lives, one holster at a time. Nothing like an FH sighting, while I'm blogging to serve as inspiration. I love to see the holster in all its subtle utilitarian glory on guys like this one. "No big deal, I'm just standing in line for my morning coffee. So I have a holster for my bike lock? All part of the job. I'm what you might call a new urban boy scout. A century ago, it would have held the rope to tether my horse."

Note the holster's ability to blend seamlessly into an otherwise low-key costume. But it's a quiet revolution. One day a tiny horse with a sewing machine head...the next thing you know he'll be calling purple an earth tone. That's sort of what we're going for.


CMWC My Dudes

Delinquent! Delinquent. We've been back five days. I really wanted to be your correspondent and bring you photos ON LOCATION but you know, one beer leads to another, and before you know it the weekend is over with not a sober moment to spare on reporting. Do forgive.

Last Friday we set out for that great city in the north, Carrie, Mary and honorary FH Abbey "Snakes" Gunn. See Abbey above modelling our hot new ladies' tank. We stayed til Monday, ate lots of snacks, made some friends, broke some hearts. You know, the usual.

Finally though today, I'm happy to report that Toronto was pretty awesome. As a city, we found it friendly and inviting, despite being somewhat expensive. There were trolleys, to keep us from homesickness, with tracks as far as the eye could see to keep us on our toes. There were hippie girls singing into carrots, strip clubs offering European lap dances, old bleach blonde and permed diner waitresses and hot dog trucks on every corner serving up vegan dogs and dozens of condiments. Oh goodness, Canada.

The festivus mostly took place on Toronto Island, which required a ferry boat to reach. The island holds significance in the city's cycling history as the location for one of the first outdoor cycling tracks. This allowed for much bonding time and camaraderie, as you might imagine. Friendships were forged, sea legs were gained. By Festivus, I mean the CMWC's...Cycle Messenger World Championships. Maybe you are wondering the same thing the folks at border control were wondering. What exactly does that entail? Well from the organizers' brain to your eyes:

CMWC is a world championship sporting event, but it is also a world festival celebrating messenger culture and its broad influence on modern urban culture. CMWC hosts a variety of related galas, shows, parties and vendor markets where spectators mingle with messengers to get a jump on the latest bike trends and urban utilitarian fashion. The side events showcase the artistic, photographic, musical and literary talents of the world’s hardest working professional athletes.

Basically a competition for messengers the WORLD over coming together to run a course of checkpoints and have lots of fun and celebrate the glory. The event's taken place in various cities since 1993. The race takes place on a closed course that is sanctioned by the International Federation of Bike Messengers Associations (IFBMA). And most competitors are bike messengers but the weekend's events were open to everyone. And no cars on the island, did I mention that? Which made the race a lot safer, albeit less like actual messengering. The island is home to a small community of permanent and deliberate carfree residents.

Because this was a business trip, ahem, we didn't get to watch the actual racing quite as much as we would have liked, but the course snaked all over the island and we could glimpse it through the trees from our tent spot. We were in the Vendor Market with RELoad and across from other Philadelphians, Bilenky Cycle Works.

There were several other events taking place as part of the Championships: 300 Meter Sprints, a Cargo Race, Bunny Hop Competition, Skids, Track Stands, a Slow Race, a Pedal Boat Race and a Bike Polo Tournament. In other words, lots of people doing lots of things, all at once.

I'm not suprised that Toronto was named Bicycle Magazine's Most Bicycle-Friendly City in North America. I found it both bikable and friendly. You might say we had a pretty good time. Got a tan, got stormed on, saw two rainbows, got detained at border control inexplicably, and made it home in one piece. A success.


Shifting it Up a Notch

For a long time I've wondered exactly when people in cities (slash everywhere) would get fed up with driving. When their bellies would hit the dashboard from sitting in traffic so many hours a day while sipping their frappucinos and they'd abandon their cars on the street and finally shake free of the vehicular shackles of the automobile. Heavy orchestral music in a crescendo, as they all march off into the horizon, shedding with each step their hideous American masks of gluttony and self obsession.


However subtler, the climbing gas prices have had some of this effect. People are ditching SUV's, while they still can and lo and behold! Hummers may actually go OFF the market. It may be as close to an apocalypse as we'll ever get.

Photo courtesy PennsylvaniaForChange.Blogspot.com

Philadelphia has finally appointed a Bicycling Ambassador Coordinator, behind most other modern cities. Her name is Breen Goodwin and she comes from that great cyclist haven of the west, Portland. Personally, I think this bodes well. Sometimes (only sometimes) Philly could use a little more Portland, and most often when it involves our bicycles.

And the Daily News ran a little strip about safety tips for newbie commuters in our city. It's really pretty good for the Daily news and I think very funny. See if you can spot Curtis of Via Bicycle...

I've also found myself riding behind GrownUp-Little Kid tandems sometimes in traffic and sometimes in Fairmount Park. Both instances are equally awwwww inducing, though I saw one in the bike lane on the Walnut Street bridge at rush hour in February and that pretty much beat all. I didn't get a picture back then, as photography en route is tricky, but the frequent appearance of them around town lately has made this snapshot possible. The heroism of them lies in their advertising quality of biking as a safe and normal activity to motorists and teaches kids how to be brave and safe at biking in cities. Both things we're going to need more of as these times of pricey petrol persist.


Commerce Bank Race Fun Time Equals

Sun soaked and happily buzzed, I've just arrived home after a long day at the races...the cycle races, that is. One lovely day in early June, the annual pro cycling tour comes through Philadelphia and races a course through Fairmount Park and around the art museum. It temporarily diverts traffic in town, in a good way, and for several days now you could catch older guys with numbers pinned to their backs taking spinny loops around here and there, warming up for the big day, today.

And each year it proves just as exciting as the last. Originally the Core States (now called this only by old-timers), the race has undergone several sponsorship related name changes, first the Wachovia and now the Commerce Bank Race. Not much of a ring to it, but it's kept the game in play, so to speak. The best vantage points are usually located near steep or circular hills. Lemon Hill and the Manayunk Wall, to be exact. Tons of people, all kinds of people, come out to watch the peloton climb and go so so fast around and around our most beloved urban parkside. It is a reliably good time year after year, even in this 97 degree heat.

I've realized by now that I'm sort of a sports fan in my blood and so I get overly emotional about races and big games and sports themed Hollywood Movies, but even if you aren't a big sap like me, it is really pretty epic to watch a cycling race. Especially a cycling race. As soon as you catch the breakaway peek around the curve, you feel transported to someplace across the ocean where bicycle racing represents a heroism and an historic event where towns of people come out and cheer, together. And you feel yourself cheering as part of that old world spirit, as a champion of comraderie and as a participant in one of the greatest athletic traditions of all time.

I'll be honest. I don't even know who won. Whoever it was won $55,000 and probably feels crazy exhausted right about now. For me, knowing the winner is a far second to my having a memorable afternoon, for which I toted a hibachi up to Lemon Hill on the basket of my cruiser and got called a genius.


Sunday Dog Driver

Yes that's a dog on that bike. He's nestled inside that padded milk crate and wearing a helmet. a very. small. helmet. If you blink your big human eyes you could miss him because he is miniature.

I can't really explain how much like a stalker I felt like, snapping picture after zoomed in picture of this pooch wearing his stupid tiny helmet, but it was just so incredible and joy inducing I wanted to make sure I'd be able to share the feeling with you. And in case you have your own little guy to protect and serve, you can find such safety devices here. Now I know many people ride around with Spot inside their bags. I'm not too sure how good that is. And I'm equally uncertain that this so-called helmet would protect Fido's head should you take a tumble on a trolley track. But regardless of your position on carrying Dog along for the ride, I'm pretty sure this is better than any pet accessory on the market, pooper scooper included.