Tuesday, March 14, 2023

In Living Color

 "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC."

Words like those, heard often on American TV back in the 1960s, signaled that the program about to be aired was something special. Instead of being broadcast in black and white, those of us lucky enough to have a color TV would be treated to a veritable video rainbow. It sounds comical nowadays, but back then, a color TV was something of a luxury. My Aunt Alma had one, and my mom and I used to go over to her house on Friday evenings to watch shows like Gomer Pyle, USMC and Hogan's Heroes. It should be noted that our visits represented dedication to video excellence on the part of my mom and me, since Aunt Alma had a smelly little black poodle that she named Tangeroo, or in her words, "Tange-WOO." It was a sweet little dog, but still.

Fast forward sixty years or so, and here we are in a world that is very different, both in appearance and attitude, and yet still, people crave color in their lives. I'm not sure whether you've noticed, but if you take a look at home design websites or magazines, you'll see a return to color. People are no longer scared of painting a room something other than a safe neutral, and that is really livening things up. I think I have some ideas about why this is occurring.

For one, it's just time. Color choices are cyclical. Several years ago, we were all laughing at those midcentury kitchen shades of harvest gold, copper tone, and avocado. And yellow? Fuhgeddaboudit. But now, I'm seeing colorful kitchens on HGTV and Discovery Plus. Granted, I have yet to see the aforementioned marvelous three, but blues and greens are in abundance. And I read an article last week that yellow (in tasteful shades of course, because otherwise, it can knock you silly) is experiencing a comeback.

Another reason for more color, I believe, is that people need some brightening up, both in their lives and in their surroundings. Face it, we've kinda got a mess going on in the world at large, and I think that most people like to decorate their homes in such a way that they are either soothed or energized, depending on the person and the room in question. With more people working remotely and spending larger amounts of time at home, this seems perfectly understandable.

I have to stop here for a minute and address the popularity of "griege," you know, that shade of gray that has for some years appeared to be the perfect neutral. Granted, we have two rooms in our house that are painted variations of it, but I was surprised recently when, at a loss for how to decorate my gray office/study/Casbah, one of my daughters suggested that it was missing an accent color to bring in a little warmth. Enter some rust accent pieces, and voila, problem solved.

This color shift also appears to be applying to vehicles. Back in the 1970s especially, you could buy a car in almost any color of the rainbow. Some of these were glorious, others appalling, but nevertheless, they were striking, not to mention easily identifiable by either friends or law enforcement, depending on how close to the edge one conducted one's personal business. For a while there, it seemed that all vehicles were neutral, but that too is changing. The Germans, always a driven people, seemed never to have let the color wheel stop spinning. Germans are not afraid to put any color on a car and call it a day. (I can say this because I'm part German myself.) I've had three BMW's, and they were all neutral, but doggone it, if I ever get another one, it will probably be some shade that will make me glad I had cataract surgery.

In summary, I'm actually glad to see all these colors back. To me, it signals a positive change in people's willingness to express themselves in a way that is harmless to society, and heaven knows, we need more of that. There's no need for our environments to be as sterile as the inside of a refrigerator or for all rooms to be the color of the Sahara. Let's live a little.

By the way, I have my eye on some green Allbirds shoes. Think I'm gonna go for it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Three Krogers

There's a popular meme afloat these days that reads something like, "I'm at the place in my life where running errands counts as 'going out'." I think that if we were all to be honest with ourselves, this is actually the case for many of us, particularly since the Covid lockdown. But there's a grain of truth to this adage, in that we really don't have to explore too far to satisfy our need for a shot of dopamine from time to time. If you're not familiar with that oft-mentioned neurotransmitter, Psychology Today provides a succinct and accurate definition of its effects: 
Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your search for information
This is true; indeed, one needs look no further than the nearest grocery store to get a dopamine fix. Now, that's crazy, you say, but honestly, when you grab that last shopping cart and enter those automatic doors, don't you feel a little rush seeing all that food right there in front of you? Of course, you do. 

For some reason, in our area of north suburban Atlanta, we have three Kroger supermarkets within a two-mile radius. We refer to them by nicknames, and so they are "Kroger 3000", 1.5 miles from our house, so named becuase it is located at 3000 Old Alabama Road, "Scott Road Kroger", 1.4 miles away, and "Rivermont", a veritable field trip at 1.8 miles down the road. (There is a Publix thrown in there, and that's a good thing, because they have the best prices on pet food.) All these stores have been in business for at least 15 years. You'd have thought that at least one of them would have closed, but instead, two of them have been totally remodeled in a somewhat post-apocalyptic style, while the third retains its bright, cheery personality. The first two can reduce the dopamine flow a bit, but then you see the Cheez-Its, and it shoots right back up there. 

I was fortunate to marry a lady who is an incredible cook and baker, so I'm often sent on shopping trips, and to be honest, I don't mind that at all, since I grew up in the grocery business and have always had something of an interest in it. Since I quit working full-time a while ago, I actually find myself at a store several times a week, and every time I'm there, I find something that either fascinates or appalls me, sometimes both in one trip. Who can say that's not excitement? 

Some years ago, when Scott Road was built, the designers included animated figures above several of the departments. This was endlessly fascinating to children and to more than a few adults. A cow mooed above the dairy section, and a nearby chicken let out a happy cackling sound as eggs descended beneath her, each accompanied by a happy slide whistle sound. When Scott Road was remodeled, many of these animatronic wonders were silenced, casting a pall over an otherwise lighthearted shopping experience. I mean, it had been like being at Disney, but for a lot less money. 

I always appreciate the spontaneous joy that is sparked by produce misting. There you are, looking for turnips, when suddenly, you find yourself in a suburban rainforest, closing your eyes and basking in the gentle, refreshing mist, all while other shoppers look at you as if you have ingested a big bowl of peyote. Produce is general is exciting, because it's so unpredictable. You can have been at the store on Tuesday morning and seen beautiful fresh green beans, but when you return at 5:30 PM, along with all the "happy" shoppers who are stopping by on the way home from work, all that's left of said vegetables is a sad assortment of wispy green strings which appear to have been used in the filming of a Walking Dead episode. It's a very temporal thing, produce is. 

Speaking of, the most difficult item to find in any of our Three Krogers is shallots. A few weeks ago, my wife sent me shopping with a list that I thought (and that's the operative word here) included them. I recalled from an earlier visit how hard they had been to locate. What I didn't really pay attention to was the fact that she had asked for SCALLIONS. Despite the fact that I'm an over-60 male, I do know what scallions are, but having this bizarre fixation on shallots instead, I desperately asked a produce employee if they had any scallions. He looked at me quizzically and then pointed to a bin no more than 15 feet away and said, "Scallions? Those are green onions. They're right there." And I knew, right then and there, that he was laughing at me. Of course, I knew what scallions were, I thought. Was I losing my mind? No, I told myself, I got them confused with SHALLOTS, which are nigh-on-impossible to find. It's a mistake anyone could make, I told myself.

One particular factor that added a bit of challenge to the otherwise engaging activity of grocery shopping during the Covid era was the forced redirection of customers up and down the aisles in such a way that they would minimize contact with each other. At each of the Three Krogers, and also in The Publix, removable tape was put down in each aisle, indicating the direction traffic was to flow. I liked this, because it seemed to avoid traffic jams among shoppers, and to some degree, it minimized the sudden about-face that someone does when they realize that they've forgotten something farther back down the aisle. Not that I have ever been guilty of that, of course. When the tape was removed, all hell broke loose, and now you have to stand your ground in front of the peanuts in order to avoid getting sideswiped. 

So honestly, I think there's something to that meme I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Years ago, I had to drive all over Atlanta to satisfy my need for urban exploration, but these days, I only need drive less than two miles to experience a rush of dopamine. I try to park in the same area in front of each respective store, so that there's no gotta-find-my-car stress when exiting. Truly, I feel the joy sparking in a way that would make Marie Kondo proud. 

By the way, I think one of the reasons that overhead chicken isn't cackling any more is because her eggs are selling for over $5.00 a dozen. But that's another post. Ciao.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Life by the Numbers

One of the things that drives many visitors or new residents crazy about our fair city is the preponderance of street and place names containing the word "Peachtree." As of late 2021, there were 71 streets in the Atlanta area bearing that name or some derivative of it. If I just think off the top of my head to streets which I travel on a normal basis, I come up with the following:

  • Peachtree Street
  • Peachtree Road
  • New Peachtree Road
  • Peachtree Corners Circle
  • Peachtree Parkway
  • Peachtree Battle Avenue
  • Peachtree Industrial Boulevard

You get the idea. On top of this, we are also one of those cities that appends quadrant identifiers (NE/NW/SE/SW) to many of its streets, although in most cases, that designation is unnecessary and is generally ignored. Oh, and also, we're not on a grid system. With all this in mind, giving directions to a newcomer or visitor is quite a challenge, since almost no one says things like, "Head east on New Peachtree Road," although in truth, that would be a perfectly adequate directive. But such is life in Atlanta, and hey, snow is a rarity, so we aren't complaining.

I find it curious to contrast this with navigation in other cities, and since I write mostly about what I know, Chicago comes to mind. Chicago, unlike Atlanta, is built on a grid system, and to locals, that is a very necessary fact of life. The good thing about it is that it's actually somewhat difficult to get totally lost in Chicago. If you drive far enough north, south, or west, you'll eventually come to a cross street that you're familiar with. It is worth noting that driving east is limited: go too far and you'll splash into Lake Michigan.

Chicagoans, of which I was one for most of the 70s and into the early 80s, tend to navigate by numbers and compass directions. It may sound a little daunting, but it actually is quite handy. First, know that in Chicago, there are eight blocks to a mile, and each mile contains 100 address numbers. This numbering system also works heading west, where numbers get larger.

If, for example, I say that I live at "3400 North, 900 West," that will indicate to someone familiar with the city that I live a little over four miles (3400 divided by 8) north of downtown. It also means that I am actually within walking distance of Wrigley Field. How does one know this? Because Wrigley Field is at 1060 West Addison, and in the 3600 North block. It's walking distance because 3400 North (where I live) is not that far from 3600 North, and 900 West is not that far from 1060 West. It's about a half mile walk. 

Let's take another example. Say you want to meet friends at the Giordano's Pizza in Rogers Park. The address of Giordano's is 6836 North Sheridan Road. That tells you that a) it's on the North Side, b) it's definitely in Rogers Park (because anything with a high 6000's number is in Rogers Park), and c) it's about 8-1/2 miles north (6800 divided by 8) of downtown. Depending on where you're coming from, you can get a pretty good idea of how long it will take you to get to Giordano's. And all this is without using your phone's GPS. Pretty cool, huh?

The other thing you learn, and this is a skill acquired only over time, is which areas, i.e., number ranges, to avoid. Like any big city, Chicago has its share of rough neighborhoods, and they can pop up within the space of a few blocks, so it's good to know where you're headed. If I am a new acquaintance who tells you that I live at 1150 North Lake Shore Drive, that will indicate that I am pulling down some serious paper, since that is right downtown and on Lake Shore Drive (which locals sometimes humorously abbreviate as LSD). In other words, you probably need to bring wine with a cork vs. a screw-top bottle. Also, you can bring your little dog that fits in a basket. If, on the other hand, I ask you to meet me at Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, at 5757 South Woodlawn, you will want to be keenly aware of your surroundings.

Although this whole system may sound rather arcane, it actually makes its way into daily conversation and is sort of fun. If, for example, a friend tells you that she has just bought a condo at 2200 North, 1100 West, you'll want to head up there, since it's not far from downtown, and it's a pretty vibrant area. If someone says they bought a house at 7600 North, 6900 West, you'll know they're out in the northwest suburbs, and if traffic is bad, you might want to pack a snack.

And that's all there is to it. Now to get to my house from downtown Atlanta, head north on Peachtree Street until it turns into Peachtree Road, then stay on that until it turns into Peachtree Parkway. About the time you run out of "Peachtree" street names, you'll be at my front door. And if it's a weekend night, we'll order pizza. Ciao.