Don’t Call Me a “Consumer”

Idiocracy
Don't call people "consumers" unless you think of them as the mob from "Idiocracy."

Some jewelry business followed me on Twitter today. Jewelry fascinates me, believe it or not. I consider it some of the finest everyday art. The follow earned my curiosity. I checked the business’s Twitter bio and found a marketing trainwreck (I’ve left the business unnamed to protect the ill-advised):

(Business Name) represents a small group of award-winning jewelry designers who share the dream of taking the consumer to the next level.

First, I have no idea what it means to take a consumer “to the next level” in jewelry. It’s hackneyed corporate-speak that has no place being applied to art.

Second, stating the name in the bio eats up valuable characters. It sounds old-school, like someone hired marketer told the company to start a Twitter account – but with no real idea of what to do next.

And finally, I hate being called a “consumer.” The root word is consume. Its connotation is mindless organisms eating everything around them in a non-stop feeding frenzy. It’s a repulsive image and a horrible word. Unfortunately, the Wal-Marts of the world put it to work. And smaller businesses lap it up and recycle it because they’re too uncreative to do better. Or maybe they don’t have the time. Or because they saw a successful business use it. Whatever. They’re just clueless about the power of words to position. To alienate. To inspire.

And a good business should have passion for what it does – especially a business that involves any sort of art! Where is the passion in “taking the consumer to the next level?” That’s a generic phrase for cubicle dwellers. It’s not for someone who appreciates the intricate, multi-colored banded swirls of a painstaking work of mokume gane.

If you’re a jewelry business, think of your potential customers as jewelry lovers. Convince them that they’re sophisticated. Tasteful. Enthusiastic. Not globs of matter gobbling whatever you plop in front of them. Sell the notion that you’re impressed by their aesthetic senses and their appreciation of jewelry as art. “Consumers” equates them to the fat, shuffling, monosyllabic hordes in the movie Idiocracy.

Businesses, prove your devotion to what you offer. Think of what you’re trying to sell me. And think of me in those terms. Call me a cyclist. Call me a hiker. Call me a traveler. Call me a flier. Call me a reader.

But only call me “a consumer” at your own risk.

Los Angeles is Perfect for Alternative Thanksgiving

Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s nothing fun about sitting around with a belly distended and sore from overindulging on turkey, mashed potatoes and the other traditional Thanksgiving food. It’s a ritual that I’ve grown to like less every year. A few years ago, I stumbled on a great "alternative Thanksgiving" idea:

Go to Los Angeles.

My wife wanted to visit her sister, who was attending Cal Arts in the Los Angeles area. We arrived to find the city virtually abandoned. I guess all the transplants who moved to the area seeking fame and fortune fled back to their ancestral homes for turkey and stuffing.

The infamous LA traffic? Virtually non-existent. Long lines? Nope, none of those either.

That makes Thanksgiving weekend the perfect time to explore LA. And you won’t even have to do dishes.

So what’s there to do? Plenty, even beyond the beach and the theme parks. Despite the holiday, you’ll find plenty of open businesses, restaurants and attractions. Here are a few off-beat ideas to get you started: Continue reading

Restoring Sanity Through Mountain Biking

McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Awesome views, good times - McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

It’s all too easy for me to feel like the world is headed toward becoming one nasty place.

People on both sides of the political spectrum squawk constantly, demonizing and dehumanizing each other. The only social currency seems to be bad TV shows. Average waistlines expand to the point where people are starting to have their own gravitational pull. Corporations funnel money to the richest, leaving the rest of us behind in servitude.

It all makes me want to get on a plane to New Zealand and never come back.

And a lot of times, I can’t even count on my fellow mountain bikers to make it much better.

They put their earbuds in and isolate themselves in another world. Other bikers don’t even seem to register, even if I smile and say hello. Which I do. Because that’s what mountain bikers are supposed to do.

That’s all a petri dish for bad juju.

Then I have rides like today’s. I’m out there in 70 degree weather on a fast, flowing trail.

Before I know it, my GPS tells me I’ve ridden 35 miles. My legs still feel good, but the thick coat of grit my chain has attracted makes my bike plead "no mas!"

Then I pass two other riders. They’re off to the side of the trail, shooting the bull and enjoying the view of the Superstition Mountains, a volcanic caldera from a supervolcano complex that last erupted about 15 million years ago.

Another shot of McDowell Regional Park, with Four Peaks in the background.

I give a quick "what’s up, guys?" as I pass.

Both respond with a very genuine and friendly greeting. I can’t even remember the words. But the meaning was plain: We’re just excited to be out here today as you are, and we’re glad you’re here, too.

Great trails. Spectacular scenery. Other people who love riding ’em as much as I do. An unstoppable feeling of physical and mental wellness.

Yeah.

That makes it easier to get through the crap that can plug the toilet of everyday life.

A Quick Note to Any Mutual Readers

This is a quick update for fellow bloggers – you might notice my Links page doesn’t list you. That’s not because I’m not feeling the love anymore, rest assured! I just have some construction going on. This is mostly the result of upgrading (or “Upgrayding,” as they might’ve said in the movie Idiocracy) to the latest version of the Primepress theme.

I plan to restore normal linkage as soon as my meager HTML and CSS skills allow.

New Phoenix Trails Bring Recreation – and Dose of Controversy

Rusty Angel Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look up the Rusty Angel Trail at Deem Hills.

There’s not much in the way of hiking and biking trails west of I-17 in Phoenix. That’s bad news for hikers and mountain bikers living in that area.

That makes the opening of Deem Hills Recreation Area, a great piece of news for people wandering around Phoenix, right? Right?

Um, maybe.

First, a small group of litigious homeowners halted trail construction for a few months, as reported in The Arizona Republic. Fortunately, a Superior Court judge didn’t buy their argument (“The suit claimed the building of trails violates Environmentally Sensitive Development Areas Policies Design Guidelines and the city’s own Trail Management practices and procedures,” wrote Republic reporter Betty Reid.).

Conversations with some hikers on the trail convinced me those arguments are a smokescreen: What really had the plaintiffs POd was:

1. They could see the trails from their backyard, a sad reminder that they’re not in an exclusive enclave but rather in a sea of tile roofs.

Deem Hills Google Earth
A Google Earth Views of Deem Hills and my routes.

2. They’re worried that trail users might be able to see into their yards.

Hmm. I drove about 30 minutes from central Phoenix to ride the Deem Hills trails for the first time. At no point did I peer into the yards of homes flanking the south side of the park.

You see, I was a little busy TRYING TO STAY ON THE TRAIL AND NOT WRAP MYSELF AROUND A CACTUS OR THREE!

Seriously, I’d love to know what these lawsuit-happy nabobs are doing in their backyard that has them so worried? Perhaps they’ve mistaken themselves for celebrities – they’ve forgotten that they are Joe and Ethel Suburb, and thus of little interest to the outdoor lovers enjoying the park.

Everyone I encountered on the trails was friendly, hikers and bikers alike. Many said it was their first time on the trails. But one of my talks with the hikers disturbed me: I mentioned that I saw some room for improvement on the trails.

Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look at the trails in the hillside at Deem Hills.

“We don’t want it too nice,” she said. “We just live over in the neighborhood.”

In other words, “let’s prevent this amenity from rising above mediocrity so that I won’t experience any inconvenience.” And make no mistake about it: the trails at Deem Hills are merely OK. You can find out more in my review at Examiner.com. They’re not the best nor the worst – and they’re a huge score for West Valley mountain bikers, who will get some great training on the many climbs in the park.

The area is a bit unusual because it seems to be one of the few spots in the Valley of obvious volcanic origin. The park is littered with large black volcanic bombs. I’d definitely be curious to know more about its geology from those in the know. I’d have to guess the hills are heavily eroded cinder cones. I also spotted some agate-like minerals strewn here and there.

As for the controversy, let’s hope this is also the end of the legal drama and that the “don’t look in my backyard” NIMBY crowd gets over itself in all due haste.

Escape Winter’s Clutches in New Zealand

New Zealand’s scenery is unforgettable, from glaciers to volcanos.

Snow is great when it first starts falling. But give it a month, and you’ll be ready to get away from it. So where should you go?

New Zealand, no contest. Here’s why.

1. It’s summer down there. But to most of us in the United States, a Kiwi summer is like a mild spring. You will only see snow on the tallest mountain peaks. Otherwise, it’s swimming/hiking/outdoor weather!

2. It’s cheap. One US dollar gets you about $1.26 in NZ dollars. And prices down there are just reasonable all around.

3. The scenery is off-the-hook spectacular. Tongariro National Park. The Southern Alps. Franz Josef Glacier. Queenstown. You won’t believe your eyeballs at any of these places – and I’m leaving out dozens of scenic spots.

Our “room” at Woodlyn Park. We even had the cockpit!

4. It’s relentlessly laid back. Want to relax? Even if you spend your whole vacation stomping around with a backpack, you will feel the easygoing Kiwi nature.

Getting There

You’ve got your choice of Qantas or Air New Zealand. Pick whichever has the best deal and schedule at the time. They’re both a treat if you’re used to flying domestic airlines. Don’t like long flights? Well, harden up, as the Kiwis would say!

 

The Skinny on Hotels

Hotel rooms in New Zealand often have kitchenettes. There are very few huge chain hotels. There’s also a lot of novelty (look no further than Woodlyn Park and its Hobbit rooms and the Bristol airplane converted into two suites).

Highlights

glowworm, waitomo
Wiggling through the Glowworm Caves

The Glowworm Caves in Waitomo are worth spending half your day underground. Rap, Raf ‘n’ Rock can set you up with a great tour. I also loved hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – if you’re up for it, you can summit the volcano that portrayed Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Even two years after my visit, I’m still blown away by the full-day hike on Franz Josef Glacier, where Franz Josef Glacier Guides will walk you from tropical rainforest to the snout of a glacier before strapping on some crampons and hitting the ice.

Food

If you like fresh fish, lots of fruit and a heavy Asian influence, you will have no trouble eating in New Zealand. There are plenty of exotic and flat-out weird tastes, like possum pie and whitebait. Craft beer is also getting big among the Kiwis: Check out Croucher Brewing in Rotorua – they were not yet open during my visit, and I’m curious about them. Oh, and coffee! You’ll find a classy cafe with a skilled barista in even the tiniest towns. I guess I should mention the wine – I’m not a big wine guy, but people who like wine love what the Kiwis have to offer.

 

franz josef, travel, wandering justin, new zealand
An epic day on Franz Josef Glacier.

City Scene

Kiwis would have you believe Auckland is a dystopian megalopolis straight out of Blade Runner – or nearly as bad as Las Vegas. In reality, it’s got a very pleasant, Seattle-like vibe. Wellington is cosmopolitan and fun, with music, arts, food and museums aplenty. Nelson and Queenstown on the South Island are much smaller, but with active nightlife and plenty to do, both indoors and out.

Getting Around

Rent a car on the North Island. I’d recommend buses for the South Island … the roads are a bit tricky. The occasional bout of rain and driving on the opposite side of the road won’t help you any.

 

possum pie, wandering justin, new zealand, sandfly cafe
Have a bite of possum pie, mate!

Odds & Ends

Bring some rain gear – New Zealand weather can change instantly. Sturdy boots are a must for the hikers. And bring a good camera. You’re not doing this scenery any justice if you’re using a cell phone camera, and I absolutely do not care how many megapixels it has.

Another thing: lighten up. Kiwis are talkers, and they’re very welcoming. In the U.S., I realize that their amped-up friendliness could seem weird. Maybe even creepy. Down there, it’s just the way people are. We could stand to learn from it, really.

Iceland Travel Tip – Is the Winter Fare Sale Worth It?

Check out a chunk of Iceland this winter with IcelandAir's special fares.

November 4 is the last day to book an IcelandAir flight from the United States to Keflavik for as little as $379 for a round trip (check out the complete list of deals). Here’s the deal: The price is for flights from Jan. 10 – March 31, depending on your point of origin.

That means you’re flying straight into Iceland when it is – how should I put this? – really freakin’ cold.

That means you can’t stay outdoors as much. Glacier Guides, one of the better-known tour companies, doesn’t run tours to the glaciers near Skaftafell National Park during that time. You certainly can’t get to Landmannalaugar for a few days of backpacking among some of the most mind-boggling terrain on the planet. So should you bother?

Heck, yes.

There’s still plenty to do in Iceland. Reykjavik is extremely lively. There’s a thriving cafe scene. If you’re a fashionista, you’ll have no problem finding some shopping. And let’s not forget – hotels in Iceland can be expensive … especially in Reykjavik. So there’s no better time to score a deal than late winter.

If you have an adventurous streak and don’t want to be confined to knocking back espresso in the morning and brennivin (the infamous Icelandic schnapps) at night, there’s still hope. Arctic Adventures runs some winter tours to Sólheimajökull, a glacier near the small town of Vik. You can also dig into some ice climbing.

IcelandAir is a pleasant surprise for fliers use to the brutal grind of domestic air travel.Â

Oh, and remember that it’s a good time to catch the Northern Lights. If you can schedule a few nights somewhere remote like Vik, you’ll have no light pollution and some really awesome skies.

So for a $379 flight on an excellent airline, I say check it out. Then come back in the summer to hike Landmannalaugar, hike the glaciers near Skaftafell and explore the crazy terrain of Myvtan.

La Mansion Inn a Great Place for Costa Rica Luxury

Monkeys hang out down the road from La Mansion Inn - the presidential suite was booked on the night they wanted.

Nothing livens up your breakfast like having a monkey come flying in through an open window and stealing a banana from a nearby table – all before shimmying up a telephone pole, crossing the wire and sharing the bounty with his troupe.

This isn’t the sort of thing that happens at luxury hotels. That’s one of the reason I prefer low budget.

But  I saw a place in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (where this monkey business took place), that made me open to the idea of some luxury accommodations now and then.

La Mansion Inn is surrounded by jungle and ocean. At night, it’s dark and peaceful. It has a bar called The Bat Cave for people who want a high-quality beer (not easy to find in Costa Rica) and a taste of La Mansion’s luxury.

How luxurious is it? Well, presidents have stayed there. It lives up to the name, with a flavor more like you’ve stumbled into someone’s private estate than into a hotel. But it was also friendly – none of that “are you here to steal the silverware?” vibe from the staff. That might come from what are some pretty reasonable prices: $125-$295 for a standard room, depending on the season. The presidential suites, though, run $650-$850.

The views from the pool and balconies are amazing. La Mansion is up on a cliff, so you’ll have lots of visibility. You can also get hooked up with a tour or a deep-sea fishing trip.

I’m certain I’ll get back to Costa Rica one of these days. After spending a day or two in San Jose to take in a Saprissa match and load up on pupusas, I will head right back to the airport and catch a flight to Quepos, followed by a brief taxi ride to Manuel  Antonio.

Even though the odds are against your breakfast fruit getting pilfered by a primate, you can get your fill of monkey and iguana encounters just by taking a quick walk down to Manuel Antonio National Park. Check out the trails, lounge on the beach, grab a fresh coconut – and watch for the monkeys!