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Fluevog Matthews

I have this thing for John Fluevog shoes. Shoes have always been the one part of my wardrobe about which I actually think from time to time, and when I found my way to Fluevog via a friend a number of years ago, it was love at first sight. The only thing between me and owning twenty pairs is financial reality. Really, if I had the money, I would order, right now, these, these, and these, just for starters. I have nothing to wear with them, but that is a minor problem.

One thing I like about well made shoes is that many of them are resoleable, which makes laying out the pile of cash for them less painful since one can bank on getting many years out of the shoes. Not all Vogs are resoleable, which makes me weep when I consider the fact that my Charles will someday leave this world forever, but many of them are. The replacement soles sell for something like $15, and I got them slapped on here in Germany by a shoemaker for a reasonable sum. He even took pictures of them (and the other Vogs on my feet) since, as he put it, he and his partners are shoe obsessed and always looking for ideas. I felt like I was among my kind.

He couldn’t shave off the entire old sole since it would have messed up some internal stitching, so he smoothed them out and put the new soles over them. It makes the soles about 1.5 times thicker than they were, and since these are solid rubber/latex soles, they are now the heaviest shoes I own besides my ski boots. Once I got used to that, though, I dig the height and the fact that it makes my feet impervious to the rough streets of Leipzig.

Written by Dale

March 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Posted in footwear, shopping

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Life on the East Coast

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The Devil's Gear - New Haven, CT

The Devil's Gear - New Haven, CT

Jennifer and I had the great fortune to spend three years living in New Haven, Connecticut, although formulating it like this gives me a moment of pause. The reason for this is that I am not sad that I no longer live there. On the one hand, we met wonderful people and made many friends, saw and did new things, ate more shellfish and lobster than ever before or since, and in general got to know a very different part of the country than the one we call more or less home.

On the other hand, I do not miss living in a city nor raising children in a city where within three hundred yards of our house, the following activities regularly took place: prostitution, drug dealing, assault, burglary, vandalism, and intravenous drug use on playgrounds. Expand the scope a little bit, and I could add mugging, murder, and random shootings. At one point, a dead john surfaced in a car less than a block away from our house (tip: never solicit a hooker when you have a weak heart, and certainly not in the back seat of your car), and in the context of living in New Haven, this was more a source for bemusement than alarm.

Recently, I  heard from a friend there (who still works in New Haven, but lives elsewhere) that The Devil’s Gear, my favorite bike shop in New Haven and a candidate for favorite anywhere, was just looted. This had nothing to do with some larger protest or riot getting out of hand, just a bunch of high school kids out for “teen night” at a bar. One can only hope that those who were arrested get punished and are the better for it.

What makes me particularly sad about this senseless act is that The Devil’s Gear is exactly what New Haven needs, a locally owned business that exists to better the community. The owner, Matt Feiner, is by anyone’s definition a mensch, and tries really hard to help out any customer, large or small, rich or poor. Whether he knows it or not, he strongly influenced my behavior on a bike for the better (and I was an experienced cyclist when I met him) and particularly how I behave towards those not on bikes. He is an urban and urbane fellow, whose business deserves nothing but respect, not looting.

Matt sold me my current and much beloved road bike, and when I ride it, I occasionally glance down and see his shop sticker. I feel like a better person for having purchased my bike from a shop that supports cycling as a means to better cities, and to have supported the kind of businessperson we need to have, no matter where we live. New Haven is a rough place, but The Devil’s Gear should be a source of civic pride.

Written by Dale

November 23, 2009 at 8:59 am

Posted in cycling, shopping

It’s. . . magnetic?

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I am not a Barbie fan. I don’t find it worth the hassle to ban her from the house but I do cringe inwardly when the girls get Barbie for birthdays, as happened this week with G-girl. She got a beach bum Barbie, with bikini, sunglasses, and a brush–everything you’d need to prepare for a day of boys looking at you poolside. On top of that, she got a Barbie set, wherein Barbie plays the role of dog show judge and has three little pups she can run through an agility course. The course includes a stand with a hoop for the pups to jump through and a spring platform to facilitate said jumping. Barbie stands (supported by patented Barbie acrylic stand) on one end of the hoop platform, springing pup on the other end, hoop in the middle.
G-girl runs the pups through various parts of the course before she gets to the hoop portion. Then, she positions one little pup on his springboard, gives it a flip, and watches as he sails directly through the center of the hoop and lands smack dab in Barbie’s “arms” on the other side. She giggles and does it again. Again, pup lands in Barbie’s arms and stays put. Slowly, it dawns on G: the pups are each wearing little metal collars and they are *sticking* to Babs magnetic chest. Literally. M-a-g-n-e-t-i-c C-h-e-s-t.
How awesomely awful is that?

Written by Jennifer

May 18, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Kids, shopping

The unbearable waiting

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After working in Germany for 52 days, I was finally paid today. Feels good to turn what had become my volunteer job into a paying gig. The only positive to this long wait is that I’ll now get paid twice in nine days. Something to look forward to, I suppose.

German customer service–an oxymoron on par with military intelligence–never fails to amaze me. I had been so excited to find the bike shop where I ordered my bike. Nice people, good concept, sharp-looking shop with space in it, fair prices on their bikes. Well, I should have known the euphoria would be short-lived. Despite the fact that I appeared in their shop (Fahrradladen Rücktritt) on April 3rd to make a down payment on the bike they planned to order, I still have no bike. They indicated it would be a week to ten days, hedging a bit because Easter was in that timeframe. Understandable, I thought, since Easter pretty much shuts Germany down. Last week they called and told me they’d have it early this week. Just called and found out, much to my annoyance, that they didn’t even order it until April 14th, i.e.- after Easter. They sat on the order for 11 days!

They are calling the factory as I type (or so they claim, perhaps they will wait ten days to call) to get the status. They seem utterly unconcerned with their outright lie about a week to ten days, and when I complained that they sat on the order for eleven days, all I got was a some mumbling about Easter and being busy. Is that my concern as a customer? I wonder if they will make any attempt to satisfy me as a customer–e.g.- throw in the fenders for free–but really ought to know better than to even think of such a thing.

I marvel, really, just plain marvel at how pathetic small businesses (and large businesses) can be in Germany. Retail is always a revolving door, and in any city in the US one sees stores and restaurants come and go all the time. In Germany, regardless of where I’ve lived, I have always noticed that that door revolves a bit quicker here. Well, no wonder. There is just no business sense in so many of them.

Example: I buy my bread at a small local baker down the street from my office. Nice people, good bread. Problem? They close weekdays at 6:00 and on Saturday at 1:00. Sure, in 1955 Germany, maybe even 1995 Germany, such a luxury for a business owner was completely normal. Well, times have changed, and the chains have extended their hours to make it possible for someone who works to buy food at their convenience, not at the convenience of the shop owner. Over Easter weekend, a time when Germans feast like there’s no tomorrow (as do we), they shut down entirely for four days for a little vacation. It’s nice to see remnants of such a world, where business owners got days off like those who work for larger firms, but is it worth the vacation to lose customers?

If I put a monetary value on the number of times I’ve stood in front of this bakery only to find it closed and then buy my bread at a chain, I would estimate that even in my short time here, he’s lost at least 40 Euro. Given that I’ve never been the only one at the door being disappointed, I would speculate that he is losing large sums every month.

In the German press, and in private conversations, one often reads and hears laments about the Americanization of the German retail landscape–big boxes, longer hours, mass discounters, etc. One wonders where the disconnect is for small business owners. Of course I have to shop at big boxes. I work, and do not take time in the middle of my day to buy my bread from a vintage baker. Those days are long gone. If I leave too late to get bread by 6:00, it’s his loss, and only marginally mine. Bread is a commodity; sell it like one.

Written by Dale

April 21, 2009 at 4:56 am

Posted in cycling, Leipzig, shopping

Trader Joachim’s?

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I popped into an Aldi store tonight on the way home from work to check out their stock of organic foods, and of course to scan the aisle of miscellaneous merchandise for treasures (DVD player for 10 Euro! – not tonight, sadly).

While approaching the checkout, I happened to see a bag of pistachios. Looking closer, I nearly froze in my tracks. The brand? Trader Joe’s! They also had peanuts, macadamias, fruit cocktail, etc., all with the TJ brand on them.

Being the librarian type and needing to know what was happening, I ran home and immediately googled the two company names. Evidently I must live under some rock, or this is a fairly quiet secret, or both. The Joe of Trader Joe’s sold the chain to a family trust set up by one of the Albrecht brothers (Albrecht Discount = Aldi = gazillions upon gazillions of moneys) in, get this, 1979! I think I’m cool with this, since I have a weird affinity for Aldi and the sheer brute force of their business model, but somehow my brain is having a hard time fitting these pieces together.

One source I read noted that Trader Joe’s policy is that anything with their name on it must be all natural and non-GMO. I wonder if that holds true for these Aldi/TJ-label products here. They are made or at least packaged by a German firm, so I wonder how far the TJ philosophy reaches abroad.

At any rate, the macadamias pretty much rock, and, being Aldi, they were cheaper than peanuts at most stores.

Written by Dale

April 9, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Posted in shopping

Bikes and schools

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Well, after drooling over the Rücktritt Tauglich, I quickly moved on to another infatuation. I had asked the friendly folks at Rücktritt to call around and see what they could find in the way of a single-speed machine. Amazingly (customer service in Germany varies a bit, to say the least), I got a call a few days later with the good news. They had found what I sought, and from a regional manufacturer no less. It’s a Volksrad, and the workers just bought the factory a while back, so I will ride knowing I supported some people taking care of their own business. Cheers to them! Now I just have to get used to the fact that I’m going to have to shell out major bucks to get an airline to fly it back to the States. I suspect we shall be quite fond of each other by then and I won’t want to sell it here. Oh, for the few bike types who read this, it not only has front and rear brakes, it has a coaster brake! No kidding. I may ditch the rear brake, since it seems extraneous.

The other big project I had this week–besides teaching my usual hellish load of classes (15 contact hours, countless more in prep time)–was visiting all of the elementary schools in the area. This was quite educational, since they are an entirely unknown quantity otherwise. Happy to find that schools here in the eastern states are a lot like those in the US, with child care both before and after school. It’s a much larger program, and they offer all sorts of activities in that time, from chess club to dance to art, etc. Really exciting prospect for the third grader in my life. Found one school I especially like, and two others that would be just fine, too. One school was really lame. The principal just didn’t seem to want to bother with me or my daughter.

Written by Dale

April 3, 2009 at 7:25 am

Posted in cycling, Kids, Leipzig, shopping

Eraserhead

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I found this eraser in a classroom a few weeks ago. I put it up on the chalk rail, so that its sad, sad owner might find it. S/he did not, so I have taken it into my loving hands and spirited it away to my office, where I want to do nothing more than find things to erase with it. This is the best eraser I have ever held in my hands. Gradeschool would have been a joy with this thing. I don’t even use pencils much but I neeeeeeed this eraser. So aesthetically pleasing, so functional, so awesome. I must now go out and buy these by the bushel.

Written by Jennifer

October 20, 2008 at 2:28 pm

Posted in shopping