Archive for the ‘Do’ Category

Walking into Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago’s Union Station reminded me of walking into a nursing home. This isn’t the hip new pre-departure lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 or Finnair’s Blue Wings Lounge at JFK. The people here, rather, looked as if they’d collapsed into the furniture that had been placed along the walls. Mostly everyone had grey hair. Baggy corduroys and sweaters seemed predominant. Unlike a chic airline club where one might catch up on the business or political news of the day the television in the Metropolitan Lounge was tuned to the Maury Povich Show. Is this really what wealthy retirees watch?

It’s not unreasonable to determine that based upon the time requirements of cross-country train travel few people other of retirees have the luxury of spending three days on a train just to get to the west coast. Add to that the additional cost of sleeping accommodations, and well, that’s the generation that has all the money.

Not unlike the challenge once faced by Cadillac, Amtrak is going to have to find a way to attract a new demographic for their premium services because within ten years, this group will be dead. Like Cadillac, Amtrak will have to add speed and new technological advances to accomplish this.

Soon, however, boarding was called and those of us scheduled for the California Zephyr were escorted to Track 12. Our attendants greeted us at the door and gave us directions to our rooms. You may have heard that Amtrak just placed a multi-million dollar order for new rail cars, some of which will be Sleepers. My car is evidence of this need. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my car or my room, its age is noticeable. The carpet is tattered. The washroom on this floor has layers of sealant around the basin and commode. Fixes made to bide time.

For some reason the electricity goes out each time the train stops, which is both at stations as well as when we’re waiting for freight trains. While Amtrak has the right to travel on private rails (which were initially built on land granted from the government to private industry), freight trains get priority.

In the aisles and in my room the overhead lighting is dim and the plastic globes appear dingy. The “adjustable” reading lights adjacent to each of the two seats in my room don’t adjust much. If you happen to be acquainted with the flight attendant jump seats on an L-1011, you’ll get the picture. A call button and the adjustments for the heating controls are within the same unit.

The train departed on time and shortly thereafter the conductor came by for tickets followed by my car’s attendant who introduced herself and told me about the trip and the amenities available. A coffee station at the top of the stairs is always on and a cooler of water and juice sits nearby. A few minutes later an attendant from the dining car came by to inquire about dinner reservations. I reserved a spot for 5:30p.

The dinner selections offered something for everyone. Steak. Chicken. I chose crab cakes with rice pilaf. Hot bread and a small salad were brought by first and there was nothing second class about either. Crisp lettuce with cucumber and tomato with an assortment of dressings. The crab cakes were delicious. My dining partner had the sirloin with a baked potato which she found to be equally delicious. Sugar-free cheese cake with raspberry sauce and a black coffee for desert, though I could have opted for carrot cake, a variety of ice creams or some chocolate temptation.

My attendant said she’d be by at 8:30p to make up the bed. That’s hours before I’m used to being in bed, though with the gentle rocking and utter darkness of the Iowa plains outside my window I’m sure I’ll fall asleep easily. My room is warm, comfortable and quiet. It is the perfect place to relax.


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It just so happened that the furniture that I found most appealing and within my price range is made in the United States. I didn’t necessarily plan it that way, but when a family member suggested I shop at Ikea instead, I reminded them that spending a few extra dollars for an American made product is probably a better thing to do these days.

These days – that even sounded a bit odd to me when I said it because I’ve never really bothered to look to see which workers my money was supporting. Sure, I purchased a pair of New Balance shoes a couple summers ago when I heard that they had moved some their manufacturing to Maine. Generally speaking, however, I’d throw into the shopping cart whatever it was that caught my eye and/or had the best price.

Considering that my relocation to Chicago has come about after a series of very fortunate events and years of hard work and conservation, I thought it might be a wise idea to make sure that I keep the good karma moving forward. I’ve made the decision to outfit the place with American made products whenever possible.

My first challenge was to find new dishes. While the style that would have looked best with a modern interior was made in Japan, it didn’t seem right to send my money there when I had American made options. Instead I chose Fiesta dinnerware made in West Virginia by Homer Laughlin. The same classic design for decades but in nifty new colors. I’ll admit that knowing that Fiesta Ware is keeping families in their homes in West Virginia makes the style a perfect fit in my new kitchen.

Speaking of kitchens, I was delighted to discover that Libman brooms are still made in Arcola, Illinois so I chose a Precision Angle broom made from 80% recycled plastic. It was the same price as the “designer” broom that was made in China. I’m still looking for a scrub brush that’s not made in China.

With the toaster and coffee maker I was not so fortunate. Would it really be that difficult to make a toaster in the US? It’s a fairly simple process of stringing heating cables inside of a non-combustable housing. Add a lever, a timer, a couple springs and that’s that. Certainly someone in the US could pull that one off.

Although Brahms Mount in Maine produces linen towels from American raised Alpacas, the $130 price tag for a bath towel is a bit steep. I went with a Macy’s sale item instead that was produced in India.

For cookware I discovered Calphalon from Toledo, Ohio. It appears as if their hard-anodized cookware is still made in the States. It’s certainly not the least expensive, so I’ll buy a piece at a time and I only need a few pieces. I seldom cook vast arrays of food so a entire kitchen ensemble isn’t necessary.

In preparation for hosting a few friends for New Year’s Eve, my search for martini glasses led me to Crate and Barrel. For only $1.95 per unit, their Dizzy line is both unique and American made.

The new coffee table was made in Minnesota and the bed frame and media console were both made in North Dakota. The sofa comes from North Carolina, as one might expect. All these pieces come from Room & Board which tries to source from US companies whenever possible. And with a personal shopping assistant from Minnesota named Sandy Northberg I was made to feel right at home, don’tcha know. She e-mailed me today to see how I liked the new pieces.

My mattress, the first good mattress in which I’ve invested was manufactured in the US under the direction of Value City, formerly a Schottenstein company out of Columbus, Ohio. Selected and paid for while in Columbus and delivered to my flat in Chicago – that’s convenient.

With all thats happening with the American unemployment levels it just makes sense to look for American brands first. In some cases the cost might be slightly higher but for the most part I find prices fairly competitive. When given the choice it’s a much better option to give my money to my “neighbors” because keeping their income in tact keeps our neighborhoods intact which in turn keeps our cities and towns intact and viable.

I’ll continue to look for examples of American made options as 2011 continues and post what I find here. In the mean time, consider your shopping habits and determine if you can contribute to the stabilization of your neighbor’s future.

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Join us next month as WOSU and NPR bring this one-day “un-conference” to Columbus.

We’ll spend the day at the WOSU studios at COSI sharing ideas and concepts that are important to you – because the topics will come from you, the audience.  Let’s see what we can discover together.

Register soon, bring your ideas about community involvement and help us lead the discussions.

Learn more about PubCampOhio by clicking this link.

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We’ve read about your plans, your trips, your nights out, the books you’ve read and we’ve opened the links you’ve sent.  We’ve read the remarks you’ve made to others and  most likely, we even know where you live and what bus lines you ride.  But we’ve never met you.

That’s why we’re planning the Warm-up, Tweet-up this Saturday on Chicago’s north side.  Join us at the Wild Pug on Saturday January 9th at 6pm and finally meet the people with whom you share your daily tweets.  Seriously, we know you’ve been waiting for this.

Mix, mingle and meet face to face at the Wild Pug, 4810 North Broadway from 6p-9p on Saturday.  Name tags will be available for those who would like them, or just introduce yourself to the folks who already know you.

We’re using the ‘hash tag’ of #wutu so that we can follow the progress that evening via Twitter.  Use that hash tag in your tweets as you come, go and participate.   And, if you snap photos that night use the same hash-tag, upload them to Flickr and we’ll organize a post meet-up photo pool.

Accessible via the Red Line at Lawrence,  the 36 Broadway or 81 Lawrence – it doesn’t matter how you arrive, just so long as you arrive.

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Tour de Cure

Hal & Al’s, located at 1297 Parsons Avenue and Team Think-Urban.com are hosting a pre-memorial Day Party to benefit the American Diabetes Association – Tour de Cure bike ride on June 6th for diabetes research and education. The Pre-Memorial Day party will begin at 4pm at Hal & Al’s, a full evening of beverage specials, food, fun and games is planned.

A professional bike mechanic will be available to tune up bikes so party participants are ready for a summer of riding. The bike tune-up service is free; however a donation to the Tour de Cure is suggested. All proceeds raised by Team Think-Urban.com will benefit the American Diabetes Association – Tour de Cure.

Tour de Cure is a series of fund-raising cycling events held in 40 states nationwide to benefit the American Diabetes Association.

Think-Urban.com is a Columbus-based company dedicated to showcasing the new urban lifestyle in Ohio’s major cities; Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dayton. See more information at www.think-urban.com

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There’s less than seven months remaining until Car Free Day 2009 which happens world-wide on September 22nd. Seven months gives us time to plan and execute and here are a number of local groups that could help sponsor Columbus’ Car Free Day.

COTA: It’s the obvious choice as a sponsor because getting around without a car means a boost to public transportation use. COTA’s marketing department could turn Car Free Day into their biggest annual fund-raiser.

The City of Columbus: Getting cars off the road even for one day means less wear and tear on the concrete and asphalt. It would also reduce the number of police officers required to respond to traffic accidents – and since there’s a cut back taking place, why not use the officers we do have to investigate and prevent crimes.

Columbus City Council: Hey, they wanted clean air in bars – how about clean air on my front porch!

ODOT: Because “Transportation” is more cost effective when it’s not accomplished by car, and if I remember correctly ODOT is looking for ways to save money right now. Could there be a better sponsor?

Grant Hospital: And for that matter, all the other local hospitals. Taking cars off the road even for a day reduces the number of fatal or near-fatal accidents, leaving emergency rooms open for emergencies and probably reduces the cost of health care, in general.

The Columbus Board of Realtors: When people get used to not using cars, they can get used to not depending upon cars and that means more money to spend on housing. A one car family can afford a much nicer home.

Nationwide: Why didn’t I think of this first! Reducing automobile trips saves lives, lowers the risk of accidents and that means Nationwide makes more money. Some studies suggest that more people die from automobile pollution than from automobile accidents. That’s a double win for Nationwide. Fewer claims also equates to lower premimus – and that’s being “on your side”.

General Motors: Cold chance in hell, but considering they bought out and shut down public transit systems around the nation, they should be forced into this one. Better yet, they government should require them to use the bail out money to rebuild the transit systems they destroyed. Doing that would keep their factories running for years to come.

UPS and FedEx: Deliveries are more easily accomplished when there are fewer cars on the road. Faster deliveries means increased savings for these two big companies.

Your employer: Don’t they already know that workers who chose not to drive to work are more productive and less stressed out? Tell your employer that you’d like to be more productive and ask them to buy a transit pass for you.

The list could go on and on, but you get my point. Car Free Day 2009 doesn’t mean giving up your car forever – it just asks that you to try to give it up for a day. Really, the true benefactor is you. Ride a bike, take a bus or walk. But plan now because September 22nd will arriver sooner than you think.

If you have ideas on what we could do as a community on that day, let us know. Id love to hear your ideas.

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