Happy Camper

I recently found myself stuck in a Marriott Residence Inn in Orange County with a baby and no car.  (Don’t ask.)  On day one I pushed a stroller to the South Coast Plaza, one of those mega-mall fortresses with identikit department stores for turrets.  As a New Yorker, I thought the novelty of the enclosed retail playground would be a welcome way to while away the hot summer days, but in reality I had “done the mall” in half a day and was bored to death before the sun even set.  Thankfully it turned out that there was a much better retail experience nearby that I didn’t even have to cross a freeway to get to.  It was called The Camp, and was an exceptionally well-executed “eco mall”.

One doesn’t typically think of a strip mall across from an El Pollo Loco as cutting edge, and yet here this was, a ten minute walk from the Residence Inn.  The Camp’s sustainable architecture was both beautiful and utilitarian, with green roofs and beach grass growing in the sandy walkways.  Patagonia held court over a number of refreshingly unique retailers and restaurants, the most interesting of which was the Seed People’s Market selling an eclectic hodgepodge of well-designed sustainable and socially-conscious wares like “wildcrafted” Juniper Ridge soaps, Kauzbots, Sseko sandals from Uganda and Lunchskins.  In short, this place sold cool shit that also happened to be environmentally and socially responsible.  Score!

What most impressed me about The Camp was its attention to detail: succulents growing atop garbage bins, crunchy little phrases like “eat tofu” and “say hello to others” written in each parking space, breezy semi-outdoor seating that made the most of minimal air-conditioning.  It came as no surprise that the developers behind The Camp are also the same people behind The Lab, its sister strip mall across the street known as “the anti-mall” — the O.C. hipster’s alternative to the South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island.  Ultimately I was able to survive a couple more carless (that’s CAR-less, not careless) days in Orange County without losing my mind, thanks to the retail therapy and ghost chili tacos at The Camp.  It ain’t Magic Mountain, but these pair-o-malls are definitely worth checking out.

Truck On!

Niiice.  Finally, an iPhone app that helps me zero in on a nearby food truck!  The free app called StreetEats lets me know which vendors are out and about based on my location.  Makes life easier since going onto Twitter to follow each one individually and deciphering their coordinates is kind of a pain when you’re standing on a freezing NYC sidewalk, craving food off a truck.  I see already that our friends over at the Bistro Truck, Treats Truck, Van Leeuwen, Wafels & Dinges, and Cravings are all participating–so heck yeah, sign me up!

Tower Records Revisited

The digital age quickly turned Tower Records into a Towering Inferno, and last year saw even the Virgin Megastore in Union Square permanently shutting its doors.  So it’s quite a remarkable opportunity that starting tomorrow we’re invited to enter the old Tower Records store on Broadway and 4th for one last farewell to that convivial era of buying music with others in bricks-and-mortar megastores.  The good people of No Longer Empty, a non-profit arts organization that revitalizes unused public space, has curated a month-long multimedia exhibition called Never Can Say Goodbye involving more than twenty artists to recreate a fantasy Tower Records, complete with record bins and a live performance stage.

As someone who once stood outside that exact same Tower Records for hours in the winter of 1997 to get an album signed by Blur, I am sure the experience will be a nostalgic one.  However, don’t let all the funeral dirges make you forget that there are still some awesome independent record stores still cranking out high-fidelity tunes and experiences.  After bidding adieu to Tower Records, hit up Other Music just down the block where you can buy a limited edition copy of the latest Vampire Weekend album.  Ya, it’s worth it.

The Caveman Cometh

Fascinating article in the NYTimes this weekend about a small subculture of people who mimic paleolithic lifestyles by eating mainly meat, fasting periodically, vigorously exercising by sprinting and leaping, and in some cases donating pints of blood to recreate blood loss after an attack.  Man, I knew butchers were trendy but this just takes carnivorism to a whole new level!  Young Japanese herbivore men should take note…

What’s In Your Netflix Queue?

The NYTimes have put up an interesting visualization of the Netflix rental patterns of 2009’s most rented films broken down into neighborhoods in a dozen US cities.  It’s fun to play around with and underscores a few things we probably already had inklings about:

  • Very few people care about “Mad Men” outside of NYC and other hipster-heavy cities like Minneapolis.
  • Despite our famous love of dogs, New Yorkers clearly have better things to watch than “Marley & Me.”
  • New Yorkers are unfamiliar with malls and therefore have no interest in renting “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”
  • The popularity of Tyler Perry films is a surefire indication of the concentration of African-Americans in any given neighborhood.

Basically, relevance matters. People tend to want to watch characters demographically similar to themselves.  That’s why the film “Last Chance Harvey” about aging boomers finding love is significantly more popular in the demographically older suburbs, while “Obsessed,” a “Fatal Attraction” remake starring Beyoncé is popular only in the Bronx, Newark and parts of outer Brooklyn where many African-Americans live.  Might sound like an argument for how depressingly narrow-minded we are, but then again you have to consider that one of the most frequently rented films of last year was foreign (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and that the popularity of “Milk” was by no means limited to gay neighborhoods, to say nothing of the non-teens secretly renting “Twilight.”  So what have we learned?  There’s something for everyone.  A really great movie will sell regardless of ethnic/racial considerations.  Everyone loves vampires and anything Brangelina touches.

Brooklyn Flea at One Hanson

Lobby of One Hanson Place

Hurrah!  The Brooklyn Flea is coming to One Hanson starting this weekend.  Affectionately known to locals as “the penis building” for its suggestive shape, One Hanson is an incredible Brooklyn landmark and the Flea will provide us with a great opportunity to see the inside of this former Williamsburgh Savings Bank building known for stunning mosaics and stained glass windows.  Would have loved to buy an apartment in this building but alas, it was way over budget and now (shocker!) the building is going rental.  Now that the scaffolding has come down from the Atlantic Terminal entrance across the way, I’m looking forward to the continued revitalization of Hanson Place.

One of my favorite new Brooklyn stores is a Japanese florist/knickknack shop called Saffron that opened a few months ago at 31 Hanson.  It’s hard to describe this beautiful little addition to Fort Greene as it’s not a typical florist — their hyper-curated selection focuses more on wildflowers and unusual stems so you won’t find giant bouquets here.  They also sell things like antique copper kettles, vintage kimonos, local artwork and miniature cacti alongside the cut flowers.  It’s all incredibly subdued and tasteful — and reminds me of some of my favorite shops in Tokyo, so I suppose I’ve got a cultural bias for this kind of aesthetic.  In any case, check them out.

Flowers from Saffron in Fort Greene

Robin Hood’s L!braries

I’ve had libraries on the brain recently–both the invisible kind and the visually enhanced kind, like this one Maira Kalman designed for PS 47 in the Bronx for Robin Hood’s L!brary Initiative.  The L!brary Initiative transforms elementary school libraries in high poverty areas into bright, beautiful temples of learning that inspire creativity and academic achievement.  Artists like Kalman are brought in to reimagine the space, while publishers Scholastic and HarperCollins have donated over a million books in an unprecedented effort to improve the state of education in NYC’s neediest neighborhoods.  What a marvelous program!  Art & literature make wonderful bedfellows.  Also check out the awesome PS 96 library that illustrator Yuko Shimizu and designer Stefan Sagmeister collaborated on here.

PS 96 Library Mural by Yuko Shimizu

 

Last Night: Robin Hood’s FEED NYC Benefit

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Sister Mary Alice @ Robin Hood Foundation's FEED NYC Benefit
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Blurry Tweet: Suite 2046 in the house!
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Robin Hood goes VIRAL

Last night’s benefit for Robin Hood Foundation‘s Food for Good program in conjunction with FreshDirect was their first ever viral event and it was a rocking success with a huge turnout at the cavernous M2.  Over a thousand people showed up and there were laptops set up to connect people directly to FreshDirect’s donation page.  Lots of Twitter action leading up to and during the event, with posts being projected up on big screens.

Many more people still need to be fed for the holidays so please go online and make your donation now!  Then follow up by sharing it with at least 5 friends to spread the goodness.  Props to the host committee for a great event, and very happy birthday wishes to Sister Mary Alice who turned 70 yesterday (and has been feeding hungry New Yorkers for decades).  Check out my old blog post on the program for more info.