Unlike most Omahaians who remake their wardrobe in mid October with jeans, flannel shirts, quilted down vests, fleece hoodies and sweaters, to prepare for winter I stay with Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Depending on the severity of the winter weather I will choose from an Eddie Bauer vest, a goose down filled coat, a leather bomber jacket, or an Australian Duster Stockman’s oil skin coat to wear over the decorative Hawaiian shirts when I am foolish enough to venture out of the house. I sometimes swap the shorts for a pair of chino’s. Late last winter the zipper on my going outside for a short time Eddie Bauer vest broke. The vest was a marvelous October, November, and part of December garment; but not really great for snow, strong cold winds, and fifteen degrees temperatures. And I always found it somewhat uncomfortable when I wore the vest under the goose down coat or the leather bomber jacket. The vest just wasn’t satisfying for layering. So mid October was a favorable time to join the rest of the Omahaians who were winter clothes shopping to try to unearth a replacement for my zipper broken Eddie Bauer vest. I went searching for the replacement at the Omaha location of a national sporting goods chain store; the shop carries, sporting gear, outdoor recreation and hunting equipment, footwear, and Nike, The North Face, Columbia, and Under Armour clothing.
The broken zipper Eddie Bauer vest replacement had to be comfortable when layered over a Hawaiian shirt so I headed for The North Face jacket wall. I rummage through an eclectic assortment of The North Face outer apparel and reached into a hanging wall display of standard black jackets; I needed to try one on for size and also experience for the first time that The North Face feeling. The ten or more jackets hanging from the wall rail were in a tangled disarray; each jacket had a plastic loop lock running through it’s sleeve; and the loop locks were bundled and locked together. The jackets were impossible to remove from their hanger and wall display rail. There was a white button on the wall with a sign: Push Button If You Need Assistance. Two associates arrived and I mumbled: It must be difficult to achieve an appealing display that also allows the customer to easily interact with the merchandise without compromising security. Even though one of the associates was the floor manager she ignored my continuing stream of rhetorical reflections on impulse buying. In an attempt to gain her attention I proclaimed: The merchandise is only a souvenir of an outstanding shopping experience. She turned and walked away, leaving the recently hired sales associate. The recently hired sales associate gave me a confident smile and I gestured to the hanging black The North Face jackets and announced: I would like to try a jacket on.
The recently hired sales associate, with the dexterity of an angler bringing a hooked Blue Marlin into the boat, guided the long hanger shepherds hook to a top rail and swung a jacket down to me. I had obviously impressed her with my visual merchandising insights because she confided that the jacket wasn’t really me and that I should try The North Face Pneumatic jacket. She explained that the Pneumatic was for those who like to get outdoors and enjoy a wide range of high energy endeavors; it was fashioned with Apex Universal stretch soft shell technology and would remain breathable during aerobic activities: even in moderate weather conditions. She had summed me up. I wasn’t totally happy with the The North Face Pneumatic. I was disturbed with my profile; it bunched up just below the chest and suggested I had extra girth in my upper stomach; this fullness in my stomach made the jacket tight and appear stretched. It was the same outline that I had seen when middle aged bicycle enthusiasts wear those skin tight spandex biking outfits.
We live in the Aksarben neighborhood of Omaha; just a few blocks from the redeveloped Aksarben Village. The summer farmers market, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and concerts at Stinson Park make the area a perfect rest stop for cyclists fighting the Keystone Trail; a popular twenty seven mile urban concrete corridor enjoyed by commuters and outdoor biking enthusiasts. On weekends when the trail is populated with walkers and joggers, bike riding families, and Sunday cyclists the village becomes an expanse of spandex. And it seems that most of the Sunday cyclists have complemented their spandex with finger gloves, elite socks, earbands, cycling sunglasses, a road helmet, and bike cycling shoes with cleats. The cyclists who are not refreshing themselves with bottled Fiji or Icelandic bottled water are ordering a tall non fat latte with caramel drizzle, decaf soy latte with an extra shot, triple venti soy no foam latte, or a grande iced sugar free vanilla latte with soy milk, from the Village coffee shops. And as I watch the parade of spandex warriors I just know that they will soon be ordering Radler’s.
Last year a national retailer that focuses on eclectic imported housewares, furniture, decor and specialty foods, opened a store in Omaha. I just recently hung up my red apron after having the enjoyment of working part time at the store since it opened. I delighted in sharing with customers different samples of world foods and beverages; talking about the traditions, history, recipes, and anecdotes of what they were tasting. Radler’s were a popular sampling. And I shared that the Radler was invented by the Bavarian innkeeper, Franz Xaver Kugler. Franz’s inn was in a small town twelve miles from Munich. When bicycling became popular in Germany after the First World War he had a bike trail constructed from Munich, through the forest, to his inn. It is said that one Saturday thirteen thousand cyclists descended upon his inn and demanded beer. They almost drank the inn dry. That is until Franz had an inspired stroke of genius; he had several thousand bottles of a clear lemon soda in his cellar that he couldn’t sell, so to get rid of the useless lemon soda he mixed it 50/50 with the remaining beer and then proudly declared he had invented a concoction just for the cyclists so that they wouldn’t fall off their bikes on their way home. He called his new mixture Radlermass; Radler means cyclist in German and Mass means a liter of beer. And you can still buy Radlermass in beer shops all over Germany. Radler is now being brewed by a host of American brewers; their blend of beer, and fruit juice or soda, is being embraced by all American hipsters.
The second stop in the search for the broken zipper Eddie Bauer vest replacement was the La Vista location of an outdoor gear and sporting goods store. The store serves the hunting, fishing, shooting, and camping enthusiasts. The North Face Glacier Trail jacket chose me. As soon as I slipped it on and before I could zip it up, I felt the breathable TKA fleece. I had never worn a Thermal Kinetic Advancement fleece jacket. The label promised that the athletic fitting TKA fleece would move with me on demanding hikes and that it was an ideal layering piece in cool to cold conditions. And that spelled Darjeeling. If only I had had the The North Face Glacier Trail jacket back when I wandered the steep and curved pathways, and twisting streets of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling sits high up in the Himalayan Mountains and the air is thin. I remember that spring was in the air and that the cold had shifted away from severe and intense; the temperature was yet to reach agreeable. I traveled into India with clothes that were only good for the warmth of Thailand, Malaysia, and Burma. The Darjeeling days were still short and, by early afternoon, damp clouds replaced the tepid sunshine. I bought a thin, light blue, woolen blanket from a street vendor. You can’t hide from the majestic views of Kanchenjunga and the Himalayas in Darjeeling; the snow covered peak of Kanchenjunga provides a magnificent backdrop to the township. Darjeeling is about fifty five miles south of Kanchenjunga; the second highest mountain of the Himalayas and the third highest mountain in the world. And so I called the thin light blue blanket that insulated me from the cold damp Darjeeling air The South Face.
I roamed the Darjeeling hillsides, and the steep winding roads lined with shops and market stalls, shrouded in The South Face. And I savored Darjeeling tea in the leftover cozy English tea rooms buried in the thin light blue The South Face. Back then the Darjeeling zoo was just three wire fence enclosures bordering a steep road. You looked at the meager collection of animals by walking alongside the fence. On the fence of the llama enclosure was a warning: Beware Of Llama Spit. I remember pulling the The South Face even tighter around me and shrinking my head down into it’s safety. The thin light blue The South Face also protected me from the coldness of Afghanistan and Iran. I was insulated from the bitter, freezing, Turkish mountain winds when our bus stopped in the desolate nowhere; cocooned inside the The South Face I spent the cold frigid night with my head frozen to the bus window.
I was still unschooled in life and searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary when I discovered the benefits of layering in Darjeeling, so I remained naive and innocent to the unimaginable future of basic layered clothing. I was inexperienced in the theory of unconditional basic layering: A base layer against your skin manages moisture; a middle layer provides insulation and helps retain heat by trapping air close to your body; and a shell layer or outer layer is for protection from wind, rain or snow. I should have trade marked The South Face and had a logo designed and stitched onto thin light blue blankets. I could have set up small street stalls along the hippie trail and sold the The South Face to wandering backpackers.
After mid October when Omaha has snow filled fifteen degree temperature days I think I will dress with a middle layer The North Face Glacier Trail jacket. The top third of my The North Face Glacier Trail jacket is a florescent green and the green continues down each sleeve creating a stripe; the rest of the jacket is a pale gray green. I might get to like winter in the mid west.