The South Face

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.


image source:johnmcadam

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.


image source:flickr

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.


image source:pixabay

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.


image source:johnmcadam

After mid October when Omaha has snow filled fifteen degree temperature days I think I will dress with The North Face Glacier Trail jacket as a middle layer. 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.


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The Train on Platform Eight Not Stopping at South Kensington


When nanna’s in Eliza Street replaced Edith Street and the Dandenong Market during school holidays my cousin Peter and I would invest several days in designing and constructing complex train layouts on one side of the Peel Street backyard. My brother and I each had a Hornby O Gauge goods train set and we shared a passenger train. My brother is about eighteen months older than me and in the last years of building had lost interest in constructing convoluted railways so my cousin and I combined all that made up the Great Northern Railway, Midland Railway, and the passenger train. My set was green which represented the Great Northern Railway and my brothers were red for the Midland Railway. Each of our train sets had at least four different types of goods carriages and a guards van. Each of the train sets, and the passenger train, were kept in a massive wooden box in the backyard shed; the box also housed two railway stations, level crossings, points, some wooden bridges and a collection of curved, straight and cross over metal railway lines. When the train sets were combined there were enough rails to cover one side of the backyard. The side of the yard that we built our railways on was mostly dirt and a lemon tree was in front of the shed.

peel backyard

the backyard fifty plus years later

The other side of the yard was a grassed area that was home to the Hill’s rotary clothesline for mums washing; she washed clothes twice a week and hung them out to dry. On mums washing side the grass was boarded with flowers and a passion fruit vine on one of the fences. In front of the back fence was a large drum that was used to burn different types of rubbish; we called it the incinerator.

Peter and I would start the railway in the morning by digging valleys and gullies, heaping dirt for mounds, ridges and terraces and smoothing out spaces for different landforms. After lunch, we would assemble the rails; create cross overs, using points for station sidings, and invent long meandering ribbons of rail. We would finish the construction late afternoon and only had enough time to disentangle the rails and to pack everything in the box in the shed before Peter went back to nannas for tea. The next day we would start a new layout and start the building again, and the next day until the going to the pictures day. I don’t remember ever running a train with carriages around one of our constructions; we sometimes pushed carriages and released a wind-up engine on half done unfinished sections.

The barren landscape of Iran and Afghanistan reminded me of the dirt we moulded and shaped into barren, battered, and eroded plateaus in the back yard of Peel Street. Local buses and trucks transported me from Kabul, through the Khyber Pass, into Pakistan. I had eaten street food through Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan and since Kabul, I was getting more feverish and nauseated. I don’t remember if I ended up in Islamabad or Rawalpindi but I decided to return to Oz and brought a third-class railway ticket to New Delhi to start the overland trek to Australia. The British left the Indian subcontinent with trains that run on time and third-class non-sleeper travel. It may have changed over the years since my first journey but the third class compartments had wooden plank seats facing each other with a second row above; five people squeezed onto each plank and you looked through legs if you were sitting on the lower plank. There were no cooling fans, you slept sitting, and in most cases, there were no toilet facilities; some carriages had a hole in the floor in a cubicle at one end.

india train

somewhere in india

I was starting to suffer fever and chills and diarrhea. I drifted into and out of limited sleep and remember being woken by the syncopated thunk of something hitting the carriage floor. It was the heel of boots caused by double marching, combat dressed and armed, soldiers crowding the carriage corridors. The Pakistan Army was moving troops in urgency to the Indian border; it was the posturing before another major conflict between Pakistan and India.

boots train

these boots are made for marching

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was a military confrontation between India and Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War. I don’t remember the border crossing but I do remember the air raid sirens in New Delhi; I spent most of the time in New Delhi huddled in the corner of a dark dank room with stomach pain, nausea, extremely watery diarrhea, and fatigue.

Long before it became a tourist attraction and a World Heritage Site I undertook a wondrous train journey in India on The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Toy Train. I never imagined when connecting the rails in the backyard of Peel Street that a railway line could have multiple loops, reverses, and double circles. Today the four miles from Ghoom Station to Darjeeling Station is a tourist attraction; you can leave your review of the experience on TripAdvisor and even book online. Darjeeling was constructed as a summer resort for the British Raj elite to avoid the simmering, sweltering, heat of Indian summers. Today it is famous for the tea grown on the surrounding plantations. I used the toy train to reach Darjeeling; the trip from Siliguri took about eight hours. As the engine slowly heaved and steamed through a market or a town it was common to get out and walk alongside, or ahead of, the train and look back at the looping, snaking, belching, narrow-gauge toy train, or stop at a market stall to buy fruit and other foods.

Darjeeling railway

image source:wikimedia

At times the train would stop in a town for another engine to be hitched onto the back of the carriages to give an extra push up, and around, the loop ahead. There were few Europeans on the local train and the villagers used the trains just as trams and buses are used today. The loud shrill train whistle warned the swarm of 1960 Land Rovers that the little train that could was about to cross the mountain road ahead. The longer the train chugged and the more loops looped the higher you went and the colder it got.

We stayed for a week or more in Darjeeling; getting lost in the interconnecting roads, steep flights of steps and bustling streets winding through town, trying to find a space in the kite filled sky to fly a kite with the same skill as a Himalayan, sipping tea in the tea rooms, and admiring the Darjeeling Zoo. I still contemplate the sign on the fence of the llama enclosure: Beware of Llama spit.



Newport station is at the convergence of the Altona, Williamstown, and the Werribee-Geelong lines; it was a young boys utopia for train watching. Most goods trains would stop at Newport station and as a young boy, I would always ensure that I would get to look through the open door into the guard’s van. I was never sure what the guard did in the guard’s van but I watched him wave a green flag from the door when it was acceptable for the goods train to leave the station. And there was a raised seat inside and at the back of the van that perched the guard above the top of the carriages that allowed him to look down the length of the train. I wanted to be a guard on a goods train.

I was one of the tourists that began to trickle into Burma in the late seventies. The military dictatorship only issued one-week visas, you had to show confirmed onward travel from Burma, and on arriving you had to declare all the foreign currency you were taking into the country and obtain a voucher showing that amount. You were warned to always get a receipt from the bank when you changed money because the receipts and the voucher had to match went you left the country a week later. Burma was not yet a stop on the hippie trail but you knew to take into the country duty-free Johnnie Walker and Marlboro cigarettes as well as to hide US dollars somewhere on you and not to declare them; all to be sold and exchanged on the black market. The luxury hotels and transportation catering to tourists were yet to spring up because for decades the country only had limited contact with the outside world. The second day in Burma we boarded a local riverboat on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Rangoon for a fifteen-hour river trip and then on to the site of the remnants of thousands of Buddhist temples. We shared the wooden deck with other passengers, baskets of live chickens, a few pigs, and huge cloth bundles. The remains of the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan is indescribable. And now we had two days before we had to leave Burma.


the kingdom of pagan

I don’t remember the town or railway station that we hitched a ride to but the vintage bus driver assured us we could buy a ticket to Rangoon at the station when the train arrived. We waited on the platform with other would-be passengers; similar to when we shared the wooden deck of the Irrawaddy riverboat. When the train appeared in the distance we stood waiting at the ticket sellers window; the train stopped at the station and still no ticket seller; people started to get on the train and still no ticket seller. A passenger on the platform told us we could not buy tickets at this station for this train. In a panic, I went to the guard’s van. It was just like Newport station; there was a guard inside. Somehow he understood our dilemma of no ticket; I think the smuggled into the country undeclared American dollars helped his understanding. He beckoned us into the van and onto a pile of bundles at one end. I remember being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the guard’s van and waking up and watching through the open guard’s van door the sun rising on the Burmese countryside: rice paddies magically appearing and the sun glistening on what must be steeples of gold-leafed pagodas in distant villages.

from the guards van

from the guards van

We ate heartily in Rangoon that evening because we had not spent sufficient declared dollars to match the receipts for the seven days we were in Burma. We flew out of Burma the next day; the last day our visa was valid. I thought of the railway guards van that got us to the airport on time.


The Products of Frank Hornby

World Heritage: Mountain Railways of India

Kingdom of Pagan

other images: pixabay