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T-Shirts from the Collection: The Tees that Tradesmen Wear

Godwin Framing Gorilla Workman's Santa Cruz Tee

The wife and I were catching a couple of slices at a pizza restaurant that runs a good lunch special: a couple of Sicilian slices and a drink for a reasonable price. Add a buck or so for a short beer. It’s a favorite lunch stop for tradesmen and construction workers. They like that short beer.

The lunch rush had passed, and there were maybe ten other people in the place: weatherbeaten middle-aged guys who worked with their hands. They were all chawing pizza, sipping beer and staring at ESPN on the flatscreen. Or into the mirror behind the bar.

And eight of those ten were wearing screen-printed t-shirts: for their business or employer; for the tools they used; or for their union.

When I write about t-shirts, I sometimes ramble on about the power of the tee: put on a printed tee and you put on an identity. You become the message. The tee says who you are and what you believe in — or even what owns you. You are judged and classified by it.

And here it was, all around me: the cabinet installer with his employer’s name on his back. The body and fender guy. The electrician. The carpenter, in a tool company gimme shirt. The mechanic, his tee covered with flaming crescent wrenches. All defined by the messages on their backs.

And you have to ask: do you wear that shirt because you want to, or because you have to? Sometimes it’s clear. Sometimes it isn’t.

And: who are you? Does the tee show who you are? Who you want to be? What somebody else wants you to be?

These thoughts endless intrigues me. T-shirts and identity, identity and t-shirts. Yes, I’m weird, but then I have a couple of thousand tees, half of them indexed, so what was your question again? At any rate, here are some of the tees that Santa Cruz tradesmen wear. To be, or not to be.

Bustichi Construction

Butischi Constrution Butt Crack Tee

I needed a contractor; a woman at work referred me to her cousins at Bustichi Construction, “a couple of Italian good-old-boys having a great time.” Considering the butt and penis innuendos, I don’t doubt it.

I saw a workman wearing this tee at the same pizza restaurant once, years after Bustichi Construction changed its name and a lot of other things. Maybe it was his favorite shirt.

Mikasa Rammer MQ

Mikasa Phallic Rammer Tool

If your employer’s t-shirt doesn’t measure up to Bustichi Construction’s phallic overtones, you can always get a tee of a guy with a great big tool from the Mikasa earth rammer salesman. Free!

Monahan Builders

Santa Cruz Monahan Contractor Build it or Die Tee

This is a fine example of contractor-representing-self-as-mad-dog-work-animal. The genre is popular in these parts. And you don’t see many blue-eyed skulls, either. If I worked in construction, I’d proudly wear this one.

Halsteel Gun Nails

Sands of Iwo Jima Nail Company Tee

Sands of Iwo Jima Nail Company Tee 2Nothing shows love of country like four carpenters on Iwo Jima raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi on a gigantic gun nail. A nail made in AMERICA, by God.

They have a point, though: American workmen are expected to be proud of American products, made by others just like them.  You don’t see “Made in America” touted on hardware gimme shirts much anymore because, so often the hardware isn’t.  Or it might be this year, but not next year.  Big corporations blithely and swiftly move producion to wherever it’s cheapest at the moment.

Schmitty’s Custom Cabinets

Schmitty's Custom Cabinets / Surfboard

The cliche goes that most Santa Cruz contractors and woodworkers are surfers. And that around, oh, 3 pm, they’ll tell you that they’ve got to head to the lumberyard for more material and “see ya tomorrow. And they jump in their truck and head straight for Steamer Lane or the Hook. It’s just a stereotype, right?

Right. To me, it looks like “Schmitty” is sneaking away with his board on tiptoe.

Nutt Construction

Santa Cruz Nutt Construction Tee 2

Santa Cruz Nutt Construction Tee 1I looked him up. He’s a contractor, a surfer, a sailor and something of an over-60 stud. I do doubt that he surfs with his circular saw and nail gun.

Again, don’t buy into the stereotype that all Santa Cruz construction dudes are just surfers. Oh, please don’t.


Pipe Fusion Machine Rental

Pipe Fusion Cheesecake

This tee is all about renting devices for the butt-to-butt fusing of two big plastic pipes (drainage or sewer pipes, industrial pipes, what have you).

Simply slide the two big, big pipes together through the circular guides, and the machine applies heat and pressure until the two pipes fuse into one. Bakes the bun in the oven, so to speak. Pay no attention to the hot mom perched on top. She’s just there to make sure that you don’t miss the metaphor.

Perrigo Auto Body

Perrigo Body Shop Santa Cruz Surfing Car

Do auto body men really get in the curl on ‘70s-era Corvette Stingrays off Cowell Beach? A Corvette would make the ultimate longboard, true. At least I can guess what Perrigo does with his time off.

Years ago while driving, my wife’s wedding ring dropped off her finger into an obscure crevice between the seats of our old Integra. I couldn’t find the crevice, or the ring. I called Perrigo and explained; they pulled the seats and got the ring back tout suite. After they stopped laughing.

Snap-on Tools

Snap-On Flaming Crescent Wrenches Tee

Snap-On Race Car TeeEarly on I mentioned flaming crescent wrenches, and I wasn’t kidding. Snap-On Tools is famous for bizarre and flashy gimme shirts aimed at people who fix cars, trucks, marine engines, aircraft, and so on. You know — guys. Be they male or female.

They know the secret: make a winning tee, and some mechanic will become your volunteer billboard. Snap-On tees eschew sex objects or sexual innuendo. These tees are all about steel, flame, and large fast-moving metal objects. No two are alike. I’m not a collect-them-all kind of collector, or I’d need a warehouse. But with Snap-On tees, I’m tempted.

Kurt M. Stephens and Sons Carpet Installation

Santa Cruz Fuzzy Side Up Carpet Tee 2

Santa Cruz Fuzzy Side Up Carpet Tee 1I know very little about Kurt M. Stephens, but he felt it humorous to send his workers out to jobs wearing tees printed with the instruction “Fuzzy Side Up.” See, they could read it off each other’s back if they forgot what to do.

I wonder how the “and Sons” part of the firm felt about all this.

Santa Cruz Carpenter’s Union Local

Santa Cruz Carpenters Local 505 with Surfboard 1

Well, um, I still don’t think that we should stereotype Santa Cruz tradesmen as die-hard surfers who just work so that they can keep surfing. Even if the Carpenter’s Union shows a happy tradesman standing in the redwoods with a mighty longboard. It’s lies, I tell you, all lies.

Ahern Rentals

Ahern Equipment Rental Jackhammer Through Foot Tee

Ahern will rent you any equipment you need in the construction biz — except good sense. A ha-ha construction joke t-shirt, as good — or bad — as they get.

Ferrell Electric

Santa Cruz Ferrell Electric Jimbo Phillips

Electricians don’t do a lot of sexual innuendo on company t-shirts. They prefer puns about electricity. The only vaguely sexual motto I’ve seen on a shirt was “We’ll check your shorts.” It came from some feral electrician up toward Eureka.

That said, I’ll bet that Mr. Ferrell — while not feral — is another Santa Cruz-area surfin’ contractor.

3M Vinyl Electrical Tape

Scotch Electrical Tape 1

As far as the American public is concerned, 3M is the kindly old uncle of American corporations. They sell tape, and they’ve been around however; how bad can they be, right?

On that last question, opinions vary. But it’s clear that kindly Uncle Three-Em will pitch big-breasted cheesecake with the best of them to catch the tradesman market. And yes, they, like Halsteel, can say “Made in USA.”

Note that the ‘driver” wears high-heeled sandals with her racing suit. 3M printed several t-shirts in this series — hot women, cars, electrical tape — but I chose not to Collect Them All. I have my pride.

I leave you with a tradesman’s tee that poses the one great universal question:  WHY IS THIS MAN LAUGHING?  HE NEVER STOPS! WHY? WHY?

Mr. Rooter


T-Shirts from the Collection: A Town Built for Pleasure

Pleasure Point Bike Race 40th Anniversary Tee

The coastal community of Pleasure Point, east of Santa Cruz, was practically designed and built as a surfer’s haven. It had great surf breaks — spots where the waves are reliably good. They drew Dawn-Age surfers by the ’30s or earlier, and certainly by the ’50s. And the Point’s Prohibition-era speak-easies and road house gave it a certain, ah, casual feel that it still owns.

Nor did it hurt that living was cheap in Pleasure Point. In the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s, four or five — or eight or ten — local youth could rent a house out that way, do as little work as possible, and party and surf their brains out.

The rents rose with time and demand, but Pleasure Point is still a surfer’s haven. Some of the older surfers are still out there — plenty of gray hair rides the waves — along with new generations of local-grown surfers and transplants. Their activities produce many t-shirts.

Back in the day, surfers formed clubs; several operated out of Pleasure Point over the years, and they staged events. Here’s one:

Valentine's Day Massacre Surf Contest Tee

Valentine's Day Massacre Surf Contest Tee 2

The sponsor bugs tell a lot about the surfing community. click to expand. Jimbo Phlllips is the artist who drew the t-shirt’s design; BroPrints is a silk-screen shop that probably printed it.

This came from a “locals only” surf tournament sponsored by the Pleasure Point Night Fighters surf club. Interesting name, no? The original Night Fighters were a volunteer fire brigade/rescue squad who fought fires in Pleasure Point  in the ‘20s and ‘30s because no fire department would come out there after dark. Myth and legend turned the original Night Fighters into bad-ass vigilantes, and surf clubs by this name have come and gone.

Notice the small ‘Locals Only” sign on the tee; you didn’t surf unless you were invited. Santa Cruz surfers are a clannish bunch, and kind of wish that nobody came from out of town — or sometimes even from the other side of the same town — to surf “their” waves. That said, this latest incarnation of the Night Fighters styled itself a force for good by cleaning the beaches and campaigning for other beach-goers to do the same.

The Night Fighters don’t seem active these days — what do I know, I don’t surf — but here is a contest tee from a surf club that’s definitely alive and well: the Big Stick Surfing Association.

The Big Stickers like heavy long boards of eight foot length or more: hence the tourney name “Logjam.” Moreover, the Logjam is only for boards older than 1970. It’s old-school surfing for old-school surfers: as the shirt says, “Old boards, no cords.”


And what’s the talk about “no cords” and “no kook cords” on these tees? The terms refer to surfboard leashes. These are lines that surfers string between themselves and their boards so that the boards don’t go shooting off into infinity — or the rocks — when surfers wipe out.

In surfing slang, “kooks” are inferior surfers (usually weekenders from out of town) that don’t give their betters enough room on the waves. Grizzled old surfers think surfboard leashes encourage lazy and dangerous surfing by making it too easy to hang on to one’s board. Hence the nickname “kook cords.” More about that in a bit.

Surf clubs surfed together and competed together at Pleasure Point.  And they partied, too:

Dirt Farm Pig o Rama Tee 1

A lDirt Farm Pig o Rama Tee 2ittle Photoshop can be an awesome thing in the wrong hands, can’t it? The Dirt Farm Surf Club is or was a group of surfers who hung in a dirt field by the O’Neill’s surf break and the adjacent beach. The field —aka The Dirt Farm, of course — was used freely by surfers for activities both formal and informal. Locals surf contests like the Logjam use it, for example. Or you could just run your dog.

Next to the Dirt Farm, and above the beach, lay the expansive home and property of Jack O’Neill. O’Neill’s presence alone made Pleasure Point a surfing capital. Back in the ‘50s O’Neill popularized surfing by perfecting the wetsuit, which allowed surfers to surf longer in chilly water. O’Neill made it possible for surfers to surf every single day, and for hours. The sport boomed.

He b"Uncle Sam" O'Neilluilt an empire of surf shops, wetsuits, water gear and clothing of all kinds — including t-shirts. It seemed right that he looked like a one-eyed pirate, complete with beard and eye patch. His own company sold the t-shirt shown at right, and hundreds of other designs.

That missing eye? It was taken out by an accident with an early-version kook cord: the line lashed him right across the face. The irony is that O’Neill’s son invented surf leashes, and O’Neill eventually made a lot of money selling them.  Live by the cord, go blind by the cord.

Now, every piece of ground along the coast is owned by somebody. And while there’d never been problems with surfers hanging out on the Dirt Farm, there was the future to think about. And O’Neill cared about that. So ten or so years ago, he bought the Dirt Farm for the free use of surfers and others, and willed it to the public good in perpetuity upon his death.

Jack O’Neill did die a few years back. A mighty paddle-out of 3000 surfers took place in his honor off his beloved Pleasure Point. And the Dirt Farm goes on forever, if not the Dirt Farm Surf Club..

Pleasure Point supports a whole ecosystem for surfers and their needs: surfer food, surfer services, surfer lifestyle. Below are a few tees for the other institutions that help make Pleasure Point … well, Pleasure Point.

Santa Cruz Board Ding Repair 1

If you’re hardcore and ride without a kook cord, there’s always someone to fix the dings when your board gets away from you and runs into something hard. BE Sanding, near Pleasure Point, will do the job.

Dunlap Donuts Tee Year 2

Head down Portola Drove on a Sunday morning and you may well see 50 to 100 cold-looking surfers in hoodies and shorts standing in front of Dunlap’s Donuts, coffee in hand. After a few early-morning hours in the cold water, a big coffee and a maple bar the size of a loaf of bread can look pretty good, wetsuit or no wetsuit.

Santa Cruz Boardroom Skateboard Racing Team Tee

The Boardroom is a vast and venerable skateboard shop in Pleasure Point’s business district on 41st. Skateboarding was invented by surfers for times when the waves didn’t cooperate. Many surfers came from skateboarding. The same artists who do surf art also do skateboard art; and yes, many surf, and some surf at Pleasure Point. The Boardroom’s walls and ceiling are covered with skateboard art; it’s like a museum, and worth a visit if your tastes run that way.


Kong 1

Show this tee to midcounty surfers, and sighs of nostalgia will ensue. Kong’s Market and Deli, run by the kindly Ahn family for many years, was a source of massive amount of cheap food at low-low prices: home-made egg rolls, the might Kong Burger, an insane breakfast burrito, and more. If they knew you, they might front you a keg of beer for your party/fundraiser and wait for the money after.

Santa Cruz Pleasure Point Bike Race 1994 Tee 3

Chilling out, acting-out and clannishness are joint traditions in Pleasure Point culture. This was typified by the Pleasure Point Bike Race, which was no race at all. It was an invitation-only drinking party on two wheels. Your “ticket,” if you were allowed to buy one, was a t-shirt. Most of them seemed to have a beer theme:
You and your fellow racers would launch in a loose column and cycle between several different grand houses to which your t-shirt would admit you. Then you would eat and quaff to excess and party to a live band, and a good one at that.
Then, back on the bike and off to the next house on the circuit, to do it all over again, riding more shakily than before.
The Pleasure Point Bike Race ran from 1974 to about 2014 or thereabouts. This may have been the last t-shirt “ticket,” or close to it. Written info is hard to find.

Pleasure Point Street Fair 2014 Tee

Pleasure Point still parties, but a little more openly now. There’s a street fair these days — and you don’t have to know anybody to get in.



Dunlap's Donuts Santa Cruz Tee 1

Just for laughs, another Dunlap’s Donuts tee. They put out a new one every year or so, and price it cheap so that everybody will buy one and wear it. Cheap advising, the manager explained to me when I stopped by. I asked her who Frank was. She said that was the donut cook’s idea, and he wouldn’t explain.


T-Shirts from the Collection: Community Radio Tees, Featuring the King of Radio

KKUP Psychedlic Marathon Tee Community radio stations perpetually have their hand out. Their plaintive cries haunt the airwaves: “Please, please donate to help us continue bringing you the programming that you love so much.” And for your donation (“$50 or more!”) you usually get a station t-shirt.

But they’re all different otherwise. Some are radical, amateurish, and low budget. Some are hyper-slick and arty and well-funded;. And some are dens of  music genre junkies who;re there  to share the music that they love. Their station t-shirts reflect this.

Let me state, for the record, that community radio station KZSC puts out some pretty odd t-shirts.  KZSC is  a self-supporting creature of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Student participation is what that school is all about.

KZSC Tee -- Commercial Radio Sucks 2

So for much its history KZSC has picked its t-shirt designs from student submissions.   And yes, the final products are not especially professional. If you can’t parse out the meaning of a tee covered in vacuum cleaners, the other side reads “Corporate Radio Sucks.”

But that’s UCSC for you, a rebellious, counter-culture campus with no football team and a banana slug for a mascot.  Three freshmen started KZSC as a pirate operation back in ’67. They had a home-made ten-watt transmitter in the basement of a dorm.  The administration happily signed off: “Sure, go ahead, but please call the FCC when you can get around to it.”

KZSC Many Beats Tee

Were those the good old days, or what? True, it wasn’t long before the FCC was knocking on dorm room doors at eight in the morning. But  all worked out eventually.

KZSC is still student-run and mostly student-programmed,  with an advisor to keep things on track.  Students even raise money to keep the station alive.

And they’re all young, and learning, and don’t always do things well the first time.  But that’s all right. In a liberal arts/research university with few occupational programs, KZSC gives students real-world expereience: in operations, management, production, community journalism, and more.

KZSC programs the new music and the old music, and even gets the local news out there, with a heavy dollop of social justice.   We locals like it.

Public Radio Robot Tee

And then there is KEXP.  KEXP is what happens to a community radio station when it finds itsel floating in cash  and is so hip that it calls itself an arts organization.  Radio’s just a tool, bro. KEXP is affiliated with the University of Washington, but nobody would call it a college station.

And it’s in Seattle, home of the rich hip.  KEXP plays all the music that’s hip. KEXP even tells you what music you should think is hip. KEXP broadcasts live performances and concerts.  KEXP supports new artists in the PNW.  Their website is so loaded with performances and podcasts and archives that it’s hard to find the live feed.

KEXP has deep-pocket backers and a budget of mlllions and well-paid staff. KEXP has a postmodern campus in the Seattle arts district with its own ultra-hip coffee house and record storeKEXP’s t-shirt is witty, professional… and hip.

I’ve listened. I don’t think I’m hip enough. I like KZSC better.

And I like KKUP in Cupertino, California — in Silicon Valley, just over the hill from Santa Cruz.  Unlike KEXP, KKUP is about 100 percent volunteer and 100 percent listener supported. Unlike the kids at KZSC, a lot of KKUP’s volunteers are already pretty savvy when they walk in the door. It’s Silicon Valley, remember.

The programming is practically all music from a couple of dozen different genres.  Every month the station runs a two-day music marathon for a single genre:  all blues, all Latin, all visionary, all Dead, and more.  The marathons double as a fund drive, and the station issues t-shirts for many of them. KKUP’s 2008 Psychedelic Marathon tee is a great deal of fun..

KKUP Psychedlic Music Marathon Tee 1


But my real favorite is KKUP’s 2007 Bluegrass/Country/Folk Marathon t-shirt.   Not just because it’s a great image, but because it’s about a man who mastered radio itself.

KKUP Country and Western Marathon Tee

The tee bears a scratchboard portrait of country music great Buck Owens, beaming out from behind an old-school radio mike.  Owens had died recently, after a long career in country music and radio station management.  He was a good musician,  a smart businessman, and the originator of country music’s stripped-down “Bakersfield Sound” : twangy, basic, loud. And he was all about radio. It made him.

In the ‘40s, Owens was based out of Bakersfield, California, a hard-scrabble oil town full of Okie transplants.  They liked country music there. Owens went downt to LA to make a few records and played a lot of backup, but not much came of it. He went up to Washington state for a change of scene. and bought a piece of a radio station.

It was his job to pick music for airplay.  He was a good judge of tunes, but the job bugged him. Two recordings would both appeal to him, but one would get lots of listener response while the other one died on the air. He just didn’t get it.

He worked on the problem for a while and finally figured it out: he was listening to music on high-fidelity studio speakers, but his audience was listening to the tinny AM radio speakers in their cars. Those cheap, small speakers were okay on sharp highs, but anything subtle or bass-heavy turned to mush.   Music producers weren’t thinking about automobile speakers when they mixed their music.

So Owens did. He went back to recording music, and back to Bakersfield, too.  But this time, he hooked a pair of tinny car radio speakers to the mixer and twiddled the tracks  till the music sounded strong on them, not on the good speakers.

And Buck Owens turned out the sharpest, twangiest music you ever heard in the front seat of a ’59 Chevy Bel Air: the Bakersfield Sound.

That sound brought Owens a string of ‘60s hits,  a string of successful radio stations, a successful TV show, and his own nightclub.  Because Buck Owens figured out how to work radio, in more ways than one.

He was truly Mr. Radio. Whatever else he was, honor him for that. KKUP did.

T-Shirts from the Collection: A Nuclear Submarine from the Gold Rush

USS California

This scenario occurred to me upon snagging the latest t-shirt for my collection:

Suppose that you live in Santa Cruz County, home to alternative lifestyles. It’s also the home of hope for a greener, better, more peaceful and non-authoritarian tomorrow.

And beyond that we Santa Cruzans all hope that all the world’s peoples survive the next 50 years without nuking each other to glass, despite the pressures of growing shortages and environmental catastrophe.

And you agree with much of that. But you’ve got to make a living, too. And sadly, your living comes from the military industrial complex.

One day, to commemorate a very special occasion, your management gave you this rather wizard t-shirt.  And you deserve it, because your team helped roll out a $2 billion nuclear-powered attack submarine: the USS California, SSN 781. This shirt honors the commissioning of that vessel in 2011.

The California is the pride of the Virginia Class  submarines and yet another guaranteed cost-plus-profitable project for your employer, defense contractor Northrop Grumman. SSN 781 is a veritable Stradivarius of destruction; although these days, the defense establishment prefers the term “force projection.”

Northrop Grumman, of course, is one of the ever fewer, ever larger defense contractors who provide America with its weapons — and increasingly, even run weapons programs for the government.  Ain’t private industry wonderful? It can be part of the government, and run a guaranteed profit, too.

And you, the minion who got this wondrous shirt, went home and put it in a drawer.  Seven or eight years after the fact, it’s in mint condition.  You never wore it; once at most, at the office party.  No doubt you’d feel uncomfortable wearing it in Santa Cruz. Would they understand at the farmer’s market, as you dithered over your organic heirloom tomatoes?

Perhaps not. In some parts of this county, somebody might just hiss at you over that shirt. In other parts, the more monied parts — it’d just be bad taste.  One does not talk about where the money comes from; one simply has it.

A few years later you got tired of having the t-shirt stare at you from the drawer, and you donated it to a worthy charity.  They put it in their thrift store.   Now I have it.

Take a good look at it: look at all the California iconography.  There’s the Great Seal of the state; there’s the Bear Flag.  Even the name “USS California” is printed in an old-school 19th- or 20th century font.  The ship’s motto, “Silence is Golden,” refers to both the Golden State, and the ship’s stealthy nature.

Yes: someone made a nice try at establishing a 21st century killing machine as a part of California’s heritage.

And you know what? It’s true.  It’s all true. This nuclear boat has 200 years of heritage, or almost. Back to before we were even part of the United States.

The year is 1822, and in Cornwall, England, a young boy named Joshua Hendy was born into the world.  Cornwall sucked, so he and his brothers migrated to the US while he was a young teen.  After traveling the South, he married and settled in as a blacksmith in Houston in the 1840s.

Yellow fever killed his wife and children; after that Houston had little to hold him. When gold was discovered in California in ’49, Hendy hopped a clipper ship for San Francisco.

Hendy found his fortune in San Francisco insted of the Gold Country.  At first, he made tools for the prospectors and then, equipment for the big mining operations that came soon enough: pumps, ore crushers, grinders, ore concentrators, giant water cannon.

Hendy proved to be an engineering genius, and the Joshua Hendy Iron Works was the engineering company that made the Comstock Lode mineable. Some of his designs for mining equipment were still current 100 years later.

Hendy passed in the ‘90s, but the Hendy Iron Works chugged on. It even made machines to carve out the Panama Canal. When the 1906 quake wiped out its San Francisco headquarters, the city of Sunnyvale offered the company free land if it would relocate to the South Bay. It did, and became a (very) early technology company in what would become Silicon Valley.

During World War I, the Hendy Works was asked to make two-story tall marine steam engines for cargo ships. The company had never made marine equipment before, but the giant units that they turned out were later prized for their reliability and durability.

Flash forward 20-odd years through the Great Depression and some really bad times. The Hendy Iron Works was down to 60 employees. Financially it was on the ropes, with the banks closing in. But a hard-driving engineer named Steven Moore  bought the company and refashioned it, with the backing of a consortium of western engineering firms.

Moore ramped the company up to 11,000 employees during World War Two to mass-produce old-fashioned but durable marine steam engines at a clip that nobody could believe.

Joshua Hendy 2500 HP Triple Expansion EC-2 marine steam engines would power the Liberty ships that the Kaiser yards were building in the East Bay.  The plant turned out one 136-ton, 20-foot-tall steam engine every 40.8 hours.  The Hendy Works built over 750 of them in three and a half years, plus dozens of more modern steam turbines for faster vessels.

Moore moved on after the war, and Westinghouse Corp. bought the Joshua Hendy Iron Works. The company began making pressure hulls for submarines, control and missile-launch systems for nuclear subs, radio telescopes, steam turbines for use in power generation, nuclear power plant equipment and more.  Northrop Grumman bought Joshua Hendy from Westinghouse in the ‘90s and renamed it Northrop Grumman Marine Systems.

And it was that unit, the Joshua Hendy Iron Works of old, that served as prime contractor for the USS California project — even if the actual boat was built in Northrup Grumman’s East Coast shipyards.

The Northrup Grumman PR flacks had it right, whether they knew it or not. The USS California was a California boat from a California lineage: all the way back to the Gold Rush.

But… somebody really didn’t want to wear that t-shirt in Santa Cruz County.  And I don’t blame them.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Fairly Civil Servants

No Water No Beer Waterworks Tee

Civic water department employees have a certain cynical attitude towards customers.  It’s not that they “don’t get no respect” from them.  It’s that customers don’t even remember they’re there at all — until a water main or a sewer line bursts.

I mean, clean and healthy water always comes out of the tap, right? Magically? And crap always floats away to some exotic land where it is never heard from again.  Right?

In reality, both ends of the job are hugely technical and difficult and important.  And the American Water Works Association keeps trying to shock the public into some kind of awareness of that.  “No Water? NO BEER!” is a new approach for them.  It’ll at least hit some people where they live.


Santa Cruz Metro Surfing Bus Company Picnic Tee

You are a bus driver for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District. It is a hot afternoon, and you’re pulling your 2008 60-passenger New Flyer out of the Metro Transit Center on Pacific Avenue. You will head down Soquel Avenue for the 10,000th time in your career and take the 71 Route overland all the way to Watsonville, 15 miles away.  Through bad traffic.  Really bad.

But you know that your work is as important to Santa Cruz as the ocean and the sea creatures and the mighty waves.  And hence, this shirt for you all the other transit toilers at the employee picnic. It’s kind of boss; it was even drawn by one of you, a fellow bus driver.

That’s one theory.  There’s also the true story of a Metro bus that got hit by a mighty wave on an oceanside route, back in the ’90s, and almost got pushed off the road.  So in a sense, a Metro bus once actually surfed.  And the ocean’s only a mile south of Soquel avenue and damn, if only you were out therein the cool water, surfing your New Flyer across a wave and telling the octupii to LET GO OF THE WINDSHIELD WIPERS, DAMMIT!

It’d be awesome.

Postal and Proud Post Office Tee 1Speaking of awesome.  Back in the 80s and ’90s, the U.S. Postal Service was having a very, very bad time with employee morale, and some people attributed that to heavy stress coming down from management.  Which caused some people to crack.

At any rate, there were workplace shootings by out-of-control postal employees.  It happened often enough that the phrase “going postal” came into use: taken to mean, going crazy from stress.

Postal and Proud Post Office Tee 2And then, fiteen or twenty years or so later, this t-shirt. From a faceless distribution center in San Diego somewhere: just a concrete box full of postal workers slinging the mail as fast as they can.  And those workers want you to know: they are postal, in the best sense of the word.  And proud.


California State Parks 150th Anniversary Tee

I don’t quite know how i feel about this t-shirt: it’s really commemorating the 150th anniversary of the California State Parks, not their employees.

But there he is, the stereotypical ranger: a little portly, Caucasian, middle-aged, well-met, and knows more about the feeding habits of the Steller’s Jay than any sane man should know.  But there are a lot of other things they do, like search and rescue, general park management, law enforcement, and more.

And ranger’s aren’t all guys anymore either, nor all white. Shame on the State Parks for going with the stereotype.  Yeah, yeah, everybody loves Ranger Friendly, but these days he (or she) should have a couple of earrings and maybe not always be so pale.

Of course, they should all wear that damned hat, forever.  It’s tradition.

Declare Iranian American! Census Tee

Being a civil servant: it’s not always a comfortable thing.  I see a couple of staffers from the Census Bureau wearing these shirts in a small booth at an Iranian cultural fair in 2010, trying mightly to get Iranian-Americans to self-indentify as such for 2010 census.

It’s voluntary.  But it’s also important, because there might be a federal program targeted to help Iranian-Americans.  The funding assigned to particular geographical areas would depend on the number of Iranian American living there. Government needs this demographic information to serve people well.

And maybe they were studiously ignored despite their efforts, or even shouted at.  Ethnic Iranians might be suspicious of the government’s intent towards people whose parent country clashed so much with the United States.

And the horrible thing is, perhaps they were right to be. One question that the census has never asked is, “Are you a citizen?” But the Trump Administration now want to include it.  A xenophobic, racist-friendly administration wants to know exactly where every non-citizen in America is.

And I do wonder how the census workers who tried so hard to get Iranians to self-indentify feel now. Sometimes being a civil servant is Hell.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Kine Grindz

Most t-shirts out of Hawaii are tourist tees; I pay them no attention when I’m on the hunt for interesting tees.

But I paid attention to this one. If it’s even a tourist t-shirt. In a way this t-shirt represents all of Hawaiian culture — more than beaches and waves and palm trees do, anyway.

Local Kine Grindz Hawaii Tee 1

In Hawaiian pidgin, “local kine grindz” means something like, a wonderful spread of Hawaiian-style dishes.  Hawaii is proud of its food: the cuisines of several different countries came to the islands and merged into something unique.    Hawaiians feel the same way about themselves.

Know the food, know the people.  Know the people, know the food.  Of course, Hawaian food is not a friend of the slender, as the t-shirt implies.  Let’s get started.

Waikiki Spam Jam Festival 2Oh yeah. SPAM! You could probably see that coming. Hawaiians are notable Spam-heads.  They eat more Spam per capita than anybody. So much so that they have an annual festival to Spam: the Waikiki Spam Jam.

To be honest, the Spam Jam is no World’s Fair of Canned Pork Products. It’s a one-day street fair with three stages of entertainment and sweltering actors dressed like cans of Spam pausing for Panasonic moments with the tourists.

And of course booth after booth of Spam dishes from local restaurants: candied Spam, Spam French Toast, kimchi and Spam, Spam fried rice, Spam tacos, Spam musubi, and on and on and on.  The Spam Jam drew 40,000 people this year. In one day. Spam is big.

BreckySpam came to Hawaii with the military for World War 2.  It was cheaper than all other meats, it was portable, it didn’t need refrigeration, and you could do about anything with it.  And the military wouldn’t let the locals go fishing during the war, so… Spam it was, and Spam it still is.  Spam and eggs and white rice for breakfast are the Hawaiian ideal, maybe even with special Hawaii-only Teriyaki-flavored and Portuguese-sausage-flavored Spam. 2 SPAM

Like everything else, Spam got processed through all the cultures that came here: Japanese, Chinese, Philipino, Portuguese, American, and more.

The Japanese brought the Hawaiian plate lunch, by way of the Bento box: any kind of meat — teriyaki beef or chicken, Philipino pork adobo (maybe with pineapple), Spam of course, and more — with two scoops ofplatelunch white rice with a gooey scoop of macaroni salad on the side. It’s what Hawaii eats at midday

And there is also real linguica sausage at breakfast  and lunch — a fine substitue for Spam — from the Portuguese, who also brought malasadas, the Hawaiian donut. They also brought masa sovada, the Portuguese sweet bread that became known as Hawaiian bread. And From Japan and China came fried shrimp and chicken katsu, stir fry (yes, sometimes with Spam), and on and on.

In Hawaii, McDonald’s and Burger King offer Spam dishes along with their usual menu.  They have to, to get the locals’ business.

I’m personally a big fan of the loco moco, sort of a plate lunch in bowl form, with a hamburger patty and egg (or Spam or linguica or fish) on top of the white rice, and brown gravy over all.  It was invented by Hawaiian high school kids in the ‘50s, and you can get it over here now. Along with Spam musubi.


And indeed let us not forget musubi, the Hawaiian national snack: a slice of grilled Spam atop a bed of rice, wrapped in nori (a type of seaweed). Spam musubi in Hawaii  is a mutated Japanese rice ball dish, and you can buy it in convenience stores anywhere. It’s locals’ food all the way. Musubi defines “local.”


So much so that when not-quite-local radio personality/comedian/musician Fernando “The Love Machine” Pacheco floated his own comedy sketch show on Honolulu cable, he called it “Almost Local.”  With a picture of a musubi roll made with a corn dog instead of Spam.  Almost local.   Not quite.

Hawaii Food Bank Tee 2

Another thing about food in Hawaii: not everybody gets enough.  Living is expensive here, and a great many residents of Paradise, especially seniors and children, go to sleep with an empty belly.

The Hawaii Food Bank does what it can, and indeed Hawaiians are generous in their donations: there is the Hawaiian tradition of ohana, or family.  Of course the proceeds of the Spam Jam all go to charity, with over a quarter of a million dollars donated to the food bank over the years.  You can even buy cans of Spam there and hand them off to food bank volunteers.

Know the food, know Hawaii.  But Hawaii is a tourist mecca, too. What about food in Hawaii that isn’t really for Hawaiians?  Here’s a t-shirt, and a success story, and also a cautionary tale.

Cheeseburger Waikiki Tee

Back in the ‘80s, a couple of women from Los Angeles took a break from their picture framing business at the LA Flea Market and flew to Maui for a vacation.  They loved Maui, every minute of it.  And they would have loved to live there in Paradise.  What they didn’t love, after a few weeks, was the diet of fish and vegetables that was largely all that they could get.  And one of them said, “What I wouldn’t give for a good gooey cheeseburger right now…” A couple of light bulbs began to glow.

So they went home, raised money, came back and with no experience opened “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on the waterfront in Lahaina with prime beef imported from California.  It was an instant smash. Tourists lined up out the door; they grossed millions of dollars even the first year.  And then they built another “Cheeseburger in Paradise” in another tourist location, and another, and then…

…then came Jimmy Buffet.  Who had written the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and was fronting a chain of Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants on the mainland for a big corporation.

The legal battles were long and thunderous, and in the end both sides agreed that only the lawyers really won.  But the partners were allowed to keep the CIP name for their first two restaurants, as long as any new ones were simply called “Cheese Burger.”  They built a Cheese Burger empire of restaurants and brewpubs across the Islands, and the tourists flocked to them.  And it was Good.

Eventually they tried to open restaurants back on the mainland: with the signature Cheese Burger, but also with Hawaiian food and a Hawaiian theme.   They didn’t work out.  As far as I can tell, their last mainland venture was a Las Vegas Cheese Burger in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Cheese Burger Hawaiian Restaurant in Vegas ee

You can bet I snatched that one up off the rack.  It’s more Vegas than Lahaina, I think; but boy, is it Vegas.

And yet, even that Cheese Burger branch did close eventually.  And I wonder if this is the reason: that a Cheeseburger in Paradise is a wondrous thing for the weary traveler.  But a Cheeseburger in Vegas?  That’s just another cheeseburger.

Meanwhile,”real” Hawaiian restaurants are popping up all over the west coast, including my part of California.  There weren’t any Hawaiian joints in town years ago; now there are four, and I can get Spam musubi three blocks from my house, and yes, even a plate lunch with two scoops of rice and the deadly macaroni salad.  And Spam. I’m not going there; but I could.

These restaurants aren’t just for tourists; they’re for the locals. Our locals.  Not for nothing is this California surf town with great weather  known as “The Easternmost Point in the Hawaiian Islands”. And some of our local surfer dudes hold benefits for the hungry, too, just like the Spam Jam.  People go to bed hungry in our local version of Paradise, too.

Grind Out Hunger Event Tee by Jimbo Phillips

And somewhere beyond the horizon, so far beyond that you can see only a faint glow: vegetarian Spam.   Hormel is dreaming about it. And so the kine grindz marches on, for everyone.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Remnants of the Dead

Grateful Dead Parking Lot Tee

Music and band t-shirts don’t interest me, but only the blind can ignore their appeal.  While I work the t-shirt racks at thrift stores, fast-moving scavengers buzz past me in frantic hunts for concert tees, tour tees, or tees of any kind from the iconic bands of the last 40 years. Rock tees don’t go back much further than that.

Vintage rock tees are like magic: put them on the online marketplaces, and they turn into money.  These tees are rare; but leaf through five or ten thousand t-shirts, and you just might find one. If you’re lucky.

Voodoo LoungeWhile thrifting this week, I picked up a 1994 Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge Tour tee just for the hell of it.   It goes for $60 to $100 online — not a gigantic amount, but respectable.  The tee itself is striking; I’m thinking of wearing it around just for fun.  That’s what tees are for, right?

Of all the vintage music t-shirts out there, Grateful Dead tees are a no-brainer for hungry t-shirt dealers.  They’re very, very sought after.  I’m speaking of the tour tees put out by the band itself, that is.  They can go for several hundred.

After Jerry Garcia died in ’95 and the Dead disbanded, there were no more tours.  And no more tour tees. Though there were plenty of Deadheads who still wanted them. Prices rose, scarcity grew.  I have never spotted a single one at the thrifts.  Ever.  Too much competition, even if I was in that game.

The Dead-themed tee you see at the top of this article is not an official Grateful Dead product.  It’s a fan-made bootleg shirt.  Not a copy of an existing tee, but something thrown together out of existing Dead graphics.

It was probably sold in the parking lot outside a Dead concert by some Deadhead who’d printed up a stack to sel. Maybe he was just making  expenses for this particular trip; or maybe, making a living  while following the Dead on tour.  Anything. These things was pretty common in the 80s or early ‘90s, when this shirt was made.

And it didn’t bother the Dead at all;  people had to live, that was their philosophy. The tee may not be “real,” but it is of its time and place. It has a story. So I may keep it in the collection even while dripping burrito grease on the Voodoo Lounge.

Jerimiah Puddleduck Grateful Dead Tribute Band Tee

Mark Karan is a talented rock musician of long standing; he’s also the guy you want if you’re doing Dead style music and you need someone to cover Jerry Garcia’on guitar. He did that for the Other Ones, the band that most of the former Dead toured with the year after Garcia’s death. He did similar work for former Dead Bob Weir’s Ratdog band for 13 years. And he has his own project, Jemimah Puddleduck, which he revives from time to time.

The Grateful Dead are gone now, dissolved; and yet they’re aren’t.

Consider the sea star: cut certain species into several pieces, and eventually you end up with several complete sea stars.  That’s just about what happened.

Over the years, former members of the Grateful Dead have formed new bands, dissolved them, and formed yet more bands: The Other Ones, Furthur, 7 Walkers, Ratdog, Dead and Company, and on and on.  The loyal Deadheads keep showing up.  And there are t-shirts that I can find from time to time.

Each band has one or two of the original Dead,  plus other musicians from the same genre and some guy who can play like Jerry.  They play the Dead’s old songbook, bring in new music that they like, and jam and improvise for hours just like the old days at the Greek Theater.

And other bands have appeared that play like the Dead, and back former members of the Dead on tour, play at the same music festivals, riff off all the standards and create their own Deadish music. And jam like it was 1989, for hours.

Lazy Summer Daze GD Style Music Fest 1

After the Dead dissolved, there could be no more Grateful Dead shows — but there could be music festivals full of acts that were like the Dead. This tee is from one of them. For the people who know, the happy skulls are a tipoff as to just what kind of concert this is.

Lazy Summer Daze GD Style Music Fest 2

This is the other side of the same festival tee, which lists the acts. 7 Walkers was led by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “JGB with Melvin Seals” is Jerry Garcia’s old side project the Jerry Garcia Band — without Jerry. Steve Kimock is the other guy besides Mark Karan who stands in well for Jerry Garcia on guitar. He and Karan worked together on some of the same post-dead projects.

Flying Other Brothers

The Flying Other Brothers were a group of San Francisco Bay Area techie brahimins, including a venture capitalist and an investment banker, who put together a band in 1997. They backed former members of the Dead on several occasions — usually charity benefits — and appeared on bills with them at music festivals.
This tee was sold at at the 2000 Furthur Festival at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. Further was a music festival featuring former members of the Dead and others working in the genre.

The Spawn of the Dead — Jerry’s Kids — won’t last forever.  The Deadheads I see around here look a little long in the tooth. There aren’t so many new fans to bulk out the ranks, either. I ask the Gen Zs what they think of the Grateful Dead, and they mainly say, “We don’t.”

So? Everything passes.  The Deadheads and Dead successor bands will live for the now, claim the moment, and keep truckin’.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Mexican Food Where You Don’t Expect It, But Should

I live in Santa Cruz, California. My fellow Cruzados are educated and well-funded.  It follows that they like to travel.  To Hawaii and Mexico and France and Britain, of course.

But also to the Australian outback, Easter Island, North Korea, Angkor Wat, Dubai, and the World Cheese Dip Championship.

Ankgor Wat Tourist Tee

Especially Angkor Wat.  It’s a giant, abandoned Buddhist temple complex in the middle of the Cambodian jungle.  Angkor Wat draws Santa Cruzans like flies to rotten tempeh. Many of them buy the souvenir t-shirt.  Many of those tees end up at my local Goodwill.  I could have ten of them if I had the need.  One’s enough.

I see it this way: a couple of those Santa Cruzans staggered out of Angkor Wat after a day of wonders viewed under the pulsing white sun. Hot, drenched, and thirsty, they made it back to Siem Reap, the nearby tourist town. And what did they find, but: a Mexican restaurant! In Cambodia! And they couldn’t help themselves. They went in.

Camodian Viva Mexican Restaurant

And okay, the enchiladas were a bit bland, and that might have been baked beans in the nachos. Not sure. But the AC was set to arctic blast, and ice-cold Khmer Beer was only 50 cents a glass. A mere buck and a half bought a frozen margarita.

Camodian Viva Mexican Restaurant 2So the Cruzados dined and caroused and purchased the restaurant t-shirt, which eventually passed to me through Goodwill. To prove to their friends that there was Mexican food even in Cambodia.

Sure there is.  Siem Reap is lousy with Mexican restaurants.  There’s a Siem Reap Top Ten Mexican Restaurant page on the ‘net.  Phnom Penh has even more.  It’s hard to be taco-less in metro Cambodia.  Or really, any metro area anywhere. Here, Cambodia, Thailand, Canada, New Delhi, Iceland, South Africa, North Africa, Japan, China.

Mexican food is everywhere because first, it’s good, and second, we took it everywhere: we Americans.  Mexican food has become American food; and although many schools of Mexican food exist, middle-of-the-road American Mexican Restaurant/taqueria fare  is world-wide now.

And it’s ours. And we want it wherever we go.  Including the margaritas. And other peoples have grown to love it, too. Although sometimes I wonder: mainly the margaritas?Senor Paco 2

Which brings me to Senor Paco’s, perhaps the most popular Mexican Restaurant in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Senor Paco’s serves, it was once said, the only Mexican food on the Persian Gulf that didn’t taste like it was cooked by South Indians.  Even though it was.  George

Ah, Senor Paco’s, where the band always plays, and the margaritas flow like water and the floor is crowded with expatriate petroleum technocrats from Saudi Aramco and American military from the bases on Bahrain.  George the manager greets you at the door in his white tuxedo, or he used to anyway.  And there’s karaoke.

The thing about island Bahrain? It’s an autocratic Muslim kingdom, but consumption of alcohol is legal.  And in Saudi Arabia, it is not.

Senor Paco 1So if you’re a thirsty foreigner living and working at Dharan, the Aramco company town, just jump in your car and drive to the island via a 16-mile-long causeway.  The margaritas are waiting.  Let the carousing begin.

ISenor Paco's Birthday Tee Bahrain’ve had a Senor Paco’s tee for years; now I have two.  The new one is the tee that they give you when it’s your birthday: a little Speedy Gonzalez copyright infringement on one side, and the Senor Paco’s logo on the other with an admonition to be sure and “Have Mucho Grreat Beeeg Fun, Amigo!”

Nowhere does it say “Bahrain.”  You just have to know.

Senor Paco's Birthday Tee Bahrain 2Which means that either two people in this town have been to Senor Paco’s — or one person has been there at least twice.  They may even be regulars.  The global economy makes strange bedfellows. As for the food, it’s okay.  The margaritas are probably just as big a draw, as are the karaoke and the funny sombreros they give you.


Here’s one more tee — from Guzman y Gomez, a Mexican fast-food chain in Australia.  The two gentlemen on the tee may actually exist, but for purposes of this exercise they’re merely a marketing concept.  Guzman y Gomez Australian Mexican Food Tee 1

“Guzman AND Gomez,” as the Aussies say it, is the brainchild of Steven Marks, a former New York hedge fund manager k who moved to Australia to live.  Motivated by bad Aussie Mexican food, Marks was inspired to build a franchise empire of fast-casual Mexican restaurants — fancy taquerias — all across Australia.

Guzman and Gomez were two Mexican-American childhood friends of Marks  who supposedly imbued in him the passion to build a high-quality taco empire. Or something. Reading too many corporate press releases has bent my brain.

Guzman y Gomez Australian Mexican Food Tee 2

Motto means something like “Beer, Girls, and Goats.” But I’m probably off on the goats.

More like, Marks is a Steve Jobs-style minutia-obsessed leader who changed the GyG tortilla chip design sixteen times until he felt he got it exactly right.  His wife divorced him soon after.

Word on the food: pretty good. They do try. But it’s conventional,  and overpriced.  What do you expect? The investors want their money!

And because it’s corporate, and because it’s heavily investor-owned now (an IPO is coming), and because Marks is into Jobsian-style global domination: Guzman y Gomez’ expansionary ambitions know no bounds except the Earth’s surface.

Five hundred stores are planned for Australia alone; the money’s lined up. Stores have already opened in Singapore and Japan.  And the investor cash will pay pay for a Guzman y Gomez invasion of  the Asia-Pacific market, Europe, and even the United States. They plan a Chicago opening for 2019.

A global empire of Aussie Mexican food shimmers in the imagination.  G’day, Senor.

T-Shirts From the Collection: Tees from the City of Souls

Colma Fire Department TeeFire departments do not tend to put skulls on any t-shirts that they issue.  Skulls send the wrong message.

Except in Colma, California, where 1500 people live amid 1.5 million corpses.  Colma is the cemetery city for San Francisco, which lies just to the north.  San Francisco cleared out its cemeteries in the early 20th century and sent the corpses to Colma for reburial,. Death has been the town’s mission ever since.

Colma Fire Department Tee 2If you live in Colma, death is part of your life and maybe even part of your livelihood.   The residents take death in stride, even with a little pride, and call Colma the City of the Silent, or the City of Souls.  The Colma Fire District is happy to get with the program with the t-shirt shown above, a chil cook-off tee covered with axes and skulls.

Why not? Everybody in the San Francisco Bay Area likes to joke about Colma.  in 1970, the BBC made a documentary about San Francisco and earthquake safety called “San Francisco, the City That Waits to Die.”  People started calling Colma was “The City That Waits for ‘The City That Waits to Die,’ to Die.”

You can pretty much bet that any t-shirts out of Colma are going to mention death or cemeteries. There’s really nothing else of note there, unless you count a shopping center and a few car dealers.

Pets Rest Colma Pet Cemetery Tee 1

Pets Rest Colma Pet Cemetery Tee 2While the toney cemeteries and memorial parks might not stoop to handing out t-shirts, the Pet’s Rest pet cemetery and crematorium certainly would.  This tee honors the cemetery’s sixtieth anniversary and its resident (living) dogs, especially Lord Von Kalemon, the Big Dog himself.

A pet cemetery with a big black dog for a mascot: symbolism is everywhere in Colma.  In the endless green lawns, the tidy white memorial parks and mausoleums, and a Catholic school called Holy Angels Elementary.

Yet the town motto proclaims: “it’s great to be alive in Colma!” And I’m sure it is.  But a sense of humor helps.

T-Shirts from the Collection: HOPE and CHANGE and Other Icons

Obama Hope Tee Variant

n 2008, street artist and graphic designer Shephard Fairey whipped up a poster of Barack Obama in one day, went out on the street with a stack of them, and sold hundreds in a day.  He would use the proceeds, and future proceeds, to print ever more posters to sell and also to paste on walls himself wherever he could.

Yes, it was the classic Obama HOPE graphic — though Fairey also made variants that said CHANGE and PROGRESS instead.  The image went viral quickly, especially digitally, and became the icon of the Obama campaign — officially, in fact, after Obama asked permission.

And so HOPE appeared in all the media, and of course as a t-shirt: an extremely popular one.  It’s cheap these days to say that Fairey’s image was iconic — but it was.  Powerful, looming, brooding — and hopeful.  As if to say, there’s an adult in the room at last.  And he’s here to help.

Maybe he was.  The results were mixed.  But the thing about icons is that people keep using them. Fairey did more work in the same style at the behest of Obama.  But others used the style, too.  As parodies, an ridicule, but also completely seriously.

The iconic HOPE style is now a universal graphic convention for “hero” or “savior.”  And it has a solid home on t-shirts. Here are a few from my collection
Mic. Obama 2009 Commercement

The University of California at Merced, the UC System’s newest and by-far smallest campus, managed to wangle the fairly new First Lady Michelle Obama to give the commencement speech for the school’s very first full graduation ceremony.  Somebody quickly photoshopped a picture of the First Lady with some HOPE-like coloration and put it on a t-shirt for the occasion.

George Bush "Miss Mee?" Tee

On this tee, a for-profit company that sells conservative-leaning tees rolled out George Bush in HOPE colors to jeer at the new administration.  Most of the most vicious political tees come from third parties, not from the campaigns themselves.  But they can buy and distribute them if they care to, and sometimes they do.

Giants Perfect Game Obama Icon Tee 1

Baseball is iconic by its very nature: the lonely pitcher hero on the plate with the weight of the entire game on his shoulders, facing down the other team’s mightiest batter… Or the desperate outfielder who rockets into the air to catch that fly ball that’s streaking for the fence, and thus wins his team the victory.

Baseball breeds iconic heroes like cats shed hair: constantly. That’s why movies about baseball are always better than movies about football.  And this particular icon, San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain, pitched the Giants’ first-ever perfect game, one of only 22 in the history of major league ball.  Twenty-seven at-bats, 14 strike-outs, and no hits, no walks, no errors.  Nothing. Nobody ever got off home plate.

To the dedicated fan, a striking t-shirt in Obama HOPE style is exactly Matt Cain deserves.  And it’s a doozy.

Klauer VP Automated Obama Icon Tee

The HOPE icon became so popular that free HOPE photo generator sites arose. They make any photo you submitted into a HOPE-style image with matching pithy message in bold type.

As shown above you rarely get a good image from these things;  but they’re free, and there you are.  This young woman apparently made vice president at her place of employment, and somebody thought the feat deserved a heroic t-shirt.  Who knows? Maybe it did.

Pardon Edward Snowden ACLU Tee

This HOPE tee variant is my favorite, and not just because it’s so well done.  The man is Edward Snowden, a disillusioned NSA contractor who decided to show America just how closely the government was surveilling it and how much its privacy was being violated. Illegally

The government wants to put him away for a very, very long time; he maintains something like freedom in very insecure exile in Russia, He refused Obama’s own taunt to come home and “face the music,” because he would not be allowed to make his case to the public for “national security reasons.”

This tee was produced by the American Civil Liberties Union; the other side reads “Pardon Edward Snowden.”  As president, Obama could have done it, and the ACLU urged him to.  In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, the ACLU was able to take a suit against the government to court and have the National Security Agency’s mass phone surveillance program declared illegal.  Congress even passed a law restricting the NSA’s powers. They never had restrictions before.

I do believe that Obama tried to be a good president.  It was difficult to do anything in the disfunctional political system he inherited.  But Fairey, the creator of the HOPE poster, eventually expressed disappointment in him for setting his sights too low.  For staying inside the boundaries set for him.

Obama had no interest — or perhaps not the power — in bucking the American security industry and the military-industrial complex, and their priorities.  For America, Obama did achieve HOPE, at least at first.  CHANGE? Not so much as to truly challenge America’s most powerful.

But the iconic HOPE style?  I think that’s with us for awhile.  Icons, used properly, can be a good thing. As is hope.