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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.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Nature’s Bounty

Santa Cruz Reinhold Ranch Avocads

Nothing says California more than a vintage fruit crate label. You’ve seen them: brightly-colored vistas of impossibly fertile landscapes, gorgeous fruit, brilliant sunshine, stunning beauty. And pretty senoritas and giant aircraft and beautiful valleys and mountains. All that.

The old fruit labels were California to the people in the East.  When Dad brought home a crate of oranges in the dead of winter, the labels told the story of the magic land that brithed those glowing spheres of bounty whose juice trickled down the throat like the elixir of life.  Here’s one of my favorites.

Glider Label

There it is! Sunkist California! The land where dreams come true! The land of bounty! People still love that imagery today.  I certainly do.

And so did Michael Reinhold, whose t-shirt you see at the top of this post. The design hews to that of the classic citrus crate label. And maybe the t-shirt lacks the delerious brightness of the crate labels.  The old-school lithographers who made those labels knew their stuff. But it’s still a hell of a tee

Reinhold was an East Coast surfer dude of good background who followed the dream. He came out to California, and glued himself to it. He started his own lemon ranch in the hills above Santa Cruz.

Okay, it was 300 trees on four acres, and his house, and some avocados.  But for himself, he made the dream happen. On boxes, labels, and  some lovely t-shirts.

Fruit-crate imagery will never die out here.  It’s about being the land of dreams, of possibility, of bounty. Life is harder now, but we still like to think of ourselves that way: the place where people can thrive and where dreams come true.

California Nut Festival

EAnnieglass Fruit Crate Teeven if what you make is glassware and glass fruit the dream of bounty is still relevant:  the bounty of hand and brain and imagination.  It’s California.

IMG_5962Some of the old fruit crate labels sported aircraft and ships and symbols progress — even when the were selling lemons..  (See the lovely Sea Cured crate label label at right.) Some of today’s growers still use them: if not on crate labels, on their marketing materials and of course on t-shirts. (See the Rocket Farms tee further down.)

Rocket Farms Ag TeeT-shirts take the crate-label dream one step farther: Look at the label, and you see the rdeam. But wear the label on a tee, and you become the dream. You embody it to everyone who sees you. That’s the power of the tee, as I am perhaps too fond of saying.

IMG_5957California has been selling bounty since the 1880s: both the objects of bounty and the idea of bounty.

It began when the new railroads allowed its growers to market fresh fruit to the East Coast.  Fruit crates labels on those sturdy wooden shipping crates were part of the marketing.  The “Diving Girl”  apple label father down the page came from ten miles down the road from where I live — eighty years ago.

Let’s analyze that word: bounty.  California has produced it in many forms.  A hundred years ago, California’s bounty was fruit, most notably citrus but also apples and pears and other produce.  True bounty is endless; and to its customers in the east, the stream of goodness from California seemed like it would never end.

Apple_Rainbow_LogoAnd it never has.  But bounty  changed. Forty years ago, bounty  began coming in the form of personal computers. They bestowed to individuals the power to make their own dreams real, all courtesy of the sun-drenched office parks of Cupertino and a company named after fruit — of course.

California’s latest bounty can be found in the beverage aisle of your local supermarket.  Take a look at the glowing artwork on the beer bottles and beer cartons .

California is the cradle of the new craft beer industry. And so there is a new dream to sell with images and ideas: clean water and pure ingredients and creativity and ingenuity and opportunity, and the beer which issues forthwith.
Eel River Organic Brewing Drink Naked 1


Again, the word is bounty. And of course there are t-shirts from many of California’s hundred-plus brewers, so that the dream can be worn and personified by those who dream it, and drink it. Here are some fine tees from  craft breweries and brewpubs throughout California and the West.

Alaskan Amber Beer Tee

From the Alaskan Brewing Company of Juneau, Alaska. The t-shirt illustration is the same one used on the beer bottle.

East Cliff Brewing Company

In Santa Cruz, California, the lighthouse down at the harbor is a well-known landmark. East Cliff Brewing Company uses the lighthouse as its logo: with a giant glass of pale ale as its reflection in the water below.

Santa Crew Mountain Brewing Devout Stout

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is woman-owned: a relative rarity in the male-dominated brewing scene. I like a pint of their brown ale as of a Friday night at the end of a long week.

Ichthyosaur Pale Ale Tee

I don’t know the beer, but Great Basin is a well-respected Nevada brewer. Extinct seagoing lizards don’t make me want to drink beer, but it is among the cheekiest images that I’ve seen from a very cheeky industry.

Duane Flatmo Tangerine Beer Tee

Tangerine Wheat Bear comes from the Lost Coast Brewery up on California’s North Coast. I include it because I admire the artist, a multi-talented North Coast local named Duane Flatmo. He lists his artistic influences as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the expressionist cartoonist Basil Wolverton, and Pablo Picasso. And believe me, I can see it.

Snowshoe Brewing Grizzly Brown Ale Tee 2

The Snowshoe Brewing Company is one of the more isolated brewpubs in California, 4,000 feet up in the Sierras on a narrow mountain pass road to, basically, nowhere. They get props for that, and I hear the beer’s drinkable. But Yelp tells me that wise men avoid the chicken fingers.

Sarah Pale Ale Alaska Tee

Yes, the Kodiak Island Brewing Company of Kodiak, Alaksa named “Sarah Pale Ale” after former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. That is indeed former Governor Palin in the dirndl and low-cut dress.

And it all started with an advertising campaign, 130 years ago. And with ingenuity and skill: the master lithographers of San Francisco and Los Angeles, immigrants all, birthed the beautiful, color-drenched labels which became  symbols of health and wealth, which began a dream of bounty that still lives.  Here in California, and everywhere where California is known.

Once on labels, now on t-shirts and who knows, someday written in the sky. May the dream never die.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Politicians, T-shirts, and the Cult of Bayside

IMG_6227I have a Bernie for President t-shirt from the 2016 primaries.  From time to time I slip it on and wear it around town.  Six months, a year, three years later: people still react.

“I like your shirt,” someone shouts from a  car.  A careworn transient flashes me the “hang loose” sign.  “Nice shirt,” says the grocery cashier. Every time.

Political tees have power — maybe not to reach a million people at once.  But enough to reach one person very intimately. Some pols care about that power; some don’t.

Mitt Romney Capanign TeeBut if you do care, and if you’re a Democrat, and especially if you’re from California: you need to care about one more thing: where it was made. What it says on the collar tag.

Does it say “Made in USA?”  If you’re selling the tee from your online campaign store, it had better say that. You do NOT want to be Mitt Romney, with a flimsy official tee that bellows “Believe in America” but a collar tag that mutters “Made in El Salvador of USA Fabric.”

Mitt Romney Capanign Tag US Fabric Assembled in El SalvadorBu-bu-but…” Mitt stutters. “USA fabric! USA fabric!” Not good enough, offshoring investor scum! Most of the work’s in the sewing. Mitt’s handlers possibly thought that the poor quality of the spray-on label would keep people from deciphering it. But I was motivated.

Is this a small thing? Sure. But  symbolism counts. It shows respect: like wearing a tie to an interview at a company where no one wears them. If you’re a Democratic candidate for high office, you get your t-shirts from a company that did not fire their US workers and move production to Latin America as soon as NAFTA made it practical.

And that’s why conscientious Democratic candidates buy Bayside tees.  Bayside is a clothing brand from AST Sportswear of Orange County, California.  Bayside t-shirts are quality: heavy duty,  well-constructed.  They look good.  But what really matters is that they are “The True American-Made Tee.” Says so right on the collar.

Oh, not all shirts with Obama or Clinton’s name on it were USA-made; various supporting and party organizations and independent vendors will use whatever tee is cheap.

But the ones that count, that the presidential candidate themselves did sell you… They’re Baysides.  Like this one.

Hillary 2016 Bayside 1Hilary Clinton’s flagship presidential campaign tee from 2016 was a Bayside.  Aside from making her look like a stylish ’30s hero populist — which she is not — it’s quite striking.

And iHillary 2016 Bayside Tag 1nside that fine shirt, you find the  heart of the matter: a neck tag telling you rhat you’ve bought a True American Tee — MADE IN AMERICA.  They tend to make the point over and over.

But wait, there’s more. Beneath the first neck tag lies yet another tag. This one enumerates all the things about the tee that were “Made in USA.” The cotton. The thread. The cloth. The dye. Everything.


Hillary 2016 Bayside Tag 2

Yes, a Bayside screams, “I’m on your side, average working stiff!” Whether you are, or not.

After I understood the Bayside’s role in politics, I went back through my collection and found quite a number of them. Remember John Kerry’s campaign in 2004? A Bayside.  The tees from the Obama campaign committee? Baysides.

Obama Made in America Birth Certificate Tee 2Obama’ absolutely had to use a Bayside, or something like one. After all, conservative ‘birthers” questioned whether he himself was “Made in the USA.” .

So his committee put out this printed Bayside tee that flat-out said it: showed his picture captioned with “MADE in the USA”  in big letters. And with his certifcate of birth on the back. (And a union bug underneath the picture.)

Could you possibly print that message on a Made-in-Nicaragua Hanes tee?  Fox News would be on you in a second.

Obama Made in America Birth Certificate Tee 1If you’re a California politician, or a liberal political institution, or especially a union, you use Baysides too.   I’ll sprinkle a few California Bayside tees (and others) throughout the rest of this post.

California pols who want to go the extra step have their Baysides screen-printed at Alliance Graphics in Berkeley, California, the only unionized t-shirt screen-printer in California.  You get yourself that union bug on the shirt and you are righteous in the extreme, my friend.

So, who is Bayside? Are they the only source of American-made tees? And why have you (probably) never heard of them?

California Demo Candidate Slate 2008 or 2012 Tee

Many companies independently print campaign tees on spec and offer them to political groups who want to buy. This one was for the 2012 Caliifornia election. Note the Bayside label.

Well first, as a rule you can’t buy Bayside tees in stores. AST Sporstwear  sells directly to screen-printers.  Not just tees, but all sorts of sportswear that can be imprinted.  You can buy them at online sportswear outlets who buy mass quantities directly from Bayside.  It keeps the price down.

And yes, there are other American-made tees.  Donald Trump claim that the Trump/Pence tees from his official online store are American made.  Though I haven’t been able to confirm that, and I’ve tried.

But Bayside is special: first, it’s of best quality.  American Apparel was all over the Made-in-America niche before it went belly-up.  But their shirts were — well, lightweight. I won’t say flimsy. Okay; I will.

Alameda Co. Unions: Labor Day 2016

Alameda Labor Council 2016 Labor Day / Get Out the Vote Tee. Label not visible, but it is a Bayside.

Second, AST Sportswear absolutely guarantees that every bit of the product is American-made.  Baysides are made by a high-efficiency, vertically-integrated manufacturing operation that controls every part of the process.  They call it “dirt to shirt.”  Cotton comes at one end of the process. Clothing comes out the other.

You remember the Bayside t-shirt tag?  All the things that were made in the USA?  That’s because AST spins the yarn. AST weaves the cloth. AST cuts the cloth. AST sews the pieces into clothing. AST dyes the clothing. They have complete control.  Whatever you want, when you need it — the entire company can turn on a dime. All 500 of them.  There are no subscontractors or suppliers to wait for.  And no chance — zip, nada — that anything was subcontracted out to Nicaragua.  They guarantee.

Besides, Bayside is a Great American Success Story, founded on hard work and innovation. When the rest of the sportswear industry dropped the ball, they picked it up

Kerry for President 2004

Okay, not California, but John Kerry’s presidential candidancy tee, 2004. Note the Bayside tag.

Meg Whitman for CA Governor Tee

The tag isn’t visible, but this is a Bayside. Republican candidate Meg Whitman decided to go Bayside with her tees for the 2010 California gubernatorial race. I can only assume that she wanted to tie into “Made in California” sentiment.

The year is 1995.  NAFTA rules have freed clothing manufacturers to make clothing outside the US without tariff.  All the major t-shirt manufacturers move all labor-intensive work to the Carribean, Mexico, and beyond. Immediately.  Plants shrink down or shut down everywhere.

Which left four entrepreneurs in Orange County with an opening.  They wanted to sell to the screen-printer market, to the people who imprint the tees and sportswear that people buy in head shops, from sports teams, from political campaigns, from concert promoters, receive at conventions, and more.   Screen-printing firms  need fast turnaround on large quantities of specific types of tee, and it’s hard to fulfill that from a plant in Jamaica.

So the entrepreneurs — four brothers — decided to fill that niche. They started their own small outfit selling tees to the screen-printing market.  All made in Orange County.  Not the cheapest, but — there when you needed it.

And bit by bit they built their company up into a hyper-efficient t-shirt and sportswear-making monster. Selling in bulk as they did, at high quality and efficiency, they could still complete in the USA. While the others fled.

The “Made in America” gimmick came along not long after.  Except, it’s not a gimmick.  They’re making American goods in America, and making a profit.  How much more creative  is that — and American — that just looking for the cheapest oversea supplier?

So who are these all-American entrepreneur heroes, who built wealth not by financial manipulation but hard work and ingenuity. Well…


Bless these fine Americans who are making America great again!


Meet the Rashid brothers: Mohammed, Ali, Abdul, and Omar. All raised in Diamond Bar, California. They are the founders and sole owners of AST Sportswear and the creators of the Bayside line.  They’re building an empire while reinvesting in American workers, American jobs, and American know-how.    USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

You American-born MBA middle-managers who won’t get your own hands dirty: get with the program!

Bernie Union TagThis leaves one question.  Remember the Bernie for President shirt?  What kind of shirt did Bernie use?

Well, here’s the tag: the UNIONMADE label, complete with eagles and stars and “UNION MADE IN THE U.S.A” in bold letters.  Bernie Sanders strongly supports unions, and so would have nothing but a union shirt.  Bayside-brand tees are not union made, I’m sad to say.

But I couldn’f find a website for UNIONMADE tees. Searches kept leading me to the Bayside website.  Duh: a lightbulb finally went on: I found a small link for  “Union-Made Clothing” on the Bayside site: a small selection of teesat slightly higher prices.

Back of UNIONMADE tagAnd it turns out that, inside the compact AST empire, there is a small union shop:  50  cutters and sewers from the Teamsters Union who make tee shirts for people and organizations that want to support unions to the max.  The tag on those shirts reads UNIONMADE, not Bayside.

Yes: Even Bernie buys Bayside.








T-Shirts from the Collection: Truth, Beauty, and a Naked Woman with a Spoon

Everyone’s heard of the Institute for Advanced Study, even if they don’t know much about it.  One day an IAS t-shirt appeared on the rack at Goodwill, and of course I had to have it. I mean, look at the thing:

Institute for Advanced Study Tee 1

The question I had: why was there a naked woman on the t-shirt? And why was she holding a giant spoon?  I emailed the Institute at once.

The IAS is an independent postdoctoral research institute where leading scholars — and flashy up-and-comers — are invited to reside for awhile and pursue whatever theoretical research they prefer in mathematics, physics, economics, and more. The advancement of knowledge for the advancement of mankind: that’s the mandate.

And the Institute is rolling in money.  Snagging Einstein as a permanent fellow in the ‘30s sure didn’t hurt.  So the IAS actually had the time and staff to respond to some rando t-shirt question from the West Coast. In detail.

An IAS archivist solemnly informed me that the design on the tee was the Institute Seal, commissioned upon the institute’s founding in 1930.  With input from the institute’s director, the renowned French medallion designer Pierre Turin produced an Art Deco design of the twin entities of Truth and Beauty holding hands in front of the Tree of Knowledge.  For only Truth and Beauty working together can make the tree bear fruit.  It’s a concept drenched in 19th-century romantic poetry.

Truth and Beauty

That Truth is a naked woman while true Beauty is clothed in artifice, however, is a world view so deeply French that I can barely stand it. Truth holds a mirror to reflect reality back to the world.  It only appears to be a giant spoon. Even on the actual medallion.

I love this shirt. The design is delightfully weird: like peering into the  id of another era.
And I’ve been tempted to wear it around town, which I rarely do with any shirt in my collection.

But sadly, it doesn’t fit.  It may not even fit the IAS anymore.

T-Shirts from the Collection: T-Shirts from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

The year 1989 brought Santa Cruz the Loma Prieta earthquake: at 5:04 pm on October 17, just as the crowd at Candlestick Park in San Francisco prepared to sing the National Anthem for Game One of the Trans-Bay World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

They postponed the series, but it came back ten days later.  In the end, Oakland won it in four.

quake aftermathSanta Cruz took a bit longer to come back. Call it years. The downtown core along Pacific Avenue, built of fireproof 19th century brick buildings, proved anything but earthquake-proof.  Old brick walls cracked like eggs. Even some that seemed intact were fatally damaged; the wrecking ball knocked them down.

And Santa Cruz wasn’t the only town to suffer.  San Francisco, Oakland, even our neighbor Watsonville: all took significant damage.

Which is where this here shirt came from:

Santa Cruz 89 Quake Watsonville Chamber of Commerce Tee

Right after the quake, everybody with silkscreen capability was making earthquake commemorative tees.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel put out the most popular one in these parts: “5:04 PM,” it shouted in huge caps.  They were everywhere.  But I haven’t seen one in decades.

So, I’m glad to get the Watsonville tee at least. Besides Santa Cruz isn’t the center of the universe, after all, and other people had the right to punch the air and metaphorically shout, “We’re still here….”

Unlike the workers at the Moss Landing Power Plant.  Their tee says, basically, “Holy Shit.”

Moss Landing Power Plant 1989 Earthquake Tee 1

This plant, which at one point powered the entire Monterey Bay Area, sits on the bay’s the eastern shore. Its most striking feature is a pair of 500-foot smoke stacks that you can see for ] 20 miles down the coast. But there are also huge generator buildings, high-tension lines, and copious amounts of natural gas fuel under pressure.

When the quake hit Moss Landing, those towering stacks  danced like hula girls.  And the generator buildings shook and the high tension lines snapped like whips while alarms hooted and roared the and the natural gas fuel… didn’t blow up. In the end, there was little damage; power was back up in 24 hours.

But it was a scary thing to go through, and remember. Those memories brought out the artist, sort of, in some power plant worker who needed to celebrate survival in his own way: him, and his friends.

So, YAY! for Moss Landing. But downtown Santa Cruz had  collapsed storefronts, blocked streets, temporary wooden sidewalks with roofs, DANGER signs.  All it needed was zombies, but those wouldn’t be in style for awhile.

Dozens of displaced businesses needed a place to be. So in a burst of energy, the city and the merchants and the civic groups threw together a plan to house the displaced businesses in seven giant silver fabric shelters like think squashed zeppelins.

These would squat in the abandoned parking lots and the businesses would set up inside and continue to function.

Two Tents and a Hole

They were desperate, okay?

The union construction workers volunteered to erect all seven shelters in a single weekend. And on one sunny Saturday, several hundred of them showed up to do it.  Each was issued a t-shirt.  I found one of them, 30 years later, at Goodwill.

Santa Cruz Phoenix Pavilions 1989 Tee 1

They succeeded: all seven structures went up in two days.  I watched them do it, in white helmets and those red tees.

The Phoenix Pavilions, the city called the shelters.  Everybody else called them The Tents.  The squat, hulking structures were only a limited success, but they kept businesses alive for a couple of years, and gave people a reason to keep coming downtown while rebuilding took place.

Tent C

And now few remember them.  But… there’s still this shirt…

There’s one final quake shirt— commemorating the time that 532 guitarists played “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” simultaneously in the half-deserted ruins of downtown Santa Cruz. Is this a great town, or what?

Santa Cruz Shake Rattle and Roll Event Tee 1

Union Grove Music, a local music store still operating from its building, orchestrated this strange and quixotic attempt to set a Guiness book world record while bringing people downtown. Five hundred and thirty two guitarists showed up and set the record, first time out in 1990.  The proceeds went to earthquake relief.

Santa Cruz Shake Rattle and Roll Event Tee 2

Union Grove staged the event two more times (the tee is from the second try): to raise money and also to regain the world record. It had been quickly snatched away by crazed Ohioans.  Sadly, Santa Cruz never got it back.

Somebody took a video of the original event, and if you want to see it, here it is: Santa Cruz in its flaky, crazy, late-20th-century glory.

I miss that Santa Cruz; the town’s much more buttoned down and irritable now.  But at least it left a shirt behind.

Tee Shirts from the Collection: Arnold “Mixed Message” Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenneger appears on more t-shirts than God could count: as bodybuilding icon, as big-screen barbarian warrior, as buff robotic Terminator from the future, and as general bad-ass. But I like him best as the Governator.

How Arnold Schwarzenneger got to be governor of California is a lot like Brexit: nobody really meant it to happen. But through screw-ups by politicians of both parties — it did.  He produced at least one t-shirt as governor, and I am proud to have it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trip to Mexico

Yep, there he is in all his smug Hollywood glory, leading a trade mission to Mexico.  If there had to be a t-shirt for this venture, whose face should be on it? Who’s the star of this epic? Need you even ask?  This is the guy who mounted the Conan sword in the governor’s private conference room.

Occasionally an Arnold tee bears a different kind of message, like this Terminator-themed tee from around the turn of the millennium:

Terminator Terminate Violence Tee

But the message… is unclear. Terminate violence — with what? A humanoid killerbot from the future? Or are we all supposed to be mini violence-Terminators? If so, where’s our cool weaponry for destroying violence?

Or maybe Arnold’s simply telling us that violence solves nothing? (After starring in so many movies where violence solved everything.)  This is as likely as anything.

I’m sure Governor Schwarzenegger meant well.  That might make a fitting epitaph for his administration.

As of 2019, by the way, a new Arnold “Terminate Hate” tee is readily available online. Arnold never terminates. That said, maybe he’s learned something: this time, the tee shows flowers peeking out of the barrel of Arnold’s shotgun.

Arnold Schwarzenegger writes "Let's terminate hate.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Memories of the FireGod

Ebbets Pass FD 2

My brother-in-law was every mother’s nightmare: a short-tempered, leering hot rod guy with no money, no prospects, really nothing except a cool ’57 Ranchero and a string of manual labor gigs that paid under the table more often than not. In the Mother’s Dictionary, a picture of his face appeared alongside the definition of “Trouble.” With a capital T.

And he was five years older than Mother’s beautiful, accomplished daughter, my sister, who’d fallen for this, this entity before even graduating from high school.  They married soon after she did graduate.

Flash forward ten years.  They were, inexplicably, still together. Sis had earned a master’s in public education and had just begun a long career as a take-no-prisoners vocational education bureaucrat.  And Brother-in-Law — he’d become a firefighter.  I credit Sis in part; Brother-in-Law had wanted it, but hadn’t organized how to get there. Sis was organized.

Brother-in-Law was good at firefighting: he loved it, in fact  Even after seniority came to him, he always chose the busiest stations, the ones that took the most calls.  No quiet ‘burbs for him: he wanted the inner city: flammable old houses! Knife wounds! Frail old people with coronaries!  He even delivered babies.

Life and death, 24-on and 24-off! If Brother-in-Law’s company didn’t ride out on ten or twelve calls in a day, his life wasn’t worth living.

Somewhere along the line, other firemen started calling him FireGod. Firemen tend to be “into” being firemen, but nobody was more into it than FireGod.

FireGod added a massive brass eagle to the peak of his standard-issue helmet.  FireGod had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the hardware on his fire truck and would make sure that you knew it, too.  At home, he had a huge collection of firefighting memorabilia that  he housed in a museum-like room called the Hall of Flame.

FireGod even collected firefighting t-shirts: over 200 t-shirts with firefighting themes. He dedicated a 20-foot-long closet to them.

So there’s a t-shirt connection between me and FireGod. Though his interest long preceded mine. Still, there’s always a place for a good fireman’s tee in my collecction. They all address the things that FireGod obsessed with: the history, the trucks, the traditions, the gear, and most of all the firefighters’ self-image.

In short, the firefighting culture. I can’t tell you how many engine company tees identify firefighters with Batman. Hence this cool shirt, from a fire department that I can’t identify:
Engine 6 Fire Company Tee 4

I get it, of course: firemen roar out into the dark night to save lives with their mighty weapons of water and fire and steel: to protect the helpless against implacable dangers.  They’re proud of that.  FireGod used to say, “When I see people, they’re never having a good day.  But they’re always glad to see me!”

The emblem on the front of this tee is the St. Florian’s Cross,  the “firefighter” symbol used by American firefighters — well, slightly modified to look like a bat. How could you not imagine yourself a superhero?  Especially since, every so often, you just might be?

Engine 6 Fire Company Tee 1

Take the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. It had quite a few lean years and had to make do with old equipment: tired red fire trucks.  But when better times finally came, the Oakley station house got a huge, brand-new ultra-capable fire engine.

Oakley FD Green Machine

It is green.

Not everybody who fights fire stays on the ground. This California Division of Forestry Fire Protection (Cal Fire) air tanker unit flies out of an airstrip about 40 miles from where I live.  We hate to see them coming, because they’re the harbingers of trouble.

Santa Cruz Local Air Tanker Tee

It’s just another day, and suddenly comes the ground-shaking drone of old military propeller planes. Overhead, a repurposed patrol bomber orbits above the hills and you can’t but think: what’s burning up there? And is it heading this way?

And the crews risk their lives to keep us safe.  Just… seeing them is like getting a friendly wave from the Angel of Death.  The forest comes almost down to the ocean here.

t’s a common problem everywhere in the west: more and more people moving out into the forests and country to live, where there is no good fire service.  Where this happens,  at first they depend on the state firefighters when fires get out of control.

But to keep things from getting to that point, volunteer fire departments rise up. They become the first line of defense.  And it’s true that not all of them are exactly professional.

Hobson Creek FD Angry Moose Tee
But give them time.  I like this shirt from the Ebbetts Pass Fire Protection District, up in the Sierras.  It’s very down-home and home-made — like the EPFPD.

Ebbets Pass FD 1

Ebbetts Pass is an obscure mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada range, 8000 feet up in the sky. State Highway 4 traverses Ebbetts Pass through sparsely-populated territory. Fifty years ago, the few locals along a stretch of 4 felt that they needed structure fire protection in the winter, after the summertime Cal Fire crews went home.

So the citizens taxed themselves and bought an old engine and raised some volunteers.  And after awhile, a few more engines, and a full-time chief.  Over the years,  the population grew and so did the crowds of summer visitors: and so the fire district needed more and better engines, more stations, more paid firefighters to anchor more EPFPD volunteers, and then paramedics and a patient transport wagon, and  a service area that expanded to over 200 square miles.  And of course, more taxes to pay for it all.

It just goes to show: a settled civilization wants firefighters.  It needs them. Without enough firefighters, and good fire prevention strategies, civilization doesn’t stay settled for long.

National parks and forests also had to raise their own rural emergency services organizations. The year-round visitors need protection.   I particularly like this tee from the paramedics at Glacier National Park.  It has just the right tone of weary cynicism:

Cynical National Park Medics Tee

Finally, 9/11 and the World Trade Center: the death of hundreds of firemen in the terrorist attack generated — I must say — several hundred metric tons of fireman-oriented t-shirts: mostly with themes like “Lest We Forget” or “Heroes of 9/11.”

I don’t buy most 9/11 tees: fireman worship became something of a fetish for awhile, and many of these tees weren’t even generated by firemen.  But I couldn’t pass up this one, from an FDNY engine company in Brooklyn:

Engine 201 FDNY Memorial with Jesus

Firefighting culture is a complicated thing, and not completely admirable (what is?).  But I do like the over-sentimental — and irreverent — image of Jesus behind the heavenly bar, mixing drinks for the precinct’s fallen firefighters. As if to say: truly, they’re in a better place.

I never heard FireGod say a thing about 9/11, oddly.  Maybe it was because New York was 3,000 miles away. He was the kind of guy who thought about what was in front of him, first and foremost.

So he worked his career and rose in the ranks — but never to a desk job. He’d have hated that.  He even sat on the the board of the local fireman’s association.  He resigned from the board when he realized that it was illegally syphoning money from  “charitable fundraisers” to buy favor — in the form of fatter contracts — from local politicians.  When the district attorney  exposed the scheme, FireGod thumbed his nose at at the board from the sidelines.

FireGod knew: the best reward for being a fireman was that you wanted the life.  He worked that life hard — too hard, as I’ve described.  He didn’t keep himself in the best of shape, either.

He finally took a medical retirement. Parts of him hurt all the time. He just couldn’t do it anymore.

And one night, a year or two before age 60, an respiratory disease or condition came up out of nowhere and killed him in 12 hours.  The doctors never did figure out what it was.  Men in his family die early, but — jeez.  You have to wonder.

A few months back one of our home smoke alarms went off around 3 a.m.  I smelled nothing, but that’s meaningless.  I called 911 and a fire truck arrived in five minutes.

They could find nothing wrong; they concluded that the fire alarm just went whacky. Some of the older guys were a little pissed off to be turned out of bed for a non-fire.  But when the fire alarm sounds, you call 911.  And 911 dispatches the trucks, and the firemen make sure all is well.  Don’t grouse, boys, it’s the system.  And it’s a good one.

FireGod knew that. I imagine he wouldn’t have minded a bit.  He probably would have given me an informational lecture on the ins and outs of fire alarms, too.  Miss ya, BIL.


Tee Shirts from the Collection: The Tees of Mystery

Lemon Tree 1

Not long ago I found myself in a t-shirt shop that calls itself a men’s clothing company.

Here in Santa Cruz, that’s not reaching.  Hoodies and tees imprinted with bold designs are big with the teen-through-twenties crowd.  We’ve no shortage of old surfer dudes and Peter Pans who are still “twenties” in their mind, either.

This particular store prints its own tees and hoodies, with designs and messages aimed at locals and their interests.   Mostly, I get the messages, or just understand that skulls and tentacles and fangs are “in” this year

What I didn’t understand:  a whole  wall of t-shirts printed with cartoons of leering, humanoid lemons.  And the worlds “Lemon Tree,” or “Lemon Life.”

Lemon Life

I stared at them for a few minutes.  Enlightenment didn’t come.

I’m a card-carrying introvert, so I didn’t even think of asking the clerk.  I went home and hit the Internet instead.  But it didn’t help.

I found a website or two for “Lemon Tree” and the “ever-more-popular Lemon Lifestyle.” There’d been an outdoor Lemon Lifestyle Concert.  Lemon Life tees were being pushed. There were boasts that the Lemon Lifestyle was taking America by storm.

They just didn’t say what “Lemon Tree” or the “Lemon Lifestyle” actually was.

Defeated, I returned to the store. The clerk said one word


Recreational marijuana is lately legal to all in California. All sorts of new companies now breed and sell one strain of cannabis or another: as herb, in candy bars, in  cookies, in any form that you want.  Just head to your local dispensary.  No prescription required, but bring your ID.

Lemon Tree 2

For the fastidious pothead, cannabis strains are now reviewed in much the same way as wine, right down to the jargon. From an industry website:

“Lemon Tree cannabis strain is an award-winning evenly balanced hybrid with a THC level that can reach a whopping 25 percent. It is known for its sharp diesel scent and similarly sour flavor, accented by subtle notes of lemon and citrus.”

More bluntly: Lemon Tree makes you pucker while it puts you under the table.  That’s just what consumers of haute cannabis want to know.  Along with exactly where under the table you’ll end up, and how you’ll feel when you land there.

The clerk explained that “Lemon Life” is just a clothing line that the Lemon Tree’s developers launched along with their cannabis products.  (I found out later that the clothing store prints the tees for them.)

He also said that tie-in businesses are pretty common in the cannabis trade.  One entrepreneur even uses his cannabis business to promote his career as a rapper.

It made sense. If people will buy a t-shirt with the name of their favorite beer, why shouldn’t they buy one bearing the name of their favorite cannabis strain?  With suitable cool illustration? It’s what Americans do.

Since then, I’ve learned to identify cannabis tees, though they’re more difficult to ID than, say, wacky craft beer tees.

Craft beer tees always display the word “brewery” or “beer” or “ale,” even if the beer in question is Icthyosaurus Pale Ale (“Gimme an Icky!”) or Moose Drool.

Cannabis tees rarely display the word “cannabis” or even “marijuana.” What you get is a funky cannabis strain name that nobody but a user would understand. And a funny graphic.  It’s a lot like a death metal tee, except that the name is always something vaguely edible.  For example, Golden State Banana:

Golden State Banana

Say the experts: “Golden State Banana is a fruity indica cross of Ghost OG and Banana Kush. This semi-sedative strain fills the consumer’s mind with euphoria while wrapping the limbs in a warm, relaxing sensation. The aroma is a mixture of Ghost OG’s pungent, citrus terpenes and Banana Kush’s tropical scents, creating a rich bouquet with bright floral sweetness.”

A refined statement, though a stark counterpoint to the implied YEE HAW from the t-shirt’s banana-waving, dancing ape.  Oh well, everybody’s got pretensions.

Both Lemon Life and Golden State Banana tees are the work of Jimbo Phillips, the Santa Cruz commercial artist whose work I admire. Both companies are local: probably.  Cannabis entrepreneurs don’t put their contact information on the web, and frankly I wouldn’t either.

My favorite cannabis tee, however, features a three-eyed cow in a bowler hat. And it has a story.

Korova 3 Eyed Cow Marijuana Tee

Korovoa Edibles is a long-time player in cannabis-laced candies and baked goods for the California market: first for the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. And now for the completely legalized California cannabis industry.

The name “Korova” means “cow” in Russian.  In the movie “A Clockwork Orange,” the droogs visit the Korova Milk Bar to quaff milk packed with powerful drugs. In the movie, Malcom McDowell wears a black bowler hat.  As for the third eye, you’re on your own.  But you get the general idea.

Back when marijuana could only be sold by medical prescription, Korova’s motto was “unrivaled potency.”  They used to make something called the Black Bar, a candy bar loaded with 1000 milligrams of THC, and another called the 5150 with “only” 500 milligrams.

That much THC in one sitting is basically unthinkable. Massive overkill. A Black Bar was meant to be eaten a little bit at a time, and labelled as such. But not everybody reads labels.  “It’s just a candy bar — right?”

If you were a newbie, and didn’t pay attention, a Korova bar wouldn’t just put you under the table; it’d dig a ten-foot hole under that table and drop you down it.

When Colorado legalized marijuana, Korova-strength bars went on the market there. And they seriously screwed up some naive new users.  So when California legalized,  the THC in one discrete edible was limited to 100 milligrams.  That was the end of the Black Bar, and “unrivaled potency.” Korova’s motto is now merely “Unrivaled.”

But Korova will still sell you a bag of ten cannabis laced cookies — each with 100 milligrams of THC.  And it’s legal!

Just don’t get the munchies.

To close, I just want to say that marijuana is fast becoming part of mainstream above-ground America, and I’ve got the t-shirts to prove it.  From tees for the local dispensaries, to tees for marijuana-themed clothing lines, and even tourism tees.

It’s here, it’s everywhere, it’ll never go away. Smear a little marijuana butter on your toast, and lax out.

And check out some more marijuana-related tees.

Roswell NM Alien with Marijuana Tee

Roswell NM Tourist Tee with Pothead Alien

Seedles Clothing Marijuana Tee

Seedless is a California-based clothing company that sells marijuana-themed tees and provides marketing services to marijuana-based events and projects.


Emerald Goddess Marijuana Hydroponics Tee

Emerald Goddess, and other Emerald Harvest products, don’t on the face of it claim to be anything but general-purpose plant foods and fertilizers. But their website emphasizes marijuana cultivation. The tee’s illustration hardly seems aimed at the backyard gardener. Unless that gardener is growing his or her allowed six marijuana plants under California law.

Greenway Santa Cruz Marijuana Dispensary 1

Santa Cruz Greenway was a first-generation marijuana dispensary, from the time when marijuana was available only for medical reasons and by prescription. The dispensary has changed hands and is now known as Kindpeoples. Even after legalization, dispensaries cultivate a public image of responsibility. Local control of licensing laws means that dispensaries must maintain good relationships with the community if they want to stay in business.


Tee Shirts from the Collection: Roller Derby, Joan Weston, and the Babes of Wrath

Babes of Wrath Monterey Roller Derby Tee

My t-shirt collection is not without a few women’s roller derby tees.  I like them. They’re colorful, bombastic, and fun.

From these tees I’ve learned that women’s roller derby teams usually take tough-girl names — Harbor Hellcats, Boardwalk Bombshells, Cannery Rollers, Dames of Destruction, and so on.

One t-shirt in particular is my favorite:  it depicts a hard blonde with skates in her hand, gazing up at a dry California hillside. Her face is hidden. The league name is given as “Monterey Bay Derby Dames.”  The team name? “The Babes of Wrath.”

That name brings a smile to this old John Steinbeck fan. Monterey Bay here in Central California is Steinbeck territory, along with nearby Salinas where Steinbeck grew up.

I grew up in the same state, a little later and a ways distant. Still, the people who raised me were of the sort that Steinbeck described: cleaned-up and better-paid and working factories now instead of the fields. But in their youth they’d picked the same crops and drunk the same wine and fought the same fights.  Steinbeck celebrated them. To read his books was to read about where I came from.

So he was one of my early heroes.  One of the others?  We’ll get there.

Like Steinbeck, Roller Derby was big in the mid-20th century: Leagues, tours, television: the game was everywhere. By the early ‘70s it had lost popularity and faded: only to be resurrected by women who wanted to have what the old roller derby queens seemed to have.

Here’s the popular version of old-time women’s Roller Derby: all those wheeled woman warriors from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s were tough, gum-snapping working girls from rough blue-collar neighborhoods.  They joined the Derby for adventure, and because they were looking for something better than 50 hours a week on the bottling line at Blotz Beer while fending off the grabby foreman. They wanted to see the world, and they were ready for anything.

The truth was that the players — men and women — were of modest background. They were not famously bold or assertive.  But life could be hard; options could be few. And they saw a chance to do better in Derby than they’d do anywhere else. They found their inner toughness along the way, it’s true, or they didn’t last.

Those old Derby girls (and guys) worked for promoters.  Today’s Derby girls very often run their own leagues as non-profits, with fund-raisers and volunteer work weekends and all that.  They don’t usually get paid, or not much.

So, why do this? Because for women who spend their days behind desks wrestling spreadsheets and doing combat at budget meetings or contract reviews, it’s a chance to let your inner tough dame out to rage.

And so women’s flat-track roller derby was born and propagated.  Today’s derby queens skate on flat courses in gyms and auditoriums; the big portable banked tracks that that old derby teams hauled around are expensive to store and move and maintain.  Once you eliminate the banked tracks, fielding your own local league becomes doable.

Strap on the skates and pads. Position your helmet. Don a derby name like Neon Nightmare or Hell Louise or Skirt Vonnagut.  Glide out onto the track with your arms raised while the announcer shouts your name and the crowd roars. The spreadsheets can wait: prepare to do damage.  And take some.

Who knows? You might be the next Joan Weston: my other childhood hero.

Joan Weston, the Blonde Bomber. Queen of all jammers and women’s captain of the San Francisco Bay Bombers out of blue-collar Oakland, Calfornia.  The Bay Bombers were the finest Derby team ever, or so my 12-year-old self thought. They had my allegiance like the Giants never did.

I watched the black-and-white broadcasts religiously from 30 miles away on the old Philco.  Hell, they might have been color, but the the Philco wasn’t. Live local games at night, recorded games on Saturday afternoon, all on KTVU Channel Two, the big independent TV station.

Joan Weston was five foot eleven of yellow-haired woman athlete from a time when that was an impressive height for a man.  She was strong, physically accomplished, and a master of any sport that she tried her hand at. That’s who the woman on the t-shirt reminds me of.

Weston played pivot: she could break away from the pack like a jammer to try for a score, or hang back with the blockers and play defense.

The point was that in this mob of medium-sized drab-haired woman skaters there was this — no other words suffice — giant blonde Viking in a black helmet, dominating the game.

There was Joan Weston, bursting out of the pack to go raiding for points. There was Joan Weston, holding the line against enemy jammers swooping up from behind.  She could knock them off their skates with a well-placed hip- or shoulder- bump, or a hard forearm. She might even send them over the rail.  And when she was out jamming and the other team’s blockers knocked her off her skates, she was up on her feet in an instant to charge back into battle.

Baseball was fine. Basketball was fine.  But watching Joanie Weston was like watching a superhero.  She even had an arch-nemesis, the almost-as-good but unforgiveably sneaky Ann Calvallo.  People still argue about how how much of Roller Derby was pre-scripted, and that rivalry probably was.  But the rest? I’m not so sure.  Those games looked real. The damage the players took certainly was.

Amidst all the sweat and flying teeth and cheesy spectacle, Joan Weston  was a modest, kindly woman who just wanted to use her talents. She was a monster in college softball, but there was no good career in that game.  In her time only the Derby offered a woman of her physical skills a way to make good money in professional sports. \So she went out there and did battle, and well. She made her money and got out in one piece — as she often said, all she’d ever really wanted.

In the ‘60s, in fact, she was America’s highest-paid woman athlete.  With the caveat that Roller Derby wasn’t a “respectable” sport.  But when today’s  women look back in time for role models, they don’t look at the woman tennis players and golfers of old.  They look for warriors.  The times call for them.  And there is Joan Weston.  And the Derby.  And once again, the Derby is everywhere.

fter the original Roller Derby folded, Joan Weston kept busy with exhibition games and even a roller derby school in the East Bay.  Long unmarried, she finally hitched up to a fellow Bomber from the men’s squad  and taught derby and played softball until she died. The New York Times ran her obit.  Not bad for the star of a sport that wasn’t “respectable.”

So that’s why I imagine Joanie Weston staring up that hill in Steinbeck country.  For Steinbeck’s people, life was a challenge.  It might break you, it might not.  But you perservered.  You tried to be what you wanted to be, and to survive.

Besides, Ann Calvallo might be up there somewhere.  Plotting.

As for the Babes of Wrath, the team no longer exists.  But the Monterey Bay Derby Dames league is still there. These days they field a team called the Beasts of Eden. Stay tuned.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Hells Angels Support Tees

Big Red Machine HA Tee 1


This mid-90s t-shirt puzzled me for a bit: it looked like a biker gang shirt.  But what was the Big Red Machine? Never heard of it.

Well, I had. Just not under that name.

Tee shirts bearing the words “Big Red Machine” or “81” are published by chapters of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to raise money for chapter operations. “Big Red Machine” is an alternate name for the Hells Angels, whose colors are red-on-white. “81” stands for H and A, the eighth and first letter of the alphabet respectively.

Hells Angels 81 Shasta County A Shirt 1

The Angels will not sell you a t-shirt with the actual words “Hells Angels” on it, or the club’s death’s head logo. Nor do they approve of anyone else selling such clothing. Because by club bylaws, only initiated members of the Angels can wear clothing bearing the club name and the club’s death’s head.

While this is by no means civil law, the Hells Angels have a well-documented reputation that gives pause to many. It is difficult to find any shirt like that on the open market. And if you do, you should think twice about buying it. Perhaps three times.

Ray “Spawn Till You Die” Troll, the noted Alaskan fish artist and t-shirt publisher, at one time designed and printed a t-shirt with the legend “Hell’s Anglers” and a drawing of an angry leather-clad gentleman riding a Harley while casting with a fishing rod. Not long after, some of Troll’s distributors in the lower 48 passed him the word that Hells Angels had complained about the shirts. Troll took the shirt out of distribution; the ones already sold became collector’s item.

Hells Angels 81 Shasta County A Shirt 2“Big Red Machine” and “81” tees are known as “support wear;” wearing them means that you support the principles of the Hells Angels, even though you’re not a member.

The words “Known Associate” often appear somewhere on the tee as well: police jargon for someone who’s known to hang out with criminals.

The chapter support shirts shown here are pretty typical; some get way more extreme.

In conclusion, I’ll say what I always say about message-bearing t-shirts: when you put on the tee, you become the message. You are supporting the principes of the Hells Angels, screaming skulls and all. The Angels wouldn’t mind that at all. But who else might?

Be advised. The t-shirt aisle in the thrift shop is sometimes a minefield.

One final note: the club’s name is properly written “Hells Angels,” without the possessive apostrophe.” The Hells Angels FAQ entry about the missing apostrophe simply says, “You may miss it. We don’t.”