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.

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.