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T-Shirts from the Collection: T-Shirts from a Long-Age Commute

Santa Cruz is a t-shirt-heavy town. We print tees for all kinds of activities.

Few have been printed, though, for the tens of thousands of poor slobs who daily make the mountain-vaulting commute on Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley, just so they can afford to live here in Paradise.

But I have t-shirts that remind me of what the trip was like, back in the ‘90s when my wife Rhumba and I commuted to the Valley together.  This one is from that era.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 1

Emily’s Bakery has been around for almost 40 years; and for almost 40 years it’s been the only place to get a good coffee and pastry to go at 5:30 in the morning.  We had jobs in Milpitas, 40 miles away, with a 6:30 AM start time; the early schedule cut 30 minutes off the commute each way.

Emily’s was our launch pad; around 5:40 am, we’d pull into the brightly-lit  parking lot and run in for coffee and a bag of rolls for the road.

In the pre-dawn darkness, Emily’s was the only spot of light and activity on Mission Street: a strange, busy depot that fueled not cars, but people, for the long trip over the hill. Andd it was decorated with images of zebras.

Cars came and went constantly, headlights gleaming. Person after person in business casual  trudged through the door under the sign “Relax. You Have Plenty of Time.”  You lie, Emily, or we wouldn’t be coming to you for caffeine and sugar before the sun comes up.

On leaving the lot, almost every car headed north on Mission, to 17. We went with them, sipping coffee and munching rolls as we ascended and descended the mountains and swore at the other drivers.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 2

Twenty-odd years later, we no longer commute.  Emily’s still opens at 5:30 am, without us. I imagine that the early commute is more popular than ever, and that those who drive 17 in darkness still launch from Emily’s.  They don’t seem to sell t-shirts anymore, but zebras are still the bakery’s icon.  Emily liked zebras, from either end.

Moving on: a commute over 17 is a wrenching 30-something-mile journey over a twisty, moody four-lane mountain expressway. The road climbs and descends 1800 feet in a relatively few miles. High-speed performance cars dominate the inside lane; slow semis, the outside lane.  If you’re neither, it can be Hell.  This t-shirt represents part of our Hell. King Crane 1

King Crane was a Santa Cruz-based crane rental and lifting services company.  Several times a week in the early morning, red-and-yellow King Crane truck-mounted cranes would grind up and down Highway 17 at 25 mph for an assignment in Silicon Valley.  Other big trucks moved slowly, but few seemed as slow as a King Crane.

Getting stuck in the slow lane behind a King Crane was about the Fifth Circle of Hell (anger), because breaking into the fast lane meant braving the German sports sedans hurtling along at 75 on a road meant for 50 MPH max.

Many’s the time we were making okay speed in the slow lane only to round a turn and find ourselves rushing up on a crane truck. You had about two seconds to make a choice: either slam on the brakes and accept your fate, or check the side mirror, say a Hail Mary and swing into the fast lane.

Once you squeezed in, there’d likely be a beemer on your tail flashing its lights in the 30 seconds you took to pass the truck and merge back over again.  God, I don’t miss that.

That was a long time ago; the King Crane company since moved to San Jose. I doubt that their red-and-yellow monsters still haunt the morning commute. I’m sure, though, that some heavy vehicles just as slow has taken their place.  Is the Spring Water tanker still making the trip?

Highwy 17 Almanack Tee

Finally, this: a t-shirt from the ‘90s touting a magazine about Highway 17.  Highway 17 is dangerous enough to be notorious, and yet it’s also Santa Cruz’s lifeline to the outside world. Someone thought that a magazine of Highway 17-related content was in order: The Highway 17 Almanack and Gazeteer.

They were wrong.  It lasted three or four issues. I skimmed a copy once; but after you’ve commuted on 17 for a few weeks, you know just about everything you need, or want, to know.  I’m just glad that I don’t have to know it anymore.

T-Shirts from the Collection: A 5K at the Edge of Empire

Bastion Full Moon Run

Welcome to Part Two of Running/Footrace t-shirts.  It will not surprise you that our boys in blue, navy, green, and green are avid runners.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines each have a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation command, or MWR.  MWR’s job job is to keep service families together, keep the troops and dependents occupied in their spare time, and help maintain physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee 2

ARMY MWR Logo, off the front of a fun-run t-shirt.

And one of the things that MWR likes most of all, is a fun run: anywhere in the world.  It’s a nice distraction.  Distraction is their job.

Say it’s Halloween in Kuwait. How about a Zombie Apocalypse Run for the troops at Camp Buerhing? MWR is on the job.  And there are t-shirts for everybody.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee

Or you’re a med tech at Guantanamo Bay Naval Hospital in Cuba, at the butt end of an island nation that wishes you’d leave.  What better to take your mind off your troubles that a marathon/half marathon in the Carribean sun? With a nice t-shirt.

Guantanomo  Hospital Pre-911 Fun Run Tee 2


Memorial Day 5Ks in Kabul, volleyball tourneys at counter-terrorism bases in the wastelands of Djibouti: MWR never quits and never will.  T-shirts for everybody!

Camp Lemonier MWR Lizard Volleyball Tee 1

It would be controversial to talk about what goes on at Camp Lemmonier, so the government mainly doesn’t. Blazing hot, too.

By the way, MWR activities are funded by profits from the base exchanges where troops and their families spend their money.  In other words, the troops pay for it all, not the taxpayers; not that they were asked. Support Our Troops!

My personal favorite is a t-shirt for a Cinco De Mayo 5k. In rural Afghanistan in 2013.  At night, under a full moon.   In a city-sized military base in the middle of nowhere. Which no longer exists.  With a t-shirt featuring …. Death Herself.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee

Pretty boss, huh? The hot babe is painted up like a Mexican calavera (skeleton totem).  Ignore the fact that calaveras have nothing to do with Cinco De Mayo, a patriotic holiday, and everything to do with Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead.  Unless you mean that death is a woman, and if you’re a soldier you dance with her every day in Afghanistan.

And that may be the case. Because this t-shirt, and the 5K, is all about people who did.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Unit Patch

For answers, decode the shirt. The patch  on the left-hand sleeve is the shield of the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS), a US Air Force unit whose job it is to rescue wounded or stranded soldiers in dangerous territory and bring them back.

ERQS Guardians are the closest thing that the US Gov has to superheroes; the Air Force gave them a superhero name, after all.  Note the angel’s wings on the patch: guardian angels.

Guardians get two full years of grueling survival, combat, and rescue training.  They’re trained to shoot their way in and shoot their way out with the wounded over their shoulder, on foot, by parachute, by water, and of course by chopper. They operate under the Air Force’s somewhat obscure Special Operations Command.

If you ever watched the science fiction TV series “Stargate,” Special Operations would have been the outfit that was sending heavily armed airmen through an inter-dimensional gate to fight godlike aliens on other planets. The Guardians would probably be up for it.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Version 2To confuse the issue, your average Guardian is referred to as a PJ, short for “pararescueman.”  The troops may also call him a Pedro, after the choppers that many PJs fly in:   HH-60 Pave Hawks. “Pedro” is the call sign for all military rescue choppers, back to Vietnam.  That’s why there’s a stereotyped Mexican on the tee’s right-hand sleeve. PJs do use other aircraft as well.

The Guardian motto is “So Others May Live.” PJs are highly admired by the average soldier.  Somebody who scoops your bleeding body out of a trench and drags it to safety while shooting the bad guys? You tend to admire them.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee 2

And that’s what this t-shirt is all about: see this logo on the front of the tee, over the heart:

This 5K run in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, was staged on behalf of the “So Others May Live” Foundation. And it’s not the first one that was.  I’ve got photos of a run that the Camp Bastion Marines put on for the foundation a few months earlier. There was one at the top of this article.  Here’s another:

Camp Basion Full Moon Run 2

Even superheroes die: in combat, in a chopper collisiion, in all kinds of ways.  The SOML Foundation provides aid to the families left behind. This tee bears the shield of the 46th ERQS because that squadron operated out of Camp Bastion, pulling wounded NATO and Afghan troops out of godforsaken fire bases and flying them home in its Pedros  to Camp Bastion hospital.

That’s what Camp Bastion was for: to support NATO operations at hundred of bases throughout a large part of Afghanistan.

The British built the camp in 2006 in Helmand Province because Helmand was the most Taliban-free area that they could find.  There were British, Danish, U.S Marine and Afghan Army camps within Bastion’s eight square miles.  Thirty thousand people lived in what was called “the safest place in Afghanistan,” for its  multiple layers of electronic, physical, and human security.

Soldiers routinely ran for exercise on paths just inside Camp Bastion’s outer walls.  Why not? Bastion was a safe and busy place, with the hospital, a large airport, gyms, bars, public utilities and a police department, total Internet access and yes, Pizza Hut.

But things had changed.  By the time this tee was printed and this race was run, the 46th had pulled out of Camp Bastion; NATO operations in Afghanistan were starting to wind down.  After most of a decade of trying to stabilize a country that wouldn’t be stabilized — most Afghans had little reason to love their corrupt, Western-backed puppet government — the West was getting out.

Camp Bastion wasn’t even “the safest place in Afghanistan” anymore.  Its very existence and reputation goaded the Taliban into a suicide attack the year before this benefit run. A force of Taliban breached Camp Bastion security, blew up aircraft, and killed several people in an hours-long firefight.

By 2014, a year and a half after this tee was printed, NATO was out of Camp Bastion.  By 2016, most of Camp Bastion had been demolished and carted away except for one section still occupied by the Afghan Army.  And the miles of walls, and a few buildings that nobody cared about.

By 2018, the Taliban controlled half of Helmand Province and was on the rise thoughout much of Afghanistan.  The U.S. accepted “peace talks” with the Taliban in 2019 to find some compromise peace plan that would bring harmony to Afghanistan. Then President Trump decided to cancel them.

So, what was that all about, those 14 years in Afghanistan? All the money and the death and superhero PJs and Pedros in the sky, and international cooperation?  Stand outside the derelict walls of Camp Bastion, and perhaps Shelley would come to mind:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

What are we doing in the world? Or to the world? Really? And for who?

Meanwhile, the 46th is off somewhere unnamed — probably Iraq —  heroically supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against ISIS and in aid of rebel forces in Syria.

I wonder how Operation Inherent Resolve will turn out, in the end; according to the latest news reports, possibly not any better that things did at Camp Bastion.  The Guardians can’t rescue us from Washington.  Or Wall Street. Or ourselves.

Oh, what the hell. Who’s for a 5K?

T-Shirts from the Collection: Biting Humor

Health care professionals like to kick out the the jams with a good t-shirt from time to time.  Tell me, if you worked for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), would you have fun with that acronym from time to time?

Santa Cruz Out for Blood CHOMP Blood Center Tee

Of course you would.  It’s a natural for blood drives.

CHOMP Blood Drive Tee 2

CHOMP had so much fun with that first tee that they rolled out an even more extreme blood drive tee a couple of years later. Remember, giving blood doesn’t hurt a bit.

Community Hospital Monterey Coronary Dept 1

And why stop with the Blood Center?  CHOMP’s Pulmonary Wellness program has its own tee — an arty take on the cardiopulmonary system that you can wear right over the real thing.

On my side of the Monterey Bay, the boys and girls at Dominican Hospital Radiology Department declares its edginess with a skull t-shirt.

Dominica Radiology Skull Made of Bone Names Tee

Skulls are popular on clothing these days, for reasons I’ll leave to the experts today.  But this one is made up of the individual names of each bone in the skull, in proper position.  Very good.  Some have remarked that it’d make a fairly boss album cover.

Cabrillo College RN Program 2

Cabrillo College RN Program 3 – Version 2Down the road at Cabrillo College, the Registered Nurses training program offers a woman’s sleeveless tee. Its design symbolizes the components of registered nursing: Love. Medicine.  Hypodermic needles.  Of all nurses, only RNs gives injections.

I hate needles.  They don’t make me happy. Neither does the California Dental Association, which wants you to love a trip to the dentist as much as a trip to visit your dear old granny.

Cal Dental Association Tee

They made a cute t-shirt. Sadly, having sharp metal objects pushed into our mouths will never be as much fun as a plate of Granny’s fudge. Even though Granny’s fudge may _result_ in a trip to the dentist.

Surreal Estate

Mice have made a little beach head in our kitchen.  They visit nightly and leave little trails of piss and mouse shit behind them.  Field mice don’t care about clean restrooms.  The world is their restroom.

But we make progress. We’ve purchased humane traps which work quite well.  Humane traps present their own problem, however: what to do with the mice you’ve caught.

I find them  jittering inside in the metal traps at 6:30 in the morning. And though I need to get ready for work, first things first: time to take little Squeaker for a ride.  Far away.

A couple of days ago at sunrise I drove down to the levee to release a mouse into the riverbed.  Atop the levee, on the riverside bike path, two gentlemen of the road with bikes and backpacks amused themselves with exercise equipment that an eccentric city had chosen to dump there.

I walked past them toward the river and put the metal trap on the ground.  I opened the top with gloved hands.  The mouse sat there for a moment, processing.  Then it arrowed down the levee at great speed.

I wished it good luck and walked back to the car with trap in hand.

“Hey!” one of the road knights shouted. “Izzat a drone?”

“No, it’s a trap.”

“A ANIMAL trap!”

“A mouse trap.  I just let a mouse go.”

“It doesn’t kill them?”


“GOOD.  That’s HUMANE!”

“Yah!” the other one said. “HUMANE! AWRIGHT!”


I almost always interact with the odd on these missions. When I go to places where no one should be, I run into  people who need such places.

A night or two back, I barely had time to clean and replace the traps before a mouse thrust itself into one.  Leave the kitchen for 20 minutes and see what happens, right?  That left me with a mouse to dispose of in the dark of night.

One does not go down to the levee in darkness; unpleasantness may occur.  So the mouse and I cruised the Westside together lin search of a good spot.

I found it at Neary Lagoon Park: a park only in name.  It’s a facade of green that conceals the sewage treatment plant and, of course, the lagoon: a wetland of reeds and ducks fed by streams and acquifers, spang in the middle of town.  With giant white carp, six feet long.  They float below the surface like ghosts.

I turned into the entrance: there’s a restroom building, a small lawn, a rocky vacant lot, and not much else but chainlink fence and behind, mysterious trees.  I parked on the lot and turned out the headlights.  The place was dark, deserted.  Perfect.

This peace lasted perhaps 30 seconds.  In a blaze of light, a postal van roared up behind me and stopped.  A bicyclist hauling a trailer pedaled up to the restroom building. Out front, under a lamp, sat a large outdoor washing station. It was almost a fountain.  The bicyclist busied himself at it.

A woman piled out of the postal van and ran to the rear of the building.  Those restrooms lock up at sundown, but maybe she had a key.  Or, not.

I got out of the car, donned a pair of gloves, and retrieved the mousetrap.  The woman reappeared, having achieved something in some way. In the glow of the lamp, she bent over the washing station with the man.

I put the trap on the lawn and opened it.  The mouse arrowed away to the chain link fence, the trees, the lagoon, water, food, a new life. Unless one of the carp gets it.

And I thought about this strange tableau: two strangers bent over a basin together under a cone of light in the darkness, while a hulking stranger with a metal box releases a mouse into the void.  Is this reality as designed by the surrealists?  In the lair of some extra-dimension being, does this scene endlessly replay itself on whatever passes for a wall?

I got in the car and backed away.  Behind me, the postal van also moved out, leaving behind a man with a bicycle, under a light, alone: until someone else shows up.  That might take awhile, or only five minutes.  In this town, the solemn, empty spaces are quite heavily used.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Run for the Fun

Idaho Giant Potato Marathon Tee 1

Foot-race tees are the ants of the used t-shirt world: unattractive, boring, and extremely numerous.  Okay, there’s the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon t-shirt; that’s just demented.  Otherwise, run shirts are uber-ignorable.

Every run or walk distributes hundred or even thousands of unremarkable free t-shirts to the participants:  for 5K runs, 10Ks, half-marathons, full marathons, triathlons, Turkey Trots, zombie runs, mustache runs, runs for a cure, relays for life, benefit runs for the Sunflower Elementary School PTA, or walkathons. You pay to run? You’re getting a shirt. And you’re supposed to wear it.

When the run is over, the participants take those hundreds or thousands of tees home and never wear them again. Sooner or later they’ll cram solid the t-shirt racks  at your local thrift store.  My shoulders ache from pushing them aside.

Brainwalk 1But I’ve kept a few.  Sometimes even a footrace tee can be a bit twisted.  People are good at twisting.  We get bored, and twist things.  And frankly, there’s little more twisted than this Walk for Brain Injury tee, with what appears to be a race map / maze puzzle outlined by the folds of the human brain.  What does it mean? “Solve the puzzle of brain injury?” That’s the best I’ve got, and it’s a push.

Sandman Triathlong Santa Cruz 2003 Tee

And I kept this Santa Cruz Sandman Triathlon tee from 2003 because it is such a piece of work; few are.  It glows in your hands. A slow clap for the triathlon committee, if you please.

On the other hand, the shirt below is nothing special. It’s from the annual Santa Cruz-to-Capitola Wharf to Wharf Race. It’s only in the collection because the Wharf to Wharf cheeses off my inner Mr. Wilson.

1999 Wharf to Wharf 2

The Wharf to Wharf is a mid-summer six-mile jog along the coast on the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Capitola Wharf just down the Bay.  Aside from a lead group of serious runners, it’s a fun-run for sixteen thousand amateurs.  People run with their friends. At intervals along the route, live bands serenade runners from the side of the road.  If you begin to flag, there are people to throw water bottles at you or check your heart if need be.

But if you’re not taking part in the race, it kills a perfectly good summer Sunday.  The Wharf to Wharf’s been blocking traffic for over 40 years. Barricades and policemen are everywhere, snarling traffic..

Worse: the six-mile race starts early, around nine a.m; so as soon as it’s over, all sixteen thousand runners look for a restaurant.  Kiss off brunch.  Or parking, for that matter.

Within a week those 16,000 Wharf to Wharf t-shirts start showing up at Goodwill.  In mass quantities. I bought just this one, from 1999, because it was more handsome than most.  Note that I found it in mint condition 20 years after it was printed.

Santa Cruz Hash House Harriers Wharf to Barf Tee 2I’m not alone in disdaining the Wharf to Wharf, or amateur running in general. Behold a different breed of runners: the Surf City Hash.

Surf City Hash is a chapter of the Hash House Harriers, an international network of social clubs aptly described as “a drinking club with a running problem.” Bored British colonial officers founded the first Hash in Singapore in the late ‘30s. (“The Hash House” was their name for their residence hotel, which served canned corned beef in mass quantities).

These gentlemen caroused and indulged to excess on the weekends, there being little else to do in that sun-drenched arm of the Empire. So it was decided that a Monday evening run would be just the thing for good clean British fitness.  And if they stopped for a pint or two — or five — along the way, well we were talking about British-style fitness, weren’t we?

The Japanese invasion put a hard stop to Empire jollity in Singapore, but the Harriers carried on elsewhere. Today, you’ll find a Hash everywhere the Empire ever was, or still is, or where a Brit or two of the hearty variety have settled down and sought comradeship among the natives. A Hash works like this:

One or more members is declared the “hare.” The hare leaves clues scrawled in chalk for the others to follow.  The idea is for the pack of runners to catch up with the hare (while chanting “On-On the whole time,” for some reason), but some of the clues are false, or decoys.  The pack gets lost a lot.

This is a good thing, as it keeps the best runners from getting too far ahead of the worst. There is discussion of what to do next, and of course everybody catches up at a bar or two along the way. Beer is imbibed.  Eventually the main body of the Hash makes it to the destination, which is called Religion, or the On-In. And there is yet more ale-swilling, plus singing and ritual insults.

Silliness is near-mandatory, especially since you’ve had a few: costumes, strange and not-very-serious ceremonies, vaguely suggestive Hash nicknames for all and sundry, jokes, and much socializing.  There exists a variant called “The Red Dress Race,” and yes, your imagination has not led you astray.

A hash is beyond letting your hair down; you are cutting it off and leaving it on the ground behind you.

Santa Cruz Hash House Harriers Wharf to Barf Tee

Santa Cruz is noted for liberal politics, so this 2005 Hash festival tee commemorates a weekend gathering of the local Hashes in the “People’s Republic of Santa Cruz.” Note happy socialist slogans like “MORE BEER! LESS WORK!”

So, yes, I rather liked this tee.  These people know how to run: for fun. For the fun that lies beyond the endorphin high that you body generates to dull the pain of running.

After all: that’s what the beer is for.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Marathons and Fun-Runs in Terrible Places

Yesterday’s Future — With Added Angst!

There’s a special discussion board on the Internet for people who want their pictures drawn — for free, of course.  Post a photo there, and someone just might draw you, and then post their work back for you to see.

Someone like my wife Rhumba.  But you might not get what you expect.

“They were trying to look cool,” Rhumba told me. She passed her tablet over.  “They” certainly were trying: a bearded man and a pouty woman. Rhumba had placed a flying saucer above them in the middle background; it disrupted their cool factor somewhat. She likes to add flying saucers.

“You know,” I said, “and don’t take offense, but this looks just like the cover of a cheap science fiction paperback from the early ’60s. I mean that in a good way.” I’d read a ton of them.

Rhumba readily agreed; she read them, too.  We’re both retired science fiction fans from wasted youths.

“Well, I could make it into something like that.” Rhumba will do about anything.  The rules of the discussion board state that the artist can go in any direction that they want with the photos, save the sexual.   She takes full advantage.

“We could call it — “Beats in Space,” I said.

We discussed it; then I went to bed while Rhumba started playing around.  And when I got up the next morning:

Beats in Space

“Bob Ellison” is a portmanteau of the names “Robert Silverberg” and “Harlan Ellison,” two prolific sci-fi writers of the time who wrote piles of schlock to pay the the bills before they became Big Name Sci-Fi Writers in the mid/late ’60s.

Either one of them could have written “Beats in Space,” except that 1) Silverberg’s version would have been porn, and 2) in Ellison’s version the woman would betray the guy with the beard, and they’d all smoke marijuana.

We have no idea how the photo subjects feel about this. They’ve been curiously silent.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Skulls, Part Two

I’ve already written on skull t-shirts, but there are so many skull t-shirts in my collection that — well, welcome to Part 2. America still loves its skulls, and there’s much to talk about.

Skulls and Motorcycles

Reno Street Vibrations Motorcycle Fest Tee 2

To recap the previous article, skulls were originally a sign of danger or death or outlawry; no one would wear one on their clothing.

Except outlaw motorcycle gangs.  To them, skulls were a sign that they rejected all norms  — and that you shouldn’t mess with them.  The  Angels in particular gained attention in the ‘60s thanks in part to Hunter Thompson’s bestseller “Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.” Thompson drew a picture of a complex subculture based on freedom, rejection of society’s values, internal discipline, bravery, and of course violence.

Santa Cruz Basket Case Chopper Zine Tee

“Basket Case” is a Santa Cruz-based cycle mag about Norcal chopper riders, clubs, and activities. No outlaws they, but they still offer this tee design of tough “Mother Fuckers” charging Death himself. The artist, Mitch Cotie, is a hot number in the small world of motorcycle club art and logos. That doesn’t make you rich, but it’s something.

Outlaw biker gangs played well in the theaters, starting with “The Wild Angels,” a mid- ‘60s B-movie with Peter Fonda, and going well beyond. This interest in outlaw bikers as rebels and antiheroes, some think, is what brought skull imagery into rock music and metal in particular.

Skulls are still associated with biker gangs; and it’s still cool to be a rebel.  It may be that everybody who enjoys long rides on a chopper fancies themselves a tough-minded rebel: even when their day job is in property/casualty insurancel.

So skulls still show up on a lot of motorcycle tees.  Not all, not even most; but a lot. The Ride 4 Life a motorcycle rallyt-shirt shows a chopper made of skulls and bone.  The rally may or may not be a ride for charity — there are a number of sponsors listed on the back.  But if it was, the bones give a mixed message.

Ride 4 Life on Bone Motorcycle

That said, this was probably not an outlaws-only rally: not with sponsorships from Honda and Kawasaki dealers listed on the back of the tee.  Most outlaw bikers still ride Harley Davidson motorcycles exclusively. Hondas? Pfui.

Even so: while most Harley Davidson dealers sell dealership t-shirts, most don’t feature skulls or violent imagery. Harleys may be the ride of choice of the Hells Angels, but remember that  a new Harley costs upward of $30K. It’s more of a middle-class purchase anymore.

Territorial Harley Skull Headlamp

Still, Territorial Harley of Yuma, AZ, chose to go with a skull-headlight motif with Yuma’s infamous, frontier-era Territorial Prison as a backdrop.  Skulls, Arizona, Harleys, a prison full of notorious killers: I can see the temptation.

As I waited in line to pay for this tee at the thrift store, a teenaged girl rushed up to me and asked if there were any more.  Skulls sell.

Other businesses associated with Harley motorcycles use skulls more commonly.  They want to invoke the outlaw glamour when selling accessories, equipment, and so on.  The tee belows comes from a company that sells horsepower-enhancing hardware and software upgrades for your Harley. You want to go from 90 HP to 120 HP? Well, a daring stud like you deserves an outlaw t-shirt!

Fuel Moto Harley Davidson Parts Dealer Tee

The band Guns ‘n Roses used a nearly identical image, minus the shamrock. Image searches return plenty of skull illos with some combination of hats, shamrocks, and pistols. It seems to be an Irish thing.  Fuel Moto’s owners might be ethnic Irish.  Or they could just like Guns ‘n Roses. Or both.

Big Red Machine HA Tee 1And of course there are the Hells Angels.  By their own rules, no one but an Angel can wear a piece of clothing that says “Hells Angels” on it.  I’ve never actually seen a Hells Angels tee.

“Big Red Machine” tees are for people who support the Hells Angels, but are not actually memebers. “Big Red Machine” is an alternate name for the Hells Angels.

Angels chapters sell BRM tees freely to the general public.  I’ve yet to see one without a skull. Because you may not be a badass Angel, but your Big Red Machine tee makes you badass enough.

Just Skulls

Sometimes, you know, skulls don’t seem to mean anything except, hey, a skull. Made ya look. Or perhaps there’s some twisted symbolism that only Freud or Jung would dare to speculate on. I feel that way about the Skull of Cats T-shirt.

Skull of Kittens

This is one of mutliple skulls-of-cats t-shirts on the market today.  They don’t look the same; they come from different vendors.  There must be demand, or there’d be only one design, with no imitators.  Out there, someone is probably snarking, “It was I and I ALONE who created the first SKULL OF CATS t-shirt!”

But what does a skull-made-of-cats really mean?  Is it ironic? Is it cute?  Does it allow young women (I assume) swing both ways at the same time?  Don’t ask me.  But once again, the tee does what a skull is supposed to: make you pay attention to the wearer.

Now, on to more skulls. And coffee:
Bones Coffee 1
This tee from the Bones Coffee Company shows a skull reclining in foliage, luxuriously drinking coffee.  Is this the Afterlife? Does Bones Coffee send you to Heaven? As a skeleton? I’m confused. Not especially interested, but confused.

Bones Coffee is not a coffee chain; it’s a roaster that sells online and through retail outfits.  It stands out by offering coffee of weird flavors: bacon coffee, strawberry-cheesecake coffee, even peanut-butter-and-jelly-flavored coffee.

Now, I would assume that coffee consumed by a skeleton would flow out of the rib cage. Unless skeletons drink only the PB&J coffee because it sticks to their rib bones and doesn’t escape.  Reviews on the PB&J flavor are mixed, by the way: “You might like it; you might think it tastes like stomach acid.”

There’s no story here. I smell “marketing concept.”  And there’s nothing like a skull to make things edgy, though I think PB&J-flavored coffee would make my stomach edgy all on its own.

Bones Coffee 2

That’s it for now. There’ll have to a a Skulls Part Three.


The Art Department Moves with the Times


This week at the university which employs me, I filled a dull afternoon by adding new courses to the degree audit rules for the Art BA.  The Art advisor had sent them over with a plea for immediate update.  She’s a good “customer” of my unit, and I like to give her priority.

The degree audit program produces an academic progress report: it tells the student what they’ve taken so far, and what they still have to take to complete their degree.  It had better be accurate, or there’ll be screaming down the line. And yes, justifiably.

Here’s the course description for one of the newly-offered art classes.  It made me smile.

COURSE ID: 122568

EFFECTIVE DATE: 06/03/2019



LONG COURSE TITLE: Art, Power, and Politics

Explores strategies artists use to engage political subject matter in the 21st century. Students create their own projects, research and test approaches, techniques and strategies learning from the ways national and international artists encode and convey information in creating political work.

Methods range from community collaboration to tactical culture jamming, participatory collaborative projects, activism and intervention, symbolic and gestural work, artist-led projects, performances and community projects. Students are billed a materials fee.

Well, why not?  Interesting times lie ahead.  Why shouldn’t the art students of today build activist skills that they may need tomorrow?  Relevant art: what a concept.

I posted this course description over at the Daily Kos, the website for activist Democrats. The Kossacks were not impressed; it got a few grunts and a teasing reference to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

They’re mainly establishment Democrats over there.  They think that everything of import takes place within the party.  Even though the party keeps shooting itself in the foot. Too many big Democrats like the big money from big donors, and it tends to ruin your aim.

My thought is that the establishment Democrats will deliver for America — when they’ve been kicked around and frightened enough. Giant blood-spattered heads of Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon, carried down Wall Street by a screaming mob? That might just make an impression on the comfortable big-donor “liberal” grandees.

If so, my university’s art students will be ready with enthusiasm and paper-mache skills, hit-and-run murals on the walls of the Establishment, and so on.  Get the network TV cameras pointed in the right direction at the right time, and who knows what might happen?

As the great cartoon subversive Boris Badenov once said, “I do the best I can with the tools I got.” I do believe that he was holding a bomb at the time.

Just kidding. Really.


BoriscycleLast year, on a whim, I searched for images of Boris Badenov online and found very few.  This year, Boris, the grinning bad-boy spy from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, is everywhere.  There are vintage images by the dozen.  Artists are drawing their own original Boris cartoons, and there’s even a site that teaches you how to draw Boris Badenov.

Boris is in again.  And now he belongs to the people. What does this tell you about the times?  Break into groups and discuss.  Submit a 1000-word analysis by Thursday.



T-Shirts from the Collection: My Latest Rothian Acquisition

Excavation Crew Ed Roth Style Tee

Here’s my latest Ed Roth-inspired t-shirt acquisition.  Roth-style monster-in-a-hot-rod designs continue to inspire new t-shirt designs: this one for construction workers. Because they’re all about letting out the id; and I guess that after seven or eight hours on a caterpillar you might just feel the impulse to bulldoze an gas station or something.

Everybody knows what a Roth-style car creature  means — WILD and CRAZY!

But where do you draw the line?  What’s in the Roth mold, and what is not?

Not long after I found this tee, I came across another one that might have qualified: a sheep driving a tractor.  The tee was from some additudinal collegiate agriculture club that was proclaiming it’s badassery. They’d simply taken a clip-art image of a sheep and placed (sort of) in the diver’s seat of a clip-art image of a tractor.

But was it Roth-like? I have criteria:

  • Is the driver way out of proportion in size to the vehicle? Well, yeah, by its size that would have been a thousand-pound sheep.
  • Does the driver have bug eyes? No, just sheep eyes.
  • Did it have fangs or snaggle teeth? No, no teeth at all.
  • Did it have a maniacal leer on its face? No, just a sheep expression. AKA, no expression.
  • Was the tractor popping a wheelie? Nope
  • Was the tractor spewing flames or smoke?  Nope.

You need at least three out of the six to get into my Roth-inspired t-shirt selection. It failed.  I left it on the rack.  Sorry guys, so near and yet so far!

Oh, by the way:  don’t take this seriously.  I’m not that far gone into t-shirt geekdom.  Yet.









T-Shirts from the Collection: The Many Faces of the Slug

The University of California at Santa Cruz had no official mascot for its first few decades: just a yellow slug that crawled along the forest floor.  And everybody loved Sammy the Slug. T-shirts followed shortly thereafter.

UCSC Standard Banana Slug Tee

This Sammy Slug tee has been in print since the ’90s; earlier versions of Sammy looked a lot like this: cheerful, bookish, sometimes laid-back.

The banana slug (Ariolimax dolichophallus) was the people’s choice — if by “people” you mean the counter-culture, save-the-world students of a quirky, experimental UC campus build on a hillside.  In a redwood forest full of bright yellow banana slugs.  Above a beach town with a roller coaster. The campus’ unofficial volleyball team called itself the Banana Slugs as early as the 1970s.

UCSC students and faculty were anti-authoritarian, and want no muscled sports gladiators called “Hawks” or “Bears” to represent them.  Sports should be for everybody to take part in, they thought.  so for them, the Banana Slug made a perfect mascot: yellow, mellow and harmless.    And thus the mellow students began calling themselves Slugs.

Santa Cruz UCSC Slug Disc Club

UCSC’s early sports clubs could be non-traditional, like Santa Cruz Slug Disc. Disc sports like Ultimate are still huge on campus.

Eventually UCSC grew large enough to support  sports; some students wanted them.  The university chose a few of the less gladiatorial (and less expensive) ones: men’s and women’s basketball, track, swimming, and so on: but not football. There is no stadium at UCSC.

Intercollegiate sports required an official mascot:  so the administration told the students that they were all now Sea Lions.

UCSC Steroid Dominator Slug Basketball Tee

The intercollegiate teams insisted on a “tough” slug. This version of Sammy is called “The Athletic Slug.” But I think of him as “Steroid Dominator Slug.”

In the end, that didn’t fly. Ad UCSC students and their teams officially became Banana Slugs, or just Slugs.  And the slug became Sammy.  And people do all sorts of things with him.


This tee comes from the student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Also known as I-Triple E). Bioengineering and the like is big at UCSC; there are many electronic Slugs.

Santa Cruz Hillel Jewish Slug Tee

Other clubs and organizations also make Sammy their own.  I favor this t-shirt from Santa Cruz Hillel, the Jewish campus organization.  Sammy in a prayer shawl and yamulka, calling out to God? Why not? I’ve yet to see a Christian group put Sammy on the cross, but it might be out there. UCSC Slug with Giant Swab Tee

Not to be missed is the curiously unsettling Giant Q-Tip Slug.  Keep in mind that a slug is only ten inches long or so, max, and the Q-Tip becomes less threatening.  It’s from a campus program that recruits students as blood marrow donors; a swab inside the cheek harvests the cells needed to classify your marrow.

UCSC Long Marine Lab Sea Slug Tee 1

UCSC Long Marine Lab Sea Slug Tee 2Marine biologists have their own idea of what the slug should be.  With this tee, the Marine Sciences Department down at Long Marine Labs honore Hypselodoris Californiensis, the Blue and Gold Sea Slug.  The University of California’s colors are blue and gold, so that makes Hypselodoris part of the campus family.

College Eight Back

Look, it’s a giant yellow “8” with slug feelers.  UC Santa Cruz students are split among ten residential “colleges,” each with its own core programs and activities and theme: science, engineering, the environment, internationalism, and so on. And once upon a time, there was a College 8.

A college is a discrete group of buildings, dorms, meeting spaces, and grounds; when they’re newly built,  colleges are given a number, not a name. Eventually some J. Wellington Gotrocks comes along and makes a mighty donation to a college: in the millions. For that, they get naming rights. UCSC College names include Cowell, Stevenson, Crown, Merrill, Porter, Kresge, and Oakes.

College 8 front

That donation can be long in coming.  After it was built, College 8 remained but a number for many years.  The students came to accept the number as an honorable name: College 8 was their academic tribe, and their home.  So it was “Long Live College 8,”  which was and is the college of environmentalism and sustainability.

Eventually a wealthy donor came along and bequeathed an awesome sum to the many needs of College 8.  And the college finally got a real name.

The donor and the university settled on the name  “Rachel Carson College,” after the author and marine biologist whose book “Silent Spring” helped launch the global environmental movement.  And quite a good t-shirt was produced for the occasion.

Rachel Carson UCSC 1

There are those alumni who say, “It’ll always be College 8 to me!” Who can’t respect that?  But “Carson,” as newer students call the college, is now a well-accepted name.

By the way, UCSC still has a College 9 and a College 10; they’ve been waiting eighteen years for their permanent names.  The possibilities are endless.  Empty that change jar in the kitchen and get in on the ground floor.

Here are a couple of more UCSC shirts, just because.

UCSC College 8 Tie Dye Tee

Tie-dye harkens back to the ’60s; so does UCSC, making tie-dye practically the school colors. Tie-dyed tees have been printed for many of the colleges.


UCSC Origama Banana Slug Tee 1

A slug is a moderately easy animal to sculpt; even in paper. This t-shirt is a wearable instruction manual for the manufacture of origami slugs.