Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anthony John Valentino

I had one of those days this week that managed to intertwine a remark with some lost memories and made me stop and think about things. About myself. About the folks I work for and what they may think of me. It was one of those instances where I had to sit down as my mind began to roam all the way back to my childhood. But that's getting ahead of the story.

I was on a shoot Wednesday and during an interview process with the subject, one of the questions led into customer service. My client made a remark that stuck with me all the way back to East Texas as it was one of those statements that required some deep reflecting.

His statement to the best of my recollection was, "If you know who you are doing business with and understand who they are as a person as well as hold their character to a higher standard then you really don't mind paying more for their services."

By the time I got home, I was tired. It had been a long day in Dallas and the Holiday Inn didn't offer a whole lot of comfort the night before. After a quick hello to the family, I went to the bathroom and began emptying out my pockets. Wallet, iPhone, keys and then some loose change which I offered to the small leather container my wife had gotten me to hold all of my crap. When I looked in the container, there was a small knife laying in the middle of all those nickels and dimes and I picked it up remembering where I had gotten it so many years ago. That knife would be the very last piece of hardware my dad purchased for me at Tony's Sporting Goods Store in Longview, Texas.

When I was really little, my dad would take me to Longview once a month to get our hair cut. I hated the lady that cut my hair as she brushed my head too hard and it hurt. But this was always made well again by a promising visit to the one and only Tony's Sporting Goods Store where dreams could come true and if you've been good, Tony might find something special to put in your pocket.

Born Anthony John Valentino on April 25th, 1923, he was known simply as Tony. An enormous "How are you doing today my fine Doctor?" when my dad and I would enter the store will be forever engrained within my mind. He was one of those characters that could literally light up the darkest of rooms with just his spirit and charm. He knew no stranger.

Tony was born in Chicago, Illinois to John and Frances Valentino and joined the military in 1942. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps until 1951 with the 2nd Brigade during World War II. Gunny Sgt. Valentino was an ordnance supply chief and lineman.

On October 21, 1943, he married the love of his life, Margery Hunt. They were married in Washington, D.C.

In 1953, he opened Tony's Sporting Goods on Mobberly Avenue where he served his community for more than 50 years. He was a local U.S. Marine chaplain in his later years transporting vets to appointments in Shreveport.

Tony passed away on February 4th, 2007.

Thinking back on that statement from earlier in the day, I began to think about Tony and my dad. My dad could have gone to a big chain store where he could have gotten things cheaper. In fact, we could have gone anywhere but we didn't as Dad always made it a point to buy from Tony. Not because he was the best deal in town but because of who he was and what he meant to the community.

These are the things to take with you in this world. You do business with a man because of who he is and what he stands for. He may not be the cheapest in town but what you buy from someone like Tony doesn't ever stop with just the purchased goods. It's an investment in your life and I've always found that a good investment will bring a great return.

God bless you Tony. Your memory lives on forever in these woods.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New York - The Cultural Capital of America?

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. 
Is it still? If not, where?

This is a very vague question as it really doesn't define what kind of culture we're talking about so to help, I'm going to put my hands around some different topics as they pertain to what I consider to be culture as well as what effects the growth of fine arts.

Before I begin, I think it might be a good idea to define the word culture so here is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Culture (Latin: cultura, lit. "cultivation")[1] is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. However, the word "culture" is most commonly used in three basic senses:
  1. Excellence of taste in fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
  2. An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning 
  3. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group

Now I've got a real bee in my bonnet when it comes to favoring New York over the rest of the world. You can chalk it up to sheer Texas pride but I wear it on my sleeve like a Southern Baptist going to church. A few years back, the NASHER would open in Dallas and Ray Nasher went all the way to New York to get the logo and corporate branding developed as in his mind, the best always comes from New York. The account would come up for review some time after that and I was invited to the table where I sat with Mr. Nasher and pitched our services. And as much as it pained me at the time, they decided to go with another smaller firm. I was happy, however, to discover the smaller firm he selected was in Dallas which gave me some confort in knowing we've got folks down here that are just as creative or more so than what you might find in the Big Apple.

So why New York? What's so special about this place that it defines a belief of higher culture and continues to lead the world within this space? Well that's an easy question and it's better explained through an example.

When I graduated from college over twenty years ago, a cultural movement began in Dallas to restore Deep Ellum and create an arts district of sorts housing fine dining and music venues. In fact, my first real design job out of college was to design the logo for Trees which was an incredible music venue. Over time, Deep Ellum would lose it's luster and slowly die away leaving only a few places that might still feature music but the majority of the area is fairly well boarded up and they tell me it may be in some sort of transitional state to become more residential.

Meanwhile in Austin, 6th street thrives full throttle with great food and incredible music. A hub for real artistic expression with packed houses and busy bar keeps that can barely keep up the pace of set ups and beer taps while guitar slingers play on into the night.

So what's the difference?

Unlike Dallas, Austin has a set market that feeds the arts scene regularly, that being the University of Texas. You could consider this to be the meat and potatoes of cash flow while tourists provide the icing on the cake as UT has the fifth-largest single-campus enrollment in the nation and had the largest enrollment in the country from 1997 to 2003 with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students combined. That's a lot of kids with credit cards.

Dallas, on the other hand, is what I would define as a family city. Made up primarily of young people who are either single professionals or married with small children working 9 hour days. Southern Methodist University averages around 12,000 students which is hard to pull from consistently due to such a small number. A night out on the town is a hard sell when you're working so much or tending to the needs of your children.

So where does that leave us?

With the money flowing so well in support of the arts within Austin, artists flock to an environment where they can flourish and grow. And New York is really no exception to this as they have simply done a better job of pushing, promoting, nurturing and appreciating the arts over the years. That is not to say that they have better arts as they don't. I would put Jaap van Zweden, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra or the Nasher Sculpture Center up against any single one arts organization in the world and the Dallas Arts District, although still in development, will surely surpass expectations. Texas is full of top tier talent that continues to raise the bar of fine arts and culture and I will continue to beat the drum of my southern roots until they lay me in the ground. Boots and all.

In conclusion, does this rant or ramble actually answer the question above? Is New York still the culture capital of the world? If the question is based upon development, then I would say yes but only because of the money, the influence and passion that New York has always had towards building upon the arts and culture.

Do they have better artists or better culture? My answer is no they do not. Most creative people that live in New York are transplants that have moved there to further their career. It's the old, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" that drives folks to the
North in search of growth and glorious careers.

But all that glory will never surpass our women, our music, our art, our barbecue and our rebellious nature to make a square peg fit through a round hole. That said, I'll keep the Texas dirt under my feet. You can send the Big Apple down here to me as I've got a real good cobbler recipe.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Julio's Corn Tortilla Chips

Let's face it, corn tortilla chips are boring. My wife has been buying Tostitos for years and only because we all need something to put the hot sauce on. I just can't imagine pulling out a bag of tortilla chips and eating them straight with nothing on them. That is until now.

FRESH had one of those sample people giving out free food and one of the items they were pushing was chips. Well you know how it is as you kind of feel sorry for those people out there all by themselves with their little table of food. It's kind of like a kid selling lemonade so you stop and try whatever it is their pushing as you don't want to look like a jackass. I can tell you with all the honesty left in my body that the chip given to me was the best tortilla chip I've ever had. And more importantly, it was great just by itself.

Julio's Corn Tortilla Chip is not only a great product but a great American story. And it's one of those stories that we should all take notice of when so many people have their hand out looking for a free ride.

Julio T. Garcia was born in Crystal City, Texas but raised on the other side of the border in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. He worked as a cook at Del Rio Restaurant and had developed his own spices that he used on steaks. Del Rio closed down leaving Julio unemployed and in a sea of debt. He tried marketing his spices from home but his credit was so bad that no bank would give him the time of day.

And then a miracle happened.

One day, a woman came to his house asking about the chips they served at Del Rio and wanted them for a party. Julio cut up some tortillas, fried them up, applied his spices and the rest is history. From that day forward, people started showing up at his door wanting chips.

Now with eight employees in his garage, Julio is distributing his chips all over Texas. Wal-mart is even selling them now as 8 distributors pick up the chips and take them to San Angelo, Midland, Odessa and Abilene.

Julio T. Garcia serves as an example to all of us that if you are willing to work in this country, you can do great things. And speaking of great, these chips are the best damn tortilla chips I've ever had.

And you can bank on that statement.