Friday, February 27, 2009

REI and The Compulsion to Buy

I'm a firm believer in the notion that the spice of life lies in being able to spend money frivolously, at least once in a while. For a long time, one of the primary beneficiaries of my whimsical consumerism was Recreational Equipment Incorporated, better known as REI. Over the years, I've bought all kinds of equipment, footwear, clothing, and books at REI related to hiking, caving, camping, backpacking, and climbing; however, I find myself buying less and less stuff there as time has gone on, and for multiple reasons. First, I naturally have acquired pretty much all the gear I can use, most of which is extremely durable, and my "frivolity" generally doesn't extend to replacing equipment just because the manufacturers have come out with new designs or models. Second, I liked the "old" REI store in Albuquerque, which was located down near Old Town (adjacent to the Natural History Museum), much better than the "new" store, which is located near the intersection of MontaƱo Road and I-25. (Years ago, I would periodically take a bit of an extended lunch on a slow work day to go look around the "old" store before stopping by the Sunset Memorial cemetery on the way back to visit my father's grave and polish up the headstone; now that REI has moved, however, I rarely visit either it or the cemetery.)

Third, I don't have as much disposable cash as I once had, so I've had to rein in my spending a little. Fourth, my interest in playing the electric guitar has expanded, and thus lately I've bought guitars and amplifiers where I once might have bought tents, backpacks, headlamps, or climbing shoes. Fifth, the rise of online outdoor-gear vendors has often caused me to shop for better prices than REI typically offers. And, sixth, I guess I've come to regard REI as something of a "snob-a-torium" whose best customers are more interested in being seen wearing/using expensive outdoor clothing and gear than in the intrinsic utility that such clothing and gear represent. (I'm not above wanting to own name-brand clothing and gear -- although I'll never pay $400 for the latest "technical" shell jacket or $600 for a backpacking tent -- but neither am I above wearing very comfortable and durable "convertible" hiking pants, as I am doing as I write this, that I got on clearance at Wal-Mart for $9.00.)

Thus, I still go to REI once in a while to look around, but mostly I leave without buying anything. I must confess, however, that at this moment I'm waiting for a new pair of Vasque hiking boots to be delivered to the REI store here that I purchased on the "REI-Outlet" website. Sometimes I still can't resist temptation!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Demise of My Favorite Retailers

I've been thinking about how a lot of my favorite midscale department-store chains seem to be going out of business. It started when Montgomery Ward closed its retail operations in 2001, an event that still bums me out, especially since it proved catastrophic for the Winrock Mall here in Albuquerque. (Winrock, a favorite place of mine since I was a small child, and the source of countless youthful memories, essentially now consists of a Bed, Bath & Beyond, a Dillard's store, and a Big 5 sporting-goods store, all of which are generally accessed from outside the mall, which isn't even heated these days. There are plans to renovate, but I'm not sure it will ever happen.) And now Mervyns, which by default became my favorite store when Wards closed, shut down operations after the most-recent Christmas shopping season. All of which leaves me fearing for J.C. Penney and Sears, my remaining favorite department stores -- and, indeed, for the future of the entire Coronado Mall, the other "indoor" mall in the Uptown area. It's apparent that low-end pressure from stores like Target and Wal-Mart, not to mention the universality of online shopping, is making it very difficult for the midscale chains to compete; however, if it comes about that the only places I can afford to buy clothes and sundries are Target and the internet, the world will be a significantly bleaker place for me!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is it really February already?

It's getting harder and harder these days to think of things to write about. Barack Obama as president is pretty much living up to my expectations so far, but I don't have much else to say about him. (However, one statement he made -- that we should be less concerned about how much government costs than how well it works -- was a real eye-roller. How do you reason with someone who can't even seem to grasp the notion of weighing benefits against costs, especially a politician for whom government cannot, by definition, cost too much?)

My sleep habits have not improved dramatically. After we re-arranged our bedroom, I found I had to block the heater vent to ward off a hot-cold cycle that was keeping me awake. I also had to get the medical supply company to switch out the humidifer reservoir for my VPAP Adapt SV machine, because the old one was leaking water around the metal disk that contacts the heating element. However, I'm coming to see that the primary factor impeding my sleep at this point is the air that the machine causes me to swallow and the resulting stomach upset; I think it is what wakes me up early and keeps me from falling back asleep. I'm trying to deal with it without medicating myself, but I can't overstate how annoying it is to be bone-tired and still not be able to sleep through the night.

Darren is still with Elder Rose in the Cerro Grande sector of Tegucigalpa, and they recently baptized a young fellow named Victor (see photo). He (Darren) will hit his 17-month mark in another week, and it's looking more certain now that he'll be able to come home sometime in the latter half of August so that he can return to BYU for the fall semester. He recently consulted with an American doctor about his eye injury (which he sustained on taking a soccer ball to the face), and the doctor told him that his dilated left pupil is a permanent condition; it won't affect his vision, per se, but obviously it will look a little funny. Properly viewed, it is a "war wound" suffered while in the Lord's service!

Not much is going on in our family at present. Kiley has a band trip to Durango, CO next month, and of course she goes to Australia with the Youth Symphony in June. We still need to get her signed up to take the ACT in April. Dorine, Kiley, and I will be going to Utah next month, but I'd like to take a shorter trip somewhere before then; I've been thinking about taking my mother down to Ruidoso to see the Hubbard Museum of the American West, which has numerous items collected by the last wife of one of Mom's uncles. (I'm not sure when Mom will feel up to the trip, however, after she took a fall in the temple parking lot last week, hitting the back of her head on the sidewalk, as she was arriving there to do her usual Thursday afternoon sessions.)

I just finished reading the autobiography of Eric Clapton that came out a couple of years ago. He led a pretty tawdry existence for most of his life before finally becoming clean and sober in his forties and, later on, finding domestic bliss with a young wife and kids (and even kicking a tobacco habit along the way). I don't have much in common with him inasmuch as I have never had issues with alcohol or drugs, have never had to worry about struggling with the trappings of wealth and notoriety, and don't have a tremendous natural gift for music. However, I did identify with his talk of unresolved psychology, his unchanneled-but-undeniable spirituality, and the fact that his music was the one influence in his life that saw him through all the dark times. I found myself wishing I could write songs with him, as I'm sure he could take all the nascent ideas bubbling in my head and bring them to fruition.