Going Back, Moving Forward

This summer we traveled West for a vacation with our granddaughter, visiting family in the town where I grew up. I knew much had changed in the area over the forty-some years since I moved out of state and I was curious to see what still remained and what I could remember of certain places. Our visit took us to Virginia City, Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and even a day trip over to San Francisco. Indeed much had changed but the overall contours and places had stayed remarkably similar to what I remembered.

In 1970 Reno was a bustling, medium-sized town of 101,000. The growth rate seems to have peeked at 5.1 percent in 1973, perhaps a boom ushered in by Californians fleeing their state. Not at all strange, those fleeing Californians are blamed for many of Reno’s ills (traffic? rising housing costs? You bet!). That rapid growth implied a steady influx of people pursuing jobs and new homes, bringing changes to the quiet urban landscape I remembered. 

Over the intervening years, Reno’s growth rate would slowly drop, peaking once more, at 3.9% in 1993. Since then the rate has steadily fallen. Population stands at 514,000 today, roughly 3 1/2 times what it was when I graduated high school, now with a yearly growth rate just under 2 percent a year. 

Reno Historical Growth from Macrotrends.net retrieved 2021/08/02

For contrast, Loudoun County where I live, has an estimated population of 429,570 with a growth rate of 1.90% in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Yet we are ranked (and folks complain!) as one of the fastest growing counties in America. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Loudoun County ranks 20th out of 3,142 US counties in growth according to the website https://siteselection.com/issues/2018/may/loudoun-county-10-ways-loudoun-county-virginia-is-no-1.cfm

My family had moved five times during the years I lived in the Washoe Valley region. This summer’s journey began with a drive past our first home in Sparks where we had moved in 1953. Our home, like so many others at the time, was part of a tract subdivision and we were the first ones to occupy it. All the homes looked alike, street after street of small, one story buildings. My parents built the one-car garage and to this day, few of the remaining homes have a garage. But the passage of time and the region’s droughts have been unkind. The house still stands almost 70 years after it was built but appears old and unpainted, the grassy front yard and many of its neighbors’ having been replaced by dirt patches, weeds, and brush. 

We quickly drove on to visit my first elementary school, the painted  cinderblock walls of which still stand out in my memory. The school appeared much as I had remembered it and I was encouraged to see children playing on the playground equipment. The church I had attended growing up, First United Methodist Church, still stands and looks to have expanded over the past half century. That was encouraging too.

We drove past the elementary school and also the first house we lived in after we moved from Sparks to Reno. Roger Corbett Elementary School is located across the street from my high school and it was great to see how well kept they both appeared. The house where we had lived, not so much. 

Perhaps due to the high cost of land and the scarcity of available property “close in” (short commute), many of the older communities and subdivisions here in Northern Virginia are experiencing a second life. Smaller homes are being remodeled and enlarged, or in some cases replaced all together. The area’s mature landscaping contributes to the livability of older neighborhoods and we quite often find people wanting to move in, rather than out, of these neighborhoods. 

In Reno the opposite seems to have taken place. While the shortage of water has had a great effect on landscaping in general, the introduction of xeriscaping has altered much of what I remembered homes and yards looked like. And all the new, much larger homes have been built farther and farther away from the areas I grew up in leaving the older communities appearing…smaller. It’s as if all the two-story homes are located up in the hills surrounding Reno while the bungalows and craftsman homes, the mid century modern and Spanish-revival homes were left behind in the valley. 

Yet there has been an incredible revival in the closer-in areas just beyond the Downtown core. The new area of Midtown is now a bustling community of galleries, restaurants, vintage shops and breweries and cafes, many decorated “to the nines” in a vibrant landscape of murals. 

Quite a few of the stores and even regional shopping malls that I grew up with have closed or are now being replaced with mixed use development. I was surprised to see so many of the large hotel casinos (not—too big to fail) have closed and many of them still stand empty. But some of them have been repurposed bringing new life to struggling areas. One such where we stopped for lunch, the former Riverside Hotel on the Truckee River, is now a building housing artists’ apartments and studios. The six story brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, originally built in 1927. Unfortunately many of the other historic buildings in Reno’s downtown have been destroyed, replaced by larger hotel casinos or apartment buildings. 

Our visit began with a side trip to see my kindergarten school and we ended our tour of education facilities with a walk thru the campus of my alma mater, University of Nevada Reno (1974). It was here that the size and scope of change really made an impact on me. The University was founded as a land grant college in 1874; Morril Hall was the first campus building occupied in 1886 and still stands. There were 8,023 students when I graduated in 1974. More than 21,000 students attend now and the university occupies 180 buildings over 290 acres. New buildings sit where before I remembered were only parking lots. Courtyards, walkways, and new intersections abound, as well as multi-level parking garages. A general plan seeks to better integrate the University with the downtown area of Reno just a few blocks to the south of the main campus entrance. Having outlived it’s reputation as the Divorce Capital of the World, the new emphasis on corporate/educational partnerships should help to redefine Reno as more than just a gambling town!

My hometown has changed physically more than I had expected over the past 40+ years; but much of that change has been good for it. I belong to a Facebook Group called “You lived in Reno in the 60s and 70s if you remember …” and there are always posts from people lamenting how much the City has changed. Nostalgia has a way of softening the edges when viewed through those rose-colored granny glasses, I think. I don’t see as well as I used to, and I would agree that you can’t go back to the way things were (thankfully!) But sometimes its nice to turn a corner and see exactly what you had expected would be there, even if its the 7-11 around the corner from where we lived. The indoor shopping mall where I worked while attending college is gone, but the mini mart around the corner from my Dad’s house is still there. Hopefully we will get back out west for another visit before things change too much!

Can’t Hear You

Three years into retirement and I think I’m beginning to get the hang of this new life. I’ve managed to set up a few new routines —make the bed every morning, walk the neighborhood trail before it gets hot, take the trash and recycling out on Thursday mornings. But along the way I’ve noticed some new, unexpected realities.

Recently our pastor spoke on one of the seven great I Am statements from Jesus in the New Testament. Pastor Brian mentioned how, if we aren’t careful, our view of God can become a little fuzzy over time, to the point where we might need an adjustment to our vision, or perhaps a new pair of glasses to help us see more clearly.

Which all got me to thinking about some other changes in my life recently that have seemingly crept up slowly, catching me unaware.

In the fall of 2017 as I was getting ready to retire at the end of that year, I went in for my yearly vision check up. Nothing new, I go in every year about the same time and generally end up with a new prescription to my glasses, all is good. That year my doctor had sobering advice and I ended up getting scheduled for cataract surgery. After a brief recovery period, I had to admit that I hadn’t really noticed how bad my vision had gotten, but I was happy about the vast improvement the new lenses provided.

In a similar storyline, in late 2019 I consulted an orthopedic surgeon regarding my increasing knee pain and in February of 2020, just before the pandemic closed everything down, I had knee replacement surgery. Recovery took quite a bit longer than I had expected but physical therapy made a great difference in my ability to get up and down our stairs more comfortably than before. It’s been a welcome holding effort on what looks to be a general downhill trajectory.

We recently had houseguests staying with us for several days. One of the new additions to the husband’s daily routine was to put in his new ears, a high tech hearing aid designed to help filter and amplify the myriad of sounds in our lives. I was curious because I’ve been experiencing what could possibly be considered “slight” hearing difficulties. Yet, like him, I considered myself too young to be needing a hearing aid.

With the encouragement of my wife and the recommendation of friends, I finally made an appointment to have my hearing tested. The last time I had been tested was during my service in the Army over thirty years ago; a lot can change during that time! My brooding anxiety was quickly dispelled during the test, though the small room with its “dead” acoustics made me a bit dizzy. I was relieved when the testing was completed and excited to see the results of what I expected to be a normal graph of my ears and their ability to distinguish between tones and recognize spoken words.

Well, it seems I am a candidate for some type of assisted-hearing device. I was actually shocked to see how much my hearing had dropped from the normal range, but the technician’s explanations made perfect sense once I thought about it. I’m still wrestling with the whole episode and there are a few appointments still to be made. More than anything, it has been hard reconciling some of the effects of getting older with how I perceive myself. But I have a guide to help me process some of what’s occurring, and likely to occur health-wise in the future.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians and recorded for us in the New Testament, describes our situation. “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.“ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message

Encouraging words, though I may be falling apart on the outside, yet daily God is renewing me to be more like Him. I’m sure I‘ll find more things that need attention before we get across the finish line. But then again, these bodies weren’t meant to last forever. But a day is coming!

Better Selection

Loudoun County has grown, A LOT, over the past twenty-five years. That is hardly a surprise to anyone who has lived in the area for any length of time. But for me, coming back to the area after we sold our home in Fairfax County, it has been a bit of a shock.

In 1995, the population was 116,140; in 2021 the estimated population is 429,570. The 2020 census data won’t be released for sometime but I’m sure it won’t shock county residents that we continue to grow. While Loudoun County is neither the fastest growing county in the US, it is the fastest in Virginia. According to Loudoun County Business Development, “Nationally, over that span (since 2010) Loudoun ranks 20th in growth of 3,142 counties and seventh among counties with a population of 100,000 or more. With Washington-Dulles International Airport providing access to more than 50 world capitals, nearly one in four Loudouners were born outside the U.S.” See their article for more here.

What I find interesting in all of this talk about growth is the growth in our culinary selections. Restaurant reviews and magazine or newspaper “best of” and “top ten” lists are published periodically. I have found many to be helpful guides in my ongoing search of culinary adventure. Over on The Burn website for instance, they have written over 35 stories on restaurants which have either opened since January of this year, or have plans to open soon.

Many of the new selections fall into recognizable categories: eight new restaurants featuring chicken, for instance. Five new Asian restaurants (Korean BBQ, Chinese-style hot pot, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants; four coffee shops and a couple of cookie or milk shake dessert places; even a new winery which looks like it will be fun (Old Farm Winery at Hartland).

Saigon Outcast is a recently-opened fast casual style restaurant that we tried Saturday night with friends. A band was playing indoors to an enthusiastic crowd; we sat outdoors on the patio. Gas heaters provided plenty of warmth during the cool spring evening and allowed us to enjoy the conversation without needing to wear a mask. Saigon Outcast is an Vietnamese twist on the popular “world of beers” eatery. Rather than traditional pub food (pretzels, hamburgers, smothered tater tots), their menu has features such as lemongrass beef, green papaya salad with shrimp, and wok-charred shishito peppers. Indoors, the wall of customer-poured beers was an experience I look forward to trying again. I needed a little help with the whole process (chilled glasses on the left side of the cooler, tip your glass a little more to get under the spigot) but what an adventure! With over 30 beers, wines and ciders to choose from, fun decor and the Vietnamese inspired menu, this is a place I hope to return to soon.

A few selections from the menu at Saigon Outcast

La Prensa Tacos and Tapas opened last December in Sterling and has been growing in popularity since. Deb and I stopped in after church one Sunday hoping to avoid the afternoon and evening crowd I had seen on a recent drive by pick up at Nothing Bundt Cakes next door. What a treat! We tried several of the tapas and a birria quesadilla, all delicious. They offer two types of sangria so we ordered a glass of each to go with our tasting meal. The grilled octopus with Salsa Basquaise was amazing and had me thinking about our visit to Barcelona. The menu is Mexican influenced according to chef Santosh Tiptur, owner of The Conche in Leesburg, with half of the menu featuring tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, the other half featuring small-plated tapas. There are three items on the dessert menu (save room!) and the churros drizzled in chocolate served with ice cream was my favorite. The flan was nice, but really no competition with the churros. I’m giving them two thumbs up. Try them soon for an upbeat modern version of a Spanish tapas bar.

Pulpo con Salsa Basquaise

La Prensa

21305 Windmill Parc Drive, Suite 140
Sterling VA 20166
703-462-3325

Saigon Outcast

44921 George Washington Blvd, Suite 155
Ashburn, VA 20147
703-258-6562

The Qui

This weekend we tried the Qui Korean Grille, a new Korean Barbeque restaurant in the NOVA area. Located in Chantilly, Virginia, it is off the Annandale—Centreville axis of Korean restaurants we usually visit and closer to our new home in Eastern Loudoun County. Korean KBBQ is often served “all you can eat” style with a seemingly endless supply of new sliced meats to grill at your table. The Qui has been open for just three months so I was excited to try them out.

The “all you can eat” menu features either a pork or a beef selection. For $24 a person, that sounded fine but I thought it would really be too much to eat for the two of us (ten meat selections!) So, for a few dollars more, we selected the Beef Combination set, better quality meat and only five selections. Beginning with thinly-sliced brisket, we tried their bulgogi and three other meats. It still ended up being far more meat than we usually have for a meal. But after I saw it on the menu, our server was kind and brought us a sample of the orange bulgogi to try. Winner!


Our meal came with rice and a small assortment of banchan, side dishes such as kimchi, broccoli, and pickled daikon radish meant to be shared. Curiously missing was the plate of large-leaved lettuce used to wrap the bite sized portions of meat. It really was a meat lovers experience. My favorite turned out to be the orange bulgogi. I’ve often brought home marinated beef and pork bulgogi from our local HMart grocery store and grilled my own meats; I’m definitely trying it with the orange flavor soon.

The Qui appears to fit more closely with the look and feel of Iron Age Korean Steak Restaurant in Centreville. Both share the same dark painted walls and low-lit aesthetic. With its slab concrete tables and black pendant lighting, the Qui doesn’t have the warm and bright environment that I’m used to seeing at most of our restaurants. Not sure how I feel about that yet. With restaurant indoor capacity still at 50 percent, the tables are separated with plexiglass dividers. There are hand sanitizer stations at the door and a contactless temperature check in the waiting area before entering the main dining room.


The Qui is located next door to Chateau de Chantilly Cafe, a large cafe and bakery with plenty of seating indoors as well as an outdoor patio area in the front. A great place to stop and get a coffee and pastry after your meal at the Qui. Give them both a try and let me know what you think.


THE QUI Korean Grill
website
13972 Metrotech Dr, Chantilly, VA 20151 | 703.817.2505

Plenty of parking at the side and back of the building.

Big Real Big

I first learned silkscreen printing when I went to work for a sign company printing billboards back in the 1970s. It was a part time job while I attended the University of Nevada. Today billboards come in a lot of varying sizes and the technology has changed dramatically over the past 40 plus years. Many billboards are now printed digitally (think of a gigantic HP plotter), or even comprised of small LED units to create vivid moving graphic displays. But back in the day, we printed on sheets of paper, 42” x 60”, 12 sheets to a sign. The screens were huge compared to the little screens we had used in art class. The squeegees were big. We mixed up the ink up in 5 gallon buckets. Everything was big.

Checking the registration between the screen and the printing substrate.

When I moved to San Diego after college, I found a job in another screen printing company doing the same thing as before. We still used hand cut paper stencils, adhered to the bottom of the screen, to make our impressions. But this company had an industrial-sized copy camera and a dark room, so we produced a lot of signs using film and photosensitive emulsion coated onto the screens for the stencil. 

I left them and helped to start another printing company (a competitor with several former employees from our previous company—not sure how I feel about that now). 

But those positions and experiences all prepared me for the move to the Really Big  Show. Robert Keith and Company, San Diego was a design and fabrication company specializing in custom made Giant Inflatable Product Replicas, along with inflatable college mascots, logos, scenic props, and advertising. Everything we made was BIG.

When they received an order for multiple copies of twenty foot tall Budweiser cans, the decision was made to create an in-house screen printing department which would augment their hand-painted graphic capabilities.

We created twelve foot long screens to print labels directly on the fabric pieces which would then be sewn together to create the product replicas. We printed for Budweiser, Miller Beer, Corona and Dos Equis, San Miguel and Tecate,  Strohs and Pabst beers, and Pepsi. Bottles and cans, even a giant six-pack created as an inflatable building, were some of the many oversized projects I helped to create.

The company changed hands and names a couple of times thru the years. I got back in touch with them several years ago. I was surprised and more than a little impressed to see they are still in business, making things BIG as http://www.biggerthanlife.com

Oh! Side note here. For years one of my unofficial nicknames has been Hon Real Big. I like it! I think I might have preferred “Slim” or “Speedy,” but none of those quite seem to fit now.

Catching Up

One of the most exciting aspects of reconnecting with friends has been to discover what they are doing now. While Facebook has been a great resource to find and reestablish friendships from years ago, I’ve discovered it’s not the only way to do that.

Recently I found an old college roommate (old as in the sense, from years ago!) while searching online for someone else. Google returned a vast array of individuals with the same name as my search; when I cross-referenced a few of them through LinkedIn I was surprised at who I had found. I wrote about reconnecting and catching up with John last week (here). Since then we’ve done a deeper dive and spoken on the phone, he refreshing my fading memory and sketching in more details of his life now.

Another friend from my time in the service, US Army 83-86, moved back to the Pacific Northwest upon retiring from the Army. I follow him on Instagram and was encouraged to see that he and his wife have started a podcast primarily focused on travel and the adventures of a blended family. More power to them! Just as the internet has allowed for a wider audience for writers, it has also opened up the broadcast medium to more voices speaking from their own experiences. Take a listen here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/lifetrek/id1553717951

Last year I had plans to join my fellow high school graduates to celebrate our 50th Reunion. While those plans were cancelled due to Covid-19, I was able to reconnect with a number of friends thru the Facebook Group one of them had set up for a previous reunion. Catching up online, looking at pictures of children ( and grandchildren!) was itself a small consolation for missing out. And truthfully, we didn’t get fingerprints all over the photo albums that inevitably get passed around. 

Last year I spent some time searching online for information about a Nevada artist, one of whose paintings my parents used to own. When I came across a photo of his painting on a website devoted to Western artists, I was intrigued. It had been used to illustrate an article, a review of a new book comparing the lives of two prominent Nevada artists, one an author, the other a painter. I found the book on Amazon and ordered it; read it; loved it. The book’s author had moved to Reno, my hometown, so I tracked him down and shot off a letter to him. I was agreeably surprised to receive a reply. Anthony noted that he has a new book to be published this spring on another Western artist from the same time period and that he would alert me as to the date. A nice touchstone with an important part of my distant past.

Filing box with old cards
Paper filing card system.

Last year we had a mobile shredding service come out and destroy dozens of boxes of old business records, files and notes on people, some of whom I know have passed on. But what of the rest? What has become of some of these names in files from decades ago? What of their families, their children? Where are they all now? And what about us, have you gotten in touch with someone from your past? No guarantees but it is nice to see how some stories have turned out years later, when perhaps we had only seen the first chapter.

Long Ago

Last week I went for a walk in the woods behind our house. It had snowed most of the day before but now people were out walking their dogs, sledding down the hill, enjoying the cold air and the opportunity to be outdoors. Much of the trail had already been traveled by the neighbors, deep ruts where sets of footprints overlapped others. I stepped aside from the path in order to walk through the undisturbed snow. After some time I turned around and set back home and was startled to see rather large shoe prints in the snow where I had expected there would be none. Strange. And then it occurred to me that what I was seeing were the familiar waffle patterns made by my own shoes. I was retreading the familiar and seeing it from a new perspective.


Long ago, a very long time ago, I thought I had my future planned out. Through junior high, high school, and on into college I had taken art classes in preparation for a career in “Art.” Still life drawing, life drawing, color wheels and painting, printmaking and sculpture were all classes I loved and excelled in. My fabric sculpture class? Not so much, I dropped out after a week. 

Art history classes each semester, trips to local and regional art museums, and then membership in a co-op art gallery where I was privileged to exhibit my drawings and small watercolors along with other members of the gallery on a monthly basis all helped to confirm my strong desire to make a living in the art world.

Three years after graduating with a degree in fine arts (painting) I moved to San Diego and took what I thought would be a temporary job in a silkscreen production company. And for the next 43 years I created…no art. A variety of jobs ensued, a lifelong career in graphic production, trade show and museum exhibits. But no art.

Retired now, I am slowly returning to my first-avowed vocation. I’ve been greatly encouraged lately by the artwork of a young friend, a businessman actually who really shouldn’t have time to pursue his art, but does. Managing to find time to paint, raise a family, and lead a business, Tyler’s efforts have inspired me to take up again what I thought I had lost years ago. View some of his art online here https://www.tylergeel.com/

Last week while searching online for friends from “the good old days,” I came across a former roommate from college. John had taken a turn in his career too, after college. While I had assumed he would end up in politics or perhaps with a law degree, he eventually ended up as an artist and gallery owner. You can see his work here https://studiojomac.com/

I mention this because at one point in time we each worked for the same company, went to the same university; though at that time we pursued vastly different career goals, yet only one of us ended up with the life I thought I had wanted. Looking back now with the benefit of age, I wonder—was it many small decisions that resulted in such different outcomes? Or was there one defining moment, a fork in the road as it were, and here we are today? Can we retrace our steps, perhaps even find our way back and walk for awhile down the untrod path? Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

Robert Frost has a lovely poem along these lines. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I Missed It

This past Christmas I drove out to our local Target to pick up a new Christmas CD for the wife. No luck. I drove over to Best Buy, home of everything electronic, and was surprised by how much they had…changed. The vast rows of CDs and DVDs—which, along with the equipment to play them, had once been a major part of the store—were gone. Somehow I had missed a major change in the cultural landscape. 

Though I haven’t  been a big consumer of music on CD, still I feel I’ve done my part to keep the music industry running, often picking up a couple of CDs for the holidays or gifts for birthdays. The same for DVDs, purchasing a few every year. When the collectors edition of Star Wars came out on DVD, I picked up a copy along with The Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit!). I’ve added to my James Bond collection all of the Daniel Craig movies as they came out. The same with Batman and of course The Avengers. Building my audio video library piece by piece through the years, I was surprised by how much we had when it came time to pack and move to our new place two years ago.

Blockbuster sold DVDs as well as rented them.

On March 31, 1997, digital video disc (DVD) video players were first released for sale in the United States. Remember Netflix and their DVDs in a self return mailer? Netflix began in 1997 mailing out DVDs in a self return mailer based on your list of favorites. Within ten years they had switched to a streaming service. Before we switched to Netflix we would stop by our local Blockbuster and grab a few movies for the weekend. Remember Blockbuster? They filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Culture shift. Movies online, no more standing in line.

Best Buy announced that they would be phasing out all CD sales by July 1, 2018. Target was expected to make a similar move, selling CDs only on consignment. The digital disc was destined to be sold in only a few holdouts such as Walmart, smaller record shops, and of course Amazon. I missed this announcement. https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-the-cds-rise-and-fall/

At the same time as the introduction of the CD and DVD, in October 2001 Apple unleashed a little MP3 player known as the iPod. Twenty years later players can be found in many sizes, shapes, and configurations. Best Products lists their top ten players here. With entries from Sony, FiiO, Sandisc, and of course Apple, these little go-anywhere devices offer incredible sound quality, music on demand where and when you want to hear it. They replaced the big boom boxes from my younger days.

Pandora, the internet music streaming service which began in January 2000, has lost ground to an array of new services: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, SiriusXM, Tidal, and YouTube Music (which replaced Google Play Music) all offer a selection of add-supported or subscription-based music systems that you can stream to your phone, MP3 player, computer or automobile.

So where does that leave us, those folks who are left holding on to boxes full of movies and music CDs from the past couple of decades? What do we do with the remnants of older technology, not quite obsolete but “quaint,” in the same way that my desktop computer was replaced with a smaller, faster laptop? Do we finally adapt and adopt?

Was there a memo? If so, I think I missed it. 

Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about outdoor murals and the Big Box Data Centers out here in Loudoun County. You can read that post here. The data centers have been here for years and no doubt more of them are on the way. While the discussion was enlightening, it had me thinking back to other examples of very large scale art projects.

Raphael’s fresco, “The School of Athens” is huge: painted in 1511, it measures 16′ 5″ x 25′ 3”. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” painted in 1642, is 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4”. And one of my favorite images, Pablo Picasso’s moving “Guernica” is 11′ 6″ x 25′ 6″. Clearly, overly-large works of art are hardly new to us.

Recently a new outdoor mural was installed in Springfield in conjunction with a refresh of a local neighborhood shopping plaza. Undoubtedly intentional, the cardinal in the graphic brings to mind the name of the plaza, Cardinal Forest.

Bank of America mural in Springfield VA, by Refract Studio.

In 1974, as a senior in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Nevada Reno, I had the opportunity to paint one of several billboards around town that spring. The billboard locations had been donated by Donrey for a month to advertise that year’s Spring Arts Festival at UNR. 

Billboard art, UNR Arts Festival

I had been working part time at a local billboard company. Outdoor Posters, (now Midtown Art and Photo) was a silkscreen printer specializing in the large billboards one can see through out many of the cities and towns across the US..

The Billboard Marketing Industry https://www.bmediagroup.com/news/which-state-has-the-most-billboards/ notes that there are now almost 400,000 billboards in America. Four states have no billboards (Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii). The federal government tracks the number of billboards through each state as part of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) of 1965. 

Florida, Georgia, California, and New Jersey are the top four states with billboards. According to Statista.com, there are approximately 343 thousand displays in the U.S. in 2020 with nearly  9.6 thousand were digital billboards. Considering that digital billboards were introduced in 2005, I would have thought that there would be far more of them by now.

What has happened is the proliferation of digital media in places like cinemas, shopping malls, airports, bus shelters, and of course stadiums. Digital media have virtually popped up everywhere, in all the obvious spaces. But we have also seen a proliferation of large-scale digital images in many unlikely places.

Video screen at Christian Fellowship Church, Ashburn VA

Churches, for instance, have really embraced the large format LED video walls. With their brilliant saturated colors and use of text, the modern video walls in today’s churches seemingly replicate the function of gothic stained glass windows, both as decorative elements and as tools of instruction. In the best cases, their use can enhance the mood and lyrics of a song or a speaker’s message. In the worst case, they can become expensive screen savers and a distraction to the message.

One of my favorite movies begins with a scene that was prescient for it’s time. Ridley Scott’s classic film, “Blade Runner” opens with a view of building-sized video screens. Startling at the time, they are now commonplace in many cities, for instance New York’s Times Square. And home TVs and video screens? Always bigger because, well, we just love the Big Picture.

Blade Runner, 1982


Slow Down

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. There are many reasons for this, one of which would be a desire to lose these COVID pounds that I’ve put on over the past several months. Another one is certainly a goal of better health. I don’t have a bicycle and I don’t particularly like to swim, both of which have been suggested to me by my doctor. So walking it is.

As I continue to recover from knee surgery, I’m finding that my steps are shorter than before. I’m hoping to get back to my old gait and I would eventually like to measure my distance in miles, not steps. 10,000 steps a day is a goal still beyond my grasp but we are getting there. 

In truth, there are far more steps behind me now than those ahead. It’s something I wrestle with but haven’t lost sleep over. “The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16.

One thing I’ve found while walking is that I still have a bad habit of constantly looking down. (Yes, I have run into a sign post and more than once.) I can end up focusing on what’s right in front of me and miss the bigger picture. I found this to be a problem when mowing the lawn, for instance. Focusing on long term goals but only looking at short term gains can quickly run you into the weeds. 

A group of us recently went through a study in the New Testament book of James. A key verse which stood out to me then is now just making itself more profitable. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Don’t we so often have this turned around? We are too quick to become angry, we find it hard to listen, and we are always ready to speak. Slowing down before we speak, or in my case before I post on social media, could just save us from unintended consequences. Not always, but it’s a beginning. 

A dear friend recently lifted my spirits by reaffirming something our pastor had just spoken about regarding what it is we are to be doing while we are walking through this life. Memes found on the internet are hardly the place to go for advice. I post it here for your consideration. Much can be made of the phrase “act justly,” or the one that follows “love mercy.” But what caught my attention was the concluding phrase, “walk humbly with your God.” 

It’s the invitation, not just how we are to walk (in humility) but with whom we are to walk that catches my breath here. When our granddaughter was small she and I would walk hand in hand, her small steps leading the way, often pulling me along the path. At times she would run ahead but always waiting for me to catch up; I guess I was slow even then. 

Her trust in the one she was walking with was evident. I’m hoping that as I slow down, giving greater attention to listening, I will develop a heart and attitude of humility. I know we are called to do justly, that is, to be people who love and uphold justice. And we are to love mercy or be merciful—but what are these qualities if they aren’t found in combination with humility? Aren’t they just another opportunity for us to showcase our pride? I’m hoping, expecting even, that by slowing down I will grow in humility, mercy, and a love of justice because of the One with whom I am walking. Baby steps, in one continuous direction.