Factory visits are at or near the top of my list in terms of destinations. Call me crazy, but I truly appreciate witnessing how things are made. Be it boots, bags, cars, anything that requires production and assembly is o.k. in my book. And regardless of the product, each factory packs a different punch. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of different factories, making a lot of different things. Boots, bags, cars, chocolate bars, pipes, sweaters, bicycles, stationery, watches, among others have all made the list, and never does it get old.
As a change-up to the typical factory tour, I paid a visit to the Museo Piaggio which is housed in one company’s former factories. Located in Pontedera, about an hour outside of Florence, the museum stands in what is Piaggio’s birthplace and home to some of their most important creations. Founded in 1884, Piaggo’s roots lay in the maritime industry where they were considered one of the premier ship-fitting companies in Italy. They would later carry the same reputation in the railroad and aeronautics industries. Not until 1946 would the creation of the Vespa, change the face of Piaggo forever (with a little help from Gregory Peck).
Opened in 2000, and envisioned by the former chairman Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, the museum is a tribute to one of Italy’s most important mechanical companies. On display you’ll find a terrific timeline of Piaggio’s history alongside some of the rarest vehicles they’ve produced in their nearly 130 year history. While there’s clearly an emphasis on the Vespa, examples of Piaggio’s origins in the railroad and aeronautic industry stand present. A 1936 Treno locomotive occupies the entrance, an example of the first stainless steel trains made in Italy. And not far away sits a 1951 Aero P149, one of the first training planes developed by Piaggio in the late 40′s.
Obviously not a typical factory with production having long been discontinued, there’s no lack of creativity remaining in the building. The museum is the perfect example of how to appropriately convert a former industrial space for use today, integrity intact. And while you won’t necessarily bare witness to anything produced per se, you’re still offered the privilege to see the origins of where the ideas were started. [Museo Piaggio]
Spending an extended amount of time in a foreign environment is a very telling experience. It doesn’t take long before you start realizing what you need and perhaps more importantly, what you don’t need. After one or two legs of the journey, your bags are lighter, your routine is dialed, and a kindle is your only companion. While away, normalcies such as drinks with friends get replaced by drinks with strangers. And that’s just fine. If not for the embrace of the separation, it would not offer that familiar tingle of being somewhere different. Somewhere unlike home.
Over the last two months, I’ve been working on a project in Puerto Rico, or America’s 51st state. An island with two flags and two languages, it was much further out than I expected. Embrace was the only option. For a person from the northern colonies, island life takes a little getting used to. A lot less gas and a little more left pedal. The days are long and the waters are warm, I didn’t fight it.
A steady supply of local rum, work and distractions managed to keep me adrift and curious. Admittedly, this island swap also created a lull in contribution to this forum, albeit a steady stream of posts to instagram. And while an obvious supporter of the whole internet thing, sometimes it’s healthy to live outside the lens for a while. Returned, ready and refreshed, I’m looking forward to some new things in the works and to dust off a few things from the past. For now, here are a few snaps from San Juan.
It’s safe to say, traveling isn’t what it was. In years past, one in ten would visit foreign soil during peace time. And those were the lucky. Families were raised local, and stayed local. Sure, there were exceptions, but they tended to be the brave old few who wandered over from the old country.
Insert James A. Fitzpatrick. A native son of Ohio, Fitzpatrick is the envy of anyone who appreciates being forced to shut down their electronic device. For those unfamiliar, Fitzpatrick would spend the better part of 25-years circling the globe, sharing his experiences with the unlucky. Pre-frequent flyer miles and private lounges. During his tenure, an 18-hour ride to Schiphol was a fast one, and probably had three or four connections. That too was luck.
Fitzpatrick’s infamous narration would later be known as The voice of the Globe. And during his career as a writer, producer and narrator he produced over 250 travel documentaries, visiting the world’s great cities. Lasting only a few minutes, his films take people to places far away; unknown, foreign, intimidating. And if his voice or witty narration doesn’t win you over, the impressive Technicolor should. Saying these are good or worth your time would be selling them short.
Turning a passion into a career isn’t for the weary, yet Fitzpatrick managed to pull it off during a time when many thought his passion was crazy. Stretching his borders, he wandered into the unknown and brought home a story. These are two of my favorite visits, each carrying its own basis and offering a great look into the past.
Thanks for the tip, V.
The double-edged statement, out with the old, and in with the new doesn’t apply to a company like Filson. At least when it comes to their tin cloth bags, which are virtually bullet proof. However, this is exactly the case at their Seattle home, where they recently unveiled a new factory, showroom, and headquarters carved out of a converted warehouse, and sits at a mere 57,000 square feet.
Filson has long been among my list of favorite brands. While I appreciate their stateside roots, well made product and integrity, my appreciation started with a Mackinaw Cruiser I had when I was younger. Not understanding what was good or bad at the time, I remember a jacket that was indestructible and kept me out of trouble. Looking back, it all makes sense and my attention eventually graduated to tin cloth bags. Although the cruiser has since been outgrown, several bags remain a fixture in my rotation. And now a number of years in, they’re as good as day one.
For 116 years, Filson has remained consistent and is now a well oiled machine. Their products rarely change and often improve. It’s safe to assume that while their factory has changed, the trusted quality of their bags won’t. [Filson]Paul + Williams
To commemorate Memorial Day, I headed back home to my native Chicago, with an outbound pit stop through Indianapolis. Typically, I’d fly home and be back to the middle west in a couple of hours, but this time around for some weird reason I thought it’d be fun to make the 800-mile commute by way of the road. You know that whole thing about hindsight being 20/20, yeah, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.
Nonetheless, driving was totally worth it and created an opportunity to visit Indianapolis where I made my maiden voyage to the Indy 500. With great company, perfectly positioned seats and a police escort into the race, it was an offer and experience that was hard to pass up. And as a first timer, I was pegged with equal parts excitement and curiosity.
To put an event as large as the Indy 500 into context is difficult. Held every Memorial Day weekend, the race caters to a crowd of roughly 400,000 and is considered among the top three most prestigious motorsports events in the world. And while among this noteworthy list, it’s safe to say the race’s Indiana roots give it a certain patina not afforded to other motorsports events. Lets just say it’s no Monaco – which is just fine, that’s why we like it.
After nearly four hours of race prep, fans armed with ear plugs, bud heavies, and hotdogs hit their seats for the noontime green flag. Throughout the next 200 laps, cars squeal past at speeds in the high 190′s, sling shooting around the turns and out of sight. There’s a slight shuffle in the stands during caution time, but many remain loyal and ride out the duration of the race from their seat, rarely missing any action. But once the checkers drop, the exodus ensues, and half-a-million people take to the streets. Another year, another 500.
I’ve always been curious and fascinated by automobile races. I grew up watching the Indy 500 every year with a friend and his older brothers, a yearly tradition from afar, much the same as many who attend the race. Although I only experienced the event through a tubed television, as soon as we entered the gates, it brought back so many memories of years past. Memories of the cars, sounds, sights, the broadcasters and the milky finish. Finally seeing everything first-hand brought it all full-circle, with the addition of a varied group of scents – beef, beer, rubber, petrol. Some good, some bad.
If you haven’t attended the Indianapolis 500, make the trip at least once in your life. The event is definitely a love it or hate it experience. Personally, the entire scale of the event was the largest I’d experienced and at times almost overwhelming. Fortunately, a cooler full of beer is endorsed to take the edge off.