October 2016 Archives

Coincidence? That's nuts!
October 30, 2016 3:44 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where, if the details were only slightly different, the outcome would border on disastrous? Perhaps you drove through an intersection and when you looked in your rearview mirror, you saw a car run a red light and t-bone another vehicle. Or perhaps it was something as simple as coming back into the house from the garage before a weekend trip because you forgot your car keys, and finding that you'd left the cooktop on.

I've experienced these "happy coincidences" on a number of occasions through the years. For example, after a 20 mile ride through the Texas Hill Country, our bike chain inexplicably* fell apart...two blocks from the B&B where we stayed. Then there was the time our bicycle's rear wheel self-destructed while we were plodding along on a flat road at about ten mph, making it an annoyance; the weekend before we had barreled down a hill at three times that speed, and if it had happened then, it had the potential to be fatal. And I'm sure that many of us have the shared experience of finding that our car battery has died in the garage, rather than in the middle of nowhere.

I wouldn't try to argue with those who would claim that these things are simply the luck of the draw, although my belief is that there is some Divine intervention at work. Because sometimes, those "coincidences" are just too unlikely to have any other explanation. We experienced that earlier today.

I took my truck to the dealership on Friday for regular scheduled service, a part of which involved rotating the tires. I picked it up Friday afternoon, and drove it around town on various errands for at least fifty miles through noon today. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary during that time.

As we returned home after lunch today, I turned down the alley leading to our garage, and noticed a shiny object lying in the middle of the alley, one house down from ours. I pointed it out to MLB, who hadn't noticed it, and she retrieved it after we parked. She brought it to me, and remarked that she thought it was part of a tool. It looked really familiar...I identified it as something similar to the locking lug nuts on each wheel of the truck. In my post chile-relleno-and-enchilada stupor, I decided that perhaps it had rolled out the alley from the garage of the neighbors behind us, and I decided to return it to them.

The mystery object
The mystery object

As I walked past the truck on the way out of the garage, my mind suddenly clicked...this didn't just look like one of the locking nuts...this was identical to them. Oh, surely not. I walked around the truck and when I came to the rear wheel on the passenger's side, my suspicion was confirmed. This was my lug nut.

The mystery object
A sad...and frightening...sight

The mechanic at the dealership had obviously neglected to tighten the nut sufficiently on Friday and it eventually worked its way off the wheel**. But the "coincidences" are fairly obvious, aren't they?

  • What are the odds that the nut would fall off mere feet from our garage after a multiple days and miles of driving?

  • What are the odds that I would notice it before someone else found it and disposed of it?

  • And consider this: we have some pretty significant road trips coming up soon. It's one thing to drive around town with a missing lug nut; quite another to log six or seven hundred miles at highway speeds.
I immediately remounted the lug nut, and checked all the others for tightness. The other three locking nuts were very slight loose - I could budge them perhaps 1/32nd of a turn with the wrench - while the non-security nuts were all perfectly torqued down (obviously down with an air wrench).

So, as it turned out, this situation resulted simply in a blog post (if you think that's a disaster in and of itself, well, keep that to yourself), rather than something much more serious. Feel free to consider this a happy coincidence and us as incredibly lucky. Personally, I'm casting my vote for an overworked guardian angel dispatched by a loving God.

*Inexplicable, except for the fact that I later found I had mounted the chain incorrectly. Go me.

**I have some experience with insufficiently tightened lug nuts. That's another story for another day; suffice it to say that seeing one of your car's wheels roll down the road ahead of you isn't something you easily forget.
Earlier this year I reported on the grand opening of the West Texas Food Bank's main facility in Odessa. That facility - the crown jewel of the Food Bank's physical presence - was the first result of a $13 million capital campaign (an amount raised in only 13 months). The second step was revealed last night, when a sneak preview grand opening (the official public grand opening is this morning) was held at the new Midland location - the official name is the "Midland Community & Volunteer Center" - the first physical presence of the Food Bank in our city. Debbie and I were once again privileged to attend, and I wanted to share some photos from this great addition Midland's benevolence infrastructure.

[Disclaimer: These photos were taken with my phone, amid a crowd of people, so please excuse the obvious quality and framing issues.]

The new facility is located at 1601 Westcliff Drive, just south of the Andrews Highway, near the Midland County Tax Offices. The main building is a repurposed existing structure that was donated by Mike and Cindy Black and Lea and Melanie Crump (the lobby bears their names). It's only about a third of the size of the Odessa location, which is 60,000 square feet, but it purposes are a bit different and don't require the same scale.

The lobby shares some features of the Odessa facility, including the striking green logo wall, and the installation of dinner plates showing the names of the donors who made these facilities possible. A unique aspect of the Midland location is the integration of actual wooden food pallets as an architectural feature, as shown below.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Lobby

Here's a sample of some of the donor plates mentioned above. I felt compelled to highlight the plate belonging to Debbie's and my employer, SM Energy Company.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Donor Plates

Immediately off the lobby is the H-E-B Client Choice Pantry, where clients can "shop" for an assortment of food, both fresh and non-perishable. This pantry will be stocked with items specifically geared toward the nutritional needs of senior adults. H-E-B is a major donor, giving generously of both finances and food, and at the event last night their spokesman surprised the crowd with an additional $25,000 pledge.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Food Pantry

Moving further into the facility, you come to the Wayne & Jo Ann Moore Charitable Foundation Volunteer Center. This is where the work of unloading, inspecting, processing, sorting, and boxing donated food takes place...primarily by community volunteers. It is equipped with a loading dock; a "cold processing room" for inspecting meat, dairy, produce, and eggs; and a "sorting and isolation room" for storing and sorting non-perishable items.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Volunteer Center

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Loading Dock

Moving to the other end of the building, you find the administrative offices, the Bobby & Leona Cox Demonstration Kitchen, and the Henry Foundation Community Training Room.

The kitchen (named after the creator of Rosa's and Taco Villa) will be used to educate the public on how to prepare healthy meals. It has four cooking stations, and will be available to other collaborative agencies for cooking and nutrition classes.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Demonstration Kitchen

The training room has audio-visual capabilities and will also be made available to area groups for meetings and training opportunities.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Training Room

The exterior features of the facility are as impressive as the interior. There's a great playground (the Miles & Laurie Boldrick Playground) to entertain children while their adults are shopping or learning. And, in case you're wondering, there will eventually be grass on that playground (this is a REALLY new facility!). And, yes, that is my thumb in the upper right corner. Don't say I didn't warn you.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Playground

In the background of the preceding photo, you can see part of one of the two greenhouses at the site, named in honor of the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Foundation. These state-of-the-art greenhouses will be managed by the Permian Basin Master Gardeners, and will be used to educate the public about gardening, composting, etc.

The two greenhouses are configured differently, with one being a "Chinese-style" greenhouse surrounded by earthen berms, and the other being a more typical West Texas greenhouse. Both will be served by a 5,000 gallon rainwater collection system tied to the guttering on the main building.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Rainfall Collection System

There will also be an area where children can plant and tend to their own gardens (still under construction as shown below).

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Children's Gardens

The entire facility, designed by the Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, is environmentally friendly. It will eventually be equipped with a 75kW photovoltaic solar panel system that will provide up to more than 100% of the location's electrical needs (putting electricity back into the grid during the spring and fall). The building material incorporated reclaimed materials (such as the pallets I mentioned above, as well as 50 gallon drums used as light fixtures). And, finally, the polished concrete floors in the lobby contain recycled glass aggregate, and the flooring in the training room is 100% recycled compressed aspen wood.

The West Texas Food Bank is a critical asset in our region, serving millions of meals to hungry people in 19 counties across the 34,000 square miles it serves. I can't think of a more deserving recipient of your philanthropy, if you have the financial resources to share.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?'

The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew, Chapter 25
Update [9/23/20]: Thanks to a reader's comment on this post, I've been able to add a new chapter to the ARCO artwork saga. This time, it's focused on corporate art from ARCO's presence in the Chicago area. Read about it here.

Alert Gazette readers may recall that last year I wrote about ARCO's corporate artwork collection in Midland, and my role in helping dispose of it after BP gutted us acquired the Company. That post served the dual purposes of documenting an interesting period in my career and also providing an enduring (to the extent that anything on the web endures) glimpse at the art via the rudimentary website I built to showcase it.

A couple of months after posting the article, I received an email from someone in Los Angeles who had stumbled across it, and discovered that she'd purchased a copy of one of the works in the collection. Small world, huh?

I've been blogging a long time, and I'm no longer surprised at that sort of serendipitous encounter; Mr. Google has a way of working magic like that. At least, I thought I was immune to surprise. But, I received an email a week or so ago, and I have a new appreciation for the power of the web. Here's how it started:
Wow, just found your fascinating Blog (The Fire Ant Gazette) and had to contact you. I worked directly for Herbert Bayer and Curator Leila Mehle in the Los Angeles office (then Arco Plaza) in downtown LA back in the late 70's.

So it was with great interest that I found and read your Blog and toured your Virtual Gallery! Bravo for creating this!  
The composer of that email is David Halver, and that link that I put on his name will lead you to his IMDb profile. Go ahead and hop over and read about Mr. Halver; I'll wait right here.

David's email went into a great deal of detail about his work with ARCO's art collection, including some great anecdotes about the acclaimed Bauhaus artist Bayer and ARCO's legendary founder and chairman, R.O. (Bob) Anderson, and he has followed up with several additional missives. David was kind enough to grant me permission to share his letters, and I want to do that mainly to add some color and context the documentation of a piece of American corporate history that probably isn't well known.

Rather than copying and pasting David's email in its entirety, I'm taking the liberty of excerpting it and adding my own observations where possible. However, these excerpts are unedited.

On Anderson's artwork collecting habits...
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with [Herbert] Bayer on numerous occasions in Los Angeles as well as at his home outside Santa Barbara. It was Bayer's close friendship with CEO Anderson that got "Bob" interested in collecting; and as Bayer told it, Bob would often go on shopping sprees...hitting contemporary galleries in nearly every city he had business in; buying on impulse anything that he liked (with a then unheard of Platinum American Express card) and had them shipped to his ranch in Roswell, or his homes in NYC or LA or the huge penthouse suites overlooking the marina in Marina Del Rey, CA. 

As he soon tired of seeing them, he quickly replaced them and they all ended up in the offices in LA.  In the meantime, he had commissioned Hebert to select "important" pieces that were hung in the executive's offices, conference rooms, lobbies and waiting rooms. You mentioned 15,000 pieces...by the time Arco acquired Anaconda and built the Anaconda Tower (near the Brown Palace in Denver) it was closer to 30,000...thus the donation by the Bayer Estate to the Denver Art Museum. 
On the cataloging system used for the collection...

David was able to shed some light on the numbering system employed to keep track of the artwork.
In the process of working and trying to document the quickly growing collection, Mehle and I developed an inventory system of assigning an ID code (on a small aluminum tag) to the frames or pedestals of all artworks in LA offices; where part of the code ID'd the Artist, a "letter" code indicated the medium, and then a group of numbers indicated which specific piece; thus B001 was Bayer, SG stood for serigraph, and as he had several 100s in the collection, there were four (4) spaces for an ID number after that. As I recall, a code similar to L004.PT.0003 would be for a Lichtenstein original Painting and the third one in the collection. These ID numbers were included in the slide library for reference.
Notice the casual reference to Lichtenstein. Original paintings by the pop artist sell for more than $40,000 nowadays. The Midland office wasn't fortunate enough to land a Lichtenstein.

I wasn't alone in my efforts to document the collection via photographs.
I too had the honor to photograph the collection and built a massive slide library housed in the 515 offices (the North Tower). As the collection grew, and I had previous Art Gallery experience (installing and packing) in LA, I became the chief "installer" for the newly acquired pieces that were sent to Denver for the Anaconda Collection.
In subsequent emails, David expressed an intent to locate the slides and digitize them. I hope he's successful in doing so.

Herbert Bayer's 'Double Ascension' sculpture installation at ARCO Plaza in Los Angeles
Herbert Bayer's Double Ascension.
According to David, "Bob [Anderson] loved the original title, Stairway to Nowhere,
but he thought the Board of Directors wouldn't approve!)

On the sometimes amusing reactions by ARCO employees to some of the artwork...
One evening I was changing a framed print in one of the "hidden" xerox work stations (also used as the secretary's lunch area) behind one of the many extraordinarily crafted wood paneled walls...and a gentleman came in to use one of the many xerox machines. While it poured out dozens of collated copies, he asked me if I could help him get rid of that "awful painting" in his office.

He led me to his office and his polished chrome "name-plate" by the side of his door (the walls were covered with a dark beige wool) ID'd him as the VP of Arco's Chemical Division. The previous curator (prior to Mehle) had hung a rather dated and not very appealing framed print above the couch and chairs that his desk faced, and a small abstract watercolor over the built-in credenza behind his desk...not at all fitting for a man in his position. 

He asked about getting a Currier & Ives print or something that related to the outdoors "...anything would be better than that horrendous thing!"

As I had hand-carried the new print for the xerox room and was taking the old print by hand, I couldn't do anything about it at the moment, but promised him that I'd speak with the Curator the next day. The next night I was installing the pieces she had selected and he walked in (it was late as I recall, well after 9PM) and at first he got pissed... "What the hell is that? This is worse! What is that supposed to be?"

It was an extraordinary abstract multi-layered oil painting that had an extraordinary glaze covering it that gave it a brilliant glow. I had been prepared by Mehle in the event that this would happen. "The Curator thought that as you are the head of the Chemical Division that you might enjoy this. It's called "Cold Fusion of Diverse Elements"; the Artist was inspired by photographs taken by an electron microscope."

He stared at it for a while, then noticed an extraordinary B&W Ansel Adams surrounded by a wide cold white matte and framed in an elegant thin welded chrome frame over the credenza. "Now that...I like. But this other one, well, I'll have to think it over. Thanks."

Less than a week later, he sent a Thank You note to Mehle and months later, while I was doing something on the 50th floor, his door was open and I heard him telling someone... "The artist was inspired seeing a chemical reaction in a microscope. I love it!" I had to keep from laughing out loud.

A very similar thing happened with an extraordinary painting (actually, four side-by-side canvases) called "Into Plutonian Depths" ... I did a Google image search and all that comes up is that it was the title of a pulp fiction sci-fi novel back in 1950... sadly no images of the painting. Anyway, the images were extraordinary and lined up side by side (each was around 40" square) it was like looking out the portholes of a space ship at an Alien Landscape. It was on the same executive floor where the VPs of geology had their offices... and was immediately disliked. But once the Curator had a small plaque installed with the title and a brief explanation that it was in fact supposed to be "...the view from the bridge of a Mining Vessel that had just landed on another world to do geological exploration.." Needless to say, it was a big hit.
His accounts ring true, in my experience. The artwork didn't always elicit positive responses from employees, and the closer to oilpatch you got, the less openminded people were about some of the more avant garde or impressionistic works. (And lest you think I'm immune, I never did understand this one. Or this one.) But if you are able to explain the context or make the piece relevant to something in the viewer's experience, you're more likely to get acceptance, if not outright enthusiasm.

David has shared a great deal more about life in general around ARCO's Los Angeles offices, including how the buildings were featured in the 2005 movie, Fun With Dick and Jane, for which he served as location liaison. I'm most appreciative of his willingness to take the time to record his experiences with my longtime employer's art collection, and for his kind permission to share those experiences with you. And if he's successful in locating that slide collection, I'll do my best to talk him into sharing a few of the more important works.

Corrections & Amplifications: 

The original version of this post incorrectly referred to an office covered with "a dark beige wood," when in actuality the walls were covered in wool. On behalf of hard-working sheep everywhere, I apologize for this misstatement.

The original version of this post implied that ARCO had original Roy Lichtenstein paintings in its collection, when in fact it had "only" hand-signed/hand-pulled lithographs and serigraphs. I regret ARCO's cheapness.

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2016 listed from newest to oldest.

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