I was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco recently, and this curious sidewalk composition in San Luis Obispo caught my eye. When was the last time you noticed the design of an auto parts shop? Here was a quirky juxtaposition, a bit of visual comedy, but with an underlying message of optimism: nature rules, ultimately, despite our efforts to control it.
Trees are often planted as pleasant environmental elements for our walkways, but here was a big honker with a “brand” larger than the store itself. Trees have a tough time getting approval in the urban environment as it is, and many cities would remove this one in order to protect the sidewalk concrete and rights of the pedestrian. The fact that Jim had not petitioned the city to cut down this sexy beast gives us hope. There is another message of optimism in seeing these foreign flags presented in such graphic order on this modest storefront. Flags are, after all, symbols. And these symbols were a nice counterpoint to the predictable American flag that you see along most U.S. highways. The realization that a mechanic in rural San Luis Obispo actually services and cares for French, Japanese, Swedish, British, and Italian cars is a sign that we are at least partially integrated into the global community, however superficial that might seem these days. Anyway, you have to believe that Jim is the right guy to work on your car, and that he respects good design in many forms. He’s probably a modernist without knowing it. I tried to Google him for an interview, but with no luck.
If you are ever stuck in San Luis Obispo with car problems, Jim should get your business. And if you want to support urban trees, there are many groups. Our local group in San Francisco is Friends of the Urban Forest. Unlike Jim, they can be contacted online and can sometimes do a tune-up in your own neighborhood. They also have some special green Christmas ideas and gifts for this time of year when, if you were a tree, you would rather be a permanent street Ficus than a portable and cute Douglas fir or Spruce.