Midweek Rant #17: T-Shirts With Geographical References

June 11, 2009

Of all the big cities I’ve ever lived in, of which there are two, Los Angeles has by far the least pride-ridden of the respective natives.  They also have by far the cooler of the natives.  That’s right, those that are from New York City have such a chip on their shoulder about being “born and bred” that it gets in the way of them being likeable in any way.  It’s such a coveted claim that you’ll find people manipulating it with an emphasis on the birth factor to imply that they grew up there. 



John McCain was born in the Panama Canal.  I often wonder if when he goes on ambassador trips to Central America, he brings it up in order to get respect at the local watering hole.

Because native Los Angelenos place very little value on the born-and-bred status, there is very little hesitation on the part of transplants to tout where it is they’re from.  Go to a sports bar on a Sunday afternoon during football season and you’ll see pretty much the entire NFL represented, with no pesky interference of an actual home team.

Which brings me to my rant.

I never thought that this would bother me.  In fact I used to wear my Kelly’s Saloon T-Shirt in New York City all the time in the hopes that I’d run into a SUNY Geneseo alum on the street.  But in the city of Angels, the frequency with which people start conversations with me based solely on the geographical reference on my t-shirt drives me friggin’ crazy.

I have a Maple Leafs t-shirt I got when I was fourteen years old.  I wear it mainly for nostalgic reasons after I found it in my mom’s attic on my last trip to South Dakota. “I used to wear this to ninth grade geometry” I think as I put it on.

“Go Leafs!  I’m from Toronto!” says the over enthused lady behind me at Trader Joe’s.  I’m not wild about the conversation I’m about to have, but hey – I brought it upon myself wearing the logo of such a passionately followed club.  One of the original six for crying out loud.

Note to self: If I wear my Leafs shirt I’ll probably have to talk to people from Toronto about how they’re from Toronto.

Next time it happens is at the gym.  Wearing a t-shirt made for my high school hockey team, I am duped into several minutes of chit-chat by the following statement: “Hey – you’re from Saratoga?  I’m from Guilderland!”  It’s 192 seconds of my life I will never get back.  Nothing is gained, nothing is learned.  Despite our best efforts to reduce our degrees of separation, we don’t know any of each other’s friends.

If I had been wearing this shirt in Clifton Park, this would have never happened.

At this point I’m starting to pick up on the trend.  The logo on my t-shirt is merely, to use a term coined by that nametag guy, a “front porch”.  Some dude in Portland actually started wearing a nametag every day because he noticed it was easier to start conversations that way.  He calls it a “front porch” because people that sit on front porches are easier to talk to than people that sit in their living room.  I’m a big fan of the simplicity of it.  It’s just a nametag, but it makes you far more approachable.

In a town where many people are looking to start conversations with strangers in the name of networking, this approachability I was creating for myself wasn’t quite as simple.  I wasn’t wearing a nametag, but rather a geographical reference.  People were using said reference to start a conversation with me.

How dare they use geographical references for their own agendas?

Where I come from, towns and cities aren’t pawns in some sort of hustling and networking scheme.  They’re the chess board.  That’s right, I’m going with the analogy.  It’s the base, whether it be a cardboard foldaway or a weathered granite surface in Washington Square Park.

OK, I’m done with the analogy.

If you think I’m being ridiculous about this geographical reference issue, either in my paranoia or in my unapologetic overuse of the cumbersome phrase “geographical reference,” please consider this last example:



The countless conversations I’ve had with people from New Jersey, none of which bothered to take the time to notice that not only is it just a mass produced Old Navy design, but that the shirt is making fun of their home state…