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F & M and a dash of orange

 

A few years ago I noticed a student wearing a Franklin and Marshall (F & M) T-shirt. He piqued my curiosity because I hadn’t before seen anyone wearing anything with F & M on it. I was used to seeing students in the gear of well-known American schools - USC, Stanford, Michigan State and, of course, Harvard - but not Franklin and Marshall, a Pennsylvania liberal arts college that most Americans had never heard of.

Then I started seeing Franklin and Marshall gear on other students, and on the street, as well. When a girl in a white sweatshirt with a red F & M emblem happened to enter my subway car I approached her and asked about the shirt. Well, she was clueless about F & M and just liked the look of the shirt.

It was time to ask my students about the popularity of the Franklin and Marshall gear. They told me that F & M was a clothing brand. How could this be? I had never heard of any school lending its name to a clothing brand.
An article in the International Herald Tribune shed light on this anomaly; that is, how an old American college, founded in 1787, became the name of a clothing brand.

It turns out that a couple of Italian clothing designers found a Franklin and Marshall T-shirt in a London second-hand shop and thought the F & M emblem would be right for their new line of “vintage” collegiate gear. They then launched the F & M clothing brand with the emblem on it, albeit without consulting the real F & M. The school and the brand, after the fact, came to a financial agreement over use of the emblem. And now Franklin and Marshall is as well known as Harvard and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Perhaps the Italians had Abercrombie & Fitch, and their own Dolce & Gabbana, in mind when they chose Franklin & Marshall, figuring there was room in the fashion world for another clothing brand with a double name. During one of my sailing stints in the West Indies I met a scion of the Abercrombie family. I reckoned he was independently wealthy and living off a trust fund. To the contrary, he said that his family had sold the business, and the name, in the 1940s and that he was “just another working stiff.”

About the same time I started seeing F & M gear I saw my first orange taxi on the streets of Seoul. I knew immediately that the days of the silver taxi were numbered and that the streets were in for a dash of orange. There are only a few orange taxis relative to the number of ubiquitous silver ones, yet the former are increasing exponentially and will replace the latter to become iconic of Seoul. Just as New York has its yellow taxis and London its famous black ones, Seoul will be known for its orange taxis.

The streets of Seoul, where silver predominates, could stand a dash of orange. Maybe it has something to do with the herd mentality, with drivers feeling more secure by belonging to the great silver herd. One is reminded of Henry Ford’s dictum: You can have any color you want…as long as it’s black. Ditto silver in Seoul.

Orange taxis are adding color to the streets while making the art of hailing a taxi from the edge of a curb a lot safer. Since all that distinguishes a silver car from a silver taxi is a small Taxi sign, hailing one while traffic is whizzing by is dangerous. Often, it is difficult to hail a taxi until one is about to pass you by, requiring a cruising taxi to change lanes and make a sudden stop in busy traffic. Indeed, orange taxis will make the streets of Seoul more colorful and safer.

I expect few students remember the days when Seoul’s streets were full of green Pony taxis, to be replaced gradually by larger tan, and grey, ones. Yes, the streets used to be green with Ponies. At first, most people only took the expensive larger taxis during a deluge. Then one day the green taxis were gone and tan, and grey, ones took over the streets.

When I arrived in Seoul in May of 1981, Pony taxis were sharing the very-polluted streets with trucks and buses belching black exhaust, while private car ownership had yet to boom. Serious traffic jams were a few years away, and one could crisscross Seoul without too much delay. Many of the private cars were black Korean limos. And those rich enough to own one could afford a chauffer, as well.

There were certain intersections in Seoul in the ‘80s which I called “death zones” because of the pollution I had to breathe while hailing taxis there. The worst of them was the Gwanghwamun intersection; one of the world’s most toxic intersections during this decade. We often joked about the intersection needing a health warning like the one found on a pack of cigarettes. Every time I hailed a taxi there I felt like it was contributing to me getting “black lung” disease. It was ghastly!

Of all the many improvements to the quality of life in Seoul since the toxic ‘80s, improving the quality of the air we breathe comes first. After moving to Singapore from Seoul in 1995, the first thing that a friend of mine noticed on his return to Seoul in 2005 was how much the quality of the air had improved. Now that’s progress.

Seoul must not rest on its laurels. When a Yahoo guy I know came to Seoul from Silicon Valley for his wedding ceremony, we met for lunch at a restaurant on the south bank of the Han River. As he gazed across the river, he didn't know what to make of a yellowish cloud hanging over old Seoul and asked me what it was. “Pollution,” I said.

Jack Soul  sherbo77@yahoo.com

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