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Posted August 25, 2016 in Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
This unusual word has its origins in the Lakota tribe‘s description of the rough and tumble plains of Eastern Montana. The word translates to “bad land” or “bad spirits”. A small group of young eastern Montanan’s grew up near this country and recently chronicled its inhabitants in their documentary film “Makoshika, Stories of the High Plains Oil Boom“.
Film sponsor Jim Markel recently traveled to New York City to join them for their Big Apple cinema premiere. The trip was perfect timing for Jim to test out his new Mini Boss Carry-on Bag, a scaled-down version of the venerable Air Boss, Red Oxx’s famous flagship carry-on bag.
Documentary film has a way of making you draw your own conclusions about what you’ve experienced via the medium. “Makoshika” walks the thin line that neither vilifies nor glorifies the oil boom in the eastern plains of Montana. It’s been a great honor to help sponsor this film and to get to know the four young film makers. When you’ve been in business as long as we have you learn to spot talent, and more importantly, encourage it.
I first became acquainted with the team through Stan Parker, a Billings native and freelance filmmaker introduced to me by a former employee. Stan shot and edited the product videos for the Red Oxx website along with help from Pete Tolton, another Billings local with journalistic credits to his name throughout Montana’s independent publications.
The rest of the “Makoshika” team was rounded out by New Yorker sound editor and radio journalist Tarek Fouda. The film’s director and producer is Jessica Jane Hart, yet another Billings native who’s been working in the field for the past ten years. The crew invited us to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign back when they first packed their bags for the journey to eastern Montana.
Now that the film is finished and making its way through the documentary film festivals, they approached me about making a New York City premiere happen. Red Oxx would help host the event at Ludlow studios in lower Manhattan. Never one to waste an opportunity to travel, I set about finding things to do besides “hosting” while visiting NYC.
Customers are always asking which bag I like to travel with and which one is the “best bag”. Now that all depends on the weather and what you’re doing while there. Or, more importantly, which Red Oxx bags are available in your luggage hoard. My latest addition is the Mini Boss; with it I was shooting for one bag travel and keeping it light.
Organization is also key for a comfortable trip, so I started with three of our packing cubes: two of the smaller Armadillas and one size large Kingfisher. Toss in a Tri-Fold Toiletry Kit, a Travel Tray, and my Red Oxx three day travel kit was all sorted and ready to roll.
Next, I decided to test a couple of new cool travel accessories we’d been looking at for evaluation; a BANDI® money belt and a Brainstream SOI touch-activated baggage light. I used the Mini Boss’s built-in laptop sleeve to securely hold my Kindle and middle-aged eye-wear (with cords rolled up) in the same compartment. I packed enough clothes for four days and I still had room for a small touristy souvenir or two… just in case.
After years of dragging extra stuff around I have finally come to embrace taking just what I need. My inner Boy Scout dies a little each time.
Feeling a little bit like I left something important behind, it was time to catch the mid-morning flights heading for the Big Apple.
Arriving at LaGuardia Airport right around rush hour, I was excited to try out my new UBER taxi service app. A quick glance at the cab line and I opted to go Yellow Cab instead, straight into the belly of the beast. It was the end of the workday in Manhattan when I finally connected up with Stan. Modes of travel can vary considerably in the city, but one thing is certain; you’re going to walk.
Slipping past the tourists struggling with their wheeled anchors, I was feeling confident that I’d made the right choice for the city. Making our way to one of the numerous city parks we quickly met up with the rest of Stan’s crew. Ironically, sunset in the park with a background of piano music felt a touch like actually being in a movie.
The team has a good feel for New York so I relied on their inside knowledge. Dinner at Almond in the Flatiron district was about what you would expect from a big city restaurant. The menu was all over the map, I got the feeling that ordering was a little like playing Russian roulette. Wrong choice and you’re in for a bad experience. Fortunately, this wasn’t looking too fatal.
When in doubt order chicken, always sound advice and if you’re lucky it’ll be great. This time I was lucky and scored a great meal which I was stoked about after being offered airline chum on both flights.
After dinner we caught the subway to lower Manhattan to meet with the founders of Jungles In Paris , another group of documentary film makers based in New York. They had recently deplaned from Mongolia and were getting ready to head out on another shoot.
Their collective makes films that fill in the edges of the stories that traveling still provides; from coffee houses to camel herders there’s a little something in it for any arm chair adventurer to enjoy. Still toting my Mini Boss at two in the morning, we schlepped it back down into the subway to our hideout in Brooklyn.
At my request Pete Tolton had done some research so we were all set to explore a couple of New York businesses. Early the next morning I was quite excited by the real car tracking with my UBER App. Like a black shark from down deep our ride eased on down the street looking for its next meal.
Piling our assortment of Red Oxx luggage into the trunk included a Sky Train, my Mini Ruck, and a really cool prototype messenger-styled bag that I’ve been developing with Stan for impromptu video shooting. Soon, we headed off for Queens.
Rolling across town I just couldn’t help but be impacted at the enormity of the city. Everywhere you look there seems to be something interesting going on. Catching glimpses of people out the window and letting your imagination fill in the blanks is a traveler’s pastime as old as the first caravan on the Silk Road.
Pulling up to the back door of Worksman Cycles you’re hit with the impression of a Gothic manufacturing facility. Founded in 1898 and still family owned, this is America’s last large-scale bike manufacturing company. To say I was excited would be an understatement of the third magnitude. It took all of my self-control to actually go around front and use the main entrance. Once inside I could almost taste the history and the folks there were mighty accommodating.
So we strapped a mic on and fired up the cameras as we set about exploring three stories of manufacturing heaven. They do things the old way at Worksman; building simple functional, and most importantly, tough bicycles. Well known in the industrial sector their bikes run in the factories and large warehouses of some major corporations. Worksman Cycles, as well as the food vending carts, have been a staple of New York life for over a century.
I noted that some of the metal working machines were actually functioning antiques. On occasion when a part breaks it has to be recreated since the original maker’s no longer in business. This is the sort of thing that really shows determination and a commitment to keeping it made in the U.S.A. While in contrast, the Red Oxx factory is as state-of-the-art as I could make it.
This facility is like a trip through time. A real nightmare for those manufacturing engineers and their value stream maps!
Recently though, Worksman has opened a new facility in South Carolina which is all on one level and more in line with 21 century manufacturing practices. Upstairs in the brazing department we encountered a gentleman who had reached the pinnacle of skill after forty years on the job. The employment that Worksman provides has become an integral part of the neighborhood.
With multi-generational family ownership and a workforce that’s known for its long-term commitment to quality, I was quite easily sold. Putting together our order for a Red Oxx factory bike was really easy, they even had our favorite color red.
Meanwhile back in Brooklyn, there’s been somewhat of a manufacturing renaissance going on for the last few years. I’ve been following this movement for quite some time through sites like American Field, it never fails to disappoint. From custom leather work to furniture fabrication there’s an excitement about making things here again in New York.
Brooklyn Glass is certainly among the forefront of making and educating people in working with neon and other glass forms. David Ablon is well respected master and quite the innovator in the world of glass. His world of knowledge includes art installations and actual training of new glass artists and technicians. My own interests lie in lampworking and fusing soft glass.
Matt Russo gave us a demo on borosilicate lampworking with a couple of key pointers in progressing my own art. So when presented with the opportunity to observe neon creation in a class, I was very keen on seeing how the magic happened. When it comes to anything electrical this monkey is absolutely baffled. David explained that the new age of neon requires no more electricity than a standard incandescent bulb.
Before long we were watching him attach electrodes and making bends in the tubing. As my understanding of the process and application were being expanded, I was already thinking how to deploy this at the Oxx. The primal colors of neon lighting are mesmerizing and are akin to a campfire.
The more time I spent exploring his workshop the more time I wanted to spend there. There’s a lot to be said about a workplace having a soul. Brooklyn Glass has that fiery home feel down. Soaking it all in, I was quite content to slide over to the hot shop to assist on a piece for the next hour. Stepping out into the cool evening I headed out to catch up with an old friend who had recently moved into the neighborhood.
Heading deeper into hipster-land we met up with the crew for donuts first thing in the morning. Dough Doughnuts is located in Brooklyn and is known as one of the top doughnut delicatessens here. At times there can be long lines, and I must say it was probably the best doughnut I’ve had in recent memory. With the day stretching out before us we had some time to play tourist.
I had recently watched a documentary about the city’s High Line and was keen to go check it out. The smell of monkey-on-a-stick was quite alluring as we marched our way through Manhattan. First I thought the smell was coming from one of the many food trucks parked along the way. But further investigation brought us to a sweet little sidewalk Mediterranean bistro by the name of Papa Kebab.
NYC in the summer is something everyone should experience at least once. Crowds of people from all walks of life combined with a sense of renewal going on. It’s quite the spectacle.
Making our way through the Meat Packing District we ascended to the High Line to take it all in. From the architecture to the landscaping, this park doesn’t disappoint. In fact, trying to process all the sights and sounds from this vantage point rivals anything I’ve experienced in all my travels. Meandering through the concrete jungle interspersed with some very clever landscaping, you get to experience the city like a bird on the wing.
Our urban safari had turned up a few hidden gems but sometimes old standbys are worth a visit as well. After trekking through Times Square we finally made it to the Museum of Modern Art, affectionately known locally as MOMA. The place was an absolute zoo, in no small part due to the free admission. Fridays after four are free right now thanks to a corporate sponsorship from UNIQLO clothing. The place had a rock concert crowd feel and the stars were long dead.
Trying to get within viewing distance of Van Gogh’s Starry Night was not even possible. Still we persevered and tried to find some inspiration in the lesser trafficked exhibits. After three hours of swimming through teen spirit and people coughing on me I was ready to get out and get some air.
Making our way to Grand Central Station we met up with friends for some oysters and to try out the whispering wall after a few drinks. In the city that never sleeps its always lunch time somewhere and Tacos El Bronco at 1:30 in the morning is one such place. Strolling in to find the restaurant packed was pretty startling at this time of the day. Even better, they have goat tacos on the menu!
So if you find yourself wandering through Brooklyn and need a snack in the middle of the night, this place is a winner.
The film “Makoshika” depicts a time and place well known to me and for that I am honored to have helped in some small way with the production. Life out here in fly-over land is just as foreign to New Yorker’s as life in the Big Apple is to a Montanan. So being able to capture the time and place is one of the key aspects of documentary film making.
Whether you’re telling a story with a sweeping political impact or a biography, it all comes down to perspective. Each of us experiences film and literature from our shared experience and most decidedly our own individual viewpoint.
As we gathered our crew and set about making ready it was with some small anxiety that we hoped people would show up for the viewing. We had invited a fair amount of Red Oxx customers, media and film professionals. But I was informed that capturing a New Yorker’s time was challenging. As the room began to fill up and our trepidation’s were put to rest, soon it was time to share a little bit of life in the “Bad Lands”.
The film captures a moment in time with the intersection of a diverse group of rugged individuals who make up this part of the west. From soaring skies to expansive landscapes, the impact of the geography is a key anchor to the story.
Another is a people caught in the midst of great change. The boom and bust cycle is something we are well acquainted with here in Montana.
Sitting back and watching the audience’s reaction to the film was in itself a revelation. The filmmakers had captured the essence of the Big Sky Country in their scenes.
Story-line aside, I observed the visceral reaction to the film’s imagery. Every so often I could hear people ask, “Does it really look like that?” Obviously they were thinking the color had been modified to make the skies seem overly blue or clear.
We’d invited all the Red Oxx customers in the area and I was interested in meeting one in particular. Singer and media consultant Toni Dolce had posted a great packing video on YouTube a couple years back and I was quite impressed with her enthusiasm for packing a Sky Train for a two week trip.
After we contacted her, she sent us a new video using our packing cubes. It really shows how much you can pack if you’re creative and organized. By the end of the film I could see she was pretty taken with life in Montana.
I guess my admission of not actually owning a horse was a bit of a letdown but I still think we might be seeing her out this way one day.
Afterwards, staring out at the Brooklyn skyline I couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t the last time I would visit this great city. Just across the highway was Industry City, once the hub of inner-city industrial enterprise.
Currently it’s going through a transformation as a shopping space with small manufacturing startups. It’s also the site of an American Field exhibition and a place where Red Oxx will be showing this December 3&4 2016.
We look forward to exploring more of New York and meeting in person the many patrons who have helped build our brand into something great.
JESSICA JANE HART ~ DIRECTOR, PRODUCER is a professional photographer who grew up in Billings, Montana. She has spent the last 10 years working in Germany, New York, Montana, and California. More information available at jessicajanehart.com.
PETER TOLTON ~ PRODUCTION MANAGER, PRODUCER is a Montana native who’s been writing for independent publications in Montana since 2009. He lives in Billings and freelances in writing and film editing.
TAREK FOUDA ~ SOUND DESIGNER, PRODUCER is a radio journalist and sound editor based in Brooklyn, NY.
STAN PARKER ~ CINEMATOGRAPHER, PRODUCER, EDITOR is a freelance journalist and filmmaker, born and raised in Billings, Montana.