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Wednesday, 15 March 2006
Takotron Media

Topic: Site Features
A new, more austere portal to the works of TAKOTRON has been envisioned, engineered, and uploaded. With a white background, of all things. Visit this sexy new thing here:


Posted by thenovakids at 2:13 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:56 PM CDT
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Monday, 13 March 2006
Record Shopping

Topic: Music
Yesterday's entry got a little weighty so we're going to lighten things up a bit with some good old fashioned consumption advice. London has a reputation for being expensive, but once you get your mindset converted to pounds and start thinking of things relative to one another it doesn't seem bad. Just don't mentally convert everything to dollars, or you'll bum yourself out.

One of TAKOTRON's points of pride is the modest but impressive international LP archive hidden deep in our HQ's secret vaults. We've tapped into some great sources here in the USofA, such as Mr Cheapo's (seriously!) back in Commack (props to the Goldberg family) and Reckless Records in Chicago, plus the scavenger heaps of yard sales, eBay and MusicStack.

But travel brings new opportunities to unleash the thrill of the hunt. And London's got some great offerings. First up, there are some places up on Portobello Road, North of Notting Hill. Intoxica has a decent selection for every genre, and lots of obscure/novelty vinyl. A couple blocks North is Honest Johns, which is crammed full with crates of Hip Hop and Reggae. I was on a Dub mission and had huge luck finding some classics there--King Tubby, Scratch Perry, Yabby Yu, and Scientist. The owners also do distribution for some local Dub artists, putting out some interesting small production run stuff. It's a genre that didn't really take off in the States, and next to Kingston, London is the place to find it. Way up and out of the way is the supposedly legendary Rough Trade, the alleged "quintessential model of all independent record shops." Well, it was a bitch getting there and totally not worth it--super hipster, small selection, lots of American stuff. Not up my alley, but if you're a big indie/emo hair-tufts-combed-over-your-ears type and want to have the Wicker Park experience a few thousand miles away, then check this place out.

I had much better luck down on Berwyck street in Soho. Do yourself a big favor and get off at Bond Street and walk up to The Golden Hind at 73 Marlybone Lane W1U 2PN, where I had a transcendental fish and chips experience (and mushy peas). An unpretentious, friendly place. Then walk it off down Oxford Street to Berwyck (near the Oxford Circus tube). Take Berwyck south, where it gets sleazy, and you'll find a cluster of record shops. Sister Ray was amazing--in my opinion, the best record shop in London. They bought Selectadisc's store and moved into it (they used to be a few blocks farther south), and have a gigantic selection of used CDs and LPs, all very reasonably priced. Farther along is Reckless Records, which happens to be owned by the same people as the Chicago stores. It's not a big place, but the basement is full of good vinyl finds, well organized and priced.

Around here is a Music and Video Exchange, one of many. They are pretty grimy, rocking the consignment shop atmosphere. Another place is Cheapo Cheapo Records, again, a longshot place where you might stumble upon some diamonds in the rough. As backup, near the Oxford Circus tube is a huge HMV store. I haven't seen them in the States, but I know they're all over Japan. It's a bigass corporate chain, a la Tower and Virgin, but they are well stocked, inexpensive, and seem to do a good job hiring competent, knowledgable people. They often have staff recommendation corners that make them seem a little more intimate compared to their shinier, more sterile competitors, if that makes sense.

I should have taken more food pictures, but I didn't, so more buildings are on the way at TAKOTRON NEWS. England is supposed to have crappy food, but I didn't have one disappointing meal, and kept a pretty tight budget, too. It helps if you like processed meat, but there's a plethora of cafes, panini joints, and kebab stands. Here's some more helpful record shop info:

Londonnet record shops guide
Another guide
A third, with good links to store's homepages

Posted by thenovakids at 10:04 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:57 PM CDT
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Topic: Architecture / Travel
Last week featured TAKOTRON in London, where with my studio we toured fresh new urban landscapes. One highlight was a meeting with the London-based architecture firm, Future Systems. A couple of their completed projects can be found around town. In east London's Docklands is a pedestrian pontoon bridge--a floating lime-green slab that connects India Quay with Canary Wharf (completed in 1996). On the other side of the city they designed a new media center at Lord's Cricket Grounds. Inspired by the form of an SLR camera, the center is a semi-monocoque aluminum pod, offering a panoramic, unobstructed view of the field through it's glass facade (completed in 1999).

Future System's office is housed in a single-story brick building behind a parking lot, rather nondescript save for the neon-orange door. Once inside we found ourselves faced with a secretary who sat behind a gleaming white, curved, fiberglass desk. The huge open space around us was brightly lit, the busy staff shuffling around the fuchsia carpet in their socks.
We were given the huge honor of speaking with the firm's Czech-born ("millions of years ago in the middle of Europe") founder, Jan Kaplicky. He is a soft-spoken man, white-haired, thin, and extremely tall. For decades he has been designing curvy pod-like forms, and in the last several years has earned long-deserved recognition and some major commissions.

Many of these have been for high-design retail clients, such as Comme des Garçons, Maserati, and Selfridges. One question we had was how such innovative forms fit within their architectural context. Tokyo's Comme des Garçons (left) is on a street full of fancy designer's boutiques, but something like the Selfridges in Birmingham has much older, traditional surroundings. Mr. Kaplicky's answer was that the Birmingham store had nothing significant around it--"maybe an old church." Their goal was to create something bold and iconic that would revive a crusty old neighborhood, and from what I understand the new Selfridges, like a UFO plopped in the middle of town, has done exactly that.

Our studio was impressed with the amount of new, quality, exciting buildings that have been successfully developed in London. This is something largely missing in America, and we all want to know why. Mr. Kaplicky is outwardly dismayed that of the 20 or 30 magazine covers he has landed, only one has been in the States (New York Times Magazine), which he sees as a reflection of the US's architectural conservatism. He described being horrifed, riding to Manhattan and seeing the skyline (post 9-11) that "hasn't changed since the 30s," it's highlights still being the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. To a degree this is true. Why does America have such trouble putting forth new, innovative buildings? We invented the elevator, skyscraper, microchip, and the blues, but are awestruck by the UK's computer-designed experimental structures and Rock in Roll. So what's our problem? Is it America's puritanical cultural conservatism holding us back? Is it economic? Political?

NYC's recent massive planning attempts have been utter failures, the Olympic bid imploding and the WTC project stagnating. Both have been plagued with bickering committees and private interest groups, with no one able to agree on anything. My theory is that one major ingredient in successful, innovative urban development is a powerful, progressive politician. Paris benefited hugely from President François Mitterand's grands projets, and London similarly under Mayor Ken Livingstone. Chicago has had more luck under Mayor Richard M. Daly's political machine than New York under its conservative counterparts Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Europe's grand cities are completely different animals from America's, and evidently their planning approaches as well. But whatever the reasons, America has got some issues and could benefit from looking to London's exciting urban environment (and Paris's, too, for that matter), before we're totally put to shame.

Future Systems: Official Site

Posted by thenovakids at 12:25 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:57 PM CDT
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Friday, 24 February 2006
Topic: Food

You can keep your "nun-bun" mother teresa cinnamon bun and grilled cheese baby jesus. This secular miracle appeared in my sister's coffee. He's jovial, non-demoninational, and caffeinated.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:11 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:57 PM CDT
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Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Topic: Kei

Posted by thenovakids at 10:12 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:57 PM CDT
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Tuesday, 7 February 2006
3,000+ Years of the Fembot
Topic: Science Fiction
In book 18 of the Iliad Achilles' divine mother, Thetis, visits the vulcan metalsmith god Hephaistos where she receives a new suit of armor for her son and the famous shield depicting all the universe with detailed scenes of two cities, one democratic and the other in violent disarray. An interesting detail easily overlooked in this incredible chapter of Homer's epic is what is perhaps the first description of the "fembot" we have become familiar with through popular media, some serious, like Fritz Lang's powerful 1927 film Metropolis), and some kitschy, like the graphic art of Sorayama Hajime, who is sort of what Patrick Nagel would be with an airbrush and an obsession with robots.

Then with a sponge he wiped clean his forehead, and both hands,
and his massive neck and hairy chest, and put on a tunic,
and took up a heavy stick in his hand, and went to the doorway
limping. And in support of their master moved his attendants.
These are golden, and in appearance like living young women.
There is intelligence in their hearts, and there is speech in them
and strength, and from the immortal gods they have learned how to do things.

Chapter 18 lines 417-421
trans. Richmond Lattimore

Posted by thenovakids at 2:21 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:03 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Pilgrim Baptist Church
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Old news, but a few weeks ago a culturally invaluable and architecturally important church burnt down. Here are some eulogies and testaments to its significance. I knew it was near campus, and finding myself unexpectedly right in front of it one day last week, took a couple pictures.
Chicago Landmarks
Repeat, architectural critic Lynn Becker's page
The Bronzeville neighborhood's reaction
Sun-Times report

Posted by thenovakids at 12:49 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:58 PM CDT
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Saturday, 28 January 2006
Topic: Site Features

Takotron's grip expands through cyberspace--as webMASTER/project-archivists we present: Visual Training: Kufi Blocks
for Professor Ben Nicholson's Arch 430/431 course.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:09 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:02 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 24 January 2006
Giving in to the iD: NIKE DUNKS
Topic: Miscellaneous
*This post is a tribute to Joe, who is king of the BAPESTA.*

I try to make the most of the wearable goods I purchase, using them well past their point of aesthetic and functional failure. So this winter, after once again patching up the pockets of my army coat from 9th grade, I gave in to the pressure of my girlfriend, mom, and secret inner feelings, and bought a nice warm parka that, according to Kei, will make people hesitant to "mess with me."

I recently noticed my sneakers deteriorating and decided to scout out a replacement that suited my style, palette, and active lifestyle. What it came to was Nike's iD website, which allows you to design your own pair of DUNKS. And that's just what I did.

So yesterday I received an anonymous box from a man in Vietnam. Inside was an intricate sliding velvet-lined Nike box with a velvet bag, and inside my customized creation. Good job Mr. Nguyen and co.! It's interesting that Nike allows this direct connection between consumer and producer--no official warehouse, distributer, processing office, etc. But a great smell.

Posted by thenovakids at 9:38 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:05 AM CDT
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Friday, 13 January 2006
Mars, Space Elevators, and Dust Devils
Topic: Science Fiction
Here at TAKOTRON we like to make good use of our vacations, seeing our friends, families, and allies, traveling, exploring, and watching movies. But no vacation feels complete without finally getting down and reading some of those things that have been put off for a while. In those terms, this winter break has been fairly productive. Just yesterday I finally finished Red Mars, the first book of Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy.

It's quite an epic, and I don't know when or if I will get to the other two volumes. But Red Mars was full of great ideas and observations on science, society, politics, and global economics. In 2026 an international group of scientists are sent to explore and colonize Mars from Earth, which is falling into deeper political turbulance as powerful transnational companies, the few wealthy nations more powerful than the corporations, and desperate heavily-populated countries struggle and rebel against one another. The utopian hope for a new start on Mars runs into immediate trouble (even before touchdown) as the scientists disagree on terraforming (engineering global climatic and ecological changes) the new planet and how to deal with the conflicting interests of the global organizations (UNOMA), national governments, and corporations supporting their work.

Factions develop and tension builds, especially with the construction of a space elevator, a one-day feasible method of space transport in which, rather than rocket powered shuttles and landers, travelers and goods are brought to and from a planet by a thin cable tethered between the surface and a weighted anchor (such as a captured asteroid) extended beyond geosynchronous orbit by centripetal force. In Red Mars the elevator boosts the import of an unskilled labor force that mines Mars' natural resources for export. The unregulated, unprotected, and overpopulated workforce ultimately revolts (with the aid of some of the original scientists), affecting the whole Martian population. Lying, backstabbing, murder, ecological terrorism (exploding underground aquifers, blowing up one of Mars' moons[!]), and the dramatic collapse of the elevator (the cable whips around the equator twice, decimating everything around it) all ensue. But that's humanity, wherever it goes! I am under the impression that the sequels are a bit more optimistic, but there's a lot to learn from science and society's worse moments.

Red Mars is full of well-researched, illustrative descriptions of Martian landscapes, but since the novel came out in 1993 a lot has been revealed about the planet's surface. Since 1997 NASA's probes and rovers have been sending back detailed images and data, much of which indicated a watery past.

Space Elevator
The Space Elevator Comes Closer to Reality
NASA: Audacious & Outrageous: Space Elevators
Space Elevator? Build it on the Moon First

Mars Missions
Martian Weather: Dust Devils
NASA: Demystifying Mars
Rover Images

Posted by thenovakids at 12:31 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:06 AM CDT
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Monday, 2 January 2006
Topic: Food
One of the highlights in quiet Commack, LI, NY was the presence of the Coney Island fast-food icon, Nathan's Famous, known for it's excellent hot dogs. The site, at 6137 Jericho Turnpike, used to be home to Chuck E. Cheese's, but changed over sometime in the late 80s to a large video arcade, The Emporium with a Nathan's attached. My sister and I had birthday parties there, where I mastered the arts of Rampage and Pit-Fighter. I frequented it through high school, and occasionally while home from college, and was sad to see it's recent closure and conversion to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

However, my sister, through her cunning, discovered an arcade/Nathan's site in Farmingdale, and you know TAKOTRON made an effort to check it out while home for the holidays. It's called the "Fun Zone," which, based on appearance, seems an exaggeration. But once inside, beyond the games and shoddy rides, it felt great to have that Nathan's hot dog again. The New York hot dog is a different animal from its Chicago cousin. There are a few topping combinations, like peppers and onions, sauerkraut and ketchup, relish and mustard, etc. Chicagoans can be dogmatic about what gets involved, like ketchup being explicitly prohibited from a "Chicago Style" dog, or a bun being steamed but not toasted. Chicago is the historic king of meat processing, the American mecca of tubular meats, so its people are the experts. But there's also something nice about New York's more cosmopolitan interpretation, pairing the hot dog with papaya juice, or kraut, or grilling it, broiling it, boiling it in dirty water on a street corner--and it's all good.

Nathan's/The Fun Zone
229 Rte. 110
Farmingdale 11735
Phone: 631-847-0100

Other New York Hot Dog Specialists
Gray's Papaya
Papaya King
Katz's Deli

Posted by thenovakids at 1:59 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:06 AM CDT
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Saturday, 24 December 2005
Chicago Fantasy Land
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Chicago has its own little Disney within, serving up greasy food with its fiberglass sculptures. The intersection of Clark and Ontario is home to Hard Rock Cafe, the new flagship McDonalds, Rainforest Cafe, and Portillo's Hot Dogs.

The new Mac replaces the old Rock 'n' Roll McDonalds, which was filled with airbrushed murals and memorabilia. There is still an on-site (somewhere in the parking lot), stand-alone shrine to the original restaurant, but the new design is glass curtian walls and high-design, featuring a time-line in dioramas of Pop Culture (and Mac culture) relics through the ages. You can eat your burger in the comfort of designer furniture by Mies, Corbusier, and Saarinen while enjoying your favorite post-war decade's memorabilia and music. Chicago architect Helmut Jahn proposed a structure built around 100ft arches, but McDonalds decided to go with a more modest design by an in-house designer, Dan Wohlfeil.

I presume the Hard Rock and Rainforest Cafe are the same as they are about anywhere else--is this a weird new International Style, where giant fiberglass frogs and neon guitars can be transplanted into any context?

Portillo's, once a modest hot dog stand, is now a franchise empire, with spinoff Italian chain restaurants attached. They are still, however, a deserving favorite for standard Chicago fast food specialties like Italian beef, hot dogs, and Maxwell Street Polishes (left). Their downtown location, across the street from McDonalds and Hard Rock, is in a Tuscan/strip-mall(?) style, with a confusing semi-3-dimensional mural above the entrance. According to their , this location allegedly is built around a "20's, 30's, 40's Gangster" theme.

The new McDonalds is kitsch, a vernacular Disneyfication of high design and high tech (wire-braced glass curtain walls; tons of flat panel TVs), but it's comfortable, interesting, and admittedly fun inside. I feel that if these international chains are going to plop down tourist-attractive, consumerist sites in our cities, ones like the new Mac are infinitely better than the sloppy fiberglass cancer-sores like Rainforest Cafe, or the faked nostalgia of Portillo's. But that char-grilled polish was amazing.

More on Mac:
Lynn Becker, Chicago Reader, on the "Schlock Corridor"
animated walk-through the new site

Wednesday, 21 December 2005
Fugliest Building in Chicago's Loop?
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Today I walked all over downtown Chicago on a quest for perfect holiday gifts. I say "holiday" because my family and friends are of various religious backgrounds, and it's semantically appropriate to be sensitive to this. I can't believe people think of this as a "War on Christmas." Being inclusive is not a move of aggression or a method of belittling Christian faith, which supposedly preaches toleration and outreach. Are these upset people sick of having to put up a false front of toleration and political correctness, and are now just blowing up and insisting on explicitly exerting their hegemonic majority as openly and straightforward as they would like? Well, "Happy Holidays" motherfuckers.

So anyway, I was shopping downtown and found myself in front of this parking garage building that I've admired from time to time before. I was always under the impression that the word "fugly" was a contraction of "fucking ugly" ("f'ugly"?), but then I recently read somewhere that referred to it as meaning "fabulously ugly," which, while a more intriguing concept, is dubious, I think. Nevertheless, this building in the loop, a Self Park garage at 60 East Lake Street, fits both of those definitions. The tire-shaped canopies are goofy but maybe amusing in a campy way. I think, from my 1 semester of experience, that architects sometimes refer to this sort of shit, when they are trying to be positive, as "whimsical." Above the "whimsical" tire-canopies are gratings shaped like sideways pointed arches through which you can see a Coke machine.
The upper level is graced with 2 small porthole windows on either side of the facade. One of the portholes has managed to hold on to its bubbly plastic hemisphere over all these years since teal was a good idea. On the roof you may be able to discern a statue. If I had to guess, I would say it appears to be a man in a WWI aviator hat swinging a human femur. If anyone knows anything about this building, or has an opinion re: its fugliness, let me know.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:11 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:07 AM CDT
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Friday, 16 December 2005
Washington Park
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRONsemester001 officially ended yesterday as I handed in my paper, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Democratization of Landscape Theory," at 12:06PM. For the topic I researched the famous American landscape architect in relation to 2 major theoretical movements that directly influenced him, the English Picturesque of the mid to late 18th century, and American transcendentalism of the mid 19th. Both movements were rooted in our experience of rural landscapes, but had elements somewhat contrary to democracy. The Picturesque was put forth by wealthy British gentlemen who created contrived "natural" landscapes for their enormous country estates. Transcendentalism had a strong moral, even theological undertone that enveloped its aesthetic ideas, but it was too introverted and rural to be directly applicable to the urban industrial life that would grow to dominate American society.

Frederick Law Olmsted (right), who was an established social activist before he began designing landscapes, was able to adapt his influences to create a plethora of urban park systems that would serve the surrounding communities democratically. He made it a point to avoid loud details like flower beds, fountains, and symmetrical open squares, instead developing experiential, all-encompassing scenes that would have an "unconscious influence" on visitors. His hope was, and he succeeded, to introduce into our cities "scenery offering the most agreeable contrasts to that of the rest of town; an opportunity for the people to come together for the single purpose of enjoyment, unembarrassed by the limitations with which they are surrounded at home or in the pursuit of their daily avocations."

Olmsted's first design was New York's Central Park, planned with architect Calvert Vaux beginning in 1858, and he would go on to design many of the nation's campuses and most treasured parks, among them Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Boston's Jamaica, Fenway, and Franklin Parks, Niagara and Yosemite national parks, and Chicago's southern park system. The last was planned in the 1870s, and would be modified as the site of 1893's World's Columbian Exhibition. The fairgrounds comprised Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance (where the first Ferris Wheel was featured), which extended West to Washington Park.

So I had turned in this paper and was on my way home when i decided to take the long route and walk through Washington Park. The Green Line drops you off on Garfield Boulevard across the street from the oldest existing original "L" station, from 1892 (left). The area has changed completely since the late 19th century, and the idealistic hope that went into it is difficult to discern. In the 19teens and 20s the neighborhood bordering Washington Park to the west rapidly shifted to African-American and, unfortunately, many of the previous settlers dispersed. Today it remains almost completely African-American (>98%) and is one of Chicago's more impoverished regions, with a median income barely over $15,000 with almost half of its buildings vacant. The area east of Washington Park, called Hyde Park, is a diverse and well-reputed neighborhood, partly because it is home to the University of Chicago. During the surrounding area's demographic changeover, the University made active moves to prevent blacks from settling near Washington Park, and may today be somewhat responsible for the park's function as a sort of buffer zone separating the haves from the have-nots. It is still a beautiful escape from city life, featuring a (frozen) lagoon, a variety of trees, wildlife, bridges, and paths, and is treasured by many different people, including students, locals, school groups, nature-watchers, and even cricket players.

Posted by thenovakids at 4:25 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:10 AM CDT
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Saturday, 10 December 2005
Topic: Food / Chicago
A week of finals remains, but my studio class has officially ended as of yesterday afternoon. It went out with an exhausting bang of sleep-deprivation, lots of coffee, and harsh critics. One evening while preparing my project, at the suggestion of Miss Hotoda, we bypassed my apartment's sink full of increasingly stank dirty dishes and went around the corner to grab some food.

Our target was Morry's Deli at 5500 S Cornell (Chicago, IL, for those who don't know), where a plastic sign outside has been advertising a 1.99 hot dog and fries special for the last couple weeks.

Now, you might think a place called "Morry's" with adds for Kosher beef and a menu full of pastrami would be a nice little kosher deli. But I've never seen any one Morry-looking around there, and they have cheeseburgers. The guys working there seem to be exclusively young Hispanic men with tattooed necks.
So we got our specials, and they were quite satisfying. They didn't ask what we wanted on them, and the default seemed to be everything, which my ketchup-purist companion doesn't dig, so we had to ask the guy to remake it, which pissed him off. I was happy with everything, AKA chicago style, and I'm not talking about paper layouts and your works cited page, but rather: a steamed poppy seed bun, mustard, relish, chopped onions, a kosher dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, sport peppers, and celery salt. The little tube of meat within all that was pretty good at Morry's--a beefier flavor than the standard Vienna Beef issue, so I surmise it was a kosher dog.

The next day, parked outside, was this awesomely decorated delivery truck.

Posted by thenovakids at 4:07 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:13 AM CDT
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