Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For Once and For All

My housemate Charlie was telling me about his recent experience at a bike shop in Boulder, CO... I suppose first I should introduce Charlie, at least in the context of his relationship with bicycles. He has one, which he uses to ride places sometimes, usually to bars or parties, but he likes waterfalls and books more than bikes...though I think he genuinely thinks bikes are neat, and I certainly did see his eyes light up as I went into detail about all I had just learned about wheelbuilding. In other words, I think Charlie has a very healthy, self-aware relationship with bicycles.

Anyway, he was telling me about going into a bike shop with a friend, to do something innocent, like pick up new brake cables or something, and, also in the shop was a father with his daughter, presumably an incoming freshman at CU-Boulder, looking to buy a bike as part of the girl's back-to-school shopping list. The father said, "What do you mean? The more gears the better, right?" And the girl, rolling her eyes in the way that only spoiled 18 year olds can do to their parents that are just so uncool, said, "No, dad! I want a bike with just the one gear! Just the one!"

Charlie told me this story because he thought it was odd, verging on hilarious, and I'm repeating it because I think it's fully on the side of hilarious. And also because, a couple Saturday nights ago, I was riding downtown, I blew a red light turning left, and someone, from their car yelled, "Fucking hipster!" I looked back, and realized it was my ol' buddy Ian. And I wondered, (and I still wonder, because I haven't seen him yet to ask), if he knew it was me and was yelling that to be ironic, or if he didn't know it was me, and was yelling that because he really hates hipsters. Or maybe, worst of all, he knew it was me, really thinks I'm a hipster and was yelling that to be mean. I was, afterall, riding a fixed gear with a chrome bag, cycling cap and pants that I'd cut to make into shorts (which, to my credit, happens every summer, anyway).

Oh, god. I disgust myself.

But then another day, another ride, I got passed by an older-ish man in a car, and he slowed down to yell out the window, "Fixed hub! You don't see too many of those these days!" And I thought, "oh, if you only knew, buddy...if you only knew." But I was charmed by what, I assumed, was a genuine and long-lived appreciation for the fixed gear bicycle.

And so I'm admitting, right here and now, that I absolutely love fixed gears, I love them for many reasons, many reasons that are my own, and one, because like the Chuck Klosterman article I wrote about in my last Blahg post--how the over-abundance of choice ultimately makes us depressed, so you might as well keep it simple, at least for commuting and running errands and going from here to there. Nothing gets fucked up on a fixed gear. Every once in awhile my chain gets a little stretched and I need a 15 mm to shove my wheel back a little further, and sometimes I add a little bit of air to my tires, but that's it. Plus, if you've ever gotten up to speed on a downhill, did a half-assed skid to slightly slow down and a half-assed look to the left so you could at least tell yourself you made an effort to make sure no cars were coming, and cornered faster than you thought you were going to, didn't clip a pedal, came out of it smooth and at almost as much speed as you went into it, and your legs are going so fast, and the winds blowing against your cycling-caped head bedecked with the biggest smile you've ever smiled, and you have no where to go that evening except for some place you decided you had to go to just to give yourself an excuse to ride into town, and that's love. And that's why I love my fixed gear.

And I worry for the younger generation. I worry that they like fixed gears because they're cool, but they couldn't even tell you why they're cool, they just remember reading it somewhere, or they saw someone else with it, and that made it cool. They've never truely felt it. They're not in love. They just want to like it, but they're not even sure why they're supposed to like it.

And then there's the problem that I call Dave Matthew's Band Syndrome, which is when you know something is really awesome, but you can never bring yourself to like it, because everyone else is obsessed with it, and that turns you off. I've got bike-rider friends who will never go anywhere near a fixed gear because of their association with hipsters. Singlespeeds galore, but not fixed. They don't want to be lumped in with those losers.

But if you love it, love it. If you hate it, hate it. But do it for you own sake, and your own sake alone. Don't do it because it's cool, and don't not do it because it's too cool.

Do it because you never want to stop pedaling. Then shut up about it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Learning Process

The other day, by which I really mean, like two months ago, I was in line at West End Bakery, and their tip-jar had a note on it that said, "Trix are for kids, but Tips are for Struggling Young Adults." Or something to that effect. Which made me think of the line in my header to this blahg, "young adult ridden angst" and it makes me think of the conversations I've been having lately with my young adult ridden friends, and a I'm starting to realize we all need tips. Not the monetary sort (which never really hurts, but tends to go towards beer rather than anything lastingly valuable), but the philosophical sort of tip, the advice, the direction, the reconfirmation that shit, I suppose we are actually doing OK.

Which may sound rather emo (to use an young adult ridden phrase), and may sound like a problem of decently-educated suburban youth, which frankly it is...but its apparent and its prevalent and as a young adult ridden young adult, I have no idea what the hell to do, or what the hell to tell my friends. The problem, as I see it, is that throughout school (and college if you so choose) you have a very clear idea of what the next step is. Starting in March or so, you start making plans for the summer...trips, a job that will make you enough money to last another school year, and then sometime in August, you look at the class schedule to figure out when you need to be back. And then you laugh, and drink coffee, and goof off, and stress about tests, then get a C then get pissed then get over it, then its Friday, then its Monday, and so on in this sort of repetitive, reassuring pattern...until you graduate with a Bachelors degree in something you don't really know much more about than you did four years ago, and you can't find a job, and no one's offering you funding for Graduate school, and even Americorps is freaking out with applicants. And so you say to yourself (and your friends when they ask, and maybe your parents if you're open and honest with them) "I really have no idea what the hell I'm doing with my life."

Which makes me wonder if anyone really ever does. It makes me wonder if that reflective introspection is good and necessary and should never go away. Part of me thinks this directionless wandering and constant drive for something more meaningful is good...but that's not to say its not frustrating. Which, leaving out the double negative, means it's pretty darn frustrating.

And so, whenever this conversations pops up amongst me and my fellow recent college graduated peers, I think of my conversation with my last hairdresser, "What do you do?" She asked. "Oh, I don't really know..." Then further on down the conversation she said, "You pick tomatoes and ride bikes, that's what you do." And that is what I do, in the most simplified nutshell of my life, and that's a good enough definition to help feel a little more settled. So I've repeated that in many a intimate bar or front porch conversations, and now I'm thinking of a certain amazing country song, and I'm thinking, of course, of bike riding.

The other night (by which, here, I really do mean, like, two nights ago) I was taught how to build wheels...and I built up my first wheel ever (write that down in my baby book, mom)...a fixed Surly hub, laced to some DT Swiss 4.2's. I love learning the process, the specific steps, the two hands full and a spoke with a nipple ready held between your teeth, the "this is how you do it, why? Just 'cause that's how you do it."

Having absolutely no artistic mind whatsoever (though, admittedly, I do rock at bubble letters and collages) I of course have to transfer whatever aesthetic sense that is trapped up in my human nature and apply it to bicycles. I don't like overt artistic-ness, which seems to be all the rage in hip urban centers, but I'm a sucker for the subtle examples of beautiful perfections. The scripted "Campagnolo" all lined up on chain rings, the ferrals and zip ties that strategically match some understated color on the frame, I was taught to do while building wheels, if you look through the valve stem hole, you can see the logo on the hub. Why? Functional? Of course not. It's just how you do it.

Someone, somewhere, in the flowchart of people teaching other people to work on bikes, decided that's how it should be done, so you learn it that way, and you pass that on to the next person who asks you how its done. And its arbitrary and you know it, but you'll still always follow it, just 'cause. And there's a certain reassurance in that.

Chuck Klosterman, who is amazing and you should go read some of his stuff right now, has an article about Johnny Carson's death, which really is more about the idea that the overabundance of choice ultimately makes up depressed. At first, you feel could pick anyone of these options, oh the wealth! But once you make a decision, you realize you have fewer people to relate to, because they all made individual decisions, too, and you'll always be wondering what would have happened if you picked something else, did you make the right choice? Oh dear. This is similar to another book I've heard about, but haven't read, so I can't vouche for it the way I will so confidently for Chuck Klosterman, called "What is the What" And essentially, from what I've made up in my head about this book, it's about the Dinka people of Sudan who's creation story is that God offered them either cattle or the what. They asked God what the what is, and He, being the sneaky bastard He tends to be in so many religions, said, "Cattle or the what, your decision." They chose the cattle, and the rest of the world got the what. So while they're all meeking out their livings as herders, there's a whole bunch of spoiled-ass middle-class kids sitting around asking themselves what the hell this all means.

We have too many choices. We don't know what the what is. We're confused. We're lost, We're alone. We have no answers. I have an empty crossword puzzle tattooed on my fore-arm to help get this point accross. We know jackshit, and we shouldn't pretend we do.

But we also shouldn't be intimidated by that. I know the logo's supposed to be seen through the valve-stem hole, I'll work with that. I'm riding my 'cross bike to Brevard after work today, I'll work with that. What am I doing for a job in October? Uh.....

Let's go ride bikes this weekend.