Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

C and I spent last Friday in Iowa City, the place where we once collected diplomas (liberal arts degrees -- the white "participant" ribbon of higher education -- so don't be too impressed.)

Once I got done regaling the kids about how it was in the olden days ("The year was 1992... we'd never heard of the Y2K bug, we listened to grunge music on CD, and our modems made that cool noise like in War Games."), I took a look around at -- what else? -- the bike racks.

For as much as I like to lob good-natured fun at the whippersnappers and their too-cool-for-school urban-hipster-wannabe bikes, I have to admit that things are better in the racks today than they were in my day. Y'see, in my day, those racks were chockablock full of brand-new $250-$300 mountain bikes. That was great for me at the time because I was raking in the princely sum of $6 an hour to assemble those things as fast as I could sell them -- and I made a commission on top of that for every one I sold. Ka-ching!

The racks I saw on Friday were full of something else, though. Hipster fixie conversions (in all their stubby-barred, top-tube-padded glory), sure, but also lots and lots of old, unmolested ten-speeds. Schwinn Suburbans. Classic Fujis. Vintage three-speeds. Basketed cruisers. And my favorite? A fake-fixie tourer with chop-and-flop bullhorn bars and a three-speed coaster brake hub... all that fixie minimalism with some function!

Most of what I saw in the racks and rollilng around town was stuff that we wouldn't have even looked at twice back in the halcyon days of the early 90s because a) it was old, and b) the tires weren't fat and knobby. I saw kids who had obviously scavenged the garage (or thrift shop, or junkyard) for Mom and Dad's old bikes rather than scavenging Mom and Dad's wallet for a shiny new one. I saw ingenuity, frugality, creative solutions, and an amazing collection of mongrels with the fingerprints of their owners all over them.

Maybe it's not helping the shops or contributing to the beer funds (er, "higher education expenses") of punk mechanics/liberal artists/future snarky bloggers (though I guess brake cables and tubes have to come from somewhere), but it put a smile on the face of this crusty geezer. Now if I could just get them to turn off that crap they call music, get a haircut, get off my yard, and bring me some batteries for my Discman...

(This blog post has been annotated for those younger than dirt. If you're old enough to know the all the references already, I can also provide it in a LARGE PRINT format.)


Anonymous said...

Discman?! Yeah, I've got a genuine Sony Discman(tm) in front of me, and a few Walkmans ("Walkmen"?) in the drawer. At least I never owned an 8 track player, so I have some residual dignity. :-)

My college bike was a red Schwinn LeTour, fitted with alloy rims and aluminum Bluemels fenders. Very practical and fast enough. The Raleigh Gran Sport was stashed at the folks place where it wouldn't be molested. Mountain bikes were just being invented, but hadn't yet infiltrated the LBS or big box stores.

It's fun and sad to visit the old haunts. Stuff changes fast, and you can easily feel like a stranger in a place you used to call home. That's why it's a comfort to hold on to a few sentimental objects of that era, whether it's an old bike, the Pioneer receiver that served you well in your youth, or the old 35mm camera that captured so many special moments.

Steve in Peoria

Steve Fuller said...

I still have my first race bike from college (Schwinn Super Sport w 6 speed Shimano 600) and my Pioneer stereo (w CD and dual cassette). :) That said, kids are smart. Bikes get stolen. Better to have that 20 year old 3 speed that mom doesn't ride get taken rather than some high zoot carbon fiber wunder-bike.