Sunday, October 5, 2014

You Are Who They Say You Are

It was a good day
There was a great picture going around the interwebs a week or two ago.

Found on Mandatory
This reminds me of summer days as a kid, where I would often find my friends by looking for the pile of bikes.  In particular, there was an "island"--a little patch of green space between two streets where we would meet up for whatever mayhem was on the docket that day.  Clintonville kids know what I'm talking about. 

But the picture also reminded me of my last trip to Brown County Indiana with friends.

You never outgrow some things.  

By the way, we're going back to Brown County next weekend for the Brown County Epic.  It will be a weekend of awesomeness - demo bikes, live music, a beer garden, and epic rides.  You should come hang out with me too.  It's only like a four hour drive from Columbus.

But back to the matter at hand. 

Fact is, I still look for friends by searching for the bike pile.  Like last time I traveled to a new city and wanted to find a good place to get a meal and a beer in the evening.

I rented a bike:

And rode it around until I found this:

Would it surprise you to learn that all of these bikes were parked outside an artisanal restaurant/pub that served small plates with locally-sourced ingredients and craft beers?  The menu looked something like this:

Of course, that's what I was expecting.  And that's what I was looking for.  A meal of food I like, surrounded by people who dress like me and share my interests. 

Yeah, so there it is.  But, I'm not the only person who does this.  For instance, if you saw this outside a bar:

In fairness, Lucky 12 looks like it has a pretty good menu and taps. 
You would probably reasonably assume that there are people wearing leather and denim inside, eating burgers and drinking American beers.  And probably talking about their Harleys and Indians.  If that's your scene, you could chopper on in and enjoy.

Or, if you saw these cars in the restaurant's parking lot:

Then there's a pretty good chance that you are at a BW3, and the people inside are eating chicken wings and washing them down with Corona bottles from a bucket.  They're likely wearing ball caps (some backwards) and cargo pants.

In this parking lot:

You will find everyone wearing the same colors, and plenty of team jerseys.  Folks will be drinking from red plastic cups, which, as I understand it, have specially developed technology that renders alcohol invisible.  People will be eating grilled meats and discussing the talents (or lack thereof) of particular physically superior, extremely athletic young men and the 40-year-olds that coach them.

And if you see this:

Congratulations, you're at Applebee's or Friday's or Golden Corral.

My point is, that we seek out markers that tell us that we will find people like ourselves.  We look for places where we fit in, where people look like we look and repeat the same things that we say.  Like they said on the theme song to Cheers, "sometimes you want to go . . . where everybody confirms your personal beliefs."  Or something like that.  I do it too.  Is that wrong?

Well, post modern philosophers like Adorno and Horkheimer would tell you this is a product of marketing.  They'd explain that every aspect of our lives have been planned out and marketed for by the "culture industry."  We are sold "lifestyles;" if you want to be a good cyclist, here's the clothes you will need, the beer you must drink, and the bike you must ride.  It's even further broken down - are you an urban cyclist?  A mountain biker?  A roadie?  There are goods and products that will specifically advertise your cycling preferences to the world.  There are even goods designed for people who wish to demonstrate their non-conformity. 

 The height of irony is selling ironic goods un-ironically to those who wear them for fashion.

It's like an irony Fibonacci sequence
Are you wearing tight pants? Do you have a bushy beard?  Check with your doctor to see whether a fixed gear is right for you.

Is that all bad?  Hell, I don't know.  I like to think that, as individuals, we find out what it is that we like to do and where we're comfortable doing it.  You can broadcast that to the world as your "type" by your dress and purchasing choices.  And, because we're all aware of the significance of those choices, other people can quickly sort us into our category.  That way, you can continually be surrounded by people who will affirm that your version of the world is the correct one. 

And if you're confused about how to best present yourself as an immediately-recognizable member of any given subset of humanity, plenty of people online provide guidelines for the "right way" to do things.

I'm fine with all of that, except for the fact that bicycles are identified with particular lifestyle choices.  In our culture, a bicycle is not a vehicle to cheaply get around on for transportation.  Instead, it's just another way of telling the world that you're a hipster, or a hippie, or a jock.  "True" cyclists, who have mastered their own genre will poke fun at the uninitiated or "poser."  Meh.  As far as I'm concerned, the guy riding to work in his chef pants on a department store mountain bike is legit.

What does it all mean?  I don't know.  Maybe we should all ride bikes?  Personally, I like chicken wings and draft American beer.  Can I ride my bicycle to Sturgis?  Maybe they'd welcome me if I wore denim cycling pants?

Somehow, I doubt it.
I don't know.  For now, I'll just continue to look for the bike pile. 

Go be brave, however you like.

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