Friday, May 04, 2007

Retro-Aspirational vs. Hopeless-Aspirational

I have a neighbor who, on any given weekend, can be seen pampering his Cadillac (I'm talking about a car, now). This treatment takes one of two forms: he's either hosing off the dust with his portable pressurized sprayer, or he's following this up with a quick wax-and-buff (using a power buffer, of course). Sometimes his buddy shows up in a vintage El Camino, and they'll smoke cigars and buff the cars.

I kid him about it. He grins and says, “Yeah, I'm just an old gear-head!”

Well, that may be the case, but I have to wonder. I haven't seen him attempt anything more involved than a wash-and-wax. Is that all it takes to be a gear-head these days? Some afternoon I'm going to pipe up: “Sir, I've known gear-heads. Gear-heads have been friends of mine. And you, sir, are no gear-head.”

Neither am I, but I used to hang around a few. In high school I had a friend who rebuilt a vintage Ford. When I first heard the news, I swung by his place to see what he was up to. In his back yard he had a rusty hulk resting on cinder blocks. The engine and transmission were gone, the cab was gutted — it didn't even have doors. I watched him as he climbed in and out of this iron carrion, then finally decided I should say the exact opposite of what I was thinking: “Well, it doesn't look entirely hopeless.”

He stopped what he was doing, and squinted at me. Finally he looked back at the object of his affection. “Not at all,” he said, and got back to work. I still know next to nothing about such things, but I was truly impressed with the flashy, rumbling, tire-squealing vehicle he finally pulled together a year or two later. He drove that thing like he was cock of the walk, and I figured, “Good on 'im. He bloody well should.”

Cut to the present. There's a kid who rides an Orange County Chopper to my daughter's school. I'm talking about a bicycle, now. He wheezed and teetered past me the other day, barely missing my toes with his fat tires. “Cool wheels,” I said. He mumbled thanks, and my older daughter rolled her eyes. “He's such a jerk,” she said.

My daughter might be harsh in her assessment (as 10-year-old girls are prone to be), but I'll silently back her up on this. After all, what's this kid done to deserve attention except buy something flashy? In fact, let me just make a blanket generalization. Television shows like Orange County Choppers and West Coast Choppers can be entertaining to watch, but when the final product is a one-of-a-kind bike that Billy Joel is going to park in a garage full of Hogs, I have to wonder: what's the big freakin' deal? What say we devote a show to Billy Joel's landscaper next?

Hot Rod Culture
. If you can make it, I'm impressed. If all you can do is buy it, well, not so much.

I'm in a very tiny minority on this issue. I'd say half my town owns an Orange County T-shirt, and most of these people couldn't be bothered to wash their cars. That's aspirational marketing for you: you can't afford Billy Joel's motorbike, wouldn't care for it if you did, but you wish you could, so you wear the shirt.

Or you buy the bicycle. No kidding: Orange County Choppers ”makes” bicycles for adults.

For adults.

I joked about riding a My Little Pony bicycle, but honestly: I'd rather be seen pedalling something with pink streamers than an Orange County bicycle. Not that My Little Pony is offering such fare for grown-ups — yet. But Schwinn is. Not only does Schwinn make the Orange County bicycle, it's also resurrected the “Pea Picker.”

I'm with DarkoV on this front: you can't go back. "Rosebud" is a fine thing to meditate on, but there's no point in dropping a bunch of money on what is finally just an accessory to a pleasant memory. Unless you're going to build it yourself — from scratch, of course.


dan h. said...

I appreciate these recent jaunts through memoray lane lately. I remember when we used to make our own choppers: we'd get somebody's old man to cut the front forks off an old bike and stick them on the front of our bikes, then slap the tire on those forks, and... chopped. It was great, until that time you would pop a wheelly and your forks came off.

Gideon Strauss said...

For my next bike (when the current cheapo rusts away completely) I dream of a Batavus from Curbside in Toronto.

DarkoV said...

Once again, it seems, your daughter has cut through the deadwood of male puffery with her pithy, "He's such a jerk!"

But, I did enjoy your post tremendously starting with the capture-it-all title of "Retro-Aspirational vs. Hopeless-Aspirational". Gotta hand it to us guys. We may be retro. We may be hopeless. But, we are aspirational. A lot of our leisure time economics is based on that. That, and the confusion we mens have betweeen what was and what is. You know, your basic Time Discontinuance Nuances.