Friday, November 5, 2010

Come to kindly terms with your ass, for it beareth you

This is actually a bicycle story, so stay with it; but first:

Long before the "Idiot’s Guide" (to everything) series became a license to print money, there was the original idiot’s guide: How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot. First published in 1969 and still chugging along over four decades later (the 19th edition is out there, and the book has outlived both author John Muir and illustrator Peter Aschwanden, to say nothing of air-cooled VWs), the Idiot’s Guide (air-cooled VW owners never call it anything else) offers this pithy adage from olden times:

Come to kindly terms with your ass, for it beareth you.

Muir’s point -- in those pre-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance days -- was that, if you’re going to depend on a vehicle (especially a VW), you’d probably better try and understand it, at least a little.

Tat tvam asi -- Thou art that -- after all.

(Some VW engineering purists argued that Muir’s advice, steeped as it was in hippie quintessence, could tend a little too much toward the improvisational, the approximated, and the MacGyver-esque, sometimes recommending techniques that would get your bug or bus back on the road in the short term but at the risk of harm to its well-being sometime down the road. YMMV.)

I mention that to prepare the ground for this observation:

In what were quite possibly the last warm sunny days in these parts until next spring, a lot of drivers seemed to peer through their windshield at the bright, multi-colored autumnal terrain in front of them this week and suddenly realize that they had no interest -- none whatsoever -- in looking at a cyclist’s backside in front of them, even if only for the next 40 or 50 feet in a parking lot. During those three warm and sunny days, I had more drivers try to pass me inappropriately – oh hell, let’s say it: dangerously and usually illegally, in intersections, on single-lane streets, and for no apparent reason other than to see me in their rear-view mirror rather than through their windshield -- than I’ve experienced in quite a while.

I can’t say what terms they were on with their own asses, but they certainly weren’t coming to kindly terms with mine.

After some thought, I decided it might be the motorist’s version of raging against the dying of the light.

Then I thought about it some more, and began to wonder if -- perhaps -- their problem wasn’t so much with the presence of bicyclist qua bicyclist within the horizon of their sensorium, but rather with the ass that beareth me specifically.

To be painfully candid, here was the bicycle saddle I was riding on (click to enlarge -- if you dare):

It’s over 6 years old, and had beareth-ed me for over 10,000 miles, and although I hated to face facts, there's no denying it’s been falling apart for over a year. At first I resisted the idea of replacing such a fundamental interface with my beloved ride, and I didn't feel much better about mending it with duct tape and whatnot. And then I decided that its resulting theft-deterrent ugliness might be a net plus. But the rainy season is gradually asserting itself again in these parts, and as a result the exposed padding and old shop rags inside the thing were starting to exude the funk of old sweat socks, making it arguably an assault upon both the eyes and the nose of the fastidious driver.

Who knows: If I saw that thing in front of me, maybe I’d try to run it off the road myself, simply as a gesture against urban blight.

Well, anyway. What with one thing and another I found myself in my local Bike 'n' Hike (a completely gratuitous plug for my one true bike shop) on other business yesterday, and there, hanging on the wall rack, quietly humming "Tat Tvam Asi . . . Tat Tvam Asi . . . " at me, was my new bicycle saddle, although I didn't immediately recognize it as such.

Really, it's the same specs as the old one, with the original manufacturer’s WBT brand on it this time rather than the bike manufacturer’s (Giant) -- and at a surprisingly decent price. To get from seeing it to grokking it to paying for it was the work of a moment, and after installing and road-testing it I discovered another benefit: Six years of beareth-ing my ass had slowly but inexorably pounded almost all the cushion out of the old saddle. The new one is much, much kindlier where it counts (as the original probably was, back in the day).

That left only the question of what to do with the old saddle. After some discussion at the bike shop, the consensus was to put it in the garden to keep crows away.

One last related item: In Ireland, ”iron donkey” is slang for bicycle (a completely gratuitous plug for the best bike tour I ever took).

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