“The American lifestyle is not negotiable.”- G.H.W.
“He was a great father before politics, a great father during politics and a great father after politics.” – Bush Jr.
Churning cranks high on Paine recently I recognized how much I am in love with this valley I slipped out of sight to hide in several years ago. Moving out of a gold town and into the land of slate and granite has been enlightening. So many things I thought I “Had to Have” suddenly seemed extremely unrealistic and completely, grotesque in their opulent extravagance.
My first shop ride in Northfield will always be one of the most real rides of my adult life. It was 2007 and there were some guys on old cromo Treks and Specializeds with styro-white helmets and toe clips on their pedals, a guy with Vans on a rigid salsa, and a kid on a 20 inch. We rolled up and over, down and through before an eye-watering blast down and old road they called a bike trail. I hadn’t heard the sound of a chain slapping on the chain guard of a bmx bike while on a trail ride in 20 years. This was not a staged hipster event. We were not making a mockery of first gen, or even pre-mountain bike generation bikes. There was no PBR waiting in the F150. We had all pedaled from our house, to sample the local goods, thrown together for a few hours for our own reasons. From the local-kid-turned-pro-XC racer out leading his shop ride, to the kid yearning for something cool in his “boring” home town reality, to a couple old guys that grew up together and had been riding this loop since the 80s, on the very same bikes and gear, we were all smiles on our short, paved spins home.
As the seasons change, the gear changes, but the cast and equipment never fail to deliver the same flavor. Old, rough, tweaked, repaired, customized, and bouncing along at the back of the designed obsolescence bubble, the local folks limp along on gear just as rough and old. New skis means they found a mint pair of the same Tuas they’ve been on from ’91, and the guy in the leather boots can always be found pointing the steepest line. We don’t ski our old, blown apart gear as part of a retro day event. We are running them until we extract every usable fiber of their existence. We have different reasons for that.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my motivation came from an examination of the materials economy and a growing instinct to trust my gut on what I “Have to Have”. As far as the Materials Economy end of things is concerned, I realized that basically everything comes from a hole in the ground. It is most likely being extracted by people who live in squalor, who’s ancient and localized subsistence existence is no longer viable for a variety of reasons, likely involving a deal made with neo-liberal developers by a president who is a planted, western-educated puppet who will live the rest of his life in marble halls so his people will die in a muddy ditch, or in a manufactured civil war with each other. The trade off for the gift of wealth to a few is that we, the west, with 5% of the world’s population, can consume 80% of the worlds resources in a very casually excessive manor. The driving forces behind this consumption is obsolescence. We will be either forced to discard functional goods because they will not longer be compatible with components or services, or they will have been designed to fall apart after a certain number of uses. I doubt this is news for most Vermonters. We are a pretty educated group and this has been going on since the end of the Second World War so, most of us probably get it. I wonder what percentage of us folks who live a gear-heavy life consider this dynamic when the internal dialogue of what we “Have to Have” plays out?
I am not claiming to live a model of this philosophy. In some ways, my family is trapped inside the dirty system. While it’s cheaper to run old gear, we still drive a lot. For a while my wife was auditing all over Vt and got milege compensation. Ripping around in her little Sentra at $0.50ish a mile we were actually probably pocketing a little, but keeping our personal demand for gasoline high, and polluting. I drive an hour a day too. Cars are the number one source of carbon emissions. We heat some with oil too. You can poke holes all day long though an ideal and a reality. It would be too easy to discredit any message if you examine the messenger too closely, and just like the guy with a muddy bike complaining about people riding in the rain, I don’t claim to be void of hypocritical actions and choices. Food, as well, is tough to afford as compared to the NAFTA version, grown and processed with little regard to the local ecology, or labor force somewhere in Central America. These dirty options are cheap, but common sense tells you it shouldn’t be. Inevitably, we will all participate in this economy, so I think the farther upstream we look as we spend, the wiser we will spend.
The globalized economy only functions if certain costs are externalized from the system. The two chief externalized costs are our environment and human rights. The power industry isn’t held responsible for cleaning up, being clean, or even being accountable for massive impacts on out environment. If they were, power would be madly expensive, and our everyday lives would change dramatically. This energy drives food production as well. How can Basil grown in Ecuador be cheaper from Burlington foods then Basil grown in Vt in July? Because they grow without regulations regarding farm waste ect. ect., and employ children, and truck with cheap fuel. Trucking goods…..Ugh. Try and fight this paradigm and be label to death and disregarded like GMOs should be.
As we all glance over in horror at the political world careening out of reason and control, and the orgy for the Earths last water, material, and energy resource reaches a frenzied and ever more deadly stage, think about what your vote does. Also think about how you spend. Global Capitalism has taken control away from the citizens of the world politically. Wealth has been consolidated and with it, the power of wealth now belongs to a few. However, it’s our money they still want. How you spend is far more important then how you vote. If you bounce along at the back of the perceived obsolescence bubble you will find that you aren’t spending as much for “New”, you aren’t driving the machine of dirty materials extraction and manufacturing, and you find that the stuff that ends up back there with you was generally the simplest and most functional gear that held on the longest before getting phased out. You’ll also find that you don’t really need those new carbon bits, or bars that are an inch wider, or a bike with wheels 4 cm larger. You can still rock on 2010 stock. The masses of “Me-Too”s discard and disregard mountains of unused new, and barely used gear, and out of respect for the labor and resources expended to produce and ship it all around the world, we should, and in fact run it ’till it’s done.
Back of the Bubble.
Outstanding post! I’m very guilty of this even though this issue has been at the back of my mind for a long time. I think we’d all do well to think a little longer term and consider our impacts.
Very well written Dave. I take pride in my old vacuum cleaner that actually has parts available so I can rebuild it. Same for my 1954 tractor and a few other items around our place. Sadly I have many more belongings that I can’t even buy replacement parts for or the parts cost more than replacing the entire item. Another factor in the equation is that there seem to be less and less people capable of repairing their own things even if they could get parts. With schools doing away with their vocational programs the ability of people to work with their hands seems to be on the decline. This is all by design to increase profits for those at the top of the food chain but it’s a poor design that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Thank you. Agreed, we all have too much shit, that’s for sure. As for the smirking POS in the photo, he came and helped build a trail bridge in the Adirondacks a few years back(Wilmington) if you can believe it. What a joke. Now that I think of it, that may be the closest he ever got to Vermont- I don’t believe he has ever actually set foot in the state, but I could be wrong on that point. The bridge got washed out by Irene, BTW. It was not replaced, and the trail has actually improved without it. Much like we are improved now without him.