Ups and Downs… Especially the Downs

I took a couple days off this week, and went into Mexico City to meet up with some friends who were here for a destination wedding.  They were having the ultimate gringo experience of the metro, going to the pyramids the first day, then taking a city tour the next, on one of those open-top busses that mostly just drives around the nice bits of downtown and hits some historic spots.  It was a blast, getting to spend a few hours with folks from back home – especially these folks, since we are in a band together, have seen thick and thin and are pretty much family.  But, sitting on that bus, doing the tourist thing, I felt like a caged animal.  Every stoplight, I wanted to grab them all and jump ship, to go share the experience of all the little things about Mexico that I love, and that tourists on a bus take for granted.

Yet, that’s America.

My Mexico, mi corizone, isn’t the spring break crowd in Cancun, or the vista views from a rooftop bar where all the tourists go.  My Mexico, my life, is getting off the pre-ordained bus tour and carving down to the marrow of a place.  It’s finding the beauty in the obscure and unique.  It’s wandering through the quagmires of crowded markets and desperate shops to admire the dedication of some very strange people selling bootleg DVDs and knockoff handbags.  It’s the happiness I get from sharing my love of chilequilles with my friends back home, who all end up ordering it and are floored by how good a local lunch that they’ve never heard of, can be.  It’s knowing how to negotiate pesos with vendors on the street market, and eating tacos with lamb brains and cilantro.  It’s all the beautiful things that you don’t get to do, if you don’t get off the fucking bus.

I understand it.  I do.  It’s the same reason that people live in the suburbs, and are content to have a family night out at Applebee’s every Friday.  It’s safe.  It’s familiar.  Not everyone wants to cast off their Linus blanket and find adventure.  I saw that look on my friend’s face, whether to venture into the unknown and forage through some crazy markets, or stick with the group and keep to the beaten path.

In the end, we wound up trekking a couple blocks off the tour schedule and checked out some fairly tame market areas, right up until they needed to Uber to the meeting spot, so they could get back on the bus to their resort.  In all fairness, they were there for a wedding, and they had shit to do – rehearsal dinners and all that.  I mean, weddings are a mess as it is, so you kinda just do what the happy couple has planned, and go with it.  And that’s a very American sentiment.  To stay on the path and do what you’re supposed to do.  Maintain the status quo.  Be happy and medicated and retire in Florida.

Never has a book or a movie been published about someone who kept to the status quo.

At the same time, movies and books have the liberty of editing out the boring parts.  And to be honest, most of life is simply getting through the boring parts, so that you can be prepared to jump into the good bits and enjoy them.  For me, right now, it’s a pretty boring slump.  I’ve been working in the shop, waiting for tanneries to produce samples, stitching the same test bags over and over and over to try and get my solutions finite.  I’m questioning everything that I’m doing, and taking prototypes on the road to find my own flaws.  I’m even trying to buy a motorcycle in town, so that I can do test fittings with my bags.

It’s the slow times, when worry starts to set in.  Is this venture that I’ve started going to be profitable?  Are my designs good enough?  Am I wasting my time and money, when I could be back in my house in Indiana, working for a marketing firm, making a comfortable living and doing what I’ve been doing for years?  Am I on a fools errand?  Am I mortgaging my ass to find my soul?

Part of what I’m working towards, is simple.  It’s a very basic and original idea, that nobody else is doing.  I’m making tough, beautiful bags for motorcycle riders and everyone else, that you can snap to the side of your bike, ride to work, unsnap and go on with your day.  I’m making them in unparalleled quality leather, and in three shades of brown, when everything else is black.  I’m creating an option in a market that’s so ridiculously one-sided towards the Harley Davidson garbage, that people don’t even know that they want it yet.  And I’m terrified, because once my stuff hits the stand, every other asshole is going to fake it.

The big question about all of this, is WHY am I doing it?  Why am I down here in a crappy condo in the bowels of Mexico, when I could be doing anything else with my life?  The truth?  I’m pissed off.  I’m tired of getting an ugly reputation because I love riding motorcycles.  I’m tired of every middle-aged idiot with money to burn, jumping on the Harley train and trailering their bike across the country, rather than ride it.  I’m tired of walking into a motorcycle dealership, and only the oldest guy in the room knowing what a Norton or a BSA is.  When the Guggenheim museum celebrated the turn of the century, and had to make a decision about what art exhibit they wanted to show off that expressed the beauty, ingenuity, craftsmanship and integrity that summed up all of America, they chose to showcase the art of the motorcycle.  And rightfully so.

To the many people out there, who are scared to get off the bus and find adventure, I wish them all the best.  To the guys who lived a straight path their entire life, and decide to go out and put their toe in the water for the first time and buy an HD Sportster and a black motorcycle jacket… well, at least they’re trying.  But, for the people who are discontent with the status quo, who want to do new things and eat lamb brains from a taco truck at 2am, wander off the road and make new friends, and run with the bulls instead of swimming with dolphins, I salute you.  That’s why I’m doing this.  Because I can.

P.S.  This image sorta sums up my whole frame of mind about the absent-mindedness of the current motorcycle culture.  It’s a very famous photo of Steve McQueen from the set of the movie, “The Great Escape”.  It’s been said that the motorcycle scene from that film, is the quintessential bike moment in all of screen history.  And to top it off, Steve’s not riding a Harley, he’s on a Triumph Bonneville (of which I own a few).  The picture was taken right before a scene, and since Steve did his own stunts and rode the bikes himself, he was turning it on to ride it over to the stage.  But, like people, bikes can be finicky, and this particular bike had dual Amal carburetors, which were gravity fed, and would often run with a dry bowl – feeding straight into the venturi from the fuel line.  They had this little button on them, called a tickler, that you would have to push a couple times to let gas into the system to start the bike.  And that’s what Steve’s doing right here.  It’s something that everyone understood and knew how to do, 40 years ago.  But it’s completely forgotten today.  And that makes me sad.