A week-long tour was just a few weeks away, and I was riding my mountain bike on a training ride. A few miles after turning back home, a car took a left and was suddenly in front of me. After a few seconds, I climbed down from the hood of the SUV, shook myself, and motioned the driver to a parking lot. He pulled in, and I carried my twisted bike to the lot. After the usual post-accident activities and a visit to the ER, I set about finding a new bike.

This was taken a year earlier than the accident, but this is the bike that got trashed, and the look on my face is pretty close to how I felt on the hood of that SUV. (Photo @2007 Neil Brennen.)

before the summer of 2008, I was feeling pressure to get a saddle under my ass quickly: My riding partner had planned that tour, and I didn’t want to haul camping gear down 300 miles of trails on a brand-new rig. I quickly found that there were (and still are) three production touring bikes that are fairly easy to get in the US. After some research and several phone calls to stores, I ended up getting a Novara Randonee, and several friends congratulated me on the purchase. Over the years, friends have also congratulated me when I’ve bought bicycles, cars, computers, and guitars. I can understand this with a car or a bike a little bit: these objects can bring you increased mobility and freedom. Such purchases are usually replacing one vehicle with another, not getting a one after having only your feet and the number of a cab.

When someone’s made a purchase, why do we congratulate them? This question seems of particular interest now, a few days after Black Friday and solidly into the season of Christmas shopping madness. We may be rewarding consumer behavior, as in “Congratulations on having more crap.” That seems crass and obvious; I’ve been collecting books for most of my life, and am almost never congratulated for the walls of book spines that watch me in the rooms of my apartment.

Once in a while, I’m asked if I’ve read “all those books”. I certainly hope not! What fun is a library if I’ve read it all? I’m mostly presented with bewildered looks when it comes to my handful of bikes, although most of my friends understand that different bikes suit different kinds of rides. We have one family car, and one television set that’ll be eligible for a cake with 12 candles in a few months.

Congratulating someone on a purchase less important than, say, a house could be an artifact of language, to a degree. We might congratulate people for not for a purchase, but for having successfully researched the purchasing options and found the widget that suits them, if not perfectly, then at least better than the other options.

I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are increasingly seeing the value of having fewer books, compact discs, and clutter in general. Websites like Warm Showers and BookMooch make it easier to spend less. I try to paint a canvas for a major event in a family member’s life when I can. My music collection is mostly sitting in boxes in the attic, and I listen to most music electronically. Perhaps when I turn 50 in less than a decade, I’ll have one or two walls not lined with bookshelves, and one less bike in the garage. Well… fewer books, at any rate.


One thought on “Congratulations?

  1. Our TV isn’t quite that old. Your mom got it for you as a birthday gift after we started dating in 1999. I remember that the first time we actually hooked it up for regular broadcast reception was on 9/11/2001. I think you had it less than a year at that point.

    But good points!

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