Monday, June 8, 2015

Mr. Happy gets a new bike basket


     So what makes you happy?
     It's a strange question, I know.      
     For me, it's a lot of things.
     I'm a pretty happy person.
     ("Ha!" I picture my wife, who is a truly happy person, saying to herself, reading this. "Mr. Morose considers himself happy. I'd hate to meet someone he views as glum.")
     But it's true. Generally, as a general condition, I'm enjoying myself and grateful for it. Sure, there are challenges. I've got a nettlesome, relentless job in an industry that's falling apart in big chunks. Two teenage boys who, if they're not Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, still can throw a wrench in the works. The usual aches and pains of a guy in his mid-50s. 
    Nevertheless, most days, most of the time, I like to think I have a certain baseline satisfaction in life, a pilot light of contentment flickering blue in the background.
     And sometimes, on rare occasion, something happens that makes me really happy.
     Often it's the damnedest, unexpected thing. Some tiny development. Big stuff doesn't do it; selling a new book, getting a fat royalty check, doesn't do it. Too many details to sweat.
     But the basket on this bicycle. Well, let me tell you.
     For 21 years, I've had this Schwinn Cruiser—buying it was so fraught it showed up in my book "Complete & Utter Failure," in the chapter on perfection, which of course is impossible. 
     I bought a bike this year, after having not had a bike for my entire adult life. My perfection jones was made worse by the extra emotional baggage surrounding the concept of a new bicycle—king in the pantheon of traditional toys for boys: the train set, the first baseman's mitt, the bicycle. It was a big deal for me, and I approached the event with a certain solemnity, the good boy getting his deserved bike, the righting of an ancient wrong.    To make matters worse, I selected the bicycle purely on aesthetics. Rejecting complexities such as shiftable gears, and new developments such as mountain bikes, I picked out a one-speed black Schwinn Cruiser with fat whitewall tires and coaster brakes.
      No basket, of course. Didn't want to wreck the line of the bike. Which also limited its usefulness, and I didn't ride it much. There aren't many places in Northbrook to ride a bike.
       Once I started riding the Divvy bikes downtown, however, it reminded me how fun and useful a bike could be.  Getting from Point A to Point B, doing errands, weaving through the heavy downtown traffic. I've ridden the Divvy more downtown these past two years than I've ridden this Schwinn in 20. 
      That got me thinking. The Divvy has this front rack. Very handy, for packages and books and such. If I put a back rack on the Schwinn, it would be more useful, zipping over to Sunset Foods and such. 
      So I rode it over to George Garner Cyclery, a fancy bike store at Shermer and Waukegan. The back racks were these aluminum affairs and didn't seem to fit with the style of the bike. This black wire front basket did, cost only 30 bucks, and the guy at the store even installed it for me and then wouldn't let me pay him for his efforts.
     The basket lifts out and everything, then locks in tight. Quite a piece of engineering.  
     I rode away delighted, thinking: "Wow, a basket. That worked." Having spent two decades balancing shopping bags on my handlebars, now I am properly equipped. This is progress. The bike even looks better. Not only did getting the basket make me happy, but I was even happier once I realized that it made me happy—I'm glad to be the kind of person who is made happy by a new bike basket. If you can be happy about the small things, then life holds out promise. 

52 comments:

  1. Nice to be made happy by little things. Your pal Seneca would approve.

    Will you be taking the Schwinn on the 606?

    Tom Evans

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  2. A car is more convenient for carrying packages. Bike is best just for a casual ride or exercise and not in winter.

    What is the graduation picture all about, NS?

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    1. Glenbrook North High School Class of 2015, my younger kid among them. Yesterday. I thought of writing something, but went with the bike instead.

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    2. Best wishes to the young man. I like the green gowns over the usual black or blue ones.

      I would like to see a blog column about the graduation. Family stuff always interests me.

      Lady

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    3. A superb high school, that and the Maine township schools too.

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  3. Mazel Tov on your baby boy! As Buddha (allegedly) said..."There is no way to happiness... happiness is the way." Your attitude is right on.

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  4. I wonder what the unsmiling, leather-clad guy with the sporty Volvo from a post a couple a weeks ago would think of this transportation choice. But I'm guessing the Neil of today is a lot less concerned with what others, including his old self, would think. One of the benefits of age.

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    1. I don't think there are many 22-year-olds who wouldn't recoil in utter horror at the sight of their 54-year-old selves. Though he'd be pleased with the books and columns. And the boys. And the wife. And the house. So maybe not so horrified after all.

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    2. True. And he'd probably be glad to know that 54 doesn'f feel as decrepit as he may have thougt it would.

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  5. Happiness is mostly genetic - research shows you can do a little to boost it, but for the most part you owe that "baseline" to your ancestors. I'm curious of Zorn describes himself as a happy person - it would have a certain amount of explanatory power to the most important difference I see between his and NS columns (anon commenters hold your fire: I think NS is the more interesting read between the two of them).

    @anon6:35 - I tried winter biking for the first time this year - with a face mask and an extra pair of socks it wasn't bad at all until the temps dipped under 30. But I did feel self-concious, like I was putting on airs of being one of those hardcore bikers.

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    1. Yes, those type of bikers irritate me. But you must be younger than I thought.

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    2. Well, I'm a sucker for discussing Neil and Zorn, there, A-n-A, so I'll chime in. What are you getting at? Seems to me that they're both fine writers, though I'd agree that I find NS a bit more droll. But I'd be surprised if EZ doesn't consider himself a pretty happy person. I don't know either of them, of course, but from what I've read EZ has a swell family, too, and takes pleasure in many simple things. (He "calls" barn dances, for crying out loud.) The telling difference to me is that EZ is specifically a political columnist and so most of the ground he plows in the paper involves covering politics and justice issues. There's a lot to temper one's happiness when one is immersed in such matters and personalities, I'd imagine. NS's territory is much more eclectic and, thus, pound for pound, his columns are often more fun. But, back when his blog was really thriving, EZ could certainly be whimsical when he wanted to be.

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    3. Hey J - as usual I could have been more clear. I think if EZ did not consider himself a particularly happy person it would fit in with a belief I have that would explain the difference. So: acknowledging that NS has more "freedom to roam" on topics, for the times that he does address serious issues he usually leaves it at "issue spotting" coupled at times with deserved (if overly broad) barbs at social conservatives. EZ is almost the opposite: he can get so into the weeds that he creates detailed research guides on issues he writes about. I freely admit this is bad inductive reasoning and I'm open to studies and arguments to the contrary, but in my experience it's the less happy people who dig into the weeds on these things. In fact, I can't think of a research scientist or engineer I've met who I would describe as sunny. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (wonks) vs. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (anti-wonks). I don't mean by those examples that happy people are lacking empathy, they just don't seem to eat and breathe policy (or their given professions). Too busy enjoying life, perhaps. Now, if EZ in real life makes NS look like Cookie to his Bozo (ok, that went off the rails, but I'm leaving it in anyway for nostalgia's sake), it undermines my theory!

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    4. I remember Bozo.

      While you may come in as a close 2nd, Jak, don't try to match wits with ANA. It can't be done.
      And why should social conservatives deserve barbs, Jak, if they are fiscally liberal and anti-bank and Wall st and polluting corporations? It's called moderate.

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    5. Believe me, 4:15 Anon, I don't delude myself that I'm the equal of the esteemed A-n-A. I'll assume your reference to social conservatives was misdirected toward me, and meant for him, since I didn't mention them.

      A-n-A, with all due respect, I gotta say that it seems to me that your analyst's hat is on a bit tight today, though, whatever that means. ; )

      Whatever truth there is to the more blatant proposition that "ignorance is bliss", it just seems to me that EZ, Carter and Clinton, the three you've referred to, are pretty happy guys, despite their wonkishness. Time spent in the weeds can be absorbing and even rewarding, sometimes, depending on the nature of the thicket.

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    6. Only because you can't match what isn't there! Re: social conservatives - well look, as I said, I think NS is sometimes overbroad in that regard. Without exploding that subject here, I'd recommend a piece by (social conservative) Ross Douthat in the NY Times a while back about gay marriage called "The Terms of Our Surrender" where he cedes a great deal to progressives and says social conservatives kind of have to own their broad history vis-a-vis gay people, but he still takes on progressives on some points (and not saying I fully agree with him here either, but his points are worthy of respect).

      J - I freely admit I'm flying without much of a parachute with this kind of barstool psychology! The post is more thinking out loud than heartfelt, but that's my inductive experience/impression. And yeah, my take on Carter and Clinton is different. I also was thinking about economists living up to the "dismal science" rep, but the one they call "Dr. Doom" (IIRC) seems pretty happy, and he's one of the better ones. Definitely don't have any opinion on EZ especially as I only have his columns to go by.

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  6. Well, I'm a curmudgeon myself and while I can't say I don't know NS personally, from what I can see from some columns or blog especially, he's one too (especially if you disagree with him)albeit- always interesting.

    Just like depression/ irritbility can be hereditary, same goes for joy, I suppose. That's what legal meds are for.

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    1. meant can't say I know

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    2. While NS can surely be curmudgeonly, as Lord knows, can many of his fans including myself, I don't think he's a flat-out curmudgeon. Seems to me that no curmudgeon would take as much delight from such things as this bike, the Thornton Quarry and Amanda Palmer, to assemble a disparate trio of topics, as he does...

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  7. Sweet story. I've often thought that the key to happiness is to allow little things to make you happy.

    (Despite my blog name, I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky guy.)

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  8. I could never tell, from some of your posts.

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    1. Mostly just the ones directed at you.

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    2. Good retort, Scribe.

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    3. Sonny boy, Scribe, you need to be nice to the grannies.

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  9. Noticed that the basket isn't connected to the front axle. Let us know if that works out for you. I'm thinking that the basket might be a little less stable with a heavy load, but I'm no engineer, quite the contrary in fact.

    john

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  10. When I was a boy, I had what was essentially the progenitor to that very bike. Black, one speed, coaster brake, no fenders -- plus, it was about 20 years old by the time I adopted it, which was in the 60's. It's amazing to me, given the plethora of choices available for the last several decades, that you'd have chosen that one Neil, but it certainly fits your nonconformist personality, I suppose! Also surprising that it took seeing the Divvy bikes for it to dawn on you that having a basket or pannier might be a handy addition. Personally, I'd prefer fenders on such a model before I'd go for the basket. But I would certainly add a basket of some kind, too. Since I have an old-school (though not nearly as old of a school as that!) ten-speed, I've always lamented the lack of fenders when there's water on the road that ends up on my back!

    Nitpick alert! "I'm glad to be the kind of person whose made happy by a new bike basket." Isn't that use of "whose" the evil twin of "apostrophe abuse"? It would make me happy if it is. ; )

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    1. Sometimes both twins are evil.

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    2. Well played, Coey! It didn't occur to me that I was implying that "aa" was the good twin...

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    3. I believe you're right about the "whose." I'll fix it.

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    4. Sorry I didn't catch that one, Neil. I'm usually hypersensitive to apostrophe issues, because Big Brother Computer keeps trying to take away the one in my name and give it my neighbor, who can then state that the "Smith's live here."

      John

      John

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  11. Sorry, but guys shouldn't be using baskets on their bikes. Jakash, you must be older than I thought.

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    1. When I started riding the Divvys, some guy used to phone the office and rant that I was riding a girl's bike, because it doesn't have a center post. I shudder to think that in the age of Caitlyn Jenner, there's still anybody holding onto distinctions such as "guys shouldn't be using baskets on their bikes." A joke, right? I've never heard that in my life. When I had a paper route, I had two big baskets on either side of the back fender. How was I supposed to tote my papers otherwise?

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    2. That must be a guy with nothing better to do with his time than to call your office like that.

      Some old granny might still think that about bikes though.

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    3. We cyclists sidestep the boy/girl bicycle frame issue these days. It's a "step-through" frame.

      Bob H.

      P.S. I'm a basket fan. My 29 year old Schwinn Cruiser has a Wald No. 157 Giant Delivery Basket. Only complaint is it makes mounting a front light challenging.

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  12. Very good, you could tell it was teasing. Yes, I recall the paper boys with the baskets. The post was directed to Jackash, moreso.

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    1. For what it's worth, I've got panniers ("a pair of bags slung either side of the back wheel of a bicycle") on my bike, though there's been more than one occasion where I'd have preferred a big basket on the front, for a large bag of groceries, e.g. And I've never gotten, nor desired a manicure. Not that there's anything wrong with it! ; )

      4:17 Anon: progenitor: "a thing that serves as a model; predecessor; precursor."

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    2. get a car already! must be hard to bike in hard rain, snow and ice or carry much home, obv, you must not have a spouse of family of kids- how do you give others rides? and when sick you wait for a bus for appts to doc???


      check out the story in st today, with those hearing noise on lower whacker, affecting their sleep, no place to park, move to the burbs already!

      and alleys are an awful thing, love those driveways

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    3. You talkin' to me? YOU TALKIN' TO ME? Oh, I was afraid of that.

      Uh, we have a car. I find having four options for making our way around the city and metro area - walking, biking, public transit and a car - make living here more enjoyable, though I certainly don't begrudge anybody else whatever choice they've made. (Leaving out cabs -- cabs have always seemed like a huge luxury to me, though I realize that a car may be an even bigger luxury, depending on one's situation.) FWIW, I don't bike in hard rain, snow or ice, and get most of our groceries on foot, thank you very much. Perhaps it's hard for you to believe, but many people do, in fact, take the el or bus to the doctor, whether they have kids, or not.

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    4. Jakash, is it OK if I prefer to picture you giving your aged mother a ride to the doctor on your bike's pegs?

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    5. Sure, it's OKAY, Coey, but in fact she travels in the Radio Flyer wagon I've cleverly attached off of the seat post...

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    6. Yeah, I'm talking to youse, Jak.

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  13. That should be guys shouldn't have baskets in the front. The side back is okay.

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  14. Jak,what's a progenitor?

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  15. Now when my father inlaw, a WWII vet and decent guy, hears of guys getting manicures or having a bike in the front, he'd call them fruities. You don't want to know what he thinks of Jenner. Now some of you would say that makes him bad, but not so. He was born in 1926. And he's not going to be pc. The Japanese are still Japs, he's better about blacks though.

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    1. Don't be mad at the aged. That was indeed the greatest generation.

      meant basket not bike and he's not on the puter but he reads the SunTimes daily

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  16. I'm beginning to think most of the guys are gay here other than Scribe and Neil. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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    1. You're wrong, not that there's anything wrong with THAT. I'm beginning to think that some of the anonymice here are among the most cluelessly judgmental folks I encounter on a regular basis. And what has Scribe ever said to indicate that he's not gay, anyway, for that matter? And Neil likes the opera, remember -- I say he's still suspect, despite the wife and sons. ; )

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    2. @Jakash -- Amen. I second your second sentence.

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    3. To echo what Jakash said on another thread, you sure are personally interested in other commenters for someone who goes by "anonymous."

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  17. I'm just a curious, old lady.

    B.S. said he had a stepdaughter in the dog column. Cute.

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