12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 7

Just more trashy humor, from the July issue of BRAIN.

Back in June, Gloria Liu wrote a piece for Bicycling headlined, “Hey, Bike Shops: Stop Treating Customers Like Garbage.”

The article had its roots in a survey about rider experiences in shops, which found that way too many people had had a bad day at the IBD, some of them more than once.

General condescension or snobbery was the most commonly cited behavior: “The bike shop employees … made me feel stupid for not being an expert,” said one respondent. Another said, “Shop employees tend to socialize with known customers. Until you’ve been to the shop a few times and made purchases, the employees tend to ignore you.” Other comments included being pressured into purchases or feeling looked down upon for having inexpensive bikes or being beginners.

“Core/bro culture,” mansplaining, and a smirking approach to the gravity-challenged were among the issues Liu discussed with customers and shop people. So, naturally, being core/bro, a mouthy know-it-all, and a relentless Lampooner of the Large whose next cartoon collection should be titled “Moby-Dickhead,” I went straight to the cheap joke for the July episode of “Shop Talk.”

The story reminded me of a passage in my favorite Thomas McGuane essay, “”Me and My Bike and Why,” reprinted in his collection “An Outside Chance: Essays on Sport.” The essay was about motorcycles, and those who ride and care for them, but it could have been about cameras, computers, guns, guitars or bicycles.

A fascinating aspect of the pursuit, not in the least bucolic. was the bike shop where one went for mechanical service, and which was a meeting place for the bike people, whose machines were poised out front in carefully conceived rest positions. At first, of course, no one would talk to me. …

One day an admired racing mechanic — “a good wrench” — came out front and gave my admittedly well-cared-for Matchless the once-over. He announced that it was “very sanitary.” I was relieved. The fear, of course, is that he will tell you, “The bike is wrong.”

Specialty shops tend to attract a specialty employee, the sort who is deeply immersed in the product and its use, and these people are not always a pleasure to be around when they’re in the throes of their particular ecstasy. It’s like walking into an unfamiliar church and announcing you’d like to get right with the Lord, and everyone starts laughing at you.

“Which one? You look like an Episcopalian to me, Tubby.”

“That a Bible you got with you? It better be the King James Version.”

“Tired of dancing on Sundays, huh?”

And it’s the same on the group rides. Swear to Eddy, some of these bozos want to crawl into your jersey with you and tell you how to sweat.

I think there’s always going to be a certain amount of this condescension in your life unless you’re one of these Renaissance types who don’t need no help from nobody. People who know things often like making sure you know that they know. And if you have a long fuse you can learn from these people.

But it ain’t easy. One of the best copy editors I ever worked with was also the biggest asshole I’d ever met. He’s since slipped off the podium; I was young then, and my sample size was a good deal smaller than it is now.

That said, I couldn’t take more than nine months of his bullshit, and I was getting paid to do it. I can’t imagine having to pay for the privilege.

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19 Responses to “12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 7”

  1. JD Dallager Says:

    I’ve often wondered if schadenfreude and condescension are distant, or perhaps not so distant, cousins. ????????

    Actually, maybe condescension is more under one’s personal control. ???????

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Yep. Sounds right to me. Having been “deeply immersed” in bicycle, motorcycle, and gun culture for decades and a regular insider in all three sets of shops, I see some of that in both the regulars and the staff. But I also see a lot of openness to converting others or as they say in religion, “witnessing” for the causes, i.e., ‘my brother, what brought you into this sacred place? Do you want to be saved into the House of BMW/Colt/Bianchi?”

    Sometimes being an asshole goes with the territory if you are pushing the envelope. About a decade ago a certain national lab was in competition with all the other national labs in a forensic exercise. One of the regulars at this pickle barrel was the dickhead in charge of the team that was supposed to radioactively date some material that will not be further identified. The team did it and was the only national lab that was able to do it. That dickhead drove himself and his team like galley slaves.

    About a year later the group that the team belonged to got an award and someone took the group picture. Shortly thereafter, someone took an exacto-knife and cut that dickhead’s face out of the picture. I guess someone not to be named really was an asshole that summer but hey, they took first place on the podium.

    Just call me Cannibal.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Some of my editors early on were merciless. Like Gunny Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket,” their job (as they saw it) was to weed out all non-hackers who did not pack the gear to serve in their beloved corps.

      I wonder how many of today’s recruits would enjoy having their carefully crafted dispatches wadded up and thrown at them from across the newsroom. Getting them bounced back to you via email is just not the same.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I’m constantly amused by the errors in the New Mexican these days. Wrong words, dangling antecedents, sentences that occasionally just end in mid air. The editors are slipping.

        I have a friend who retired from a certain Federal lab who told me that we now have to be really careful out we criticize young scientists lest they be permanently emotionally and professionally damaged. Gah. When I took paleontology as an undergrad, Zeddie Bowen handed us the entire Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, I think close to fifty volumes, as our required reading. Sink or swim: this is the deep end, was his motto.

        Gunny Hartman was good. He really was a gunny in real life. When I was a grad student at Stony Brook, we got a lecture from The Real Thing. Adm. Hyman Rickover, by then retired, gave the University Address and it was about excellence. I still get chills up my spine remembering his talk. He was pretty damn good.

        • SAO' Says:

          The internet rewards enthusiasm over competence. Look at sports, cooking, politics.

          Who’s the world’s biggest sports network? ESPN. And our biggest sport? Football. And I challenge you to randomly pick a team page and find an article without a major typo. There’s usually one in the column headline.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I don’t see a single copy editor listed in The New Mexican‘s online masthead, which might explain the errata.

        I see a “news content editor,” whatever the hell that might be. And a “digital enterprise editor” and “copy chief/designer,” which likewise.

        Pasatiempo has a copy editor. But the daily? Duddn’t look like it.

        IIRC, Back in the Day® we usually had a news editor, slot man, and a couple of rim rats on daily. Plus a city editor and assistant city editor.

    • SAO’ Says:

      A billion years ago, I worked for BN XO, battalion executive office, who probably had the highest IQ of anyone I’ve ever met. (And I’ve hung with one Nobel Prize winner and a president of the Explorers’ Club.) The dude worked us like no one else, and made all of us better officers. Except for me, the captains and lieutenants that he trained went on to all sorts of great things. But this battalion drew the short straw when it came to deployments, and was never tested in battle. And I can tell you with 100% certainty that, had the balloon gone up, he would have been shot in the back of the head by one of his own men.

  3. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Just like the last time I walked into a local gun shop, which hardly happens anymore, and looked at their large display of various assault rifles. The young guy came up and asked if I wanted to look at one, and I said “No thank you, I only like real rifles. You know, rifles that have blued steel and walnut stocks.” Got any pre-war model 70s in 30-06? How about a nice 70s vintage 700 in .308? I really miss my Remington 541S custom sporter. I won some good beer money with that rifle shooting Neco wafers at 100 yards.

    • khal spencer Says:

      See that here too. Most of the folks who walk into the gun shop near my house want to look at plastic DAO striker fired semiautos or black rifles and don’t really have much interest in firearms from an aficionado’s sense. There are actually a nice number of real rifles in the shop to be had if I wanted one and I sometimes think about another 30/06 as I gave my post-64 example to my brother in law who still hunts. But it would have to be an old one.

      I bought a 22 rimfire for a song after it just sat there for weeks and they dropped the price. Cheap and fun to shoot.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        If you ever get a chance to buy a Remington 541S .22LR, I suggest you jump on it. First .22LR I ever had that would shoot minute of angle all day long as long as the wind cooperated. I had a Redfield 1″ centerfire scope on it that the factory parallax adjusted for .22LR ranges. I free floated the barrel. And it would shoot like that with cheap Federal bulk ammo. It was purty too.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Wow. Nice. I’ll keep that in mind. Actually, it looks a lot like my old man’s heavy 22 rimfire I shot as a kid. Not sure what brand it was but it was pretty and accurate.

        • Hurben Says:

          My dad & I used to use 22 rim fire doing ISA Pistol shooting. Once I returned from my 3rd combat tour I swore that I would never ever touch a fire arm again. Fortunately New Zealand supports this.

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            I hear you Hurben, and I applaud what NZ did with guns. I guarantee that if I temporarily camp out in your yard in 2020, no guns are coming with me. Are guitars and a bike OK.

          • khal spencer Says:

            You and Pat have an order of magnitude or four more credibility than I do talking about the horror of gunfire, so I won’t even offer any comments to the contrary assuming there are any to say.

            My own Come to Jesus moment was a bad day hunting in 1985. Took an iffy shot on the last day of deer season rather than go home empty handed. Wounded the animal pretty badly and had to follow it down a steep ravine to finish it off. It did not want to go quietly and was thrashing around. Took several shots to hit the spine.

            Perhaps I am a hypocrite for still fussning with guns. I gave up hunting after that day in the woods and became a vegetarian. I imagine seeing people instead of animals in that death situation is horrible, but nothing wants to die.Especially with the stupidity of war. I worry about people walking into the shop who look at these black rifles and associated stuff and fail to make the connection with the intended purpose.

  4. SAO’ Says:

    Can’t remember the context, but I remember Charles Pelkey talking about dealing a frustrating sub-set of people. Maybe it was VeloNews letters to the editor. Or Wyoming constituents. Or maybe just conversing on social media.

    Regardless, he said his personal mantra was, don’t be an asshole.

    Amazing how powerful that approach can be. Even when, or especially when it’s not a natural tendency.

    I’m 50% asshole on my mom’s side, so I can attest, it’s a lot of work most days.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    Good article by Gloria Liu, actually. She makes some good points. I wonder if Bicycling did a statistically valid survey; usually people who respond to voluntary surveys are ones with the most to piss and moan about. But otherwise…

    For one, I don’t know how you expect to get great service when the pay is abominable. If I made 30k a year as an expert in my field I would find something else to do. That’s the problem with recruiting teachers, too. You can’t easily make a living on it. There has to be some fallout over doing a job for love rather than money once the love gets thin. My wife took up tutoring in one of the local schools near Fanta Se and sees a lot of teacher burnout.

    But if we expect bike shops to survive, they have to put on the happy face when a customer comes in the door. Customers have to be willing to pay people what they are worth. Its a two way street and if you are not good at running a shop, you will fail. I’m pretty happy with all the shops in Fanta Se that I frequent but then again, I’m a regular.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      O, yeh, teaching is insane.

      “But they get summers off!” Yeah, right. To recertify and do continuing education and take second or third jobs or sell plasma.

      I can’t tee off on IBD customers because I don’t spend much time in shops anymore. Do they still want to negotiate the price of a new bike, the way they would a new car? That would be exasperating. You don’t haggle with the dentist, plumber or pharmacist.

      “Boy, that antihistamine seems pricey. Will you throw in a box of Kleenex with it?”

  6. Larry T. atCycleItalia Says:

    This goes both ways, sadly. For every know-it-all shop jerk who speaks in jargon – “This bike’s got STI, Biopace, Ergopower, double-butted, high-modulus, carbon fiber, titanium, EPS, Di2…” there’s an “engineer” or some clown who walks in who “Didn’t know s–t until I started reading Buycycling Magazine, now I’m full of it.”
    As Khal points out the pay is so dismal anyone with real skills, be they technical or sales, finds something else to do unless they really, really love the bike biz.
    I’ve done my share of both “Engineer? Wow, what kind of train do you operate?” and “Welcome to our shop, what brings you in today?” depending on the customer and his/her attitude.
    Based on conversations I’ve had with current bike shop folks, my guess is the know-it-all types are increasing and increasingly driving the few left in the biz crazy to the point they’re happy to see ’em buy online. I’ve fired a few customers over the years, both in retail and the tour biz. Sometimes there’s just not enough profit to make it worth taking the s–t from them, so let someone else deal with ’em!

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