|A portrait of the (f)artist as a (not so) young(ish) man.|
...Told him that I was burned... and broke... and just couldn't do it anymore.
Charles was supportive and encouraging. Having dealt in his own right with the vagaries of favor and finance that go along with having a shop.
But honestly... what could he say?
"Hang in there?" "Give it a day?" "Everyone is struggling?" "Umm... Sorry?"
Maybe everyone was struggling. But I couldn't see it. All I could see was my inability to make rent and payroll. All I could see was my sprawling and massive and evident failure. As a business owner. As a person.
Nevermind the recession. Nevermind the economy. Nevermind the fact that I was trying to raise the Titanic. Nevermind the fact that "everyone was struggling." The fact was I was floundering. And sinking.
The next morning.... after making it through a day of self doubt, self loathing and self harm... scars I still carry...."giving it a day" so to speak.... I got a call from Amy at Paceline Bicycles. They were closing.
This moment... was defining.
From all outward appearances, Paceline was a sleek successful ship. They had big lines. They had two stores. They had multiple investors. They had the largest "team" of riders and racers in the area. I admit.... they bored the everliving fuck out of me as a vessel. The kind of ship (shop) that I would jeer at, bare my ass, and throw double birds as it passes under the bridge I'm standing on (probably considering throwing myself off)...the passengers all sitting on the deck sipping Merlot and wearing Dockers and "Life is Good" tshirts. All talking about their Cervelos.
|This probably says more about me, and less about them.|
photocred: Cultist Chad.
And boring or not... they were who I was watching succeed while I failed. They were on top of it while I was buried beneath it.
Turns out I was totally wrong.
I felt awful for the people involved. I knew all too well how hard it all was for them. Because I knew how hard it was for me.
It was political, and I knew it....but Amy said some kind things about liking us as a shop and wanting to send all of their customers my way. I appreciated that, very much. But I also knew full well that the reality, of course, was that their rivalry with another shop was bitter enough that they would rather see their former customer base come to me than go to them. We were just the lesser of two evils.
This next part... is important.
The part where I watched those people come in and make a choice. A few of them stuck with me (nutters, obviously). A lot of them didn't. I watched a particular group of them stand outside and talk about why they would never warm to my shop. They didn't know I could hear them. But I could.
We just weren't their thing.
Sure... They'd "like" us on Facebook. They'd ask me how it was going. They'd come to our Super Happy Hours and drink our free beer and eat our free food. A few of them, anyway. But what they wanted out of a bike shop was mayonaise. Not whatever random (delicious) shit I was making in my (filthy) kitchen with whatever (expired) ingredients I happened to have on hand (ahem...dumpster dive). They didn't even want to try it. (nutters, obviously)
Trek did the same thing. Came in and talked to me. Talked a lot about their size and monetary expectations for this territory. (We were only off by like... a million.) Offered the Gary Fisher line literally weeks before the announcement that the Fisher line would be no more and was getting absorbed into Trek. And subsequently that Fisher dealers were pretty much fucked. (Totally not suspect. I mean... I'm sure it's not because they wanted to pawn off all of the old bikes on some dupe, then pull the rug out from under him. Nahhh. Because, I mean....who does that?)
Trek told me in pretty much no uncertain terms that we weren't their thing.
It bugged me for a while. I took it to heart. Took it personally. A rejection of my shop was a rejection of me.... because right or wrong (the latter, I think)... the shop is an extension of me. And yes.... I realized that on some level, those were the same fuckers that probably put Paceline out of business. Customers and company. Sucked it dry like vampires... then moved on to the next carcass. And I was probably better off.
I mean.... maybe we weren't their thing. But maybe... they weren't OUR thing. Definitely, in fact.
But that's a complex blade. And it penetrates slowly.
And while that was an important lesson... It wasn't THE lesson.
And there was obviously more to it than that. Paceline would be the second Trek dealership to close it's doors in our market. Taking a chance on a scrappy, broke, hungry and floundering little shop (run by a man of questionable repute) in the aftermath of that debacle probably didn't make financial sense. (But neither does opening a bike shop, you visionless dumbasses.)
So they went the safe route. Concept store. Take a principal from within their corporate family. Send him to the town. Give him all the risk of owning the shop...but maintain control. If shit goes south, you can remove the principal without too much mess and without losing too much face. Entity stays intact.
When the concept store finally opened in town... the folks who stood outside and shook their heads in unified negation at us rallied around it. They decided to support a total stranger from out of town and his (locally owned) store over the dude who literally rode bikes next to them. (Well... in front of them, to be honest. Like...way in front of them. But whatever.)
It stung. And I'm a sensitive fellow.
Not everyone is going to like you. Or like what you do. And yeah...you can dismiss them as boring assholes all you want. But assholes or not... if you're not listening... if you're not paying attention to why you're not their thing....you're not going to learn shit.
This... is the lesson. When people would rather support a total stranger... you have to ask why.
And some of the reasons are dumb. But some aren't. And even the dumb ones are reasons. So you make your decisions accordingly.
I've already said that day was defining. I'd like to say it was transformative. And...it was. But not the way I hoped. Because like most stories in real life, there's enough background drama and noise that life-changing epiphanies are less of a lightning strike... and more like the moon. Waxing and waning. Moments of illumination and motion slowly giving way to darkness and torpor before rising again. Strong tides pulling you different directions. Sometimes pulling you under.
I always wanted that defining moment where I stood and cried out....
... and instead I found that I'm a slow waker. Like a grumpy toddler without his coffee. (uhhhh?) Sitting on the edge of the bed... putting both legs through the same pant-hole four times before I have to just...stop... and get my bearings.
What rankled the most with that entire scenario... being rejected by an entire population... was that at that time we were very much trying to pander to that crowd. Badly albeit, but that's fodder for another time. Because that's what I thought I needed to do to make it in this town: appeal to that crowd.
Either way, it wasn't us. And it was awkward. A forced smile. A limp handshake.
My "sleeper has awakened" moment was more akin to "Fuck this shit! Let's just be ourselves and do what we want. If we're going to struggle this hard, let's do it on our terms. I mean... It can't be any worse than what we're already doing, right?"
And that... was when the real change started to happen.
Because we were still broke as shit.
I'll tell you more about that in Frostbukake Part 2 of Part 2: Faith, Fidelity, Facepunching, and Fucking Tyrants.