a bit of who, what, and why

January 21st, 2009

I think it would useful to fill in the backstory of how I’ve arrived at this point of wanting to be a mechanic.  I’ll try to keep it short but consider that this will catch you up on about the past 6 years of my life…

I went through my high school and most of my college years assuming I’d go into a white-collar job, something in business or maybe law.  I’d been totally socialized to believe that those were the important and respectable career avenues and really the only options (thank you, upper-middle class upbringing and countless TV law drama series).  No surprise then that I was hit with a wave of anxiety when during college I went to work for a mid-sized company, and later a giant corporation, and found that working in a profit-minded office was completely unfulfilling, and boring, and soulless.  Sure I was doing entry level work, but I couldn’t imagine myself being happy in the shoes of my bosses or any of the big shots I came across, either.  In short I gave it a shot but realized that white-collar life was ill-suited for me.  This came a year before I was going to graduate college and I got pretty worried about what I was going to do with myself .

Then came along this idea to be a bike mechanic, which pretty much solved all my problems, for real.   On the theoretical level, I felt really good about wanting to be mechanic.   The act of fixing bikes just emanates positivity; you’re helping people in need and promoting bike use.  No one needs to be exploited or manipulated for a bike mechanic to do his/her job. Working on bikes is unquestionably a net gain to society, and there are a lot of (most?) jobs/firms/industries that I think don’t meet that criterion.  On the other hand I bet there are a lot of organizations like non-profits doing a whole lot of good, but that brings me back to not wanting to work in a cubical and on a PC, reading and writing email all day.  With wrenching, I really liked the idea of doing something physical but not hazardous or nasty.  You have to use your head, too; there’s a lot of problem solving and manual-reading going on.

SO, all this was well and good on the theoretical level, but then there’s the part about getting down and dirty with your hands, and honestly I’ve always been sort of klutz.  I had to see whether I was going to be physically capable of doing this kind of work.  I was still finishing up my undergrad degree at UMASS, but was spending my last semester (meaning, this past semester) at a West Coast university thanks to something called the national student exchange (link).  To my super good fortune, the school had a student-run bike shop, fully equipped and funded by the university (similar to Harvard’s Quad Bikes).   The shop crew agreed to take me in as a volunteer and they taught me so much about wrenching.  I was afraid I’d get discouraged because reality often doesn’t live up to the theory, but I got a taste of fixing bikes and working in a retail bike shop and I loved all of it!   That clinched it for me — I decided to go ahead, and disappoint my grandmother, and try to get into bike mechanics after graduation.

The one slight problem with that plan is that I ended up graduating not in May, which is both customary and near the start of bike season, but a semester early, in December, in the dead of winter and the dead of business for bike shops.  What can I say, I was trying to get out of school as fast as possible.  While this doesn’t bode well for me in the Income Generation Department, it did allow me the chance to apply and enroll in Bike’s Not Bombs vocational training program (link), which is going to be awesome since I’m still looking to solidify my foundational knowledge and skills and get trained more formally.  The student-run shop experience I had was great, but it was brief and on-the-fly, and my mechanical aptitude and confidence level are still low by my standards.  Plus I’m sure coming from BNB will help open up  some avenues for me once Boston starts to thaw out.

That’s more or less the background to put this blog in context. My goal was to do it in 250 words or less, but looks like it didn’t exactly pan it out that way.