In high school, I carried my books in an L.L. Bean rucksack the sickly green of canned asparagus. Not visiting my locker between classes freed up approximately thirty minutes each day for mischief.
While walking down the hallowed halls of David Lipscomb High School, I’d swivel my hips at just the right moment and plant thirty pounds of textbooks and binders in the chest of an unsuspecting passer-by. The victim would grunt at the impact, and shoot a look that said something like “Why must you inflict pain needlessly?” or “You jackass!”
Though I could have found less abrasive ways to communicate my insouciance, I understood even then that I could guarantee popularity by observing the social rigmarole but without caring too much about the acceptance and affection of my peers. Giddy from negotiating this razor’s edge between endearing comedian and first-class jerk, I would continue on to American History.
I still love that boxy, intentionally non-aerodynamic rucksack. It cares nothing about even weight distribution or ventilation. Without apology, it will sap all strength from your shoulders and draw more perspiration out of your back than a two-hour game of pick-up basketball. These days, it sits in a closet and houses most of my flyfishing gear. A fine layer of grit and a few pebbles sit at the bottom.
Without any proper luggage, I used the rucksack for business trip last November. Though the rucksack has plenty of room, its interior stinks of wet rocks and river mud, and arriving in an unfamiliar place for a series of meetings with all my clean clothes already smelling marshy left something to be desired in the way of professionalism.
I did it: I broke down and purchased a carry-on.
This event brought two insights. The first was troubling: Peter Pan doesn’t own luggage. Peter Pan travels light. Peter Pan will never grow up because he will never sacrifice his spontaneity and impish charm for a Roth IRA or Ethan Allen furniture.
In other words, purchasing a carry-on signified my initiation into adulthood. I had wondered what tokens or ceremonies confirmed this rite of passage. Paying my own bills? Bringing a dish to potlucks rather than simply showing up and sponging off other people’s generosity? Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates? Buying a mortgage? Going in for a prostate exam? Growing a gut?
No, no, no, no, no, no.
Purchasing carry-on luggage encompasses all these significant transitions and decisions and more. Going from ragamuffin to yuppie is as simple as a swipe of the plastic, or, in my case, logging into my SteepandCheap.com account—think, Gear Addict account—and clicking on three or four buttons.
The second insight is much less foreboding but no less insightful: men do like shopping, except we don’t call it shopping.
For us, the identification and acquisition of goods requires intensive market research and a sequence of small, but crucial, strategic decisions.
Shopping means wandering around Express for Men in the mall, searching in vain for value. I’d rather lick a toilet seat at a truck stop. The only way to make shopping bearable is to bring a book and find a seat next to a fountain or palm tree.
Gear is a different matter altogether.
By “gear,” I mean anything with a practical use and clear value. Shirts that wick away moisture and protect my skin from UV rays? Gear. Sunglasses with unbreakable polycarbonate lenses, polarization, and lifetime warranty? Gear. Smartphone with Wi-Fi and innumerable applications including barcode scanner, GPS, and flashlight? Gear.
Any locale with a food court, excluding, of course, the Panda Express or other purveyor of cheap, delicious Chinese food? Shopping. Any store with teenyboppers and bleached-out suburban zombies? Shopping. Any marble promenade with geriatrics power walking in warm-up suits? Shopping. Such retail wastelands render a man incapable of identifying true gear, and they also suck out his soul, along with his libido.
We thrive on the thrill of the hunt, haggling and dickering, campaigning for lower prices and ferreting out unbelievable bargains.
Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered [that spineless salesman who thought he could pull the wool over my eyes and reel me in with the sticker price. Please. Save your sales pitches and marketing jargon for the frat pappies.]
When we are comparing prices and learning about product specifications, we are conducting “research.” Let me be clear: this is not shopping.
We are very sophisticated hunters and gatherers. Whether the quarry is a whitetail deer or a dramatic discount on rugged carry-on luggage, our approach is the same: 1) educate oneself on the lay of the land, what animals live in these woods or what luggage brands offer quality products at an exceptional value; 2) position oneself near paths frequented by quarry, a field of clover or moving water, a bargain website or gear review; and 3) wait to strike at the most opportune time, either when the target comes within range or when retailers must discount the target to move merchandise.
By the time I bought a piece of carry-on luggage, I knew everything about its brand, materials, country of manufacture, and workmanship. I memorized relevant details about its warranty and MSRP. I need all this data to convince whoever will listen just how good of a deal I secured. Paying $63.87, which included shipping and handling, for a carry-on that retails for $178.95—total savings of 66%—is the marketplace equivalent of bagging a trophy buck. I can’t hang it on my wall, but I can stow it in an overhead compartment in the blink of an eye and you should just watch that baby roll down a concourse.
I don’t shop. I bring down elk and moose. I research and execute. I stalk and pounce. I have a Browning .270 Composite A-Bolt, but I can pay in cash.
The necessary set of finely honed skills translates into other areas of my life including navigation, dining, romance, and finance. You should just see me parallel park and improve my credit score.
I employed these skills to identify and acquire a strategic carry-on. Strategic how? Well, it was not a complete capitulation to staid, complacent adulthood.
Designed by Osprey, maker of fine backpacks, the Slipstream 18” Rolling Gear Bag boasts 1800 cubic inches’ worth of nifty pockets, durable materials, and an overall appearance that broadcasts “I don’t have a boring desk job and cubicle. I travel when I want, where I want, because I am my own boss.”
In other words, the Slipstream is as cool as a yawn-inducing category like carry-on luggage can get, and I’m not beyond caring about the aesthetic appeal of my gear and what that says about my personality.
A man’s got to have standards.
I don’t wear Crocs, I don’t go to the tanning bed, and I don’t pay full price.
I most certainly don’t shop.
I am a tracker and sleuth. I pursue handmade, heirloom-quality gear at reasonable, if not outrageous, prices. I don’t shop for the same reason I don’t get bikini waxes. I take time to make strategic purchasing decisions that I can stand by the rest of my life because anything worth doing is worth doing slowly. After all, I’ll bequeath my gear to my grandchildren. Some lucky descendant will get the L.L. Bean rucksack one day.
Men do not shop, we snipe.