An Icon Reaches the End of the Road
One bright spot in this summer of discontent has been the time I've spent with my Jawa. He had camp -- out in the lush wonderland that is Marin County -- Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but he was home today, leaving me wondering how to fill the daylight hours without a) watching lots of Cartoon Network, or b) arguing with each other. Given our limited resources, naturally I had only a few options to work with.
I chose to go to the San Francisco Zoo. As zoos go, it's pretty lame and occasionally cruel, but it's the only zoo we've got, and we're members, so it costs nothing to go. Off we went.
Being a committed and consciencious parent, the kind who would never let his kid go off into a wave pool unsupervised, I packed water, fruit and sweatshirts into my backpack.
Now let me give you a little background on this backpack. Bought for $19.99 the day after Mark's wedding (in 1999), the small, sturdy, outrageously unhip pack has served as a sports bag, an overnight bag, a book bag and outright luggage. It has travelled by air, both as a carry-on and as checked luggage. It has carried hundreds of ounces of bottled water at once, then sat on my back as if light as a feather. It has survived a sea change of styles, in which one went from carrying it slung over one shoulder to wearing it over both. I prefer both, myself. It has even outlasted Mark's marriage, I'm sad to say.
And now, it is gone. Dead. Broken like so many pairs of $15.99 sunglasses.
It was a day like any other, and the backpack's responsibilities were quite familiar. The Jawa and I left the house en route to Steve & Kate's camp in Mill Valley, along with the Shamen and 400 Yu-Gi-Oh cards. In the backpack were two white workout towels, a bottle of water, my lock, my workout gloves, an iPod and my wallet. Plus a Blistex and some change (for the newspaper).
I dropped the kids off at camp, marvelled at the differences between San Francisco and Mill Valley, navigated the parking lot full of Volvos much like my own, then continued out to Larkspur to the gym.
It went like this for another 90 minutes, me in the gym, secure in the thought that my reliable, trusted backpack was doing its job without complaint, carrying things, being thrown into a locker, slammed up against the locker walls, hung on a hook, just like it has been hundreds of times before.
But this time, when I went to get my stuff after the workout, something was different: when I unzipped the small pocket in the back, the zipper came off in my hand.
No more backpack.
Lets be fair, here. It wasn't even a Jansport. It was some off-brand. Everytime I wore it, I'm sure people wondered why I didn't just pony up for the Jansport. Or maybe they wondered why I was stuck in 1999, backpack-wise, when there had been so many improvements in backpack technology since. I liked my backpack. No, I loved my backpack. It was a silent, supportive partner in so many of my pursuits.
I tried to go on like nothing was wrong. "The pocket is pretty secure," I thought to myself, "Lets give it a shot."
Three strides and my iPod came crashing out onto the floor. Two more and there went some change. The backpack was trying, but there was no way to ignore the truth: it had run its course.
I am left with a large hole in my life.
A few years ago, feeling insecure and wanting to bring my look more up-to-date, I bought a new backpack at Old Navy. Yellow and having seemingly hundreds of straps, it clung closely to my back, sleek and stylish, but not very practical. For one, it didn't zip down the sides like my old backpack. It had a lid that snapped down, instead. Instead of unzipping to reveal everything I'd placed inside, this backpack required that I reach blindly inside, counting on fate and naked hope to retrieve whatever I wanted.
The back sipper pocket is too narrow. I put my wallet and iPod in there and it bulges out weirdly. And there're these two weird metal clip things on it. They don't clip to anything. They just hang there. It's a lousy design, and yet it cost the same $19.99 as my faux-Jansport.
But I have no choice. If Sandra Bullock must turn in her Acura and be doomed to the Genentech shuttle, I will suffer my uncomfortable fate. I will wear the yellow backpack. I will reach blindly inside for my towels and my water bottle. I will listen to the random clanking of the two metal pieces that attach to nothing.
Today I tried again to wear the old backpack, to the zoo. I put nothing in the broken pocket. Instead, I put everything in the large pocket, which made for some sweaty moments as I reached in, looking for my sunglasses amidst the water bottles and sweatshirts. It put an edge onto my day, but when you're walking around a zoo, holding hands with your nine-year-old son, how big of an edge can it be?