Let’s go down the list…
Wait, what…? Yeah, Fonzie.
Despite the influence that all these prophets would have at different times in my life, there’s one that has contributed to my day-to-day more than the others.
In 1974 I was in middle school. That was the year that Happy Days premiered on ABC.
As an awkward pre-adolescent, with few friends, a father that traveled, and a mother that worked swing shift, much of my life was spent in my own little world. The thing about living in my own little world was this; I didn’t get out much except to be picked on, beat up, or completely ignored by my contemporaries, which can hurt just as much as a beating at the bus stop.
Up to that point my only savior was The Six-Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin. Looking up to and emulating Steve Austin though, came with its own set of baggage. For example, Austin wore leisure suits, the trend in men’s fashion at the time. To be more like him, since I lacked bionic parts, I wore leisure suits to middle school thinking I would be cool. Let the bus stop beatings begin. The leisure suits didn’t last long.
Enter Arthur Herbert Fonzerelli.
I received my first leather jacket as a Hanukkah gift the same winter that Happy Days began its 2nd season. In the first season, you may remember, Fonzie wore a cloth jacket. He still made it look cool, but it wasn’t leather. His leather jacket though, in the 2nd season, put him on the top rung on the ladder of cool. My new leather jacket was my first evolutionary step in the long process of becoming cool — or cooler than a guy wearing a leisure suit in the 8th grade.
The evolution would be slow.
Something I recognized from the get-go though, was that when I wore my leather jacket to school, people treated me differently — better. I might not have been the coolest guy in school, not by any stretch, but there was something about that jacket that gave me a currency which provided entrée into places, situations, and with people I had not previously had access.
This was also around the time I began lifting weights. And though it would take years for physique to fully develop, my biceps grew almost immediately. This served me well, because when the summer came and the leather jacket became too hot, having well formed arms underneath those sleeves was another aspect of cool.
I would not add another arrow into my quiver of cool for nearly a decade. That’s when I joined the United States Coast Guard. Being in the military is one of those things can seem very cool to some people and not cool at all to others. But there’s something different about the Coast Guard. The mission of the Coast Guard being so unique, gives it a cool that the other armed forces don’t experience.
Around this time, my physique did start to develop beyond just my biceps, so I had the fact that I was in the Coast Guard, I was fairly well-built, and that I could make a Coast Guard uniform look as cool as a leather jacket going for me. After all, a good physique is what made those leisure suits work for Steve Austin.
Buy my estimation at this point, I was about 50% up the ladder of cool.
However, my cool would flatline for the next decade or so, as it should have. This was the period when I got married, began working adult jobs, and started a family. But there was this one thing…
A fortunate twist of fate was that after I left the Coast Guard, I was hired as a security guard for America West Airlines in Phoenix. America West was just starting out and wanted their security guards to be corporate employees, not outsourced. From that position, it didn’t take me long to work my way into an analyst position in the pilot planning department. This was in the late 1980s, when working for an airline made you cool by default. I continued up the ladder.
Though my career path in aviation wouldn’t last long, having the title of Scheduling Analyst and the pay that came with it gave me confidence in the working world. My recreational bodybuilding gave me confidence in everything else.
Confidence = cool.
Something significant happened as a result of this increased confidence — I began to share my sense of humor more. My father and brother cultivated a good sense of humor in me while I was growing up, but I didn’t share it too often for my lack of confidence. As I began to let it out though, people talked to me more and let me in a little closer. As cool as having an airplane job, big biceps, and broad shoulders might have made me, being funny took me up a couple of more rungs.
Even cool people struggle, and by the time I was in my 40s, I was divorced, somewhat broken, but not altogether defeated. Time to grow my hair. Straight up, guys with long hair may or may not be cool, but when guys have muscle and long hair, it’s a slam-dunk. Conan, Tarzan, and Chicago Bears defensive tackle, Steve McMichael were all cool.
And since my hair was long and I had a decent physique, this was a time I could get away with wearing a lot of bracelets, torn pink tank-tops, and going barefoot everywhere I went.
What..? Is that the top of the latter I’m reaching for…?
It was roughly 2006 when the social media began to unfold. It was important to me, from the beginning, to stay unique. Though I have participated in my share of sophomoric hijinks in social media, for the most part the things that I have shared have been as unique and original I could have them be. Few things are more cool than being original and unique.
And all of this brings me to riding a bike — bikes actually, since I currently own six. My biking is something that I do daily, and in all conditions — rain, shine, or tonsillitis. And though I don’t ride expensive bikes, my bikes are cool, mostly because I keep them clean and decorate them with colorful water bottles. When I stop at the ocean, next to a pasture, or in front of a vineyard to take pictures of my bikes, people often complement them, and very often those complements include the word cool.
If it sounds lofty, arrogant, or like I’m high on my own grandeur to refer to myself as cool, forgive me. But I do think I’m pretty cool and that’s no accident. My coolness has been by design and has served me well.
I’m not an Ivy League scholar, I can’t do math in my head, I don’t have much money, and I don’t speak Portuguese. Despite these, I’m regularly granted access to people, places, and situations that a guy in a leisure suit might never find.
People give me the time of day because they perceive me as being cool, and whether you realize it or not, cool is a form of currency. At times it can be as valuable as intelligence, scholarly achievements, occupational status, and many of the things we use to value human worth. Cool has gotten me into places that a PhD never would.
Make no mistake, cool is not who I am. Cool is how I portray myself. Cool is a shell, no different than a Porsche 356, an Armani suit, or shiny white teeth veneers. Cool gets me through the door, but what keeps me there is appreciating that I ever got there at all. And I hope I do that better than anything else — to show appreciation that I’ve been accepted into nearly every room, every situation, and with every person I have ever connected.
Since I put on that first leather jacket towards the end of my 8th grade year, I have recognized the power of cool. And I owe all of this to Arthur Fonzerelli.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This Week By The Numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 3
16.6 mph avg
Night rides: 3, for 75 miles
9 hours 4 minutes in the saddle
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there is this from Jackson Browne. Enjoy…!