As I stepped into the store, I had a vague idea what I wanted, but I didn’t know how it translated into a new bike. I knew I wanted something something that could easily cover the terrain, but had enough heft if the terrain got bumpy.
What were my options? I didn’t know. So I aimlessly wandered from store to store. Again, I did no research. Again, I held no game plan. Like my purchase at The Bike Barn many years before I was hoping my new bike would just be there.
That didn’t happen. And after too many days in too many stores, I ended up at a bike shop behind a low berm in a small strip mall on the west side of town.
A salesman noticed my floundering and approached. I told him what I had in mind and he suggested two bikes. One was a hybrid, which was a mountain bike with a lighter frame and thinner tires. The other was a cyclo-cross.
ME: What’s a cyclo-cross?
SALES GUY: It’s built like a road bike (ten-speed), but the frame is higher and the wheel base is longer to better handle the uneven terrain. Also, it’s pretty light for when you need to carry it over a fallen log or through a shallow creek.
ME: Would I need to do that?
SALES GUY: You would if you were in a cyclo-cross race.
I thought it unlikely I would ever enter a race that involved biking through meadows and streams and wondered if such scenarios would ever appear in my urban environment in the form of a busted water main or passed-out bar patron. I thought it unlikely, but I still found it difficult to make a decision.
To be or not to be? Attack or retreat? Vanilla or chocolate? Save or spend? This is the interlude, the crux that grinds the whole enterprise to a halt. Would Lisa ever pick a color? Would the teenage girl buy the messenger bag? What pint of ice cream would that guy pick?
“Any decision,” writes John Tierney, “whether it’s what parts to buy or whether to start a war, can be broken down into what psychologist call the Rubicon Model of action phases in honor of the river that separated Rome from the province of Gaul.” (Tierney, 2011)
The model is based on the historic event when Caesar contemplated bringing his troops into Rome to not only claim the role of conquering hero but ruling emperor as well. Bringing his troops back home was not allowed by the senate and to do so was to declare a coup. So the model in this case would look like:
GAUL: TO COUP OR NOT TO COUP
To cross the Rubicon is to make a decision that cannot be undone. You can’t unbreak an egg nor uninvade a country. Some decisions have lasting consequences, but should it pertain to a bike?
Later in the week I found myself in the same store in the same aisle looking at the same two bikes. I thought some time away would help, but everything about the two visits remained stubbornly similar.
A different salesman approached, so I asked him to go through the spiel to see if it would help. It didn’t. So I got personal.
ME: Which bike would you pick?
SALES GUY 2: Definitely the cyclo-cross.
SALES GUY 2: Because it’s cooler.
I nodded. Of course he’d pick the cyclo-cross. He was young and looking for adventure. I was old and seen my share of adventure and most of it involved falling off my bike.
ME: So, the hybrid, not so cool?
SALES GUY 2: Not as cool as the cyclo-cross.
Another reason the salesman pushed the cyclo-cross was the price. It was considerably more expensive. Would price figure into the equation? I didn’t know. I was still on the Gaul side and hadn’t even dipped a toe into the Rubicon. To make a decision was to tax my brain and we all know how many factors go into making an optimal decision. Still, I had to make one. My current bike had fallen apart. There were no other stores. I had been to all the other pastures. It was only two bikes. All I had to do was decide.
Barack Obama is currently ranked in the Presidential C-Span poll as the 12th most effective president. Not too bad for a kid from Hawaii even if he never fully lived up to his campaign slogans.
Obama campaigned that he was going to be a transformational president who would forever unite the red and blue states. But underneath all the glorious rhetoric was an academic/policy wonk who personally favored diving into the details and finding a doable solution. After all, it took him ten security meetings before he decided to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. The reason it took so long is because he took the decision seriously. “Maybe I am getting too far down in the weeds,” he told his generals, “but I feel like I have to.” (Woodward, 2010)
The generals wanted 40,000 troops, so they created a scenario by giving Obama only one choice. Obama did not follow their advice for he did not want a large, open-ended commitment. So he personally dictated the use of the 30,000 troops so there would be no misunderstanding between him and the generals.
“There’s not a president in history that’s dictated five single-spaced pages in his life,” remarked General David Petraeus in regards to the final decision.
What Obama had in book smarts and diligence he lacked in persuasion, meaning he rarely pushed an agenda with a dominant personality and heated rhetoric. He also seemed unwilling to glad-hand, flatter, coerce, or even threaten political allies and opponents to move his agenda. In fact, his signature piece of legislation (Obamacare) would have never been enacted if not for the political acumen of House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
Obama never wore the suit of a dominant world leader. I don’t think he even saw himself as a cigar smoking Churchill moving pawns on a global map. Just look at the below picture? Does it give the appearance that he is the one in charge?
One of Obama’s campaign promises was to capture/kill Osama bin Laden. This picture is the culmination of that pledge. But when he entered the Situation Room to follow the mission in real-time, he grabbed a spot like it was a mid-level manager meeting. Brigadier General Marshall Webb got up from his seat at the head of the table, but Obama told him to stay for Webb was running point as Special Forces were flying under the radar towards a nondescript compound in a foreign country.
Obama made the decision to sneak into Pakistan for he didn’t trust the country’s leadership. Many things could have gone wrong conducting a military exercise in a sovereign nation. This was one of his biggest decisions and yet Obama looks like a bystander instead of the Commander in Chief. Maybe at that point he was more concerned about the outcome than the optics. His position as the man in charge could temporarily take a back seat while there were boots on the ground.
With any president, you can find pros and cons. Here are my top three for Obama.
- Relied too heavily on drones in the war on terror.
- Did not campaign enough for congressional allies as both houses flipped to the Republicans during his first midterm election.
- Never invited me to the White House even though I never won a major sport’s championship.
- No personal scandals. (How’s that possible? The Republicans had to keep making things up.)
- Nailed his speeches at the White House Correspondence Dinners. (He is much funnier than Mr. Spock.)
- Provided measured and steady leadership in a chaotic world.
Obama served with distinction, but was it enough? No. But that brings us back to James Fallows original assessment on nobody being fit for the job. (Fallows, 2013) We are a young nation, probably in our adolescent phase. We still like to think all things are possible, but we are starting to see our leaders as incapable of actualizing this belief. After all, there is only so much one person can do, even if he or she inhabits the most powerful position in the world.
I finally picked the hybrid. I set down my money and pushed the purchase out the door.
There was no rush of joy. It was no pot of gold. Only flecks of snow greeted me on my ride home.
The following weekend I started to read the owner’s manual. But before I flipped through the pages, I took a look at the front cover.
Sitting on my bike was a middle aged woman pedaling through her urban environment with bags of groceries and freshly cut flowers.
No mud. No river. Just produce and a table decoration.
I made a horrible mistake.