On being ... immune to "cool"

By Ingrid Sapona
I am not “cool”. I have never been “cool”. Beyond knowing where I stand on the “cool” spectrum (or maybe I should say, knowing that I’m not even on the “cool” spectrum), I never really gave much thought to the concept. Honest.
Recently, however, I’ve had some interesting insights into how “being cool” – or being perceived as “being cool” – motivates some people. Last week, for example, I took a one-night course and I think it’s safe to say that everyone but me (and maybe one other woman who was there with her husband) was there because they thought what we were learning would boost their “coolness” factor. My motivation, on the other hand, was utilitarian. The course was a three hour introduction to motorcycling workshop.
The past few years I’ve been thinking that with the price of gas always going up, and parking always being difficult in the city, a Vespa-type scooter seems like a great way to get around town. But, never having mastered a standard transmission, I had serious doubts about being able to handle a scooter. When I saw a half-price coupon for this course and I found out you didn’t need any experience and they provided all the equipment, I signed up. I figured the class would be a relatively low-risk chance to see whether I could even entertain the idea of a scooter.
The class was terrifying but fun. The instruction was terrific, so even someone green like me managed just fine. Besides learning how to maneuver a small motorcycle in a parking lot, I left the course rich with insight into “cool”.
The main instructor was a cute, 30-something guy who learned to ride a motorbike when he was about 10. Regardless of what he was explaining, he absolutely beamed with enthusiasm for the sport. But, it was clear it wasn’t just the fun of the activity that appealed to him – it was some intrinsic “coolness” factor that he attributed to pretty much every facet of biking. Throughout the evening he explained nearly everything in terms of mastering the art of “looking cool”.
For example, in explaining how to back-up a motorcycle, he said there are two ways: one that “looks cool” and one that he called the duck walk, which he admitted was effective but looks silly. It was clear which technique he thought we should strive to master. After we had all backed our bikes neatly next to each other, he offered his utmost praise, saying: “Nice. That line of bikes “looks cool” – don’t you think?” (I didn’t see that – I just saw a bunch of bikes lined up.)
That evening, I also noticed that striving to be “cool” is not strictly a Y chromosome thing. One of the students was a stylish, 20-something woman who sported a fashionable, smartly-cut, forest green leather jacket, beautiful scarf, and form-fitting jeans. She looked like she walked right out of a Ralph Lauren Polo ad.
She was quite cute and quite enthusiastic. She quickly latched on to the Suzuki – the oldest, most beat-up bike there. Later, when she noticed me watching her take pictures of “Suzi” with her cell phone, she excitedly said, “This is so “cool”! I’ve just got to send a picture to my mother. I need the evidence.” I laughed and said that I planned on keeping my attendance at the course from my mother. To that she said, “Oh no – this is the year. I’m getting a bike and a tattoo!” I was taken aback – she certainly didn’t look the tattoo type. (Who knows, maybe there’s a Ralph Lauren biker line that I don’t know about.)
The course was in the far corner of a parking lot. I was vaguely aware that some people nearby were watching, but I didn’t think much of it. (I was too focused on not stalling-out to care.) About halfway through the course, however, I noticed someone revving a car engine and then saw the car spinning around – burning rubber, I think it’s called. After one particularly spectacular-sounding skid, the car drove away. I don’t know what that was all about, but I imagine the driver thought he (or she) was “being cool”. (My thought, which I kept to myself, was that the driver was being an a--h---, but never mind...)  
A friend who owns a motorcycle had gone with me to the course. On the way home I asked him about the “coolness” factor the instructor kept referring to. He admitted “being cool” was a motivating factor for him – at least when he first took up biking. He thought that by riding a bike he’d be seen as “being cool” and he thought that upped the chances he’d attract women and win the respect of others who value “cool”. Hmm…
In the course of our discussion, I couldn’t think of anything I find inherently “cool”. My friend found it hard to believe, so he threw out a number of examples, and I honestly couldn’t say that any of them did anything for me. Indeed, many things that, I guess, are widely considered “cool” (like tattoos or the signature roar of a Harley) – actually turn me off.
The bottom line is there are lots of things that motivate me, but “being cool” has never been one of them. I guess I’m just immune to “cool”.
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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