I was sitting outside Kaladi Brothers, on Sunday, with Keith and Rita, enjoying the springtime weather, when Rita commented on my t-shirt.
"I like that design," she said, pointing at the Salsa Cycles Pepperman logo on the front.
"Thanks. I got this shirt for free, 18 years ago!" I replied, doing the math in my head.
In the olden days, before the small bike manufacturers and parts suppliers all got bought up by large corporations, the bike industry was an interesting little subculture of American business. Many times, when you called a supplier to order something, the owner (and CEO/president/shipping clerk/head bottle washer) would answer the phone. Often, your order would arrive with a Snickers bar, or a batch of stickers, or a locally-brewed beer from whatever town in which the company was located, in the box.
So it was that, one day in the Summer of 1993, I found myself talking to Ross Schafer, the originator of the Salsa brand. After ordering whatever parts it was I needed (I think it was quick-release skewers for my bike, along with some stock for the shop), I mentioned that I liked the Pepperman logo.
A few days later, our order arrived and, inside it, was my Pepperman t-shirt, with a short handwritten note from Ross thanking me for my business.
I'm still wearing that t-shirt. It's faded, and the iron-on transfer is a little crackly, but the seams are holding up and there are no holes in the fabric. And, every time I wear it, I am reminded of Ross, and Bob Seals, and all the other guys I once "knew" through telephone conversations and little notes in the order boxes.
They don't make 'em like that, anymore...t-shirts or company presidents.