Backpackers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your shame.
I’ve been a regular backpack wearer for only a year, since forsaking daily vehicle use in favour of shank’s mare and public transit.
Back in the day, sure, I sometimes wore what we called a rucksack, or a knapsack – occasionally even a single-strap haversack.
But that was only for Boy Scout camping trips and jamborees.
The memory of humping a heavy canvas bag lashed to a spine-jarring wooden frame through the bush still haunts my nights.
I certainly would never have considered strapping such an ungainly receptacle onto my back just to tote books back and forth to school.
And only the geekiest of my peers, like old Tinsley, would be caught lugging around what we then called a bookbag – although I admit to wielding an arm-stretching, finger-cramping briefcase through much of my adult life.
In our day, there were two approved methods for transporting stacks of binders, physics and history tomes, gym shoes and other required school paraphernalia.
Girls clutched them to their bosoms like armour; guys slung them manfully onto non-existent hips, no doubt risking chronic hip, back, elbow and shoulder problems years down the road.
Thanks to the development of lightweight synthetics and the brilliance of a certain Greg Lowe, who introduced the padded internal frame back in 1967, the backpack is now almost de rigueur for travelers, students and even bike-riding bureaucrats in the dead of winter.
It’s nothing to see an elementary school kid trundling down the sidewalk, shouldering a pack that appears to contain three anvils and half a hodful of bricks.
Some of us geezers even use backpacks to transport our cans and bottles to the recycling centre, to pick up our weekly groceries, or take our dirty clothes to the laundromat.
So, how come we don’t get no respect?
I refer, of course, to the proliferation of signs saying “No Backpacks Allowed” in stores and other premises.
Am I being paranoid here, or is there just a hint of discrimination at play?
I mean, when was the last time you saw a sign saying, “No Large Purses Allowed,” or “No Grocery Bags Allowed,” or “No Fanny-packs, Belly-packs, Man-purses, Unsealed Paper Sacks, Large Pockets or Booster Bags Sewn Into the Lining of Overcoats Allowed”?
For awhile, the Yukon Liquor Corp store had a sign that said, “All backpacks MUST be left at the front desk,” until it was pointed out that something with less of an “Achtung!” flavour might suffice.
Now, I’m all in favour of supporting merchants in their efforts to control what’s euphemistically called “shrinkage” in the retail trade.
There may even be studies showing that we who wear backpacks are statistically-proven to be 70 per cent more sticky-fingered than the average consumer. But I doubt it.
Consider the logistics, for one thing.
If I develop a sudden hankering to boost a bottle of Moët et Chandon, the last thing in the world I want to do is draw attention to myself by struggling out of my backpack and rustling through my laundry for a place to stash it.
Ditto for the impulse to snatch a rutabaga or a joint of beef.
For that matter, if a sudden impulse to liberate the Hope Diamond hits me, chances are I would quietly slip it into a pocket, a belly-pack or a man-purse instead of dislocating a shoulder reaching back to unzip my backpack and slip it in amongst my smalls.
The kicker came a few weeks back, after a long afternoon of schlepping recycling, laundry and groceries all over town.
With 20 minutes left before the next bus, I stopped in at a downtown pub for a quick refresher.
There it was: “No Backpacks Allowed!”
What, I’m going to smuggle a pint of draft home in my backpack?
“It’s to prevent people from bringing in off-sales,” I was told.
What, I’m going to cart around a cumbersome six-pack, intended for leisurely sipping at home, only to quaff it in here on the sly?
So how about the Moët et Chandon in my grocery bag, the bourbon in my briefcase, the stolen scotch sampler in my belly-pack, or the mickey in my man-purse?
Do I have to leave those in the hall, too? Or is it just my shameful backpack?
Arise, comrades! Unite, dammit!