There are quite a few unusually simple technological developments which have had an almost instantaneous and often profound impact on virtually everyone around the world. The condom, the “church key,” the garage door opener, the TV remote, catsup in a squeeze bottle, the ballpoint pen, the disposable diaper, the stonewashed jean, the safety razor, the Weber kettle, the weed whacker, mustard in a squeeze bottle, Astroglide, AstroTurf, the Egg McMuffin, diet cola – uncomplicated, user friendly devices which make life easier and seem in retrospect to be so obvious.
The most recent conspicuous example is the “Wheelie,” an incredibly simple idea which almost overnight revolutionized the luggage business, and all but eliminated the need for porters. Everyone who travels watched for 30 years the odd passenger try to find space in the overhead for a steel framed carrier on wheels which, when combined with multiple bungee cords, enabled pulling a heavy bag fairly easily through airports.
Why it took so long for someone to see the wisdom of making wheels an integral part of the bag, and engineering an appropriate built-in handle, has to have produced massive gastric distress and considerable embarrassment for the product design and development staff of the major luggage companies, as the “Wheelie” obsoleted virtually all non-towable products with any significant capacity.
Rarely does a single feature and one basic design take over all brands at all price levels in all distribution channels, and luggage has always been an image-enhancing fashion item that, like watches and cars, says a lot about its owner in addition to telling time or providing transportation.
Prior to the “Wheelie,” all suitcases served as a means of carrying underwear, toiletries and clothing outside the home. No one, however, confused Louis Vitton, Tumi, Gucci or Hartman with American Tourister. While the expensive brands clearly use better frames, hardware and materials, everyone’s carry-on, large duffel and trunk is engineered around the “Wheelie” concept, irrespective of price, gender or brand cachet.
There are only a few exceptions to the “Wheelie’s” universal appeal among all socioeconomic groups, but, as with all exceptions, they are the most interesting. The willingness of people to drag a “Wheelie” decreases proportionately to the measure of their machismo, real or perceived power, celebrity status, concern for others’ approval or antisocial behaviors.
Alex Karras, Mike Ditka, Mike Tyson, Mike Jordan, Ray Lewis, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Queen Latifah, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Robin Williams, Luciano Pavarotti, George Carlin, Saddam Hussein, General Tommy Franks, Martina Navratilova, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, Bill Clinton – more than likely would die before being seen using a “Wheelie.”
Very insecure people – men who need Viagra, the Hair Club, elevator shoes – continue to suffer under the weight of conventional baggage, convinced that “real men” don’t have wheels.
Those who live to feel pain – weightlifters, mountain climbers, sumo wrestlers, the sadomasochistic, sailors, street fighters, contortionists, Green Berets – reject out of hand the ease and convenience of the “Wheelie.”
As virtually everyone at an airport is tethered to a “Wheelie,” non-conformists have a difficult time joining the parade.
Nobility CAN’T use a “Wheelie” if they want to, for kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes, earls, counts, viscounts, countesses, emperors and the like, luggage must be carried by others, reinforcing the enormous gulf between royalty and the masses.
If the “real man” theory has any validity, it is intuitively difficult to envision transvestites making the “Wheelie” their bag of choice. As “Wheelies” expand the space a person occupies, the same may be true for the chronically overweight; but as obesity is so pervasive in our population, it’s reasonable to assume that “Wheelies” are the overwhelming choice for the fat.
In addition, it is almost certain that among the bottled water carriers, anti-cigar crusaders, alfalfa sprout eaters, evangelical Right, pedophiles, anti-Choice pro-gun anti-welfare pro-prison Conservatives, among those who consider Trent Lott profound and Scalia and Thomas spokesmen for real Americans, the “Wheelie” remains supreme.
It is uncertain how completely organized crime, big Labor, the military, nudists, vegetarians, Islamic fundamentalists, Sherpas, talk show hosts or tap dancers have embraced the “Wheelie,” but like air pollution, global warming, nuclear proliferation and AIDS, the “Wheelie” is here to stay.