A Close-up of How Class Society Perpetuates Itself

stripped bike

Times had been tough lately. My income—a mix between freelance journalism and french tutoring—was barely cutting it. But when I landed a job as a bike delivery guy at Papa John’s Pizza I found out I could make $100 in one, long night rather than over the course of a week of rough drafts and phone calls.

But then, Monday night, arriving home from delivering pizza, and, with my fingers crossed, I locked my bike to the front gate instead of bringing it inside. It was a temporary lock-up, so I didn’t even bother securing the front wheel.

Two hours later, I went outside to get my bike and bring it around back, and that’s when I discovered that crossing your fingers is a bunch of crap. My bike was lying on it’s side—a carcass. Well, only the wheels were gone, but it looked pitiful.

“Damn, that sucks dude,” said my friend as I stared at the ground, a little traumatized.

“I’ll just have to buy new wheels,” I said, completely oblivious to what that actually meant.

Here’s what it means. Six bike shops and a dozen Craigslist ads later I got my reality check. Buying a new set of wheels—including the tires, tubes, and hubs—was going to cost $230 minimum, or about $100 shy of what I paid for my bike to begin with.

And here were the stakes: If I didn’t get my bike rolling again in a couple of days, I was out of a shift. Taking a few days to go thrifting was out of the question, of course, because my next shift at Papa John’s was coming up, and plus, how do you run around the city looking for the best deal when you’re trying to juggle two jobs and you don’t have a bike?

But with only a few hundred bucks in the bank, my predicament was that I needed to work the shift in order to pay for the new wheels. In other words, I needed wheels to pay for wheels so that I could pay for wheels. Or something like that.

Did I mention that all this happened on March 31st and that my rent was due the next day?

Caught in a working-class paradox I swiped at my last available resource: My middle-class parents.

I called Dad, he wired me the cost of the bike so that I could go to work again and deliver pizzas so that I could make the money to pay him back. And that was that.

I shudder to think about what would have happened if I had had no one to call.

I can hear my free-market alter ego telling me that I wouldn’t have been in this position if I hadn’t taken any financial risks, if I had gotten a job straight out of school and saved money so that accidents couldn’t strip the wheels off my life, so to speak. That might be sound advice, but it admits fully to the existence of a rigid class system. People with affluent parents can take risks. Those without, can’t. Stick to your caste, is the gist of the advice. And without the ability to take risks, you have to settle for one of the first jobs you’re offered.

Like Papa John’s. Not exactly the quickest ride to financial well-being.

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