Though I didn’t pay for the watch, that doesn’t change the more salient fact that I possessed and wore it and, for the length of a late 90s summer, believed it was super cool. I’m sure you will agree that, even in 1997 and with heaps of relativistic thinking, this watch was not super cool. I don’t say this lightly: the watch objectively sucked then, and it objectively sucks now.
Take a moment to study this image.
I don’t say this lightly: the watch objectively sucked then, and it objectively sucks now.
Before you kindly forgive my errant path because you believe I was a newbie on his way toward more refined tastes in watches, you need to know the following: I already had discovered and owned Oris watches. I had collected vintage watches for close to a decade (Hamiltons, Elgins, etc…). I read all the watch magazines and bought the vintage directories and understood full well what made for a good watch. None of that stopped my steamy summer affair with this horological abomination.
You see, I was a road bike racer, and the problem was that my hero, Italian cycling star Marco Pantani, had started to wane on the mountains where he has once given Lance Armstrong’s drugged-up ascents real trouble. Despite my sharing nationality and testicular cancer with Mr. Armstrong, I didn’t like him. His Texan bravado and something more deeply uncomfortable about the guy turned me off. Plus, Armstrong rode a Trek bicycle, which was American and thus no good in my estimation (actually the bikes were fine).
At least half the reason I got into cycling was that it brought a decidedly European aesthetic and sensibility into my life. I figured out pretty early on that I could actually live a quasi-Euro lifestyle if I just became a bike racer. Armstrong represented the dumbing-down of my Europhilia into American terms that were robbing cycling of its sub-cultural and non-American status.
Armstrong represented the dumbing-down of my Europhilia into American terms that were robbing cycling of its sub-cultural and non-American status.
Why was Pantani falling behind Armstorng, I wondered. I knew they both took the same drugs and that Pantani was the better climber, so what was the problem? The problem, we now know, comes down to the sheer amount of drugs Armstrong took and how much money went into tailoring his regimen for one purpose: winning the Tour de France. Pantani rode and sometimes won multiple Grand Tours every year, competed in a full season of Classics, and used the TdF as just another place to reap victories. Armstrong only trained for and raced the TdF; the guy didn’t really do what real European racers did. And he did it with so much drugs that his victories have all been stripped from him. Despite having so much in common with Armstrong, in the 1990s I sensed something was amiss.
I didn’t voice my negative opinion of Armstrong because American Cyclists would have spit on my Italian cycling shoes. Despite my silence, my man was Pantani: short, Italian, balding, fast on a ski hill, drove a Ferrari, sniffed coke, went to discos, woke up and climbed mountains like a goat with a piece of barbed wire stuck in its ass.
…my man was Pantani: short, Italian, balding, fast down a ski hill, drove a Ferrari, sniffed coke, went to discos, woke up and climbed mountains like a goat with a piece of barbed wire stuck in its ass.
I was deep into the culture of self-torture and self-loathing and eating-disorder-producing endurance training that required a monastic lifestyle and a shit-ton of broken bones and road rash. Heroes like Pantani made it all seem worth it. They were people I aspired to become because I knew first-hand the incredible sacrifice they made in order to reap fleeting moments of grace and sometimes glory. But, because Pantani was waning, I needed a new mountain goat to call my own.
For a few months, Richard Virenque from France become my goat. He was handsome, fast, French, and he rode for the Festina team. I had a super cool French girlfriend, and was speaking French at home 24/7, and so I leaned into all things French. Hell, the French make great cheese and red wine – close enough for rock-n-roll.
Festina made watches and sponsored a racing team with which Richard Virenque made a majority of his career victories. I wanted to be like Virenque . So I got a Festina like the one on the Festina Team jerseys. I quasi-borrowed/stole the watch, but that’s less important (and more embarrassing in some ways) than the fact that for many months I woke up with the abomination on my wrist, did naked sun salutes while nose breathing, downed a protein smoothie, skinned up in spandex and headed out to train for 100-miles at a stretch in cold-ass Buffalo, NY.
I wore the watch to bars. I wore it to clubs. I wore it to races. I wore it on dates. I wore it to family get-togethers. And I wore it at the exclusion of a rather robust watch collection that included beautiful timepieces that I’d be thrilled to own today. (I do own a few that survived my personal financial crisis watch flipping debacles).
Despite how horrible this watch was, it was my foray into matching my watch to my cycling outfit, bike, water bottles, socks, even my tires and my seat and my handle-bar tape and wheel bags and – I don’t need to go on: everything matched. To this day I adore matching my watch to my motorcycle and associated apparel in a similar spirit. I’ll match my watch to my skis, a tennis racket, a car (as long as it’s cool and made before 2005), and I’ve even matched my watch to a skateboard (though that pairing was inherently lame).
Despite how horrible this watch was, it was my foray into matching my watch to my cycling outfit, bike, water bottles, socks, even my tires and my seat and my handle-bar tape and wheel bags and – I don’t need to go on: everything matched.
The sheer joy of matching everything motivated me, but the ritual of matching also got my head ready to endure the mental anguish of accepting prolonged physical anguish. It was a ritual that began with shaving my legs in the shower, then oiling up to prevent 3rd degree burns (because you would get burned badly with dry hairy legs, and crashing was inevitable), then slipping into a spandex suit that matched the socks and the cap and the helmet and the gloves and the bike and the shoes and the tires and the wheels and, if you were really good, your car.
It was better when Pantani was on top. Then it was all Italian and there was something like reason behind the Saeco Automatica in my VW’s trunk that ran off the battery so I could pop espressos before a race. (My two closest team mates and I would down espresso, Jack Daniels and ibuprofen in proportions that we felt were well matched to the race in front of us.) And it was better when Pantiani was on top because I didn’t wear that goddamn abomination on my wrist. Instead I wore an Oris Big Crown Pointer Date, which wasn’t only a far better watch in every single regard, but had a living soul. It appears the Festina’s soul – if it ever had one – had been removed at the factory and sent straight to Hell in a kind of Satanic Endorsement Program.
…it was better when Pantiani was on top because I didn’t wear that goddamn abomination on my wrist.
Oh how I wish that I, like my watch-collecting friends, could claim to have been ignorant, to have been letting my tastes evolve, to have simply not known better than to sport Euro-trash timepieces. Alas, I knew better, but I had a lapse of judgement. In my brief moment of trying to Frenchify my Europhilia via Richard Virenque, I crashed hard and fast onto the aesthetic tarmac, a crash for which no amount of shaving and oil was going to prevent the permanent scars that now discolor my self-esteem.