Shopping for New Bag Proves Daunting

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I am on a quest for a new shoulder-style messenger bag. It is not going well.

For more than 25 years, I have used a canvas case — what is often called a messenger bag — to tote around a laptop, portfolio, books, pens, an eyeglasses repair kit, thumb drives, copies of the New Yorker and whatever else I needed. I was given the bag at a meeting of Cox editors in the early 1990s. It was sturdy, weathered well and embroidered with “Cox Newspapers” on the front. I had to have the strap repaired a few years ago, and the fellow stitched it up with brown thread for some reason. The bag and strap were once black, now faded to gray. I know how it feels, fading to gray.

The plastic divider inside the bag has largely disintegrated, leaving shards of plastic sandwiched between what it holds. The shards are sharp and poke my hands when I reach in to grab an item. Besides, while my association with Cox provided a great career and a decent retirement nest egg, those days are long over. It is time to move on, acquire some new baggage.

I searched in town first and quickly realized I would have to order online. So, of course, I searched on Amazon. The online behemoth devours so much of this family’s income that I ought to be able to claim it as a dependent. At least now that I’m selling my latest book on Amazon, I am recouping a tiny portion of what we spend. Very tiny.

This search began about six months ago. It takes me a long time to discard an item that has been part of my life for that long. My camera bag, a sturdy canvas Domke, has hauled around my camera bodies and lenses for more than 30 years. I upgraded four years ago and came home with several thousand dollars of new equipment intended to last as long as I’m able to lug around gear. A few weeks later, I returned to Precision Camera in Austin, where I bought the gear, to buy a new bag. I left the store with my old bag in its familiar place on my left shoulder.

But I am determined to retire the Cox bag, so after hours of intermittent screen shopping, I ordered a bag through Amazon. I would buy nothing from China, it had to have some leather but could also contain canvas — and not too big, nor too small. I’m the Goldilocks of shopping, sometimes. Finally, I read the reviews, made my decision and ordered the bag through Amazon Prime, using some of the points collected on my Amazon credit card to pay for about a third of the cost. The bag arrived two days later. It was smelly, and not in that good-leather way, and was stiff as a brand-new baseball glove. That can be fixed with saddle soap. The biggest issue was the metal buckles were flimsy, hard to open and close, and the stitching had come unraveled in several places.

So I printed the refund slip, paid $1 at the packing store, and sent the bag back to Amazon. It is hard to fault how easy it is to return items to those folks. I ordered my next bag, which was also all leather and somewhat bigger than the first attempt.

When it arrived, I quickly realized it would fit both my laptop and Sam the Dog. This would never do. Off to the packing store I went, boxed return item in hand. I left another $1 poorer.

The third bag I ordered was canvas and leather, the perfect size, with smooth slip-on clasps to close it. But the zipper on the back compartment broke on the second day of use. I figure if the zipper broke that quickly, ordering the same bag was asking for trouble. Off it went to Amazon. I’m now down $3 to the packing store lady, who must be wondering if I’m running some kind of online scam.

I ordered Bag No. 4, which was similar in design to No. 3, but from a different company. I did not pay attention. It was from China, with flimsy cloth inside compartments. The packing store was going to get another buck from me.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion has volunteered to look for a bag for Father’s Day. I took her up on it. She has better taste and superior shopping skills. In the meantime, I’ll lug around the old Cox bag. It still looks pretty good, for its age.

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