Say, "Hi" to Chuck, damnit
It was a rainy Thursday evening, just moments after I returned from an assignment in town. The day was shaping up to be an uneventful one, and I was bored out of my skull.
Then my telephone rang in weedy, dispirited tones. On the other end, our office's normally composed receptionist wheezed: "Someone from UPS is here to see you!"
Oh boy! It felt like someone had spiked my Milo with pil kuda – I arrived at reception in two strides.
At the counter was a slightly banged-up cardboard box. My baby's here!
Cheerful UPS dude asked for a cash payment of RM137.50 in leather tax (there is a 10% tax on importing leather goods) and extra delivery charges. No problem, would've paid him 10 times as much happily.
Bouncing back to the office (don't think that has happened since!), I set the box down next to Kahani, grinning like a deranged hilly-billy. She looked puzzled.
I squeaked "Saddleback", and in a flash she had attacked the box with a huge pair of scissors.
The box opened at last, we were greeted with the distinctive scent of full-grain leather and pure, concentrated badass.
Say hi to Chuck, damnit.
Six days before, I had ordered from Texas-based Saddleback Leather Co. a medium-sized light tobacco classic briefcase, fulfilling a three-year dream of owning a bag so rugged it makes other bags weep like little girls.
A little background on the company – it's a small family business that prides itself in supplying some of the
toughest, longest-lasting and most well-designed leather products on the market.
They even offer a 100-year warranty to go with their stuff. Their tagline is "They'll fight over it when you're dead", and company el presidente Dave Munson suggests mentioning the warranty in your will.
Saddleback Leather mostly sell some really handsome bags, but they also offer Bible covers, wallets as well as iPad sleeves, cases and pouches.
All of these are purportedly handmade by experienced craftsmen with leather that's thicker than those used for work boots, solid nickel hardware and polyester marine-grade industrial thread (the stuff used to sew sails and work boots, he claims).
There's a lot of history and heartbreak behind his products - won't repeat them here as you can go to their website - but trust me, if it involves machine guns, bull fights, assasins, and giving up puppies in exchange for tacos, it's compelling stuff.
Apparently, these bags are so gorgeous random strangers will stop you to shower praises and ask 'where did you get this sexy thing?', according to testimonies on the site. Cool, eh?
I found Chuck on Dave's Deals - the section features products with slight dents, scratches and cloudy hardware and are typically discounted by 15% to 25%.
The bag was priced at US$309.75, 40% off the usual US$519 as he is a discontinued model with scuff marks all over and blurry hardware. In other words, vintage. Awright!
Ordering from the site was fairly straightforward. Only problem was keying in the addresses. They have a word limit of about 39 letters or so, and this being Malaysia, addresses can get a bit longish :P. Payment made via credit card, and they had shipped my stuff out within three days of finalising the transaction (give them two to four days).
They only deliver via UPS expedited shipping to Malaysia, so be prepared to pay quite a bit – I was charged US$98 thereabouts.
Kahani demanded I name him and suggested Chuck. I asked for suggestions on Facebook but Chuck kinda stuck (Yay! It rhymes!), so there.
Later that night, I showed him off to two editors and a senior writer I'd like to call the office gangster, and all were blown away by Chuck's craftsmanship and don't-eff-with-me-ness.
Said gangster cursed with delight, and one editor said it put all "our crappy freebie satchels to shame".
He has character. Admit it, he looks like a well-travelled bag, ready for action. Or like there's a fist hiding under the flap. Which would be a really awesome security feature.
It's been three weeks, and while the compliments have not exactly been forthcoming (mostly by PR people and colleagues, I think Malaysians are quite shy la :P), I've never been happier with a bag - Chuck's solid, his compartments are just right, and he's truly one-of-a-kind.
I keep an A4-sized notepad, some printouts, newspapers and a coin pouch in the front. In the two pouches are my pens, phones and namecards, while in the back are some books, another notebook, hairbrush and a 500ml bottle of water. There's a back pocket on the outside, where I keep an umbrella courtesy of Kahani (thanks again! :D).
A laptop with a 15" screen fits quite snugly inside, although it should expand with use.
Despite his bulk and weight, he does not feel very heavy when carried, probably because the straps are comfortably wide (about 3cm) and adjustable.
|One of two side pockets. Don't use these, although I've stuck my car keys in there before and it stayed snugly.|
I've also spilt a cupful of water on Chuck just to see how well he protects his contents. The exterior was sopping wet... but the lining and my stuff were all bone-dry. Not bad. I'll use a hose next time and report my findings.
Also, the leather - especially the strap in front and the side of the flaps - has started to soften nicely. Plus patting Chuck every now and then gives me strength :P
He's big, and takes up a fair bit of space. I leave it on the car floor of the navigator's seat when I drive alone, but when I drive with company then stashing it at the back is a bit difficult.
He could also overwhelm smaller-framed people. In fact, some people feel that it takes a rough and tough kind of person to carry it. So if your the weedy, gentle sort, it might look like the bag is carrying you not vice-versa.
For comparison, here's Kahani and I rocking the bag. Note: I'm about 1.75cm tall, and am barefoot.
It's not a bag that you can grab quickly, IMHO. It takes a while to loop the bag over your shoulders, and if you don't wear it properly and are dashing to and fro, it can be annoying.
It takes time to close the bag. I'm getting faster at buckling it as the leather is getting easier to manipulate, and I can do it with one hand while carrying it now but it's still not as fast as zipping a bag shut.
I don't think the discounted models come suede-lined as pig-skin is the default material . So for those with religious concerns, best to check with the company.
The bags may look a little unfinished, as the sides are not folded over and sewn. Dave says this shows the authenticity of the leather, but on the flipside some people may feel that it's sloppy and raw. I don't think this is a problem, but if you want something a little more polished-looking this may not be for you.
Quick vital statistics (taken from Saddleback Leather):
- Size: Medium (35.5cm w x 27.94cm h x 22.86cm d. Interior measurements are minus 0.32cm at the sides for stitiching.)
- Twin compartments are about 11.4cm wide, depth about the same.
- Weight: 6.5 pounds (almost 3 kilograms)
- Hypoallergenic 2mm - 2.2mm thick chrome tanned leather. I think Chuck's body is made of about eight, maybe nine pieces of leather, tops? That means the bag is not made of bits and pieces and it supposedly does not tear as easily.
- Pig skin lining.
- Adjustable shoulder straps (91.4cm to 149.8cm).
- Stout rivets at stress points, handle is reinforced with a metal bar.
- Comes with a small booklet of Bible verses for salvation, assurance and comfort and the el presidente's name cards. A friend said, “It's merely missing a gun, cigar and a beer”. Some people are offended by the booklet, as they feel that it is a form of proseletyzing. I personally don't care, but it may matter to some people.
- Regular price: US$519, excluding shipping and tax.