(This is a guest post by Jon Bemis. You can find Jon on Twitter @jtower42.)
Technically, it's not a purse.
But my friends call it a purse, my co-workers call it a purse, and my wife calls it a purse. Thanks to my wife, even my four daughters call it a purse. The two-year-old will ask, "Daddy, you need your purse?", which is adorable but embarrassing.
Let me give you some background:
Long before I had a major pen problem, I had a moderate bag problem. Backpacks. briefcases, camera bags - I was always searching for a bag that carried everything I needed, was comfortable to carry, and maybe even looked cool. So I was already susceptible to the idea of the "perfect" bag.
But I had bought enough bags on that fool's errand to have learned a lesson: When you are shopping for bags, you can never remember everything that you might use it for or carry in it. And because you haven't thought of everything, once you get the bag, you just start chucking random stuff it in, and suddenly it's not so perfect. So this time, I decided to let the stuff lead. I wanted to be able to look at a pile or a list of everything I wished I had in a bag at all times, and then find a bag for that stuff.
Primary on the "stuff" list were the pens I had acquired since getting addicted in early 2014. For the pens, there were cases. There was new, fountain-pen friendly paper, and for the paper, an A5-sized Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter.
I also began to notice certain things that I kept wishing I had with me. I never seemed to have business cards when I needed them, and being in sales, I needed them all the friggin' time. Or I would find myself in need of a cough drop or some ibuprofen, and I'd have to beg, borrow or steal from people around me. The number of times I got caught in the rain when my umbrella was exactly where I wasn't was almost suspiciously frequent.
I was inspired by Pen Addict Podcast guest Tony Scalumbrine of Everyday Commentary and the concept of an every-day carry (EDC). I was already carrying a Field Notes and pen in a Nock Co. Fodderstack XL and a Victorinox Alox Cadet pocketknife. Given that I felt like my inventory was coming together, I felt like I could start looking for a bag I could carry every day that would contain everything. A bag of holding (+2), if you will.
I started poking around on the websites of various bag makers; classic brands like Jansport and LL Bean, big companies like North Face and Patagonia, and smaller makers like Timbuk2, Topo, and Tom Bihn. I was a little stymied - not only could I not decide on a bag, I couldn't even decide on a format. Messenger bag? Too hip. Briefcase? Too grown-up. Backpack? Too grade school.
One day, browsing on the Tom Bihn site, I came across the Co-Pilot. It's a different animal. It's shaped kind of a like a briefcase, square and straightforward, but it has a cross-body strap like a messenger bag. What really caught my eye was how small it was. At first glance, it was kind of useless. It wasn't really large enough to hold 8.5 x 11" papers and would never hold my largish laptop. But after thinking about what I wanted to carry around with me every day, and realizing a smaller bag would make it more likely I'd actually carry it, it seemed more and more like the right tool for the job. I ordered it, in a dashing green color called Verde. (PHOTO 1)
When I got the Co-Pilot, I was impressed by the quality of workmanship. There wasn't a stitch out of place and the material felt as rugged as advertised. I was even more impressed with the design. The folks at Tom Bihn really crammed a lot of useful space into a bag that is only 12'' by 10" by 5".
The bag is divided into halves the long way. The front half is then divided into three equally-sized vertical pockets. The center pocket has a centered vertical zipper which goes about halfway down the pocket. (This makes access to this pocket a little limited, my only complaint about the bag.) However, the center pocket has a unique feature - it has a grommet in the very bottom of the pocket, providing drainage. You could stash a water bottle or umbrella in there and know that if there was condensation or water drops, they would work themselves out through the hole. I use it for my sunglasses case, and a pen roll could easily fit there as well.
The left and right pockets zip around the outside perimeter of the bag, and are therefore more accessible. The right pocket has four generous full-depth pen pockets. Each easily holds one fountain pen or two "regular" pens or pencils. I keep a Sakura Pigma Micron, a Muji gel multi-pen, a Uni-ball Signo DX and a Uni-ball Jetstream in the bag at all times. I also have a Kaweco Sport with a sealed cartridge in the barrel. With this group of pens, I feel like I have a color, ink type, and nib size for any situation.
The right-hand pocket also contains my umbrella, the Davek Mini. It was the smallest umbrella I could find that was well-reviewed. It won't protect me in a hurricane, but it works well for a quick run from the car to the house or vice-versa.
The left pocket has a small inner pocket but is otherwise wide open. It also has a keystrap, which has turned out to be the most useful feature in the whole bag. You see, my car has one of those push-button, keyless ignitions. When I first got it, I was constantly losing my keys - not having to physically put them in and take them out of an ignition combined with my terrible short-term memory meant forgetting where I put them at least two or three times a week. Now, the keys are attached to the bag and the bag is attached to me and the problem is solved!
I purchased two of Tom Bihn's accessory pouches to hold more everyday necessities, and these also fit into the left pocket. The Q-Kit contains both a wall and car charger for my iPhone, while the Mini Clear Organizer holds some everyday first aid - Rolaids, cough drops, eye drops, and Band-Aids. Along with a small bottle of Advil (stuffed with a piece of paper towel to reduce rattling), I'm ready for most of the maladies I'll suffer regularly. I'm in sales, not the outback; it's unlikely I'll need anti-venin or a splint.
The back side of the Co-Pilot has a large pocket that runs the full length of the bag. The back wall of the big pocket has two smaller pockets, each about four inches in width. They happen to be the perfect width and depth for a variety of my favorite products, including Field Notes, and several of Nock Co.'s cases.
I use a Nock Co. Sassafras as a miniature tool kit. The two large and three small slots of the Sassafras nicely contain a multi-tool (Leatherman Skeletool and extra driver bits, a pocketknife (Kershaw Leek, and a flashlight (Peak Eiger. That fits perfectly into one of the two pockets. The other holds a Nock Co. Lookout (or two) with whatever fountain pens are in heavy rotation. A small business card holder from Muji nestles next to the Lookouts.
The rest of the rear pocket holds my Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter and my currently active Rhodia 90 Meeting Book, which is my go-to work notebook. (If only the spiral-bound Meeting Book fit in the Taschenbegleiter...) This combo of pens, notebooks and business cards means I am prepared for the kind of on-the-fly work interactions in which I often find myself.
What all this buys me is peace of mind. It might seem strange to some, but I'll admit, I'm not the kind of person who is good at playing life by ear. I have a tendency to over-prepare to put my mind at ease. The Co-Pilot is really a little bit of a coping mechanism. Having a bag stocked with a full complement of everyday items, I feel ready for the twist and turns of the day, which in turn lowers my stress level. Meet a potential customer? Here's a business card. Customer wanted to get chili for lunch? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. Got a great lead and an order for a sample? All jotted down. Get back to the office and have a package to open (probably a new pen)? Flip out the pocketknife. Cut myself with the pocketknife? Band-Aid, boo-yah. And so on.
I am pretty happy feeling like I'm prepared. But do the pros outweigh the cons of the purse comments I get on a near-constant basis? I say yes. I've found that once I explain what's in my Co-Pilot and why I carry it, people usually come around. They'll comment that they have found themselves with a dead phone battery or a growing headache and no way to deal with it. Or, they'll acknowledge that they often have a backpack or briefcase stocked with stuff, but it's too big or bulky to truly keep with them all the time.
Of course, some people still think it's funny or weird that I carry a bag. Some people will call it a purse, but with malice. I could refer to it as a ruck or say it's a satchel. I could call it a carryall or make it a man-bag. I could insist on trying to give it a more "manly" moniker to head off the haters. But they can go ahead and call it a purse. It won't bother me, because one day they'll need a pen or a stamp, and I'll be there, needed item in hand. They'll need a cough drop to get through an important presentation, and I'll save their butt.
With something from my purse.