Larisa appears to be suffering from Post Traumatic (Mechano-)Strider Syndrome after my post on my rogue alt's new robo-chicken from yesterday. I don't disagree with her that the sheer amount of noise the mount generates can get a bit old (if not quite as old as spending a new Death Knight's first hours in the real world repeatedly enduring the shrill Deathcharger noise while training herbalism from scratch). Once upon a time, I hated it myself. What changed?
The World of Mounts in 2005
My first level 40 character was the Paladin, on January 23rd, 2005 if the census archives are to be believed. At the time, 100 gold for a mount was such a big deal that it was practically a right of passage for newly level 40 characters of other classes to post to the forums complaining about the free mounts for Pallies and Warlocks. The mage got started sometime shortly thereafter, and I'd guesstimate that I got my first chicken sometime in late August or early Sept 2005. At the time, I was just happy to be moving faster than walking speed, but I'll admit that I began to share some of Larisa's distaste for the clanking of the chicken.
In those days, we didn't have riding skill - you actually had to pay 100G (1000G for epic mounts) for a SINGLE mount and would have to pay it again if you wanted a different one. I decided that I really wanted a horse, both to get rid of the chicken and because I thought a gnome on a horse would look cool. At the time, there was no realistic PVP option (the AV ram was slightly cheaper than a robo chicken, but you needed to be exalted with AV, and I wanted a horse), and quest rep was very hard to come by (you got dramatically less rep for quests you'd outleveled). The only path was to farm runecloth (and cash with which to buy runecloth) and then to farm yet more cash with which to buy the mount - all of this while mounted on the noisy old non-epic robo-chicken. This took a pretty long time, but I finally pulled it off and got to ride an epic Swift Brown Steed around Azeorth.
Expanding the Stables
Over time, it became easier and easier to obtain additional mounts. The AV ram was temporarily available for a trivial amount of gold (in between the riding skill revamp and the honor system revamp just before TBC), so that was two. Farming honor right after the honor system revamp (which converted it to its current currency-like status) left me with enough tokens to buy a cat.
Even with the relatively cheap cost, though, it took me a while before I was willing to buy a chicken to add to the collection. I think I finally did it after I got a random mount macro set up, so that I would literally not know which of the four racial mounts was going to appear when I pushed the button. Still, in some ways that was a cop-out, as it meant, by definition, that I was only going to get the chicken a quarter of the time. Eventually I decided that I didn't want to spend the bagspace on carrying all four mounts, and so I started leaving three at a time in my bank. The chicken was almost always one of the three gathering dust.
Slowly, I obtained more options, such as a Talbuk from Nagrand, an Elekk from the Exodar, and a ram from the 2007 Brewfest. It was only with the 3.0 patch, and its infinite mount storage system, that I actually ended up collecting all the ground mounts I could buy off vendors, and having access to my chickens at any time. However, by that point I had so many options that the mechanostrider really doesn't come up frequently at all.
Besides, I can't really use a random mount macro anymore because half of my ground mounts are too large to fit through doors. Most of the places where I have to use a ground mount are cities with archways I have to pass through (look a few pictures down this post for an example of the problem) or PVP areas (where I don't want to make myself so obvious of a target).
(If you're on Hyjal-US and I've ever thrown a cone of cold or somesuch in your face as you exited a store, my apologies - I don't have a keybinding for dismounting, and I do have keybindings for various instant cast spells that dismount me.)
Lessons from the changing face of transit
So why, beyond my general fondness for storytelling, have I subjected all of you to this tale? It gets back to Larisa's dislike for clanking and all that time I spent in search of my very first horse way back when.
My guess is that I rode that chicken full-time for almost a year. Because they were so hard to replace, mounts were, in some ways, a part of your identity. The vast majority of players were riding around on their race's mount due to the effort required to obtain any other option. I got a number of compliments just because the sight of a gnome on a horse was exceedingly rare back then.
This is something that players who started the game in the post-TBC era have not experienced - Blizzard has chosen to change that sense of identity, replacing it with a new, wide-open world of customization (and, a cynic might argue, incentives for grinding). I do occasionally get compliments nowadays, but they're generally of the form "Where did you (and thus where can I) get that mount?" The accomplishment of obtaining your SECOND mount has been pushed to the wayside in favor of the in-game achievement reward for getting dozens of them. Even my Paladin, who ended up spending three years on the journey from level 50 to level 70, somehow found the time to hit exalted Ironforge rep so that he could ride a ram.
I guess that's where the nostalgia comes from today. The low level game is the only place where your racial mount really says anything about your character anymore - that you actually are a gnome or whatever other race. For the first time in years (well, second time when you count the previous incarnation of Cheerydeth), I'm actually obligated to clank around on that old mount I worked so hard to leave behind all those years and levels ago.
And, as it turns out, walking uphill both ways to school wasn't as bad as I remembered it. After all that time with unlimited alternatives, returning to the metal bird for a brief visit every other week is like a brief flashback to older - not necessarily happier, but different - times. The clanking is like an old classmate you weren't necessarily fond of and haven't seen in years - the old annoying quirks are still there, but so are the memories, the good along with the bad. It's a little piece of history in a game that, like time itself, marches slowly forward, away from its past and towards some uncertain future.
In an era with dual specs, barber shops (and even paid sex/face changes), mount collections, and the checklist-like achievement list, there's less and less about your particular character that's unique. Paradoxically, I've been riding custom mounts for so long that riding the default one (even if I did buy all four colors for no real reason) feels like something different; a throw-back statement from a long time ago.